Tag Archives: Chitral repatriation ship 1946

Finding Nonno

The history behind nonno’s stories

Robert Perna from Detroit Michigan writes, “Many years ago my grandfather told me about his time as a POW from Italy. He surrendered in North Africa and was first shipped to Iraq. Then he was shipped to Australia and worked on a cattle farm. He told me it would take weeks to walk the fence and repair it. He said the owner owned a territory. 

I’m looking for any way to find out who he lived with. He passed many years ago, but his memory of his time there was always very clear. He did end up going back to Italy because that’s where his family was.”

And so the journey begins for a grandson to meld a grandfather’s stories with historical fact.

Using the guide Finding Nonno, Robert found with ease his grandfather’s Australian records which confirmed a few details: his nonno Arcangelo was captured in North Africa: Amba Alagi on 5.5.1941; he was sent to India (not Iraq); he was shipped to Australia: onboard the SS Uruguay in 1943 which docked at Sydney; and he was assigned to farm work: in the N11 Prisoner of War Control Centre Glen Innes.

Robert recounts the details of Arcangelo’s conscription and war service, “My grandfather went to Rome to go pay the taxes on his property. While there, they recruited him off the streets* and sent him to Africa. He could not say goodbye to his family.

From there he was sent to Northern Africa where he was in charge of a platoon. They found out they were being attacked at dawn. So they hunkered into a hill waiting for the African army to attack. Once they ran out of bullets, everyone surrendered, so no one would get killed.” 

The piecing of history continues giving credence to Arcangelo’s memories of the day he was captured 5th May 1941:

1 May 1941 Viceroy of Italian East Africa Duke of Aosta and 7,000 troops were trapped at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia by Indian 5th Indivision to the north and South African 1st Brigade in the south.

3 May 1941 Allied and Italian troops engaged in heavy fighting at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia.

4 May 1941 29th Brigade of the Indian 5th Division launched another attack at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia, capturing 3 hills between 0415 and 0730 hours.

5 May 1941 3/2nd Punjab Battalion advanced toward the Italian stronghold at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia at 0415 hours. They were pinned down by 12 Italian machine guns for the most of the day. The attack was called off at dusk.

British Pathe footage captured the Italians after the surrender of Amba Alagi. Another detail from this battle comes from Craig Douglas at Regio Esercito History Group in Brisbane: “When the Italian troops surrendered at Amba Alagi, the British commander allowed them to surrender with the full honours of war. In tribute to their tenacious defence right to the end.”

The battle for Amba Alagi, the last Italian stronghold in Eritrea. Italians who surrendered Fort Toselli seen marching down the road from the fort. c. June 1941

(AWM Image 007945, Photographer: Unknown British Official Photographer)

From Amba Alagi, Arcangelo would have been sent to POW camps in Egypt to be processed and assigned a M/E number: 289564 [Middle East].  From Suez he would have been transported to India.

Critical Past footage gives a window into the past; the arrival of Italian prisoners of war in Bombay India.

The next stage of Arcangelo’s journey is his arrival in Australia which was reported in the newspapers.  Two ships from India arrived together in Sydney 4th October 1943 with 507 Italian POWs on each ship (one medical officer, 5 medical other ranks and 501 other ranks: MV Brazil and SS Uruguay.

ITALIANS FOR FARMS” Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954) 10 October 1943: 5. Web. 22 Jun 2019 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59187793

1000 Italian War Prisoners Arrive” Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) 7 October 1943: 4. Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95630892&gt;

 

Arcangelo Perna’s arrival is documented on the Nominal Rolls Cowra 12 (c) POW Camp arrival from overseas 5th October 1943. He is assigned his Australian POW number : PWI 55833. Notice that his rank is Corporal though his other documents have his rank as Italian and Private; somethings are lost in translation.

Nominal Rolls of Italian Prisoners of War to Cowra

(NAA: SP196/1, 12 PART 2, 1943-1944 Sydney)

Within two months of his arrival in Australia, Arcangelo is assigned to farm work N11 C.C. Glen Innes.

Robert has a clear memory of his nonno’s recollections of Australia, “ He told me he worked on a cattle farm there. First thing he had to do was mend the fence with the owner. So they packed up the cart and took off. It took over 3 weeks to walk the fence. After that he worked there for a few years. Once it was time to go, the owner begged him to come back and live there. My grandfather said no, he had a farm in Italy. He never said anything bad about being there in Australia. He said they were a nice family who treated him wonderfully.”

Arcangelo’s Service and Casualty Form provides the details of his time between leaving the Glen Innes farm and his repatriation.  A documented four day stay in the Glen Innes hospital and his transfer from the farm to Murchison suggests ongoing medical concerns.  Those Italian who were medically unfit were sent to Murchison. And it is while Arcangelo was at Murchison, official group photos of the Italians were taken. 

A search of the Australian War Memorial collection did not turn up a match for Arcangelo. And Arcangelo’s photo could have been missed because, not all photographs taken of the POWs include the names of the men in the photos.

With this information and a chance at finding his nonno, Robert set to looking through all the group photos taken at Murchison March 1945. And there he was: seated second from the right.

A special moment for Robert: he had found Nonno in Australia.

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 No. 13 POW Group.

(AWM Image 030229/13, Photographer: Stewart, Ronald Leslie)

Arcangelo was repatriated on Chitral  from Sydney on 24th September 1946. These early repatriations were for special consideration, medical or compassionate reasons. This was one of the early repatriation ships which boarded 300 POWs in Sydney and another 2900 in Fremantle Western Australia. The majority of Italian POWs held at Northam Camp WA were repatriated on Chitral.

 Robert continues, “When he came home, my grandmother wasn’t even home when he got there! One of my aunts were born while he was away. Plus, my dad was born about 9 months after he came home.”

These memories [of my nonno] have been a part of my life since he’s told me the story. It has been told hundreds of times. Now I have proof, pictures and info to back up my story,” Robert reflects.

No title” The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954) 24 September 1946: 3 (LATE FINAL EXTRA). Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231583722&gt;

*This is not the first time I have heard about this method of recruitment. A group of young men from the Lecce region, told a similar story to their Queensland family in Gayndah.

Arrival in Naples 1946

Col. A.W. Sandford, the son of Sir Wallace Sandford wrote an article Naples – when Italian Prisoners Return Home  which was published in November 1946.  While on his way to Hamburg to re-joining the British Army of occupation, he travelled in a ship transporting returning Italian POW.

The repatriation ship was most likely Chitral which had left Australia in September 1946 with over 2700 Italian prisoners on board.

Chitral.httppassengersinhistory.sa.gov.aunode922876

Chitral

(passengersinhistory.sa.gov.aunode922876)

From Advertiser (Adelaide, SA: 1931-1954), Thursday 21 November 1946, page 6.

...From the decks below a constant murmur of hushed excited voices could be heard – over three thousand prisoners, straining their eyes to catch their first glimpse through the grey mists of the docks where they hope to find parents, wives, children, friends, lovers or at worst the attentions of the Italian Red Cross and a rail warrant to freedom.

The light grew slowly more intense as we approached the entrance to the harbor, and one could discern dimly the shaped of buildings in the distance and shipping nearer at hand.  Quite suddenly as the pilot clambered aboard from this ramshackle launch, the first rays of morning struck a cluster of white and pink villas on the headland, away to port – Posilippo, the ‘garden suburb’ of the town.  The city itself shielded by Vesuvius was still plunged in grew gloom, but these scattered villas and palaces on their romantic terraced cliff glittered fiercely in the sun.

By this time more passengers had begun to appear and were standing in tows and threes on the boat deck leaning over the rail.  They watched the sun strike the ancient castle on Capodimonte as we slipped into the harbour mouth and stared in surprise at the city which began to appear, like a stage effect through the dissipating mist.

Battered Harbour

The harbour was impressive.  The carved stone arms of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies still stand on the western mole, as they stood in Nelson’s day and between the pillars could be seen among the trees towards Posilippo, the glittering white cube of the Villa Emma, where Lady Hamilton held court.

The massive Castel Nuovo still dominates the docks but the splendid new quays built of reinforced concrete by the Fascists have stood far4 less well than solid Bourbon stone masonry the effect of high explosive bombs.

Naples Castell.jpg

The Fort of Castell Dell’ Ovo 1944 Naples

(Photo from Imperial War Memorial)

The murmur of the returning prisoners of war had grown to a loud babble as they saw the Italian warships huddles ingloriously against the naval mole and two large liners burned out and rusted lying on the bottom of the city Side.  Another liner had capsized just beneath the eastern mole, and in the centre of the docks, an American troopship was discharging across the hull of another capsized and rusting casualty.  This they observed in a second and then all eyes were turned to the nearest quay which was clearly made ready to receive us.  Stevedores were busy trundling gangways, there were lines of trucks drawn up, lines of carabinieri and here and there the scarlet caps of British military policemen.

Then all at once the prisoners seemed to see in the shadow of the damaged gallery rows and rows of dark-clothed men and women, and a good many children too.  These struggled and shouted and gesticulated from beyond the police cordon in the shadows striving to make themselves heard above the yelling of soldiers and stevedores and the raucous braying of a brass band which struggled on to the quay without a conductor and burst at once into a rendering more vigorous than accurate of “Funiculi, Funicula”.

The complete story is available here: Naples – when Italian Prisoners Return Home

Following are two video links: Italian Prisoners of War Return to Naples  and  View of buildings near Naples 1946

Chitral 2

1946 ‘No title’, The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 10 October, p. 24. , viewed 19 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75342761