Tag Archives: Costanzo Melino

Voices from the Past

The Unexpected

At the beginning of this project, I had a wish list.  It was a simple list: to find one Queenslander who remembered the Italian prisoners of war and to double the number of photos of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland.  The only three photos in the public domain which feature our Queensland POWs  are housed in the John Oxley Library.

My wish list  for one story and three photos has been exceeded many times over.

BUT  I had never expected to find the testimonies of Italians about their time as prisoners of war. This project is honoured to have these testimonies as part of its collection.

 Antonino Lumia’s  story is told in more depth in A Voice from the Past, Fighting in North Africa and Capture.Surrender.Imprisonment .  His grandson Damiano Lumia recorded his grandfather’s memories over 40 years ago ensuring that the voice of the Italian soldier can be heard and that his experiences are not forgotten.

Lumia.JPG

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR HAVING A MEAL IN THEIR MESS AT NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. PICTURED ARE: 46007 ANTONIO LUMIA (1); 45824 BRUNO GALLIZZI (2); 46734 ALMO STAGNARO (3); 48355 GIUSEPPE ARRIGONI; (4); 45087 ANTONIO BACCIGALUPO (5); 46620 MICHELE RIZZO (6); 46626 EMILIO RUOCCO (7); 46635 FRANCO RONDELLI (8); 45900 ALESSANDRO IANNOTTA (9).

(AWM, Image 063371 McInnes, Geoffrey)

Costanzo Melino’sstory is part of a book written and published by his daughter Rosa Melino “Anzaro: The Home of My Ancestors”.  Captured… On the Move and Captured at Bardia share the everyday details of life as a young Italian soldier.  Costanzo returned to Australia after the war with his family following later. Life as a soldier was difficult but life as a ‘new’ Australian presented many challenges for the Melino family.

Q3 Gympie Italian prisoner of war Melino Costanzo

Costanzo Melino c 1940

(photo courtesy of Rosa Melino)

Ferdinando Pancisi is 100 years old and living and working in a tiny village Civorio in Alta Romagna.  Tim Dwyer (ex Boonah) arranged for Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti to visit Ferdinando (Ferdy) in October 2017.  His memories were recorded on 21st October 2017. They offer a stoic perspective on life, war, death and imprisonment.  Ferdy had worked on the farm of Pat Dwyer Fassifern via Boonah and for over 70 years the Dwyer family have corresponded with Ferdy.  At first it was Pat Dwyer, then his wife Joie and recently son Tim.  This is a special family connection and legacy.  Against all odds, Tim arranged for Ferdy to be interviewed so that his ‘voice’ will never be silenced.

Ferdy.Anna.Tim.Ferdy

Anna Pancisi, Tim Dwyer and Ferdinando Pancisi

(photo courtesy of Cathy Dwyer)

Angelo Valianteis a well known and much respected resident of the Stanthorpe district.  His story is recorded in a book, newspapers and a mural painting.  Seizing an opportunity and an offer to have an interview filmed, I travelled with Ann Megalla to Stanthorpe in October 2017 to talk with Angelo about his time as a prisoner of war.

Stanthorpe.Valiante

Angelo Valiante – Mural by Guido van Helten : Stanthorpe

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Journey Through Photos

Luigi Iacopini’s journey as a soldier and prisoner of war is told through the photos he kept.  His photos are like a diary recording major events in his early adult life.

Born 24.5.16  in Ponzano Di Fermo Ascoli Piceno, Luigi’s occupation was a barber.

In Italy

A reminder of his military service in the infantry is a photo of a young Luigi in full dress uniform.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__003 (1)

Luigi Iacopini

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

Craig Douglas from Regio Esercito History Group Australia  recognised the uniform and writes, “it looks like he belonged to the 115 Infantry Regiment, 62nd Infantry Division Marmarica. Destroyed 5 January 1941 at Bardia.”  And yes, Luigi was captured at Bardia on 3rd January 1941.

In Libya

Luigi and other young soldiers in Derna Libya. Derna is on the coast between Benghazi and Tobruk.  It was taken on 25.?.38. Luigi was 22 years old.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 (3) - Copy

Italian Soliders in Derna 1938

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

In India

The rattan matting, the socks and sandals, the shorts and trousers with a distinctive stripe down the sides are common to photos in the POW Camps in India. Luigi was 25-27 years old.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 (2) - Copy

A group of Italian prisoners of war in a POW Camp in India

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

In Australia

A group of Italian prisoners of war at a Gympie farm.  The photo was possibly on a Amamoor farm and taken on the day of departure from the farms in the first week of January 1946. Luigi was 29 years old.

Luigi Iacopini, Giovanni Meconi and Fortunato Gobbi went to the farm of JJ Parr at Amamoor on 5th August 1944.

Other Italian POWs who worked on the farm of JJ Parr were Vincenzo Licocci, Francesco Bevilacqua. Alessandro Di Placido, Costanzo Melino and Pasquale Di Donato.

Foto Luigi Iacopini

Italian Prisoners of War at a Gympie Farm

Alessandro Di Placido (?) first on left, Fortunato Gobbi second on left, Luigi Iacopini centre

(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)

 

Luigi was repatriated on the Alcantara on 23rd  December 1946.

1946 Dec Daily Advertiser

1946 ‘BACK TO ITALY’, Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW : 1911 – 1954), 25 December, p. 1. , viewed 07 Aug 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article145125911

Battle of Bardia

Bardia had been taken.  The Italians lost 40,000 men (killed, wounded and captured), 400 guns, 13 medium tanks, 115 light tanks and 706 trucks.

Battle of Bardia

3rd to 5th January 1941

Questions often asked on the topic of Italian prisoners of war begin with WHY?  Why were Italian prisoners of war  working on Queensland farms? Why were there so many Italian prisoners of war in Australia?  Why did they so readily surrender? Why were they content to be prisoners of war in Australia? Why didn’t they escape and/or cause havoc?

An understanding of the battles they fought in North and East Africa# and the war they fought on Mussolini’s behalf gives a context to the situation of the Italian prisoners of war.

Australia’s first group of Italian POWs arrived in May 1941, four months after the Battle of Bardia and five months after the Battle of Sidi el Barrani. Place of Capture for many of the first POWs is recorded as Libya, but the date of capture pinpoints the place… 4th January 1941… Bardia.

Bardia was a military outpost in Libya, developed by Italy during its colonial rule of the country.  Situated on the coast, it encompassed a small town and harbour and roads leading east to the Egyptian border and west to Tobruk.  It was fortified by what the Italians believed was an impenetrable 18 mile arc of modern defences.  These defences incorporated a steep anti-tank ditch – 4 feet deep by 12 feet wide, dense barbed-wire entanglements and minefields with two lines of steel and concrete bunkers 800 yards apart.

Map Bardia

Map of Battle of Bardia, Position at Dusk on 3rd January 1941, from Battle of Bardia Wikipedia

Il Duce had given instructions to General Bergozoli, commander of Bardia, “the task of defending Bardia to the last”* to which Bergozoli replied, “In Bardia we are, and here we stay.”*  Bergozoli had 45,000 men and 400 guns to hold Bardia. (*The Desert Generals by Correlli Barnett)

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General Annibale Bergozoli is pictured centre.

He was known as “barba elettrica” [Electric Whiskers]

Capture of Bardia – Three of the captured Italian Generals and their staff were brought from the Western Desert by air, and here they are arriving at an aerodrome in Cairo. (Photo by unknown British Official photographer)

The allies on the other hand were poorly equipped, equipment had suffered due to the poor condition of roads and the assault force was one third of the garrison’s strength.  This battle was part of Operation Compass and was the first battle of war in which an Australian Army formation took part: Bardia.Aust Division.

(from 3RAR Museum Display: Lavarack Barracks Townsville)

The allies had taken Sidi el Barrani 9th – 10th December 1940, which was the first battle of Operation Compass and continued to push westward into Italian held territory. This meant that Italian forces not taken prisoner at Sidi el Barrani, retreated westward and engaged in combat at Buq Buq, Sollum, Fort Capuzzo, Halfaya Pass on their out of Egyptian territory.  Many were taken prisoner at these battles between Sidi el Barrani and Bardia. This British Pathe film discusses Operation Compass.

Western Desert Campaign

Western Desert Campaign

(from https://worldwariipodcast.net/2014/12/)

In preparation for a land assault, Bardia was attacked by air support.  Between 31st December 1940 and 2nd January 1941 100 bombing sorties took place.  This was followed by heavy air raids on the night of 2/3 January 1941.  As well, tanks with exhaust baffles removed roared up and down the perimeter defences through the night and early morning. Images of the Battle Bardia are captured in this British Pathe film.

3rd January 1941:At 5.30 am, the ground assault began when every gun available opened the battle.  The objective was to breech the western defences using Bangalore torpedoes and captured Italian wire cutters.  The Australians had 120 guns and 23 ‘I’ tanks.  By the last hours of darkness, the first Italians emerged from their bunkers.  By 6.30am, the Aussies had cleared two corridors and 6 “I” tanks attacked toward Bardia. Dog fights ensued between the Italians and the Aussies. By 8am with the first objective taken, 8000 prisoners had been taken. A pause in the ground attack, was followed by the second phase of assault at 11.30am when the fleet laid a barrage and the airforce bombed Italian airfields.  Heavy naval bombardment consisted of  244 x 15 inch shells, 270 x 6 inch shells and 240 x 4.5 inch shells which rained down on Bardia.

Ferdinando Pancisi was captured on this day, he remembers:

“I was a male nurse for the Red Cross, I had to care for and help the sick, injured and look after the people. I was on the Front where all the soldiers were and where everything was happening. I saved myself. We were 40,000 [captured at Bardia]. All the countries of the world were fighting against Italy, Germany and Japan.

[After capture] we hadn’t eaten for days. Food wasn’t arriving. We tried our best to survive. We were trying to make do looking for food on one side or the other of the Front, looking everywhere that we could and we survived. Well those who managed, survived, many others didn’t make it. I went for 7 days and 7 nights without food or water because the English were not giving us anything.  I tried asking a British guard for some food or water and he’d always reply “tomorrow, tomorrow”.

4th January 1941: By midday, the Fortress of Bardia had fallen and the harbour was taken without damage.  Sporadic fighting continued in the north and south throughout the day.

Costanzo Melino  was captured on 4th January 1941 and recounts his experiences as a soldier in this battle: Captured at Bardia.

Libya Italian prisoners of war Bardia

Two captured Italian Carro Veloce CV33 Tankettes on the road overlooking Bardia Harbour. Bardia can be seen on the far hill. (Negative by B.M.I., photographer Unknown British Official photographer)

5th January 1941 : The battle was over by lunch time. It was said that the Australians ‘lunched on Italian champagne’.   Bardia had been taken.  The Italians lost 40,000 men (killed, wounded and captured), 400 guns, 13 medium tanks, 115 light tanks and 706 trucks.

Angelo Valiante was captured on 5th January 1941, he remembers:  “After one month, at the front, 23 kms walk, and no bottom of shoe, none left, nothing. Stopped one month there.  Night time, they say, all soldiers have to go back. English people chase us, to go back. At night time.  We go back.[to Bardia]  In the night time, the cold, the body, the arms, can’t walk, too tired, no food, no water.”

aaerial view italian pow

Bardia, Cyrenaica, Libya. 6 January 1941. Aerial view taken on the day that Bardia fell shows a long line of prisoners stretching down the road being rounded up by the Allied land forces and transported in the back of trucks.

ca[ptured guns

Near Bardia. 6.5 MM Breda Model 1924 and 6.5MM Fiat Revelli Model 35 Machine Guns Captured from the “Ities” (Italians) lined up by the roadside (Negative by F. Hurley)

Below are the recollections of an Italian soldier who was captured at Bardia. Giovanni Palermo was imprisoned at Zonderwater, South Africa:

Barida Palermo Givoanni.jpg

From  Noi! Prigionieri Africa 1941-47 P.O.W.104702 by Giovanni Palermo

Noi! Prigionieri Africa 1941-47 P.O.W.104702 by Giovanni Palermo in English

# Further and more detailed information about the war in North Africa can be found in the books : Bardia by Craig Stockings and The Sidi Rezeg Battles 1941 by Agar-Hamilton and Turner. Acknowledgement to these books for the details provided in this article.

Captured…On the Move

NorthAfrica.India.Australia

Once captured, Italian prisoners of war were impounded in temporary caged compounds in the deserts of North Africa.  They were then taken to Egypt and processed.  Each prisoner of war was given a M/E number (Middle East) and a card was sent to the families notifying them that their son or husband or father was a prisoner of war. From Egypt they were sent around the world: South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada and USA.

Costanzo Melino’s journey took him to India and then to Australia.  He worked on a farm in the Gympie district before being repatriated to Italy.  He returned to Australia post-war, sponsored by his Gympie employer,  his family joined him  and eventually they settled in northern NSW.

Costanzo Melino was captured at Bardia on 4th January 1941.

Costanzo Melino remembers:

Forty-seven thousand Italians were taken prisoner of war by the 8th Battalion of English under General Wavell. Our General at that time was Annibale Bergonzoli. My captain was Alberto Agostinelli.  We were taken to internment camps by foot.  We were given little to eat or drink.

Water 4159600

Italian prisoners Mersa Matruh getting their water tank filled. They were allowed half a gallon per man per day.” Image from a large album of 86 pages containing 1858 photographs associated with the service of Lieutenant Robert Otto Boese

(Australian War Memorial, Image P05182.012)

In Febraury 1941, we were sent to Port Said in the Suez Canal and the following month to Bombay where the heat was unbearable and many Italians died of heat exhaustion.

These camps were well run by the English.  We were given baths and we had Indian cooks.  There were toilets and we were fed well although we all got sick as we were not used to the English diet.  After this the English asked us to cook our own meals which we did gladly, making our own tagliatelle and gnocchi from the flour.  There were at least three thousand prisoners divided ingroups of one hundred. We were counted twice a day. We were fenced in and surrounded by armed guards so that we could not escape.

V-P-HIST-03469-24

Original tent camp 1941 Bangalore Italian Prisoners of War

(Maddy’s Ramblings maddy06.blogspot.com.au )

Having nothing else to do, a lot of prisoners devoted their time to study.  I studied Italian and English.  We didn’t stay in the one place for long in India.  We were constantly moved and constantly guarded by Indian soldiers.  The German prisoners were kept separate to us.  When the Italians surrendered to General Dwight David Eisenhower we were sent to Australia to work on farms. It appeared that the two million U.S. servicemen in Australia needed food.  The U.S. headquarters was in Brisbane commanded by General Douglas MacArthur.  It was the U.S. who commanded us in Australian as they had civil and military control.

The English in India said to us: “Now you’ve surrendered we are allies so now you’ll have to go to work to feed yourselves.  You’ll be free in Australia and they’ll even pay you for your work”. Of course we were all happy, leaving the camps singing.  However, as soon as we boarded the train we found the Indian soldiers hidden in the train and at the next stop we got off in our usual manner as prisoners of war.  We were really only free when we got to Naples in 1947.

Captured at Bardia

Melino family 3 - Copy.jpg

Costanzo Melino: Italian Soldier: 20 years old

(from Anzaro: The Home of my Ancestors)

Costanzo Melino’s memoirs are part of ANZANO – The Home of my Ancestors, written by his daughter Rosa Melino.  From Anzano he was conscripted and sent to Libya to fight Mussolini’s war. His recollections are invaluable in providing the personal experiences of a shepherd who was captured at the Battle of Bardia and shipped to Australia as a prisoner of war.

Special thanks to Rosa Melino for allowing for her work and the words of Costanzo  to be reproduced here as part of this project. Her assistance is invaluable as these memories provide depth and perspective for this history.

Costanzo Melino was captured at Bardia 4th January 1941

I didn’t want to fight.  I always wondered ‘Why me?’ We were rounded up and taken to army barracks where we were given our uniforms…. I was appointed to the 21st Artillery Regiment of the Army Corps and then we were sent to the front.  You can imagine the effect upon a young man who had never seen or learnt much.  I was taken out of school aged seven and sent to look after the sheep with my grandfather.  My grandfather died in March 1935, but in 1921 Mussolini had made a law that all children had to go to school until the age of 15, (that’s one good thing the dictator did), but it was too late for me. 

 We were sent along with other boys from my class in Anzano on the Julius Caesar to Bengazi in Libya. This took us two days at sea.  Bengazi was an Italian colony in those days.  We had to drink sterilized sea water which was salty and hot.  I was very sick. I was called up on 2nd February 1940 and sent to fight in Benghazi in Libya.  Our Commander was Annibalo Bergonsoli.  He used to have a long beard and we nicknamed him ‘Barba Elettrica’. We certainly met war and we did not recover from the shock.

 We ate bread and water and were covered in fleas and sand from the Sahara Desert.   I had to learn to wash my own clothes once a week.  We were woken and were marched and exercised and then we were lined up and given coffee at 7 a.m. in the morning.  We were instructed until lunch time and then we were line up for lunch at 1 p.m. Then we were instructed again until 4 p.m. and again we were lined up and given our meal of ‘pasta asciutta’ or ‘minestrone’ or ‘risotto’.  We were also given some meat, half a litre of wine and two rolls of bread per day.  We had to be respectful to our superiors, and if we weren’t we were placed in confinement by our Colonel Commander.  Water was rationed.  From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. we were free and we could go to the city of Bengazi.  We would go and look at the shops and if any soldier had some money he would buy what he needed. We were always watched by other soldiers doing the rounds – usually in groups of three.  We could not speak with the Arabs and we had to return at the right time.  We had to salute our officials.  Italo Balbi was the Italian Governor at the time.

Bardia P05182.051

North Africa: Western Desert.  Developed from a film taken from captured Italian prisoners at Bardia. c. 1940

(Australian War Memorial, Robert Otto Boese, Image P05182.051)

When the war broke we were commanded by Colonel Mario Bombagli to go to the Egyptian border between Bardia and Tobruk. One hundred thousand Italian soldiers of the various Infantry, Bersaglieri, Engineering and Artillery were killed there.  It was called the ‘Front Cerinaico’. There were so many men and so little equipment.  It was a desert with no water. It was hot during the day and freezing at night.  Bombs fell frequently upon us from overhead planes.  We were given orders to attack only when the enemy fired first.

In August 1940, we were given the order to advance into Egyptian territory. The Italian forces won ‘Siti Barrani’ in Egypt, but that too was a desert.  The desert winds would blow the sand and we could not even see.  We had to stay until the tempest passed.  At night we slept in the ‘trincee’ or tunnels that we built ourselves to protect us from the enemy bombardments.  We were given two litres of water and little food.

In October 1940, we were surrounded by the English and we lost ground and had to return to Bardia where after many battles we were defeated.

Bardia 0084113

Two captured Italian carro veloce CV22 tankettes on the road overlooking Bardia Harbour. Bardia can be seen on the far hill. (Negative by B.M.I.)

(Australia War Memorial, Image 0084113)