Tag Archives: Cowra PW & I Camp

Two Artists and a Cowra Chapel

Eliseo Pieraccini and Carlo Vannucci are names on the lists of Italian prisoners of war sent to Australia during WW 2.  Individually, they were just a number and a name; their details were recorded and notated on multiple Australian Military Forces forms.

But there are invisible threads that connect the two men.  They were both from Viareggio (Lucca) a seaside town on the Tuscan coast.  They arrived in Australia from India onboard the Mariposa. Their only placement in Australia was Cowra: 27.4.44 until repatriation onboard the Alcantara 23.12.46. They both left a lasting legacy.

Vannucci’s occupation is recorded as ‘decorator’ and Pieraccini’s occupation is ‘clerk’. They are names that remain forever connected to this history and Cowra, because during their time in Cowra, they painted ‘renaissance’ style Altar Panels for Cowra Camp 12 (C).

Cowra Altar Compound 12 (C) c. 1946  (photo courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)

The coloured photo of the chapel at Camp 12(C) was one of three photos Ippolito Moscatelli took home to Ospitaletto di Cormano (Milano)  with him; souvenirs of life as a prisoner of war in Australia. At first glance, granddaughter Francesca  Maffietti thought this was a chapel in Italy.  Her grandparents made pilgrimages to many chapels in Italy, taking photos along the way. At first glance this chapel could be mistaken for an Italian chapel; the decorations are undoubtedly Italian in style.  Eliseo and Carlo through their art, brought a little of Italy to Cowra.

The wooden floor, corrugated iron roof, exposed beams and gaps between walls and roof: this is the chapel in 1946. The altar is painted in a fashion to appear like marble. The details are beautiful: the motif of the Holy Ghost represented as a dove above the crucifix, the cross on the front of the altar, the paintings of Mary and Jesus, the backdrop painted in burgundy, whites and shades of black. In contrast is the November 1941 chapel for Cowra Camp 12 (C). It consisted of an outdoor altar. Quite possibly this original altar eventually found a home inside a hut and bit by bit, decorative paintings were added as were religious items.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra No 12, section C. Autel en plein air. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp 12, section C. Outdoors altar.

Outside Altar Cowra Camp 12 C 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00217)

The Altar panels of Mary and Jesus are stored at the Cowra Regional Art Gallery. Details about the panels can be found at: https://www.cowraguardian.com.au/story/6550175/council-seeks-heritage-listing-for-italian-pow-art-works/

The Virgin Mary painted by Eliseo Pieraccini (left) and Jesus painted by Carlo Vannucci (right) (photos from The Cowra Guardian December 24 2019, Council Seeks Heritage Listing for Italian POW Art Works)

Carlo Vannucci

In addition to this little know history is the close connection between Sergeant Robert Dunlop Burge and Carlo Vannucci. Hugh Cullimore, Art Curator at the Australian War Memorial provides the following information:“Sergeant Robert Dunlop Burge (N386934) was in charge of the Engineering section at Cowra prisoner of war camp from 15 May 1942 to 29 April 1947. During his service as a guard, Sergeant Burge formed friendships with several of the prisoners, including Italian artist Carlo Vannucci. Vannucci had been captured in Libya and transported by the US Navy to Australia, where he was interned in Cowra. Sergeant Burge organised paints and canvas from old flour bags for Vannucci and other artists in the camp. Sergeant Burge’s wife, Jenny Catherine Burge, regularly travelled on the train to visit her husband serving at the camp. Vannucci painted [a] portrait of Jenny for Sergeant Burge, as a gift.” And the same initial descriptor with this quote: “Sometime later on a routine workshop inspection Vannucci took me by surprise with a gift of a framed painting which he had signed” Burge said in 1975, in an article published in the local paper at the time, as reported by the ‘Cowra Guardian’, 5 June 2014. “It was an impression from memory of a sea view in his home town Viareggio, an Italian well known seaside resort…The painting was an expression of Vannucci’s thanks.”

Colleen Hill, daughter of Sergeant Burge visited Carlo in Italy in 2014 as reported: https://www.cowraguardian.com.au/story/2332256/a-new-generation-of-friendship/

Carlo Vannucci on return to Italy continued his artistic passion with his involvement in the Carvevale di Viareggio: https://2017.gonews.it/2015/09/30/viareggio-carnevale-morto-carlo-vannucci-decano-dei-carristi/  The facebook group: Carnevale di Viareggio highlights a number of Carlo’s works. 

“La vacca capitolina” di Carlo Vannucci (Carro di prima categoria)terzo premio al CarnevalediViareggio 1979

Eliseo Pieraccini

In the Relic Collection of the Australian War Memorial, there is a sculpture that is attributed to Eliseo Pieraccini.  Hugh Cullimore Art Curator provides the following information: The two [photos] titled CR25408 are of the Pieraccini work we have, with scant details on its creation. I note its strong Art Deco appearance, a style that was sliding out of fashion by the time of the War.

Statue made by Eliseo Pieraccini (AWM CR25408)

What works of art did your father bring home from Italy?

Did they create an item in wood or metal?

Do you have a painting or sketch made by your nonno?

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
― 
Pablo Picasso

A special thank you to Francesca Maffetti, granddaughter of Ippolito Moscatelli and Hugh Cullimore, Art Curator Australian War Memorial for their contributions to this article.

POST SCRIPT: The history of the Cowra Camp is complicated.  It consisted of 4 compounds: A, B, C and D each capable of accommodating 1000 people. It housed prisoners of war: Italian, Japanese, Korea and Formosan; and internees: Italian, Indonesian and Javanese.  Which group lived in which compound changed during the years of its operation : 1941-1946.

In 1942 Compound D was named: Special Camp 12 (D) for Italian prisoner of war Dysentery Carriers [amoebic and bacillary carriers].

Cowra Camp also housed children. Indonesian families were interned at Cowra in September 1943.

By 1944 Compound D housed Japanese Officers, Formosans and Koreans.

Such was the complexity of the prisoner of war and internment camps in Australia. 

Prayers, Priests and Chapels

The inspiration for this article began with a photo of the Cowra Chapel. After some research, I realised that this topic was much more complex.  Prayers, Priests and Chapels begins with the patron saints of villages and is a journey of the Italian soldier and prisoners of war through their faith.

Italy

There might have been exceptions but it was reported that all Italian prisoners of war were Catholic.  Evidence of their religious faith starts with the prayer cards they were given of the patron saint of their village. These prayer cards were taken with them to the battlefields, to the prisoner of war camps, to Australia and then finally returned with the men to Italy.

Domenico Feruilli’s Prayer Card (photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)

Libya

In Libya Roman Catholic Churches were built by the Italians before the outbreak of war. Did the Italian soldiers get an opportunity to visit these churches and pray? Did they light a candle for their safety in battle? Or maybe they made the sign of the cross as they passed by these churches on the way to battle?

Biagio di Ferdinando wrote, “During my travels from Tobruck to Bengasi, after Derna and Barce there were many beautiful villas, towns, schools, churches, all new.”  (Odyssey by Biagio di Ferdinando)

1st March 1941 BENGHAZI. EXTERIOR OF THE CATHEDRAL OF THE SACRED NAME OF JESUS. SMALL BOMBS HAVE FALLEN IN THE COURTYARD BEFORE THE CATHEDRAL AND THE BLAST FROM HEAVY GERMAN BOMBS HAS SHATTERED MOST OF THE WINDOWS. (AWM Image 006539, Photographer Hurley, James Francis (Frank)

Egypt

In 1941, the Apostolic Delegate for Egypt and Palestine had ‘Libro di Preghiere’ published in Palestine, with the permission of G.H.Q. Middle East. It was a prayer book distributed to Italian prisoners of war. 

It included Preghiera Del Prigioniero as well as part of a prayer for the prisoners by Pope Pius XII. For many, this would have been their only book but it was a book to give the men spiritual guidance and comfort.

Libro di Preghiere (photo courtesy of Daniel Reginato)

India

In India, the men were given materials to paint and sew with. The men drew inspiration from their faith. Filippo Granatelli’s ‘Last Supper’ is one example.

Filippo Granatelli 16.11.42 (photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

Many of the embroideries are religious in nature: the patron saint of a village, Jesus, The Sacred Heart, Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Giuseppe Polito: Rappresenta la Madonna degli Angeli, protettrice di Sacco (SA) il suo paese. (photo courtesy of Silvio Masullo)

Carved Wooden Statue of Madonna made by Isidoro Del Piccolo in Yol Camp India (photo courtesy of Ermanno Scrazzolo)

The Italians brought a little of Italy to the chapels in the British camps in India with elaborate decorations: paintings, statues, frescos and altars.

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 22, aile 4. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Prisonniers se recueillant devant un autel. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 22, wing 4. Italian prisoners of war camp. Prisoners meditating in front of an altar.

Prisoners Praying Camp 22 Wing 4 Bangalore (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-10A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 23. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Altar. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 23. Italian prisoners of war camp. Altar.

Camp No 23 Bangalore Altar (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-16A)

Worthy of note are the details of Our Lady of the Prisoner. The hat, the shirt with a black diamond patch, the shorts with the black strip; items which identified the men as prisoners of war have been meticuoulsy represented.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Groupe I. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Monument “Notre-Dame du prisonnier”. Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp. “Notre-Dame du prisonnier” monument.

Our Lady of the Prisoner Bangalore Group I 12.12.1941 (ICRC V-P-HIST=03474-05A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp 2. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Autel dans la chapelle. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 2. view of the altar in the chapel.

Bangalore Camp 2 View of the Altar in the Chapel (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-20A)

Australia: In the Camps

The first group of Italian prisoners of war arrived at Hay Camp New South Wales in May 1941. A 1943 report and a 1944 photo records information about how the spiritual needs of the Italians were catered for at Hay Camps 7 and 8:

The prisoners of war of these two camps are all Catholics. Camp 8 has a chapel adorned with a beautiful altar carved in wood and having a harmonium. The chapel of Camp 7 is located in one of the refectories; it also has a beautiful sculpted altar and a harmonium. Each camp has a prisoner of war priest who provides regular worship.

Camp priest, Virgilio Iacobelli featured below arrived in Australia on 27th May 1941 with the first group of Italian prisoners of war.  He served at both Hay and Cowra camps.

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. 45005 LIEUTENANT PADRE I. VIRGILIO IACOBELLI AN ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, AT THE ALTAR IN THE CHAPEL OF NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. ALL THE CRAFT WORK IN THE CHAPEL WAS DONE BY THE PRISONERS. PLAYING THE ORGAN IS 45192 SERGEANT MAJOR VINCENZO COMMARATA. (AWM Image 063360, Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)

To make way for new arrivals of Italian prisoners of war to Australia, Italians were transferred from the established camps at Hay to the tented camps of Cowra.  Cowra Prisoner of War Camps for the Italians were under construction.  In November 1941, photos and reports record the temporary chapel and arrangements for church services:

Each section has a large tent serving as a chapel, containing a pretty altar built for prisoners. The sacred candles, bread and wine are provided once a week by the local priest of Cowra.  Religious duties are carried out by three prisoner of war priests. Recently, Cowra had a visit from the Archbishop of Sydney, representing the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra No 12, section D. Autel en construction. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp 12, section D. Altar under construction

Cowra Camp No 12 Section D Altar under Construction 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00216)

Giuseppe Raimondi from Amaroni (Catanzaro) served as priest at Cowra Special Camp 12 D before being sent to Victoria: V28 Attwoods, Myrtleford Camp, Puckapunyal and V22 Rowville. Raimondi was called as a witness to an inquiry into Captain JM Waterson and the fatal shooting of Rodolfo Bartoli at V22 Rowville.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra No 12, section D. La chapelle. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp 12, section D. Chapel

Cowra Camp No 12 Section D The Chapel 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00215)

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra, camp A, série A. Autel dans un réfectoire. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp A, serie A. Altar in a dining hall.

Cowra Camp A Altar in the Dining room 3.9.42 (ICRC V_P-HIST-E-00218)

Faustino Lenti from Milano had been a Missionary Father in India and served at Cowra Camps.  Lenti was a charismatic and colourful character and by April 1944, it was reported: It is alleged that he controls a ‘basher gang’ composed of PoW… and that he employs a personal bodyguard for his protection. The latest information about him is that he fears an attempt will be made on his life. (NAA: SP196/2 443/1/5280)

Reports were conflicting.

Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Information Board (photo courtesy of David Ackers)

The Apostolic Delegate for Australia, Monseigneur Giovanni Panicio published ‘L’Amico del Prigioniero’ in1943.  It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.

Having the book written in Italian and Latin is significant.  Mass was said in Latin until the Second Vatican 1965. This book ensured that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian. This gesture was a significant show of concern for the spiritual welfare of the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.

Ermanno Nicoletti carved a piece of wood and turned it into a profile of his mother, while praying. Granddaughter Alessandra contemplates, “News of prisoners of war were scarce and at some point my grandmother almost lost faith that her son was still alive.” On the other side of the world in Australia, Ermanno ‘knew’ that his mother was praying for him and carved his thoughts in wood.

Wood Carving by Ermanno Nicoletti (photo courtesy of Alessandra Nicoletti)

Australia: Life on the farm

By the middle of 1943, the first Italian prisoners of war were sent to farm placements in the Hamilton district of Victoria and Coonabarabran district of New South Wales.  This trial was successful and was implemented throughout Australia: Prisoner of War Control Centres: Without Guards [PWCC].  In the Notice to Employers of Prisoners-of-War given to the farmers as part of the employment contract there is this statement:

5. You will be required to see that the following rules are obeyed:-

          (a) P.W. must not leave your property except-

(i) to attend religious services, for which special arrangements will be made by the Military Authorities; (NAA: D2380)

There are many memories of the Italians attending local churches. All manner of transport was used to get the men to church; bikes, horse and sulky, truck, car, on foot.  It was remembered the Italians would go to church with the Catholic family on the neighbouring farm, as the host family were not Catholic. Children of the time remember the Italians walking to church in their ‘red pyjamas’ a reference to the burgundy coloured uniform the men wore. Some Australians remember with shame that the Italian POWs had to stand at the back or sides of the church and had to leave the mass before its conclusion. Others recall the beautiful singing voices of the Italians during mass.

Italians in the Boonah district of Queensland attended a Mission Church because they learned that the pastor, Dr Dwyer spoke Italian. The Italians would enjoy conversations with Dr Dwyer after service.  Members of the congregation knew this was against the ‘rules’ and wondered if they would get arrested for their compassion. Father Steele from Beaudesert Queensland, assisted and nominated Paul Raffa with his application process to return to Australia.  It was Father Steele who welcomed Raffa when he disembarked from the ‘Napoli’ at Brisbane in May 1949.  

In June 1944, a special event was reported in the Gympie news:  His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. John Panico, has recently been visiting prisoners of war employed in various centres on the North Coast of Queensland.  At Gympie he met a large number of them at St. Patrick’s Church, where he celebrated Mass.  At 10 o’clock his Excellency addressed the people, speaking in Italian to the prisoners of war and tendering them excellent advice.  The services of these men are greatly valued by their employers because of their good habits and their knowledge of rural industries. (1944 ‘Of General Interest’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 7 June, p. 4. , viewed 12 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172213489)

However this event drew the ire of Smith’s Weekly whose headline was:  Fascist “Guard of Honor” and made mention of ‘dago prisoners of war’.

Also criticized was a decision by Commonwealth Authorities to give a petrol allowance [petrol was rationed in Australia during WW 2] to farmers to take Italian prisoners to church. The question was asked as to ‘why such benevolent treatment was accorded “these dagoes”.’

A kindly gentleman, Cyril Blacket of Pinery South Australia met an Italian prisoner of war at his local church.  With good intentions, Cyril tried to communicate with the Italian farm worker, via the Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War booklet the Italian had, but with little success.  Blacket applied to the Department of Army for a copy of the booklet, only to be warned: PW are not allowed to fraternise with members of the public, PW Camp Order No. 13 Sec 68 (c). (NAA: D2380)

1946 Cowra Camp

In 1946, the Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farm placements and brought into the camps to await repatriation. It was during this time that two altar panels for the chapel were painted by Cowra Italian POWs.

Cowra Chapel 1946 (courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)

Back to Italy

Ippolito Moscatelli from Ospitaletto di Cormano (Milano) returned to Italy with photos of the Cowra Chapel.  It is with special thanks to his granddaughter Francesca Maffietti that there is a record of the Cowra Chapel in 1946.

The altar panels survived. However they deserve a more detailed article.

How many other copies of this photo returned to Italy?

Have you seen this photo in your nonno’s collection?

Maybe you thought this photo was of a church in Italy?

Life as a soldier and as a prisoner of war was difficult.  Some Italians were absent from their families for ten years. Those years saw the men always on the move.  Life was a continual cycle of change.

One aspect of the men’s lives that did no change was their religious faith.

… prayer books, churches, chapels, paintings, frescoes, statues, embroideries, priests, photos, prayer cards, memories…

The Cowra Fountains

The Cowra Fountain

(ICRC V-P-HIST-01881-01 New South Wales, camp of Cowra. Fountain.Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle-Galles du sud, camp de Cowra. Fontaine. )

Two Cowra Italian POW fountains have been uncovered and partially reconstructed. The larger of the two was used as a backdrop to the group photos. These group photos were taken of the Italian prisoners of war in September 1943 and February 1944. Some Italian families are fortunate to have seen their father or grandfather, posing with other Italian prisoners of war for a photo, in front of this fountain.

An archaeological assessment of the Cowra Camp reports, “ In contrast, are the remains of formal gardens established by the Italian POW are extant within the area of the Italian Compound A. They illustrate the transfer of cultural actives by the Italian prisoners into their new enforced environment. The construction of fountains using methods, possibly ethnic origin, is of exceptional research interest and reflects the prisoner’s expressions of their homeland and culture.” : Archaeological Assessment for the site of Prisoner of War Camp 12 Cowra, NSW. October 2003, Dr JL Tracey and Dr MM Tracey.

During the excavations a panel with A XXI EF was discovered, this dates the fountain to the twenty first year (Anno XXI) of the Fascist Era (Era Fascista): October 29 1942 to October 28 1943.

Fountain Inscription XXI EF(Cowra Guardian September 17 2014, Cowra-Italy Friendship Association resolves to support museum push)

Views of the Italian section at Cowra POW Camp (https://shortysrvadventures.com/2017/07/29/days-100-101-chilling-in-cowra/)

By 2014, archaeological work had uncovered the remnant of the fountains, and the smaller of the two fountains has been reconstructed. Two men responsible for the unearthing of the collapsed fountains and subsequent partial reconstructions were George Ridley and Dick Bell.

Dick Bell and George Ridley

(Cowra Guardian September 17 2014, Cowra-Italy Friendship Association resolves to support museum push)

Reconstruction of the smaller fountain (Lyn W April 2016 Tripadvisor)

Fragments of concrete are important reminders of a history which is relevant and important for thousands of Italian families. They link the past with the present; they give a context to photos or memories.

There are also almost invisible links to this history. The photo below are testament to this: Amante, Guarnaci, La Iacona were all sent to Gympie Queensland for farm work and they are all from Sicily; Vizzini and Giarratano are from Villarosa (Enna); Bloise, Armentano and Amoroso are from Mormanno (Cosenza); Foringo and Gordini are also from the province of Cosenza.

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57037 A. Amante; 57273 G. Guarnaccia; 57288 G. La Iacona; 57252 S. Giambusso; 57051 C. Avola; 46957 S. Vizzini; 57257 G. Giarratano. Front row: 57268 M. Gordini; 57070 L. Bloisi; 57046 R. Armentano; 57038 S. Amoroso; 57226 D. Foringo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030173/15 Photographer: McInnes, Geoffrey)

Notice also the the difference in the gardens between the first photo and the 1944 photos of the fountain. The shrubs have grown and are neatly trimmed. The 1944 photo below is taken at a slightly different angle, which highlights two gardens.

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Shown here are: 49777 Father F. Lenti, Military Chaplian; 57147 A. Cerrutti; 49593 A. Poggi; 57534 G. Quintiliani; 49557 A. Mercurio; 49439 G. Carrari; 45953 G. Lo Russo; 57431 F. Pelliconi; 57122 N. Chiaranta; 57521 A. Vezzola; 57289 R. La Notte; 57136 P. D’Autilia; 48214 F. Mainardi; 57102 F. Caraccio; 45006 B. Arbasi; 57432 G. Pennacchio; 45739 M. Gatti; 57118 N. Cerreto; 46466 A. Piermattei; 57528 F. De Scisciolo; 49621 L. Piervirgili; 57196 P. Di Siena; 57227 F. Fornari; 57171 V. De Lucia; 57318 M. Lullo; 57278 C. Iacolari; 57339 G. Manda; 46264 N. Monteleone; 57355 S. Martella; 57293 C. La Rosa; 45169 C. Catuogno; 57435 T. Peruzzini; 57277 R. Iacobucci; 57402 G. Napolitano. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030175/04 Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)

Repatriation: Alcantara

Today’s article is with thanks to Rocco Martino in New York.  Twelve weeks ago, he offered to pay for a copy of the Alcantara Nominal Rolls of Italian Prisoners of War.

There were over 20 ships which transported Italian prisoners of war from Australia to Italy but not all lists have been digitalized by the National Archives of Australia.  The four main transport ships were Alcantara, Ormonde, Otranto and Orontes, sailing the end of 1946/ beginning of 1947.

After I published the article about the Ormonde  titled: Sailing Home,  Rocco made his generous offer.  Thank you most sincerely Rocco on behalf of the 3321 Italian families whose fathers and grandfathers were on this ship.

The Alcantara departed Sydney on 23rd December 1946.  Official military documentation records that there were 3321 Italian prisoners onboard: 77 officers and 3244 ORs.

The group of Italians were transported in six train from Cowra to Sydney where they embarked the Alcantara from Pyrmont Wharf.  The event was reported in the newspapers and no doubt the Italians would have seen the humour and irony in the situation where the Italians ‘munched hard-boiled eggs, tarts and sandwiches’ while the ‘guards went without food‘. Upon arrival in Sydney, the Italians were given a mug of tea and fruit.

1946 Dec 23 The Telegraph

The Telegraph, Prisoners Eat: Guards Starve, 23 December 1946.

The Italians were allowed up to 90 lbs of  personal possessions and the photo below show all manner of baggage.  Some Italians had used their cash funds to buy up essential items like soap, toothpaste, clothing for their family, boots and canned food, as they already knew these items were in short supply in Italy.  “Most of the Italians wore camp made felt slippers and carried one or two pairs of new boots.  One in every twenty had a musical instrument, a violin, mandolin, guitar or accordion.”  

1946 Dec Daily Advertiser

Daily Advertiser, Back to Italy, 25 December 1946

The departure of the ship was held up waiting for the crew (Australian guards who no doubt went in search of food).  Scheduled for a 4 pm departure, the Alcantara sailed at 6.30pm. In the article below, you can see one of the Italians enjoying his sandwich and cup of tea.

Nicola Auciello is pictured on the bottom right.  He had reason to smile as he was engaged to an Australian girl. Nicola’s fiancee Muriel travelled to Italy at the end of 1947 and married Nicola in Bari in April 1948.  They returned to Australia in December 1948 taking up residence on a sheep property at Wee Waa.

Each of the 3321 Italians would have their own special story.  One Italian, showed the newspaper reporter a picture of his 11 year old son, who had never seen. Other Italians commented that they wanted to return to Australia and they were not looking forward to seeing ‘how bad’ the situation was in Italy.

Alcantara Four Italians

The Sun, Italian POW’s Leave for Home, 23 December 1946

The Alcantara according to Domenico Masciulli’s testimony, arrived into Naples on 22nd January 1947.

Take the time to read through the lists of Italians.  You will find men from your village or town; and men who were born in USA, Brazil, Argentina, France, Libya, Switzerland and Scotland.

This is an invaluable document and while looking through the names in the lists, it is difficult not to feel a definite sense of certainty: these men: brothers, fathers, grandfathers and sons were finally going home.

Many a name on the list is familiar to me; I have had contact with their families or spoken with their Australian farming families. I have seen their life through photos: after they returned home, on their wedding day, with their children. And you have been introduced to them through the articles on this website:  Domenico Petruzzi, Domenico Masciulli, Francesco (Ciccio) Cipolla, Stefano Lucantoni, Angelo Amante, Angelo Valiante, Adriano Zagonara, Salvatore Morello, Vincenzo Pace, Fortunato Gobbi, Luigi Iacopini, Paolo Reginato, Ferdinando Pancisi, Giuseppe Mangini, Costanzo Melino, Antonio Lumia, Domenico Tiberi.

Alcantara Troop ship 1942

Alcantara

(Martin Harrison, Medals Research Site, http://martinharisonsmedalresearch.weebly.com/gray-leslie-frank)

You can view the lists of Italian Prisoners of War two ways.

1. 1946 Alcantara Rolls

2.  Go to http://www.naa.gov.au  and search [Nominal rolls of Italian Prisoners of War at Cowra POW camp, for transfer from Australia to Naples, Italy per ALCANTARA] [Box 9]

NAA: SP196/1, 10 PART 15

POW Ricordo Cowra

1.1.45

Artefacts made by Italian Prisoners of War are rare. While there are many memories of the gifts made by the POWs such as rings, engravings and wooden objects, there are few items still in existence.

So an email from David Stahel in Brisbane is very exciting. David owns a boxed chess set made by Italian POWs in Cowra.  It is not only beautiful but it is special because of the story behind the board.

Cowra Chess

Badge on Chess Set

( from the photographic collection of David Stahel)

 

The Italian prisoners of war were making chess sets in 1944, when Geoffrey McInnes captured them on film.  And quite possibly David’s chess set was one such set made by the Italian POWs. The photo below shows five Italian POWs working on a lathe built from salvaged timber and metal to produce chess pieces. The sets were sold for 35/- to Army Amenities Section.

Cowra Chess AWM 4134226

(AWM Image 064356 Photo by McInnes, Geoffrey Cowra, NSW. 1944-02-07)

David’s chess sets adds detail to the history of the chess sets being made by Italian POWs at Cowra.  “My father had a chess board that he told me he bought from an Italian POW for some packs of cigarettes.  I grew up with this board and learnt to play draught and chess on it with my father… the painted watercolour scene (unsigned) is very reminiscent of the Italian countryside.  The workmanship of the board and pieces are of a very high standard. Inside is quilted with a satin like fabric. Pawns, rooks, bishops, kings, queens, draught have been turned on a lathe which the knights are carved from a turned base… My father was a lieutenant in the artillery, specifically in the anti aircraft arena,” writes David Stahel.

Cowra Chess Pieces

Boxed Chess Set

( from the photographic collection of David Stahel)

The concept of Italian POWs selling boxed chess sets for 35/- raises a few questions.  POWs were not allowed to have in their possession Australian currency, so what happened to the proceeds of sales.  Quite possibly funds were deposited into the canteen fund.  Profits from the canteen were used by POWs to purchase books for the camp library. Prisoners of war were allowed access to books and music to further their studies and libraries were established in camps. Additionally, access to books and music was a way for POWs to usefully occupy their leisure time.

 

Cowra 1941 – A Snapshot

Cowra is probably the most recognised Prisoner of War and Internment Camp due the memory and history of the  Japanese outbreak in 5th August 1944.

For many Italian families who find the word Cowra on the Service Card of their relative, it is also a name they remember from the stories their fathers and grandfathers told them.

A little of Cowra’s establishment and history….

The first prisoners of war to be accommodated at Cowra Prisoner of War and Internment Camp arrived in camp on 14th October 1941. While the camp has been established in June 1941, facilities had to be put in place before the first intake’s arrival.

On 11th and 12th November 1941, an independent international delegate visited the Cowra Camp to inspect the conditions and make his report.  This report offers a unique snapshot into Cowra Camp life and the Italian prisoners of war residing there.

Cowra Camp was divided into four groups: Camp A, Camp B, Camp C and Camp D.  Only Camp C and Camp D were in operation in November 1941.

The group of Italian prisoners of war consisted of 964 – Army, 367- Navy, 1 – Airforce, 453 Health Personnel (medics, doctors, orderlies), 3 – priests = 1788.

Daily routine

Cowra November 1941 Daily Routine

With the camp still in its construction phase, barracks with galvanised sheeting and windows had been constructed for the following purposes: dining room, detention block, ablutions, toilets, laundry, administration, kitchens, infirmary  and canteen.

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Cowra November 1941 Camp C: Ablutions

Until barracks were constructed for dormitories, the Italians lived in tents. The tents sat atop  a base of wooden planks with impermeable canvas separating the mattress and floor and also used for sides and roof. A mattress and three covers were provided for each man.  The tents slept six men and they were swept daily and three times a week cleaned with soap.

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Cowra November 1941 Camp D: Tents

Camp Leaders were assigned for Camp C and Camp D. Camp C: Sgt Major Ugo Porta (Medical), Sgt Major Alfonso Angeli (Combatant).  Camp D: Sgt Major Giovanni Fimiani (Combatant). The two camps were separated by a barbed wire fence and contact between camps was not allowed. Each tent had a tent leader and each group of 28 tents had a company leader assigned.

There were four refectories for each camp, with each refectory set up for 250 men.  They were furnished with long tables and bench seats.

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Cowra November 1941 Camp D: Dining Hall

The canteen was well provisioned with items available for purchase such as food, treats, chocolate, condensed milk, jams.  The men were issued with coupons to use at the canteen.

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Cowra November 1941 Camp C: Canteen

The Italian prisoners of war were offered work outside the camp eg building roads, irrigation and collecting wood or inside the camp eg as butchers, barbers, tailors, cooks.

The men also kept busy building a chapel, altar and making musical instruments such as guitars, violins, tambourines and cymbals. A school barracks had been built but classes were yet to be set up, but would offer a range of courses.

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Cowra November 1941 Camp D: Orchestra

Both camps had a sports ground where football and handball was played.  New sport and gym equipment consisted of footballs, basket balls, medicine balls.  Camp C established a marionette theatre while Camp D set up an orchestra with 12 musicians.

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Cowra November 1941: The Play of Handball

Rapport between the garrison soldiers and officers was reported to be cordial, treatment of the Italian prisoners of war excellent.  In general, the Italians did not know English, but Australian military interpreters are attached to each camp.  Each morning at inspection, Camp Leaders present their requests to the Commandant of each camp.

A number of requests made by the Italian POWs were noted: purchase of harmonium for church services, books to start a library, daily newspapers, gramophone and records eg lessons in Italian/English, purchase of indoor games eg cards, chess, checkers,  transfer of money relinquished in Egypt to Australian accounts.

Objections were made regarding the burgundy colour of their clothes.

Most importantly, the Italian prisoners of war expressed their concerns for their families as they wait anxiously for news from Italy.