Tag Archives: Embroidery by Italian POWs

Made in India

Libya…India…Australia

Settimio Ceppitelli was with the 201 Reggimento Artiglierei Division 23 MARZO when he was captured 11th December 1940 near Bardia.

Crociani and Batistelli record in The Italian Blackshirt 1935-1945, “Blackshirt divisions at Sidi Barrani in December 1940; 3 Gennairo (disbanded on 10 December) was destroyed, while remnants of the ‘28 Ottobre’ withdrew to Sollum and those of the ‘23 Marzo’ to Bardia, where both were mauled and disbanded on 5 January 1941.”

A glimpse into Italian artillery soldiers can be gleaned by photos held in the Australian War Memorial.  Italian troops were equipped with modern guns yet at the same time they used old German guns made in 1916 together with 149 mm calibre guns introduced into the Italian army in 1910.

1st March 1941 NEAR BARDIA. THESE ARE THE MOST MODERN GUNS USED BY THE ITALIANS AND PROBABLY AS GOOD OR BETTER THAN ANY OTHER SIMILAR GUN IN USE IN THE CAMPAIGN. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

5th January 1941 NEAR BARDIA – AN ITALIAN GUN USED IN THE DEFENCE OF BARDIA. CAPTAIN HOWARD (HISTORICAL RECORDS) INSPECTS THE WEAPON WITH R. MASLYN WILLIAMS. THE ITALIANS HAD A CURIOUS ASSORTMENT OF ANCIENT & MODERN WEAPONS – THIS BEING AN OLD GERMAN GUN MADE IN 1916. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

13th December 1940 SIDI BARRANI – AMONG THE THOUSANDS OF TONS OF STORES & ARMAMENTS ABANDONED BY THE ITALIANS WAS THIS GREAT NAVAL GUN IN THE COURTYARD OF THE BARRACKS AT BARRANI. (AWM Image 004439, PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

Transferred to India, Settimio embroidered Santa Lucia. Noticeable are his initials C. and S. stitched into the work and the colours of the Italian flag at the top and bottom of the pillars.

Santa Lucia is the patron saint of the blind. Santa Lucia appears to have been a popular saint as she was embroidered or painted by several Italian prisoners of war in Bangalore India as is shown in the photo below.

Immagine Santa Lucia (photo courtesy of Bruno Ceppitelli)

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. exposition d’objets d’arts fabriqués par les prisonniers. Word War II. Bangalore. Italian prisoners of war camp. Exhibition of works of art and musical instruments made by prisoners.

Objects of Art crafted by Italian prisoners of war at Bangalore India

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03480-10A)

Settimio’s other embroidery is of the Madonna del Prigioniero. It bears a striking resemblence to the statue of the Madonna del Prigioniero in Bangalore Camp Group 1. 

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.

Madonna del Prigioniero Bangalore Camp Group 1, India

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-05A)

The Madonna is standing on the world with a snake at her feet, her head is adorned with a crown, an Italian prisoner kneels at her side praying and wearing beige clothing with a black stripe, two vases of flowers sit upon the pedestal.

Madonna del Prigioniero India 1942 (photo courtesy of Bruno Ceppitelli)

Settimio arrived in Australia on 26th April 1944 onboard the Mariposa. Tranferred from Melbourne to Cowra Camp New South Wales by train, Settimio was to spend the next 2 years and 8 months at Cowra Camp.

Settimio’s nephew Bruno provides the following details: As an assistant to an officer, Settimio remained in Cowra Camp.  He returned home to Italy with a handmade banjo; he had learnt to play music by ear.

Possibly Lieut. Mario Conti from the 233 Legion CCNN Division 23 MARZO, who was also on the Mariposa, was the officer Settimio was assigned to.

No doubt Settimio prayed in the Cowra Chapel with the beautifully painted altar panels and sat in the audience of the June 1946 performance of L’Antenato [The Ancestor] a Commedia in 3 Atti by Carlo Veneziani.

Settimio returned to Italy on the Alcantara and to farming in his hometown of Soccorso Magione Perugia. His embroideries from India are now framed, a memory of those tumultuous and ‘lost’ years when young men spent their youth as prisoners of war.

Settimio Ceppitelli with his wife, Soccorso Magione Perugia

(photo courtesy of Bruno Ceppitelli)

Treasures in Thread

Take a look at four beautiful embroideries sewn in the POW camps in India…

A little background: where did the cloth and thread come from?

Australian POWs in German camps used threads from worn out socks and jumpers as well as cotton from their army issue ‘housewife’.

Indian Publication Volumes 8-9 January 1941, listed items to be included in POW packages eg coloured silks and cotton threads, plain linen or canvas for embroidering.

The Red Cross sent supplies of recreational and educational material in bulk to prisoner of war camps.

The YMCA is also mentioned as a group who not only contributed books to Australian PW camps but were known also to provide material for tapestry, carpentry, embroidery and leatherwork.

The canteen at Camp No. 22 in India sold balls of mercerized cotton (like Coats Mercer Crochet Cotton).

Cloth used was from a variety of sources eg handkerchief, calico, canvas, cotton; salvaged or repurposed materials.

Treasures in Thread

Treasured keepsakes, given as gifts to Queensland farming families or taken home to Italy come in many forms.  One does not necessarily pair needlework with Italian soldiers. Possibly a skill taught in the camps to wile away the hours of monotony.  The hands of farmers and soldiers were capable of producing the most delicate needlework.

Antonio Fracasso embroided this handkerchief in June 1941 in a camp at Bangalore India.  He was captured at Bardia Libya on 6th January 1941.  These details give an estimation about how long the prisoners were held in Libya and Egypt before sailing for India… a few months at the most.

Fracasso. Embroidery A XIX EF

Salvatore Morello took his embroidered work home to his wife and daughter. The Sacred Heart of Mary (Sacro Cuore di Maria) was worked on canvas.  The angels’ banner reveals that it was created 1942 in India.

Morello Embroidery 1942 India

Sacro Cuore di Maria

(photo courtesy of Luigi Tommasi )

Knight on Horse was embroidered by Francesco Pintabona who stayed with the Harsant family at Warril View via Boonah.  Made into a cushion, the fabric has yellowed with age, but the embroidery shows a calm hand an a good eye. It was made while Frankie was in a camp in India.

Francesco Pintabona

Helen Mullan (nee Rackley) explains this about her embroidered gift: Before he left the farm, Domenico gave me the needlework of “Madonna and Child”.  He had painstakingly worked on a men’s handkerchief, when in a prison camp in India, I believe.  It was kept folded in an envelope for many years.  It is my special treasure, a reminder of Domenico, and I felt I needed to share this treasure with everyone, so I had it framed.  It has pride of place in my China Cabinet. You can see that is a combination of needlework and drawing with a painted background.  I have often wondered if he ran out of cotton as there are sections which have not been embroidered like the feet and the arms of the angel. It looks like he copied the image because you can see his pencilled in grid pattern.  As an adult, I reflect upon what it must have been like in the POW camp in India and the hours he spent embroidering this “Madonna and Child”.

Domenico.Rackely.jpeg

Embroidery by Domenico Mascuilli

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Another beautiful embroidery made in Derradoon India in 1942 can be viewed at Embroidery made by an Italian POW

An embroidery sewn in Australia by Italian POW: Gayndah Australia

Bouquet of Australia Wildflowers was crafted by Domenico Petruzzi who lived with the Robinson family at Glen Ellen via Gayndah.  The lettering at the bottom was Domenico’s addition: Remember Domenico Petruzzi Prisoner of War.

Gayndah Tapestry (2)

Embroidery by Domenico Petruzzi Q4 Gayndah

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Crocifisso Salvatore Martinicca’s  embroidered  handkerchief was sewn while he was in England: Saint Antonio di Padova  

Today it is called ‘Embroidery Therapy’ but during WW 2, embroidery was a recreational and theraputic past time; a means to keeping the hands and the minds occupied during the long months of confinement in POW camps.

During WW 1, soldiers recuperating in hospital were given embroidery to help keep them busy.