Tag Archives: Geneifa Egypt

Prisoner of War Camp Geneifa January 1941

A slip of paper in the Australian archives.

The stamp for Prisoner of War Camp Geneifa.

A little more history is documented.

Antonio Greco had arrived at Campo Geneifa 13 days after his capture at Bardia Libya. His details are recorded; he is assigned a M.E. Number: 70596. In small print are these words: The date of receipt of prisoner should be recorded by office stamp on reverse.

18.1.41 Geneifa ; 12.6.43 No. 1 Wing 28 POW Camp [28 POW Camp Yol]; 15.6.43 Yol Kangra Valley

Alessandra Garizzo shares this information about her father: Giuseppe Garizzo was captured at Bardia 4th January 1941. He wrote in his libretto: 28.01.1941 transferred to Camp 15° in Geneifa [306]; 29.1.41 lucky to be assigned to the food supplies storage, we had food enough; 30.1.41 Met Venetian friend Santolini; 4.2.41 First antitetanic injection; 10.2.41 Received letters from family for the first time since I left home.

(Photo courtesy of Alessandra Garizzo)

Vaccinations: On Antonio Greco’s form there is a notation: 2.6.42 Cholera [cholera vaccination] On another Italian’s form there is the notation: Geneifa -TAB. VACC 6th July 1941. 

Other Italians received the TAB VACC in India. On some forms the reference for TAB vaccination is Enteric Vaccination. Cholera inoculations were also given in India.

TAB. VACC = combined vaccine used to produce immunity against the diseases typhoid, paratyphoid A, and paratyphoid B

Camp 379 Qassassin

Prisoner of War Camp Quassassin was situated 35 kms by rail west of Ismalia on the Suez Canal; 230 kms SE of Alexandria and 74 kms from Geneifa.

On the map below, El Qassasin, Ismalia and Geneifa are identified.

(http://www.sunsandcanal.co.uk/canal-zone-map.html)

One Italian prisoner of war, Leonido Tassinari and his documentation assists us in understanding the journey of Italians serving with the navy at Tobruk.

Leonido Tassinari

Leonido was a gunner on the San Giorgio which was stationed in Tobruk Harbour when he was ‘captured’ on 22nd January 1941.

TOBRUK HARBOUR, 1941. ITALIAN GUNNERY TRAINING SHIP SAN GIORGIO WHICH WAS REDUCED TO A WRECK BY ATTACKS OF NAVAL AIRCRAFT AND RAF BOMBERS AT TOBRUK BETWEEN 1940-06 AND JANUARY 1941. (AWM Image P00090.026)

Leonido was processed at Quassassin on 5th March 1941.  His form is stamped in Geneifa Camp 15th September 1941. 

On 24th September Leonida and 988 other Italian prisoners of war boarded the Queen Mary. Around this same time, 948 Italian prisoners of war boarded the Queen Elizabeth.

Elio Spandonari

Elio Spandonari also served in the Italian navy at Tobruk. He wrote that from the Tobruk airfield which was used as a temporary prisoner of war compound, a group was taken to the port of Tobruk and boarded on a rusty boat.  The boat landed the men in Alexandria and they were taken to a concentration camp near the sea which was guarded by Polish soldiers*.  After a short stay, a group of marines were taken to a camp near Ismailia: El Quassassin (El Kassassin). Elio recalls that after many months, he was transferred to a camp close to Suez then the men in total about 2000 were transferred to the Port of Suez to be boarded on a ship: destination unknown.

“Il traghetto procedeva lentamente, però man mano la cittadina di Suez incominciava a rimpicciolirsi sino a diventare una striscia continua e incolore. Le navi ferme alle boe furono sorpassate e davanti a noi e, al di fuori di un enorme scafo poco distante non vi era più nulla, solo mare aperto.

Mai più pensavamo che quello fosse il mezzo destinato a trasportarci verso la destinazione che finalmente ci avevano comunicato: Australia, terra così lontana. Altre incognite, si andava verso posti sconosciuti…

Quel grande scafo con tre grossi fumaioli con una grande ‘C’ (Cunard Line) era la nave destinata al nostro trasporto. Era la Queen Mary, allora il più grande transatlantico del  mondo, stazza 80000 tonnellate, una montagna di acciaio.” (from Diario per Laura by Elio Spandonari)

Together, Tassinari’s documents and Spandonari’s testimony provide a timeline from capture at Tobruk Libya to arrival at Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Australia.

Port Tewfik was where the Italians boarded a ferry to be taken to the Queen Mary. The Queen Mary departed Suez on the 24th September 1941.  It arrived in Ceylon at Trincomalee, a deep-water harbour on 1st October 1941.  On the 7th October 1941, the Queen Mary sailed into Fremantle Harbour Western Australia. Coming in through Sydney Heads and sailing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Queen Mary disembarked her passengers on the 13th October 1941.

On the 14th October 1941, the first residents of Cowra Prisoner of War Camp arrived.

The Italian prisoners of war on the Queen Elizabeth arrived in Sydney on the 15th October 1941 and ‘marched in’ to Cowra Camp 16th October 1941.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle-Galles du sud, camp de Cowra. N°12, Section D. Les tentes. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, n°12, section D. The tents.

1st November 1941 Cowra PW Camp 12 Section D (ICRC V-P-HIST-01879-25)

Elio Spandonari, Ippolito Moscatelli , Leonido Tassinari Giuseppe Loprieno.

All four men served in the Italian Navy and were captured 21-22nd January 1941 at Tobruk.

There were a total of 339 marines from Tobruk on board the Queen Mary’s voyage to Australia in October 1941. It was almost nine months from the time the marines were captured to their arrival in Australia.

*Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade – a group of Polish soldiers, trained by the British in Latrun Palestine; they assisted the Australians and British during the Siege of Tobruk April 1941- December 1941.

What does 50 piastres buy?

Leonard Fortuna arrived in Australia with 50 piatres; money from Egypt. It was recorded on his Property Statement and transferred to his Australian account.  Prisoners of war were prohibited from having money in their possession.

A question arises about the value of fifty piastres.  One hundred piastres equalled an Egyptian pound in the 1940s.  But what could a man buy with fifty piastres?

The answer can be found in a Canteen Price List from Camp 306 in Egypt March 1944.

For fifty piatres one could buy a five pound tin of honey.  Fifty piastres could also buy a kilo of olives, a kilo of macaroni, and a hair brush OR a medium chocolate, a tin of pilchards, a bottle of syrup and cigarettes OR five packets of biscuits, eau de cologne and a kilo of macaroni.

Archives du CICR Campo 306

In the photo below, the canteen supervisor shows the International Delegate for the Red Cross dates and eggs on sale at the canteen.

Geneiffa, camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens N° 306 “Middle East”. Le prisonnier de guerre en charge de la cantine vendant des oeufs et des dattes à un délégué du CICR.

Prisoner of War in Charge of Canteen 4.10.41

 ICRC V-P-HIST-03408-14A

The following is from an October 1943 report on Camp 306: The canteen is run by an Egyptian. It is very well supplied with products and articles of all kinds. there are fresh fruits and vegetables, canned food, syrup, toiletries (soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razor blades, shaving soap, etc.) clothing items (underwear, shirts, shorts, socks, stockings, handkerchiefs) stationery (paper, feathers, ink, pencils) tobacco, cigarettes, sweets and sold at local trade prices. The prices are established in Egyptian piastres (there are 100 piastres in an Egyptian pound).  (October 1943)

This history is complex and often a small item such as fifty piastres from Egypt when paired with a Canteen Price List can offer new insight.

Campo 306 Geneifa Egitto

A very special thank you to Antonella Benvenuti from Venezia.  Antonella has shared with me documents relating to Camp 306 Geneifa Egypt. Collaboration is integral to documenting this history.

Representatives from the International Committee for the Red Cross visited prisoner of war camps and wrote reports regarding the conditions of the camps, services and welfare of prisoners of war.  

These reports are vital primary source documents providing valuable insights, as are the photographs taken on their visits.

I have combined information from these reports together with photos to present a ‘photo story’ of Geneifa Prisoner of War Camp 306.

The reports used: February and July 1942; February and October 1943; March 1944.

The photos used: October 1941 and undated photos.

GENEIFA, EGYPT, 1941. PRISON CAMP AT GINEIFA, NOT FAR FROM SUEZ. TAKEN FROM PASSING TRAIN. (AWM Image P00237.056)

THE CAMP

Camp 306 is an immense camp consisting of 24 sections each with several dozen tents and able to house 500 to 800 prisoners. In February 1942, 23 sections were occupied by Italian prisoners of war; 3 of these sections were reserved for the officers.

In total there were 301 officers: three lieutenant-colonels, seven majors, three priests, 34 doctors and 34 assistants to the officers.

There were 700 Italian soldiers in each of the other 19 sections. In each section there are 60 tents.  The men sleep on the sand and have two or three covers/blankets at their disposal.  They have no complaints about the cold.

The camp is situated in a desert region but has picturesque views of a lake and some mountains.  The climate is healthy. (February 1942)

WORK and PAY

Two hundred prisoners per section work in the camp constructing paths around the tents etc.  They work approximately 8 hours a day but do not work on Fridays or Sundays.  They are paid 2 piastres per day, on top of their allowance of 10 piastres: 10 one week and 5 the alternate week.  The pay is paid regularly. (February 1942)

No complaints about payments. Italians, with the exception of officers, the men receive their pay and wages in cash. Italian officers receive 1 Egyptian pound in cash and the remainder is credited to their individual accounts.(February 1943)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Confection de briques crues avec du sable.

Manufacturing of bricks made from sand VP- HIST-00848-24A

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Travail en détention. Geneiffa, camp n°306. Work in detention.

Camp Duties: VP-HIST-E-05028

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Corvée de lessive.

Camp Duties: Washing VP-HISTO-02858-11

In October 1943, there were 407 Italian prisoners of war in Camp 306 (and 9,810 German prisoners of war)

All Italian prisoners of war work either in the Italian section of the central POW post office or in the bakery, or are employed at the camp commandant’s office. A few are also assigned to the maintenance service of their section.

The POWs who take care of the maintenance of the camp do not receive any salary. Those who have other jobs (post office, bakery, office workers) receive a salary of 3 or 6 milliemes per hour. There are 1000 milliemes in an Egyptian pound. The supervisors receive 8 milliemes per hour. (October 1943)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Boulangerie.

The Bakery VP-HIST-00851-13

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Boulangerie.

The Bakery VP-HIST-00851-14

POW CENTRAL POST

The POW Central Post forms a special section within Camp 306, completely isolated from the rest of the camp.

In the post itself, the German and Italian departments are separate. About forty German prisoners and a hundred Italians work there in long and vast tents specially fitted out for this purpose. Two files are used and constantly kept up to date, one alphabetical with the surnames and first names of prisoners of war, the other numbered with registration numbers.

The Italian section has a file for officers and another for all other ranks.

All correspondence from the Middle East is classified and distributed upon its arrival at the Postal Section among prisoners of war responsible for checking addresses. This operation is carried out using the two files. Then, the letters are reclassified by addresses and sent to their recipients. The figures below, which indicate the number of letters and parcels received for prisoners of war during the last three months, will give a more precise idea of ​​the amount of work provided by the central post of the camp 306.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/MIDDLE-EAST-FORCES-POW-Camp-306-in-Egypt-to-USA-1943-CENSOR-MEF-/114662407922

ITALIAN MAIL

July 1943: 9,424 private packages, 205,846 letters

August 1943: 3,448 private packages, 219,861 letters

September 1943: 2,025 private packages, 7,978 Red Cross packages, 340,138 letters

It is necessary to note that there is more than 20,000 letters per day to sort and they are re-sent within 24 hours.

The department of Censorship in Cairo censors 50,000 letters per day. (October 1943)

NB 100 piastres = 1 Egyptian pound; 1000 milliemes = 1 Egyptian pound; 10 milliemes = 1 piastre.

FOOD

The quality of food is according to the requirements expected by the Red Cross.  The prisoners of war are responsible for the preparation of their food and development of daily menu according to the provisions.

Geneiffa, camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens N° 306 “Middle East”. Délégué du CICR tenant le menu du jour.

ICRC Delegate with the Menu of the Day 8th October 1943 VP-HIST-03408-17A

Provisions are as follows: legumes, bread, eggs, fruit, flour, jam, meat, macaroni, fresh milk, cottonseed oil, onions, potatoes, pepper, rice, salt, sugar, fresh legumes, dried fruit. (February 1942)

After meals, the kitchens can be used by the POWs to prepare extra meals with food purchased in the canteen or received in Red Cross packages. (October 43)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Fourneaux.

The Kitchen VP-HIST-00851-25

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Cuisiniers.

The Cooks VP-HIST-03400-14

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Douches.

The Showers VP-HIST-00851-12

HYGIENE

It is very satisfactory. There is no vermin at the camp.* However, a single faucet in the kitchen should suffice for the needs of the entire section, and it often happens that the water is turned off for part of the day. Prisoners have one hot shower per month. The latrines are clean.

The general health condition is very satisfactory. (February 1942)

*Fleas had been a problem with Italian and Australian soldiers on the battlefields.

All the prisoners have a shower and they bathe in the sea once a week. (July 1942)No complaints about this. Each prisoner of war has a toilet bowl available. Prisoners of war can take a cold shower every 10 days at the shower facility located in a special section of the camp. Showers have been built in some sections by the POWs themselves and can be used without great restriction. A group of 400 POWs went to bathe in the sea every day. This favor had to be abolished since the repatriation of the seriously wounded and protected personnel was planned. The camp commander does not think he will be able to re-establish these sea baths after the departure of the returnees, because the season is now almost over. Each POW receives a bar of soap per month. There are toilets available at a ratio of 2 toilets per 100 prisoners of war and they are clean and without odour. (October 1943)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Vue générale d’une section du camp.

General View of the Camp VP-HIST-03400-27

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Intérieur de tente.

Interior of Tent VP-HIST—03402-24

LODGINGS

It was possible to house up to 12 men in a tent. In time the Italian prisoners of war were issued with mattresses made of straw. The photos reveal accommodation consisted of a semi in-ground bunker with a tent roof. The bunkers were made of sand bricks which were then rendered, as were the outside seating and retaining walls. The retaining walls also acted as a barrier to shifting sands. The Italians constructed vegetable gardens between the tents.

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Préparation de l’emplacement d’une tente.

Preparation and Construction of Base for Tent VP-HIST-00848-23

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Vue générale d’une section.

General View of Camp VP-HIST-00849-02

Geneiffa, camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens N° 306 “Middle East”. Le prisonnier de guerre en charge de la cantine vendant des oeufs et des dattes à un délégué du CICR.

The Prisoner of War in Charge of the Canteen VP-HIST-03400-14 8.10.41

CANTEEN

Items sold at the canteen are useful and sold at a fair price. The price is controlled periodically by the Commandant  and is rectified if necessary. (July 1942)

The canteen is run by an Egyptian. It is very well supplied with products and articles of all kinds. there are fresh fruits and vegetables, canned food, syrup, toiletries (soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razor blades, shaving soap, etc.) clothing items (underwear, shirts, shorts, socks , stockings, handkerchiefs) stationery (paper, feathers, ink, pencils) tobacco, cigarettes, sweets and sold at local trade prices. The prices are established in Egyptian piastres (there are 100 piastres in an Egyptian pound).

The only essential item that is lacking is matches. This did not surprise us since it is very difficult to find matches in Egypt today. The share of profits on sales of the canteen which goes to the POWs is 2 1/2% of the sales figure. These benefits can be used by the prisoners according to their desire. In general, they are used for the purchase of desired foods which are distributed fairly among all sections. Currently, these profits will be used to pay for the Christmas dinner. (October 1943)

CLOTHING

Clothing is of good quality and all prisoners have shoes (Feb 42)

At the time of capture, if the prisoners did not have certain items (as below), they were given the items:

Summer: 1 pair trousers, 2 pairs shorts, 1 colonial helmet, 1 leather belt, 1 pair of shoes with studded soles, 1 pair of sandals with rubber soles, 2 pairs of socks, 2 towels, 1 tooth brush, 1 fork, 1 knife, 1 metal plate, 1 metal bowl, 3 bed covers/blankets. 

Winter: 1 military hood, 2 undergarments, 2 underpants (October 1943)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Salades dans un jardinet devant une tente.

Salad items growing in the gardens in front of a tent VP-HIST-03400-09

DAILY ROUTINE (October 1943)

Each morning rise at 5.30h except Sunday – 6h.

Roll Call is half hour later. Evening roll call is at 15.30h

Lights out 22h

MAIL

Prisoners write regularly twice a week and those who have been there for more than four months have all received news from their families. (February 1942)

Letters and packages reach their destination on average in 30 to 60 days. Many packages received from the Red Cross arrive in poor condition and in some cases, the food is not suitable for consumption. (July 1942)

Letters sent from Sicily since the occupation have arrived at the camp in seven days. (October 1943)

INTELLECTUAL NEEDS, SPORT AND MORALE

There are many books available for use by the prisoners and they have many games.  A sport’s field is located in the centre of each section. (February 1942)

Two hundred books is insufficient for the number of prisoners.  An orchestra of 50 men has been formed.  The orchestra plays a major role in boosting the morale of the men. (July 1942)

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Hôpital, terrain de tennis pour les médecins.

Hospital and Tennis Court for Hospital Staff VP-HIST-00849-30

Le Caire. Visite du camp de la mer Rouge. Cairo. Visiting the camp of the Red Sea.

Construction of Bocce Court VP-HIST-03408-10A 8th October 1941

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Prisonniers de guerre italiens jouant de la musique.

Musicians VP-HIST-03402-26

Sticking Together

Cousins Nicola Del Vecchio and Pasquale Falcone from Roseto Valfortore were so well regarded by farmer Henry Stey of Harveys Siding via Gympie, that he assisted them to return to Australia in 1951. While the military records provide invaluable information about Nicola and Pasquale, the personal stories about these men, can only be told by the farming family.  Thanks to Faye Kennedy (Stey) the story of Pat and Mick emerge.

There were 40,000 Italians taken prisoner of war at the Battle of Bardia, but somehow, somewhere in the deserts of North Africa, Nicola and Pasquale found each other.  Nicola was with the Infantry and Pasquale with the Artillery and were both taken prisoner of war on the first day of this battle, 3rd January 1941.

By the time they arrived in Geneifa Egypt for processing, there were together.  Their Middle East Numbers (M.E. No.)  indicate that they were close in line: Nicola M.E. 69698 and Pasquale M.E. 69701.  From Egypt they spent time in POW camps in India and arrived in Australia onboard the Mariposa into Sydney 1st November 1943. They are photographed together in Cowra 6th February 1944 six weeks before they were sent to Gaythorne in Queensland for farm placement.

Del Vecchio Falcone.JPG

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Shown here are: 56135 Nicola Del Vecchio; 56192 Pasquale Falcone; 56427 Michele Verrelli; 56428 Virginio Verrelli; 56424 Giacomo Veloci; 56026 Vincenzo Austero; 56226 Giovanni Italia; 56279 Amedeo Morrone; 56464 Riccardo Zingaro; 56483 Antonio Knapich; 55066 Giovanni Bianofiore; 55848 Michele Placentino. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(AWM Image 030175/05, Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)

Together they were sent to Q3 Gympie and placed on the farm of JH Sargeant at Wilsons Pocket on 6th April 1944. Together they were transferred to the farm of HJ Stey at Harveys Siding on 4th May 1944.  Henry Stey’s granddaughter Faye Kenney relates the memories of her family: “Nicola and Paquale befriended Henry and became close to his family.  At the time, Henry’s wife became pregnant and the honour of naming the baby girl was given to these two men.  My aunty was named Ventris in 1946. Henry’s family called the men Pat and Mick.  There is the story of an incident at the farm, involving another POW worker who was going to attack Henry with a machete.  But another worker close by, stepped in and held the worker until the police or military staff came out from Gympie and took him away.  Apparently, Henry started proceedings with the Immigration Department to get them back to Australia.  Henry’s application was successful as they both arrived in Sydney from Naples onboard the Assimina in February 1951.  The destination on the ship’s register is noted as Harveys Siding via Gympie.  My family told me that when they’d returned to Harveys Siding, sadly Henry was deceased.  He had died in November 1962.  Maybe they had not come straight to Queensland.  I found a listing for Pasquale at Leichardt Sydney and one for Nicola in Ascot and Albion in Brisbane.”

While the only photo the Stey family have of Pat and Mick is a little blurry, it clearly tells a story.  Together Pat and Mick lived on Henry Stey’s farm at Harveys Siding.  They worked side by side with the farmer.  They enjoyed the company of children and being part of a family.  They earned the respect of Henry and were given the honour of naming the Stey’s daughter.  And together with the assistance of Henry, they returned to Australia.

Stey.Gympie.Cousins

Pat and Mick and a Stey son c 1944-45

(from the collection of Faye Kennedy [nee Stey])

Sebastiano from Ortona a Mare Chieti

With a handful of photos, Paolo Zulli is looking for information regarding his uncle, Sebastiano Di Campli, prisoner of war in Australia. Sebastiano was sent to work on farm/farms in the N13 Moss Vale district in New South Wales from 10.4.44 to 30.3.45. The government records indicate that some 110 Italian prisoners of war worked on farms in this area from March 1944 to November 1945.

Italian prisoners of war assigned to farm work, were issued with a ‘Bag, kit universal’ which was supposed to be withdrawn when rural workers returned to camp.  Not so for Sebastiano whose bag is still coloured with the red used to dye clothing and other items issued to prisoners of war and internees. Sebastiano’s kit bag still bears his Australian prisoner of war number: 57181.

Di Campli (2)

Kit Bag: Sebastiano Di Campli

(photo courtesy of Paolo Zilli)

Sebastiano’s photos tell more of his journey as a soldier and prisoner of war. Sebastiano was serving with the 44 Regiment Artiglieri Division Marmarica when he was captured on 3rd January 1941. A group photo taken in Libya was one of the treasured mementoes which returned to Italy with him.

Di Campli (1)

Libya: Sebastiano Di Campli and friends

(photo courtesy of Paolo Zilli)

From their capture at Bardia, Sebastiano and a friend Nicola Costantino (also from Ortona a Mare), were together when they were processed at Geneifa Egypt. How is this known: Sebastiano’s M/E prisoner of war number is 71770 while Nicola’s M/E number is 71768. Special bonds of friendship are confirmed by a family story that Nicola saved Sebastiano’s life in Libya.

From Egypt they were both sent to camps in India. On the reverse of Nicola’s photo is inscribed: 26.4.1942 Ricordo di Costantino Nicola. In 1943, they arrived in Australia, within two months of each other, then Nicola was sent to South Australia while Sebastiano stayed in New South Wales.

India: Sebastiano Di Campli and Nicola Costantino

(photo courtesy of Paolo Zilli)

Two months before being sent to Moss Vale and farm work, Sebastiano Di Campli was captured by the lens of Geoffrey McInnes at Cowra POW Camp on 6th February 1944.  He is standing third from the right and was immediately recognised by his nephew Paolo.

AWM 3899063

 Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57040 G. Angelozzi; 57413 G. Palladinetti; 57422 D. Pasquini; 57168 D. Del Romano; 57181 S. Di Campli; 57277 R. Iacobucci; 57448 V. Pizzica. Front row: 57235 L. Fresco; 57195 M. Di Prato; 57224 G. Flacco; 57420 A. Paolucci; 49872 P. Morelli. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(AWM Image 030173/16, Photographer: McInnes, Geoffrey)

Glimpses of information about N13 Prisoner of War Control Centre Moss Vale can be found in the newspapers of the day. An article in the Picton Post on 11 May 1944 mentioned, “Sixty four prisoners of war employed on farms in Moss Vale district are said to be rendering excellent service.” Another article mentions Mr C McInnes owner of New South Wale’s largest piggery- “The Yedman”, which had 1400 pigs. The piggery was run by Mr McInnes, one employee and two prisoners of war and there was concern as to how to staff his piggery with the Italians being recalled in November 1945.

A reporter for the Sun newspaper visited five Italian prisoners of war at a farmhouse in the Moss Vale district. This is their story: N13 Moss Vale Antonio, Mario, Giuseppe, Pietro and Domenico

Another article mentions the strong affinity between a Moss Vale farmer and his family and ‘the men in their prisoner garb’, as well as the ongoing communication between farmer and an Italian post-war: An Italian Ex-P.O.W. Who Died from Grief

Along with his photos and kit bag, Sebastiano returned to Italy with a holy card for Maria S.S. della Libera. The picture of Holy Mary was kept with him while in Libya, Egypt, India and Australia, a source of comfort and a tangible and personal link to his home in Ortona a Mare Chieti.

Di Campli (4)

Holy Card belonging to Sebastiano Di Campli

(photo courtesy of Paolo Zilli)

Paolo knows that his wish to find Sebastiano’s farming families in and around Moss Vale is unlikely to happen, but he would at least like to know a little more about this district and primary industries in those times.

 

Processing at Geneifa

I found it!

One piece of paper that had alluded me, was a document which proved that the processing camp for Italian prisoners of war was Geneifa, Egypt:  the official start of the many documents which made up a prisoner’s of war dossier.

On my  many trolling missions through random documents in the National Archives of Australia, I found it!

I am still to understand an army/government filing system which appears to have more records for one Italian POW and less for the majority.

For every Italian POWs who was held captive in Australia, there are two files available to view online: MP1103/1 and MP1103/2.

Yet, for a number of others, their records from the POW Camps in India, their Identity Cards for Australia  and Australian medical records have been kept.

There seems to be no rhyme or reason for this.  And for Italian families looking for information on their POW relatives, this is frustrating.

Maybe these records are lying deep in the archives, yet to be catalogued.

But excitingly, one Army Form W.3000 (Italian) Prisoner of War has survived.

Genefia Form

NAA: A367, C86896 P.W.62533, Rinaldini, Argo

I think, this is the first of many forms that accompanied the Italian POW.  A printed document with sequential M.E. numbers is the first official record.  A feint stamp in the top right hand corner : Prisoner of War Camp Geneifa, is where the paperwork trail begins.  Received into a POW Camp in India, 7th August 1941, Argo Rinaldini had  a further transfer to Murchison Australia 27th April 1944, as is stamped on the reverse side of the form.

Interestingly, he received a TAB. VACC 6th July 1941.  Quite possibly, all prisoners of war, as a matter of course, received this vaccination.

TAB. VACC = combined vaccine used to produce immunity against the diseases typhoid, paratyphoid A, and paratyphoid B

In the POW Camps in India,  Italian POWs received further inoculations and vaccinations.

Possibly, this was one of the forms transferred to Italian officials at the time of arrival in Italy. Who knows?

Unfortunately, this random ‘find’ will only encourage me to continue my random searches of POW records.

I wonder what I will find next!

Genefia 2 Form

NAA: A367, C86896 P.W.62533, Rinaldini, Argo

Further reading:

Suez Canal Zone POW Camps

Capture…what next and where to!

The Italians soldiers, airmen and sailors who were captured from December 1940 to February 1941,  believed the propaganda promises that the second advance would arrive quickly to liberate the increasing numbers of prisoners of war. This was not to happen.

Another insult was that they felt betrayed by the Italian Commanders.  Before capture, the soldiers were ordered to destroy everything. The belief was that the enemy would not take any of the supplies.  Water tanks were tainted with oil and food supplies destroyed. How then were the Allies expected to conjure food and water for 40,000 prisoners at Bardia? This order to destroy Italian provisions contributed to the deaths of Italians from starvation. The other betrayal was that the commanders ‘vanished’ so as to evade capture.

Ferdinando Pancisi remembers, “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”. For 8 days we were kept at Bardia. Then they moved us to near Alexandria in Egypt near the SuezCanal. Every now and then they would send some of us to some part of the World.

For me, India. I was trying to depart, I wanted to go. I was trying to get out of there. People were dying of starvation, there were fleas and head lice, we couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t a nice place to be.”

Sidi El Barrani.jpg

13th December 1940 SIDI BARRANI – A STREAM OF PRISONERS NEARLY TWO MILES LONG CAME INTO SIDI BARRANI FROM THE SOLLUM AREA, THERE TO AWAIT TRANSHIPMENT TO PRISON CAMPS. (AWM 004436 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

The Italian POWs also suffered from bombardments by the Germans.  Filthy, covered in lice and sand, hungry and thirsty, there are many testimonies that the Italians did not eat or drink for seven days. There was always a promise of ‘tomorrow’ from the British and Australia.

1940 Water

10th December 1940. WESTERN DESERT – THE MOST PRECIOUS COMMODITY IN THE DESERT….WATER. EVERY OPPORTUNITY MUST BE TAKEN TO REPLENISH SUPPLIES & THESE ITALIAN PRISONERS, ALTHOUGH THEIR WORRIES ARE OVER, ARE TAKING NO CHANCES OF RUNNING DRY DURING TIME OF WAITING TO BE SENT TO SOME COMFORTABLE PRISON CAMP. (AWM Image 004452 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

From places of capture the men walked to internment areas; caged compounds; and then to marinas at Bardia, Sollum or Tobruk.

“In fact, now prisoners they led us to Sollum and I stayed there for five days. Waiting for the propaganda promises of the Army that the 2nd advance that would come to free us. Hunger, the despair was so great and who knows the destiny what would have reserved for us. So from Sollum they transferred us to Mersamentuck in a concentration camp in Egyptian territory. From there they took us to the station and as beasts they put us in a freight train, and each wagon more than 40 -50 prisoners to reach a concentration camp along the Suez Canal.

The number of prisoners, which could not be counted, was high and I can affirm that the treatment for us was of the pitiful and inhuman ones that not everyone could sustain. In this field I stayed for about two months, then they took us to lead us to Suez and from there embarked on an English ship, think that in a hold, below sea level, worse than animals we were amassed in 700 prisoners. For nineteen days by sea we suffered that penance, until we arrived in Bombay in India and received another “moral slap”.” Domenico Masciulli

Loaded onto supply ships,  Italians were first used to unload supplies before embarkation.

1940 supplies

SIDI BARRANI – ITALIAN PRISONERS EARNING THEIR KEEP & HELP TO UNLOAD STORES FROM BRITISH SUPPLY VESSELS. LOWER RIGHT CORNER MEMBERS OF THE “COMMANDERS” – A SORT OF ENGLISH FOREIGN LEGION, WHO BECAUSE OF THEIR SLOUCH HATS ARE OFTEN MISTAKEN FOR AUSTRALIANS. (AWM Image 004464, PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

Some were shipped to Marsa Matruh (Mersa Matruh) and entrained to Alexandria: Film footage of the Italians on trains 

Mersha Merah

MERSA MATRUH, EGYPT. C.1941. GERMAN PRISONERS OF WAR CAPTURED IN THE WESTERN DESERT IN A COMPOUND SEEN THROUGH THE BARBED WIRE PERIMETER. (AWM Image P00064.013)

Others were sent directly to Alexandria.

Eypt POW onboard troopship 1940

31st December 1940 Alexandria, Egypt. An Australian destroyer with Italian prisoners aboard. (AWM Image 005002/03 Photographer Damien Peter Parer)

Recollections tell of being treated no better than beasts as they were loaded into train crates.   Sent to camps such as Quassassin or Ismailia the Italians eventually were sent to camps at Geneifa where they were officially processed.

In time they boardered ships at Suez headed for Australia or India. ‘Emanuele Favoloro a fishman from Lipari Sicily:  “…took us to Alexandria in Egypt. Here we were given a loaf of bread for tomorrow.  But we ate it instantly and starved fthe next morning.  We had plenty of water.  We got given five cigarettes and I sold my cigarettes for more bread.  My biggest horror from the war is the starvation and lack of water plus the horror of the deaths.  After six months in Alexandria, I was taken to Quassassin Camp.  We worked carrying light poles.  I was there six months and then I was shipped to Suez where I became ill and was left behind whereas the others went to Australia.” Favoloro Emanuele from Bocia Cesarin by Cesare Romane Stefanate.

Geneifa POW Camp AWM 2

GINEIFA, EGYPT, 1941. PRISON CAMP AT GINEIFA, NOT FAR FROM SUEZ. TAKEN FROM PASSING TRAIN. (AWM Image P00237.056)

Luigi Bortolli kept a diary and detailed maps of Campo 9 Ismailia and Campo 2 Suez:  Luigi Bortolotti: From Tobruk to Clare.

Edmondo Mazzinghi Testimonial Yol-La mia avventura: is in Italian and includes numerous photos for his journey.

Canal Zone Camps

It was 1941 and those sent to Australia did not return home until January-February 1947.

Map 2

Marsa Matruh… Alexandria…Port Said…Ismailia…Suez…

(from Google Maps)