Tag Archives: Italian Internees

Italian Internees

The words: prisoners, internees, internment, imprisonment  are often interchangeable.

Queensland resident Italians were interned.  Italian soldiers were interned.  The Italians were prisoners in camps.  Internees were sent to Cowra.  Italian POWs were sent to Corwa. These camps were guarded and the Italians could not leave without guards.

Queensland resident Italians interned

Loveday 4119399

Barmera, South Australia. 1943-12-31. As many Italian internees were released during 1943 it was decided to close No 9 Compound and transfer the remaining Italians to No 14D Compound in the Loveday Internment Camp Group. This photograph shows the last internees at their final roll call in No 9 Compound. At the extreme right with their backs to the camera are Australian Captains E.L. Roesler and C.B. Farrow.

Photographer: Cullen, Hedley Keith

There were two situations in the Burdekin during WW2.

  1.  Queensland resident Italians were interned.  They were arrested under the securities act and sent to internment camps down south.
  2. Italian soldiers were captured or surrendered in North Africa, sent to Australia for the duration of the war and a hostel on the banks of the Burdekin River was built to house 255 Italian POWs who grew vegetables for the allied forces in North Qld.

Many Burdekin residents have contacted me regarding their fathers and grandfathers who were arrested and interned.  These men were classified as INTERNEES.

I have put together the following document to assist families to find information about the internment of their family members:

Queensland Resident Italian Internees

Many, but not all, Burdekin internees were sent to Loveday Interment Camp in South Australia and the document below provides details of this camp:

LovedayInternmentCamp

Another two resources follow. They provide the details about the policy, its implementation, the arrests etc:

Glaros, M Sometimes a little injustice…

Behind the Barbed Wire

Nationalities of Other Internees

Italian was not the only nationality to be interned in Queensland during WW2.  Other nationalities included: Greek, Lithuanian, Spanish, Hungarian, Polish, Austrian, Russian, Albanian, Portuguese, Indonesian, German, Japanese, French and Finnish.  Internees were arrested under the National Securities Act.  Being Australian born (British Subject) or being naturalised did not exempt individuals from being interned.  People of foreign descent or nationality fell into three categories: NBS (Naturalised British Subject), Alien or British Subject (born in Australia).  NB The concept of Australian Citizenship did not come into existence until 1948. Queensland residents who were interned came from all three categories.

Photos of Loveday Internment Camp

(from Australian War Memorial)

The Other Italians…

There is nothing simple about wartime.

Alex Miles from Mooloo via Gympie threw up an interesting question recently, “Did you know about the Italians who were at a hall besides the Presbyterian Church during the war?  They didn’t wear red clothes? And they appeared to mix freely with locals”

Over time, memories can blur facts and circumstances with Italians from different backgrounds being put into one category “the Ityes”.  So over time, Italian POWs, Italian internees and these other Italians become one and the same group.  After all, seven decades have passed and my generation were not around, so we rely upon snippets of information  heard about war time.

Background

The Department of External Affairs was responsible for prisoners of war and internees in Australia.

The Department of the Interior was responsible for placement and employment of residents in Australia.

During World War 2, war time provisions enabled government departments to allocate resources where needed.  This included able bodied men. While the Department of Army drafted Australians into the armed forces, these provisions also enabled government departments to draft any Australian regardless of citizenship status into labour corps to undertake public works jobs.

In Australia during WW2, foreigners or those of foreign descent could be part of one of the following groups:

  1. PRISONERS OF WAR – Italian soldiers who were captured in battles in North Africa and were sent to Australia.
  2. INTERNEES – Italians who were resident in Australia, (naturalised British subjects (NBS) or aliens) deemed security risks were arrested and INTERNED. Many of the Queensland Italian internees were sent to Loveday, South Australia.
  3. ARMED FORCES – Italians who were naturalised British subjects (NBS) living in Australia were drafted into the armed forces.  Interpreters for Q4 PWCC Gayndah, Claude Colley and Joe Devietti were of Italian origin, NBS and drafted into the army.
  4. ALIENS – Italians who were resident in Australia and were not naturalised, had to register as an ENEMY ALIEN at the beginning of hostilities.  Some of these Italians were drafted into the Civil Alien Corps, employed to undertaken public works programs. An example of ‘Direction to Serve in the Civil Aliens Corps’ is below.

Civil Aliens Corp Notice

NAA: MP14/1 NN

 So who were these other Italians camped at a hall in Gympie?

Quite possibly and more than likely, these Italians worked on a public works projects under the directorship of Manpower and Allied Works Council.   By 3rd May 1943 the Civil Aliens Corps was established and in May 1945 it was disbanded:  ‘Members of the Civil Aliens Corps were required to work on projects of a non-combatant nature managed by the Allied Works Councils.  These included projects such as road construction or the forestry industries’.  NAA: B884

4th May 1943 The Age
Civil Aliens Corps
CANBERRA, Monday. — The
formation of a civil aliens corps,
in which refugee and enemy
aliens between the ages of 18 and
60 may be directed to serve, is
provided for by amending
regulations.
Alien refugees from their own
country will be allowed 28 days
after reaching the age of 18 years
to volunteer for military service.
If they do not volunteer they will
be called up for the corps.
Provision is made for exemption of
some aliens on occupational
grounds.
It was stated to-day that the
experience of the Allied Works
Council in controlling and
employing hundreds of refugee and
enemy aliens in all States had
shown the need for forming such
groups into a composite corps.
The corps would be entirely
distinct from the civil constructional
corps. Its members would
be employed on important works.

 

Daniela Cosmini-Rose wrote about these forgotten enemy aliens in Italian Civil Alien Corps in South Australia  Her article gives an insight into this group of men for which there is little information available.

It is important though to add  that ordinary Australians of British heritage were also drafted to work on public works projects. These men were in the Civil Constructional Corps. Conditions of employment  and living conditions for CCC were however far superior to those in the CAC.

Under the umbrella of the Allied Works Council were two groups:

Civil Constructional Corps  (CCC) and Civil Aliens Corps(CAC).   CCC drafted Australians to work on public works some at military installations and CAC drafted aliens to work on public works programs mostly in isolated locations and in makeshift camps.

Civil Constructional Corps Letterhead

NAA: J1738 2190

Allied Works Council took control of wartime work such as construction, forestry, maintenance of camps, roads, aerodrome, railways, docks.  The Italians (and Albanians) who worked in forestry and road building, lived in temporary camps.  A term used for these camps is “Internment Camps“, which confuses this history.  They were not ‘internment camps’ as internment camps were for those of foreign descent who were considered a security risk and were arrested under the Securities Act.   Better and more appropriate terms to use should be “Public Works Camps” or “Civil Aliens Camps” or Forestry Camps” or “Allied Works Camps”, men of foreign origin who were ‘drafted’ to work on public works programs.

Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry undertook an extensive archaeological survey of ‘Forestry Camps’ which had been worked by Italians and  Albanians:Qld Forestry Camps   including Italians at Millmerrin. For want of a better word, ‘internment’ has been used in this document, but they were not INTERNMENT CAMPS as is explained above.  In the Monto district there was a Civil Aliens Forestry Camp and a Prisoner of War Control Centre which allocated Italian POWs to farms. This is explained in:  Wartime Monto .

Another major project undertaken during the war was the “Inland Defence Road” which was completed in 1943, linking Ipswich to Charters Towers – 1412 km.  The ‘alien’ workforce was used for its construction: “120 non-refugee aliens were employed on the heavy rock section at Camboon.” (History of MRD)  As well the ‘Civil Aliens Corps’ was responsible for the Mt Isa – Tennant Creek Road, and projects at Mt Etna and Black River Townsville.  Reports indicated that “540 members of CAC replaced 400 CCC in May/June/July 1943 some of whom were Albanian.  There were also road construction camps set up utilising ‘alien’ labour with a labour corps at Whetstone Inglewood and  Yuleba SF. 

Other labour corps mentioned are : Jackson Labour Corps and road cosntruction between Stanthorpe-Goondiwindi, both included Albanians; 120 aliens worked on the construction of the Calvert Ammunitions Depot; Labour Corps at Glasshouse Mts and Landborough using Albanians; CAC at Bracalba (Italians) and Peachester (Italians).

Inland Defence Road

1943 ‘INLAND ROAD NEARING END’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 4 January, p. 6. (CITY FINAL LAST MINUTE NEWS), viewed 07 Apr 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article186629495

defence rd cracow (1)

Defence Road Cracow: Historic Stone Bridge*

(Vintage Queensland Facebook Page)

Another twist to this history is the journey of the Italian internees.

Adding to the confusion and misnaming, is the process of releasing Italians from internment camps and directing them to work in public works projects.  They were technically, ex-internees.  If you have a family member who was ‘interned’ and you look at their Service and Casualty Record, (available on-line from National Archives) you will see a final notation. Released…  and then a series of letters or a comment. Queensland Italian internees once released from internment went three ways: 1. return to Queensland OR 2. draft into the Civil Aliens Corps or Allied Works Council and sent to work on projects in Alice Springs, Tasmania or South Australia  OR 3. draft into Manpower South Australia.

One Italian from Halifax was arrested 21.4.42 and interned at Cowra PW & I Camp.  He was released on 22.2.43 to A.W.C. Victoria.  One of the projects he worked on was the production of salt at the Cheetham Salt Works.  This extra information is not however recorded on his Service and Casualty Form, because he was no longer an internee.  He was employed by the Allied Works Council which kept a completely different set of records.  An example of a Civil Aliens Corps Employment Record Card is below.

Civil Aliens Corp Employment Card

NAA: K1199, Gangemi, Michele

CCC Alice Springs

ALICE SPRINGS, AUSTRALIA. 1942-09-28. CIVIL CONSTRUCTION CORPS GANG LOADING GRAVEL FOR THE NORTH ROAD AT MCGRATH FLATS, 30 MILES NORTH OF ALICE SPRINGS. (AWM Image 026958)

There is nothing simple about wartime.

The following pages are from Allied Works Council Report of Activities Report July 1, 1943 to February 15, 1945 NAA: A659 1945/1/3162 .  They provide statistics and information on the operations of the Civil Aliens Corps.

AWC CAC 1

 

AWC CAC

 

*I had been told that the four historic stone bridges built on the Defence Road, Cracow were built by hand by POWs working from mobile camps.  This was something that I could not disprove at the time of writing ‘Walking in their Boots‘.  In the context of  further research I did for ‘The Other Italians’, these brick abutments were not built by POWs but build by the ‘Alien workforce which included Italians’ who were employed to build the Defence Road. Furthermore, the Inland Defence Road was completed in early 1943, and Italian POWs began working on farms in Queensland in October 1943.

 

Gaythorne PW & I Camp

Official records offer up little information about the Gaythorne Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.

Gaythorne PW & I Camp, had a capacity of 1800.  Nationalities held were: PW – Italian, Japanese, Korean, Formosan, sundry and Internees – Italian, sundry.  It operated from 1940-1946.  It had 3 compounds each of 300, 1 compound of 400 and 1 compound of 500.

The Gaythorne Camp  was under the command of Camp Commandant JW Hinschen, 2 Aust. P.W. Guard Company and later Camp Commandant Captain J Todd. It was situated at Bliss and Newman Streets, Gaythorne just north of today’s  Enoggera Barracks’ precinct.

The Gaythorne PW & I Camp is illustrated in the aerial photograph below.  The buildings of the complex are situated below the residential blocks of Newman, Ludlow and Ernest Streets which are bordered by Bliss Street in the south and Grays Road to the north.

Gaythorne PW & I Camp BCC000134877 (2)

1946 Aerial View of Gaythorne

(QImagery Department of Natural Resources and Mines Film BCC1, Frame 34877)

A little snippet of information written by N.T.Boast for “Cobbers” is titled The Singing Italians.  Boast worked with the 7 Base Ordinance Depot at Enoggera camp and the Italians were collected to work at the 7 B.O.D and “to assemble them in the afternoon they would play John Charles Tomas singing Tiritomba, then march them back to their compound.

Eric Behrendorff from Mt Alford near Boonah visited his POW George Ragusa at the Gaythorne Camp to say his goodbyes.  Eric remembers that the compound was dreadful: hot, sparse and surrounded by barb wire. The guards were abrupt and officious and Eric was only allowed to see George through the barb wire.  Eric could never reconcile the actions of the army to take POWs off farms and imprison them in camps, when a better situation was leave them on the farms until repatriation.

Initially used as an Internment Camp,  Queensland Italian Internees were trained from Queensland towns to Gaythorne and then for onward movement to Loveday SA. From October 1943 to March 1946, Italian Prisoners of War were accommodated at this site.

While the following extract, details the memories and experiences of Peter Dalseno a Queensland Italian internee, it provides an account of Gaythorne camp which would have been similar to the experiences of the Italian POWs.

“The train was motionless.  The hissing and pulling was more audible, as it normally happens on cool early mornings. No sound from without, no sound from within.

Suddenly the world was bathed in artificial light, and life stirred almost as artificially.  Weary bodies rose and weary eyes peering through the carriage bars.  The train had been surrounded by army trucks covered with tarpaulins, dwarfing the soldiers like so many ants defending their quarters.  There were voices. There were commands.  A struggle with luggage and a jump to the gravelled ground.  The human cargo was shepherded into the waiting trucks.  Soldiers to the right, to the left and to the rear, all bathed in an eerie light as if the earth was invaded by another planet.

“Where on earth are we?” Peter asked one of the soldiers rostered to guard the read.

“Gaythorne, mate!” answered an army recruit.  “The staging camp is not too far away. Only a matter of minutes”.

…Arrival at Gaythorne staging camp was as energetic as the the arrival at the railway siding.  Voices and commands emanated from every quarter…

Several hundreds stood huddled together, some standing listlessly, others sitting on luggage and some on their haunches…Above there glared the harsh and unforgiving search lights.

“Attention! Attention!” commanded an officer with an array of stripes on his sleeve… “Each and every one of you is required to lodge particulars with personnel.” He indicated a row of army mess tables behind which sat a member of the Australian Military Forces. “Present your luggage.  It will be searched and any article classified as a threat to security, either national or to your person, will be confiscated and catalogued. You will receive some form of receipt.  Any money on your person must be surrendered.  Again a receipt….

Peter gazed at the army barracks, sheds and tents that loomed against the receding darkness.  So this is Brisbane…

The Gaythorne staging camp was an area of restriction, an area of concentration.  it served as a subsidiary to the Army Headquarters where the activity was as vast as it was purposeful, function as a recruiting base and as a centre for training.  There was nothing gay about the atmosphere… drab tints of army environment.  The buildings were few but of ample proportions specifically designed for army requirements – a mess-hall on one side and quarters for baths and toilets on the other.  The tents were arranged in rows.  the dirt underfoot…

Men carrying palliasses and ground sheets, some carrying personal belongings over their shoulders and suitcases..

The two men on the platform… passed on the benefit of their experiences at the Gaythorne staging camp.  Evidently they had been selected by the Army Authorities to act as ‘Camp Leaders’.  … deliberated with petty instructions – the whereabouts of the ablutions, the mess-hall, the first-aid tent, and the obligatory bi-daily parade at roll-call…”You will be permitted to write two letters a week, and each letter will be of one-page length. Paper provided. No sealing. The contents will be censored and any matter found objectionable will suffer the scissors, or the letter returned altogether, and you will lose entitlement for the week.  the same thing applies to all mail you receive. So do not be alarmed if your wife’s letter has as many holes as a spaghetti colander”.

…The air now overwhelmed with silence was rent by the sound of a bugle. The ‘last post’ announced the army was about to sleep”.

(from Sugar, Tears and Eyeties by Peter Dalseno)

Conflicting Times

Australian Soldier or Italian Internee

Interned June 1942

(Ipswich Times Thursday 13 June 1940)

My father Giovanni Devietti was from Corio in the Piedmont region of Italy.  It is about 26 km from Turin and about the same distance to the French border. Born in 1906, he was a young man of 21 when he migrated to Australia in 1928 onboard the S.S. Orvieto.

He was educated and had undertaken a university course as an industrial chemist. The National Fascist Party had been in power under Mussolini since 1921 so it is against this background of political unrest that my father came to Australia.  He told us how his parents worked in a leather factory and would walk to and from work.  One was expected to take off your hat if you passed a Fascist in the street as a symbol of respect.  My nonno was a social democrat.  He would change his direction, go into a shop or cross the street and keep his hat on, rather than acknowledge fascist rule.

When he first arrived in Ingham, dad worked on farms, but by the time he was naturalised in 1934, he was a business proprietor.  He had what today we would call a Deli, but I think that in those days  it was called an Emporium.  He supplied Italian made goods to the people in the Ingham district. He would go around to the farms and take orders from the Italians.  He was also a Commission Agent (Real Estate Agent). Part of his work was also interpreting and translating.  Italians who wanted to make application to sponsor relatives to come to Australia, those who wanted to make application for naturalisation and those who wanted to buy property often required someone to assist them with the paper work.

Gayndah.Devietti - Copy

Letter Head for G.Devietti 1934

With Italy declaring war on the 10th  June 1940, many Italian residents in Ingham came under suspicion as Fascist supporters.  From the school yard, I would see Italians in the back of utes after they had been arrested to be taken to the police station.  And then you would see them in rail carriages with bars as they were sent south for internment.

Suspicion fell on dad.  He was told to be careful: he was an educated man, was well known and had the potential to lead an uprising.  I travelled to Brisbane and read my father’s file in the National Archives of Australia.  There were pages and pages of information about his suspected involvement with the Fascist Party.  A letter was sent to Sydney CIB accusing my father of being the secretary of the Fascist Party in Babinda.  Letters went back and forward between CID in Sydney, Brisbane, Townsville, Ingham, Townsville, Cairns, Babinda.  Babinda police confirmed that they had no knowledge of a Giovanni Devietti working in Babinda and besides all fascist records had been burnt.  There was another letter written to CIB from a man in Ingham, known to my father.  He said that he saw Devietti crossing the street to talk with a friend.  The friend asked him “How is the war going” to which my father allegedly replied “The Greek and British are going to be ### by the Germans”.  My dad when talking to friends would have spoken his dialect, which this man wouldn’t understand, so there was no substance to the story.  The letters went back and forth with a call for ‘Devietti to be interned’.

My mother’s father was Antonio Origliasso and he had two sons:  Nicola (Nicholas) and Mario.  Nicholas arrived in Australian in 1912 with my mother and their mother (their father was already in the Ingham district). Mario was born in Australia.  Mario, the younger one, was called up in the army but later those with italian names had their arms taken from them and placed into a labour camp.  Nicholas, born in Italy, was called up later in the army and ended up fighting in New Guinea.  Luigi Betta of Halifax and two of his sons were also interned.  A third son was called up for army service, leaving the family farm abandoned. This son was able to challenge his ‘call up’ and was released so that he could work the farm.

Dad was called up for service with the army.  Maybe they thought they could keep an eye on him that way.  He was sent to Warwick and was involved in record keeping.  He wasn’t a good soldier and eventually was sent to Horn Island.  There was an airfield there and he was attached to the military hospital: 1 ACH (Australian Camp Hospital). Dad’s next transfer was to Cowra.  Possibly they were looking for people with a number of languages, and dad had English, Italian, Spanish and French.

Cowra was a big complex of 4000 prisoners of war.  He first worked with the Formosans: Compound D.  I think his Spanish came in use because Formosa was a Spanish and Portuguese colony.  According to dad, he didn’t feel secure working in this compound.  The armed guards were all old men and he felt that the young prisoners could overcome the guards quickly.  This was after the Japanese outbreak on 5th August 1944.  He was then transferred to one of the Italian prisoner of war compounds as a translator/interpreter.

cowra

Cowra Prisoner of War and Interment Camp after 5th August 1944

Dad not only worked in the Cowra compound, but he also was involved when the Italian POWs arrived on the ships.  As an interpreter he had deal with the antics of the Italian POWs.  One story was about getting the Italians onto or off a truck.  They would play dumb.  Instructions would be given: “Get off the truck” or “Get on the truck” and they would just stand there.  Or they would climb onto the roof of the truck.  Dad had to sort out not just the language and communication side of things but also the behaviour. He would often tell the officers “All is well” as to tried to made sure the POWs complied with the orders.

italian-pow-2

Italian Prisoners of War waiting to board a train bound for a prisoner-of-war camp

The Italian POWs at Cowra ate well, better than the army soldiers and interpreters.  There was the story that the Italians would have to go out to work on the farms and had these buckets or milk pails with them.  Dad noticed that when the Italians returned, the pails would seem quite heavy.  Dad realised that they were bringing something back to camp: vegetables.  Eating with the Italian POWs was preferable to eating in his own mess, which he did often.

Somewhere in there mum and I moved to Brisbane up near St Pauls Terrace.  I went to a school on Leichardt Street.  Mum worked at Momma Luigi’s on St Pauls Terrace and I would help out there on weekends.  It was a Brisbane institution.  The American soldiers would be lining up on the street to get a meal of spaghetti and meatballs.

I think by that time dad was in Gayndah at the POW centre there.  I remember visiting Gayndah to see dad.  It was cold and we had a fire where we stayed.  He worked in a longish building like a hall in Gayndah.  Dad did all the interpreting and I suppose he censored the POW mail.  Dad’s comments were that most Italians were easy going.  They enjoyed going rabbit hunting and while the farmers allowed them rifles, this was contra to rules.  There were those with fascist ideas, but I think they were dealt with quickly if they caused any trouble.

Ingham has another link to Italian prisoners of war because an escaped POW cut cane in Ingham. His name was Alberto Bandiera and he had escaped in September 1946 and surrendered in Brisbane February 1950. The police questioned dad about this but he denied any knowledge.  Bandiera was repatriated on the ship which brought out my cousins to Brisbane Surriento. They arrived 23rd February 1950 and Alberto Bandiera was repatriated onboard on the 24th February 1950.   In time, he returned to Australia and worked at Peacock Siding. Bandiera wasn’t the only escaped POW the police were looking for.

Joe Devietti

6th July 2017