Tag Archives: Italian POW red uniforms

Uniform Regulations

Article 12 of the PW Convention, inter-alia, reads:-

“Clothing, underwear and footwear shall be supplied to prisoners of war by the detaining Power. The regular replacement and repair of such articles shall be assured.  Workers shall also receive working kit wherever the nature of the work requires it.”

What the records tell us

All prisoners of war were allowed to wear their badges of rank and insignia on their uniforms.

Clothing items, except for pyjamas, could not be purchased from the Canteen.

Clothing Issue

1 hat (a)1 hair brush
1 overcoat (a)1 shaving brush
2 coats, medical detachment (a)1 toothbrush
2 pairs of trousers, medical detachment (a)2 pairs of short cotton underwear (b)
1 pullover, labour detachment (a)1 comb
1 pair of trousers, labour detachment (a)2 pairs of woollen and cotton underwear (c)
1 pair of shorts (a) (b)1 jersey pullover (c)
1 pair of shoes1 safety razor with blade (d)
1 pair of laces2 flannel shirts
1 pair of braces2 cotton singlets (b)
2 pairs of woollen socks2 wool and cotton singlets (c)
2 towels3 cotton handkerchiefs
  • (a) Dyed burgundy
  • (b) Summer
  • (c) Winter
  • (d)One new blade a week in exchange for old blade

N.C.O.s and other prisoners of war

This group received a free issue of clothing and necessaries.

All articles were replaced free of charge when necessary.  Facilities were provided for repairs to shoes and clothing and prisoners of war employed as bootmakers, tailors, cobblers.

Prisoner of War Officers

Officers and men of equivalent rank must provide their own items and paid for at their expense. The clothing was manufactured in Australia and issued by authorities. Replacement officer uniforms were made after measurements were taken.  Completed uniforms were made in a venetian grey material, and cost approx. £5 each. The exception was for Japanese officers who were supplied with magenta dyed Australian Military Forces uniforms only but were allowed to wear any national uniforms they had in their possession.

Guerre 1939-1945. Myrtleford. Camp 5 B. Prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Camp 5B Myrtleford June 1943 ICRC V-P-HIST-03290-33A

Merchant Seamen Prisoners of War

Both officers and other ranks merchant seamen were provided with clothing and other items free of charge. Merchant Seamen officers and other ranks did not receive a payment as did other prisoner of war. When arrested, they had been in the employment of shipping companies. There was no agreement with the Italian government to provide a stipend (payment) for merchant seamen.

For this group, the seven first articles on the above list were replaced by a peaked cap, an overcoat, a vest and a pair of trousers suitable for merchant marines.  The material used was a dark green cloth.  The two flannel shirts were grey and had two collars each.  A blue tie was also issued.

What do the photos from Myrtleford Camp tell us

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. Groupe numéro 27. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp. Group number 27.

Non regulation overcoat possibly made from government issue blanket (centre)

Group Number 27 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-27

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. Groupe numéro 23. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp. Group number 23.

Non regulation fleecy winter vests Group Number 23 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-32

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp.

Handmade plaited belt?

February 1945 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-19A

Guerre 1939-1945. Myrtleford. Prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Regardless of being a prisoner of war, the officers wore their uniforms with pride

Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-03290-36A

Red Clothing Creates Confusion in Lismore

All internees and prisoners of war were issued with uniforms coloured burgundy as part of the clothing kit. The same colour uniform was distributed regardless of nationality: Italians, Germans, Formosans, Japanese, Chinese, Austrian.

BALMAIN, NSW. 1946-03-02. THIS JAPANESE INTERNEE IS HAVING A BIT OF TROUBLE WITH HIS LARGE AMOUNT OF LUGGAGE AS HE STEPS DOWN FROM THE TRAIN THAT HAS BROUGHT HIM FROM HAY TO NO. 1 WHARF AT BALMAIN. HE IS ONE OF THE MANY JAPANESE ABOUT TO EMBARK ON THE JAPANESE REPATRIATION SHIP DAIKAI MARU OSAKU. THE POW ARE DRESSED IN AUSTRALIAN UNIFORMS.

The Big Picture

It is sometimes easy to see this history in small unrelated segments: to think that only civilian internees were forced to wear this colour; or that this uniform was to be worn every day; or that this indignation was reserved for only Italian prisoners of war. The ‘big picture’ is important.

The magenta uniform was to be worn when leaving a camp, a hostel or a farm placement; anytime the internees or prisoners of war were outside of their facility.

Its purpose was as obvious as its colour.

Photographs document that there was an Australian army salvage unit at Fishermen’s Bend in Victoria and another salvage unit at Loveday Internment Camp South Australia.

Loveday, Australia. 11 March 1943. Clothes which have been dyed a burgundy shade by internees at No. 9 Camp, Loveday Internment Group, hanging out to dry. The clothes are discarded Australian uniforms which have been cleaned, repaired and now dyed for issue to internees.

Confusion in Lismore

An interesting situation arose in the Lismore district of New South Wales in 1944.  Lismore had a resident population of 700 – 800 Italians. Another 200 Italian prisoners of war were employed in the district to work on farms.

The newspapers reported farmers who breached rules of their employment contract for Italian prisoners of war.  Some of the complaints and offences: alleged that Italian prisoners of war had been seen at the pictures, drinking in the pub, walking hand in hand with an Aussie girl, seen at the horse trotting races, talking excitedly in their own tongue with 12 civilian Italians and that two were left to run the farm while the boss lived 20 miles away in town.

As to how many of these allegations proved to be true is unknown. 

What is known, is that Lieutenant Chester Snow, the Australian officer in charge of the Italian prisoners of war in the district, had been notified 12 times during August 1944, that prisoners of war were ‘at large’ in the town.

When Lieut. Snow or his control centre staff ‘hurried’ to various parts of town to make arrests, they found that the ‘alleged’ prisoners were [Italian] civilians.

While the prisoner of war uniform was a burgundy colour, it was reported that red clothes, including trousers and slacks were a popular form of dress amongst the Lismore civilians. In fact, many retail stores displayed red clothes in their windows.

I am sure that the Italian prisoners of war who read such newspaper reports could see a little humour in this situation.

A little more about the colour red:

In 2013, an Italian prisoner of war blanket was returned to Cowra: https://www.cowraguardian.com.au/story/1273202/a-warm-return-for-pow-artefact/

In 2014, the Cowra Breakout Association reported Sir Tony Robinson being shown a Cowra Camp relic: a Japanese prisoner of war uniform worn at the time of the Cowra breakout in August 1944.

Sir Tony Robinson is shown a uniform worn by a Japanese prisoner of war at Cowra Camp.

(https://www.facebook.com/CowraBreakoutAssociation/photos/a.454760087988982/454761241322200)

Red Uniforms

Magenta Dyed Army Issue

Italian POW uniform Red

Dark red shoulder strap with a button hole at the end. The button hole and the edges of the strap have been reinforced with khaki cotton.

(Australian War Memorial: ID number REL32594)

A predominant memory, if little else is remembered, is that the Italian prisoners of war were dressed in red.  A number of hues are recalled: red, burgundy, maroon, claret, pink and orange but the official term was ‘magenta’.

The colour was conspicuous, to make POWs stand out in a crowd.  POWs and internees were dealt the same humiliation: army issue clothing which had been dyed magenta.

The Italian prisoners of war objected against the dyeing of their clothes ‘burgundy’ but authorities responded with a practical answer… it was the only colour that could dye khaki.

The above shoulder strap is a remnant of one such POW magenta-dyed army issue, held in the heraldry collection of the Australia War Memorial. Its description is as follows:

“This shoulder strap was part of a scrap book put together by Eastern Command Salvage and Recovery Section in the early 1940s. The strap is taken from a uniform jacket issued to enemy prisoners of war and civilian internees held in Australian camps during the Second World War. The Salvage and Recovery Section were responsible for collecting and repairing unserviceable Australian army khaki uniforms, repairing them, and dying them the distinctive maroon that was required uniform for enemy prisoners of war. It was found that the section could carry out the work for far less cost than a civilian contractor.

Until 1942 there were not enough surplus uniforms available for dying and issue to prisoners of war or internees. Internees were required to bring their own clothing into camp and prisoners wore the uniforms in which they had been captured supplemented by civilian issue clothing.

From 1942 both groups were required to wear the distinctive red issue clothing, which was produced in both uniform and civilian styles. Generally speaking, prisoners of war were allowed to retain their own national headdress until it wore out. The compulsory wearing of red clothing by civilian internees varied from camp to camp and seems to have been at the camp commandants’ discretion. Many commandants found that civilian internees worked better when allowed to wear their own clothes, but others insisted they wear red as the prisoners of war were required to do”.

Another reference and more personal reference to the clothing is from internee, Peter Dalseno who wrote the following in Sugar, Tears and Eyeties:

“The officer signalled him on to the next table where he was allotted one overcoat, two shirts and two pairs of trousers – dyed a rich burgundy hue not dissimilar to wine aging in casks.  The name tags affixed to the garments – the property of previous soldiers – had not been obliterated…. Then came the pair of singlets, longjohns and socks and army boots that carried no name tags but showed signs of considerable wear”.

From the Australia War Memorial also comes the photos below.  Italian internees at Loveday dyed their uniforms and Army staff working at 3rd Salvage Depot are photographed dyeing salvage uniforms which were possibly used for the Italian POWs.

Loveday Uniforms 4087605

Loveday, Australia. 11 March 1943. An Italian internee at No. 9 Camp, Loveday Internment Group, at work dyeing clothing for issue to internees. This clothing is discarded Australian uniforms, cleaned, repaired and now dyed a burgundy colour.

(AWM Image 030198/09 Halmarick, Colin Thomas)

Uniforms 3887249

FISHERMENS BEND, VIC. 1944-02-02. V290231 PRIVATE T. A. MCDERMOTT (1) AND V325800 CORPORAL T.B. CUMMINS (2) OF THE CLOTHING AND DYING SECTION, 3RD SALVAGE DEPOT REMOVING HATS FROM A TROUGH OF DYE.

(AWM Image 063720 Rogers, MB)