Tag Archives: Italian POWs

POW Ricordo Cowra

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.

 

Bomb Blast kills 5

I was working with the granddaughter of Nicola Capitummino to trace the journey of her grandfather in Australia when I read about the bomb blast at N33 Bathurst Hostel in June 1946.

There were a number of POW hostels set up at Australian military complexes in 1946.  The role of the Italian prisoners of war was to assist with ‘general duties at AMF
Camps and Schools, clearing and maintenance of ammunition depots etc.’

One such hostel was at Bathurst where 3 Australians and 2 Italians were killed by a bomb blast.  Adelmo Rondinini’s legs were severed above the knees and he also lost his left eye in the explosion.

In reference to the burial of Sapper Michael Freeman in Bathurst,  the following was written:

The Italian prisoners of war from the Bathurst Army Camp on Limekilns Road made a larte V-shaped wreath of greenery which was placed at the Military Cemetery. Their card read: “Michael Freeman from your Italian friends. For the kindness and understanding shown to us”…There was a single cortege for both the soldiers and the Italian prisoners.

 

Bathurst

Solemn: Sapper Michael Freeman’s Funeral passes onto Steward Street from Keppel Street on June 5, 1946.

(www.westernadvocate.com.au/story/4004852/yesterday-today-alan-mcrae/)

5 Die in Bathurst Camp Explosion

Bathurst, Monday. – Three Australian soldiers and two Italian prisoners of war were killed in the Bathurst military camp today when a fragmentary mortar bomb exploded amongst a working party of Australians and Italians.

At Bathurst Hospital to-night doctors were battling to save the life of a third Italian who lost both legs and has little chance of survival.

The victims of the explosion were: –

Sgt. Thomas Dickenson, AIF

Sapper Arthur Murray, AIF

Sapper Michael Joseph Freeman, AIF

Pietro Monfredi, POW

Stefano Mola, POW

The injured man is Adelmo Rondinini a POW.

Sgt. Dickenson, Freeman and Stefano Mola were killed instantly while Murray and Monfredi died in hospital hours later.  Ronlinini’s legs were severed above the knees and he was rushed in a critical condition to hospital, where blood transfusions were given him throughout the day and to-night in an effort to save his life.

Luck favoured Cecil Snudden, of Bathurst, who was standing about 10 yards from the working party when the explosion occurred.  Fragments of metal passed between his legs, carrying away portions of his trousers near the knees, but he was not injured.

Bathurst police investigating the tragedy have been told the explosion occurred at 10.30 a.m. while the six victims were working on the side of an ash dump at the camp. 

The bomb, it is believed, lay hidden under some ashes and according to one report the explosion resulted when an Italian cutting wood struck the bomb with his axe.

“5 DIE IN BATHURST CAMP EXPLOSION” Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954) 4 June 1946: 1. Web. 11 Oct 2018 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article99118261&gt;.

 

POW Camp Order No. 13

I have been blessed with much luck while researching Italian Prisoners of War.

I might be researching a topic or a PWCC or a specific POW and one statement or one document will lead me to another and then another and then another.

105

(National Archives of Australia)

The booklet ‘ Prisoners of War Camp Order No. 13’ is one such find. Dated 18th February 1944  it contains eight parts:

  1. Preliminary
  2. Prisoners of War Camps
  3. Maintenance of Discipline
  4. Health and Hygiene
  5. Communication by and with Prisoners of War
  6. Privileges of Prisoners of War
  7. Prisoners of War Awaiting Trial
  8. Unguarded Prisoners

The previous Prisoners of War Camp Orders No. 1 to 12 were repealed upon publication of No. 13.  These orders are of a general nature, as they are the guidelines for the operation of all prisoner of war camps in Australia.

However, more comprehensive and detailed explanations of the operations of prisoner of war and internment camps in Australia can be found with the links below:

The ‘History of Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees 1939 – 1951‘ is an invaluable document regarding this period of history as is the section Employment of Enemy PW and Internees.

I have also compiled a list of Further Reading  with links to information for India, UK, Zonderwater South Africa, Egypt  and Australian states.

 

Arrival in Naples 1946

Col. A.W. Sandford, the son of Sir Wallace Sandford wrote an article Naples – when Italian Prisoners Return Home  which was published in November 1946.  While on his way to Hamburg to re-joining the British Army of occupation, he travelled in a ship transporting returning Italian POW.

The repatriation ship was most likely Chitral which had left Australia in September 1946 with over 2700 Italian prisoners on board.

Chitral.httppassengersinhistory.sa.gov.aunode922876

Chitral

(passengersinhistory.sa.gov.aunode922876)

From Advertiser (Adelaide, SA: 1931-1954), Thursday 21 November 1946, page 6.

...From the decks below a constant murmur of hushed excited voices could be heard – over three thousand prisoners, straining their eyes to catch their first glimpse through the grey mists of the docks where they hope to find parents, wives, children, friends, lovers or at worst the attentions of the Italian Red Cross and a rail warrant to freedom.

The light grew slowly more intense as we approached the entrance to the harbor, and one could discern dimly the shaped of buildings in the distance and shipping nearer at hand.  Quite suddenly as the pilot clambered aboard from this ramshackle launch, the first rays of morning struck a cluster of white and pink villas on the headland, away to port – Posilippo, the ‘garden suburb’ of the town.  The city itself shielded by Vesuvius was still plunged in grew gloom, but these scattered villas and palaces on their romantic terraced cliff glittered fiercely in the sun.

By this time more passengers had begun to appear and were standing in tows and threes on the boat deck leaning over the rail.  They watched the sun strike the ancient castle on Capodimonte as we slipped into the harbour mouth and stared in surprise at the city which began to appear, like a stage effect through the dissipating mist.

Battered Harbour

The harbour was impressive.  The carved stone arms of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies still stand on the western mole, as they stood in Nelson’s day and between the pillars could be seen among the trees towards Posilippo, the glittering white cube of the Villa Emma, where Lady Hamilton held court.

The massive Castel Nuovo still dominates the docks but the splendid new quays built of reinforced concrete by the Fascists have stood far4 less well than solid Bourbon stone masonry the effect of high explosive bombs.

Naples Castell.jpg

The Fort of Castell Dell’ Ovo 1944 Naples

(Photo from Imperial War Memorial)

The murmur of the returning prisoners of war had grown to a loud babble as they saw the Italian warships huddles ingloriously against the naval mole and two large liners burned out and rusted lying on the bottom of the city Side.  Another liner had capsized just beneath the eastern mole, and in the centre of the docks, an American troopship was discharging across the hull of another capsized and rusting casualty.  This they observed in a second and then all eyes were turned to the nearest quay which was clearly made ready to receive us.  Stevedores were busy trundling gangways, there were lines of trucks drawn up, lines of carabinieri and here and there the scarlet caps of British military policemen.

Then all at once the prisoners seemed to see in the shadow of the damaged gallery rows and rows of dark-clothed men and women, and a good many children too.  These struggled and shouted and gesticulated from beyond the police cordon in the shadows striving to make themselves heard above the yelling of soldiers and stevedores and the raucous braying of a brass band which struggled on to the quay without a conductor and burst at once into a rendering more vigorous than accurate of “Funiculi, Funicula”.

The complete story is available here: Naples – when Italian Prisoners Return Home

Following are two video links: Italian Prisoners of War Return to Naples  and  View of buildings near Naples 1946

Chitral 2

1946 ‘No title’, The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 10 October, p. 24. , viewed 19 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75342761

The Desert War

Stories from the Desert

Queensland families remember their Italian POW workers telling little of the fighting, but many a comment was made about one aspect of their capture.  While they tolerated the Australian and British soldiers confiscating their watches, they were resentful that the Allies took their personal photographs from them.

Captured at Tobruk 22nd January 1941, Antonino Lumia reflected, “When the English and the Australians arrived… to our captain… they confiscated the watch, his binoculars… his belt and his weapon.  All our watches were confiscated.  To some soldiers their wallets, personal photographs.  We walked towards their lines.”

Fighting in the desert was never a picnic.  Soldiers were parched, water and food scare, they battled sandstorms which blocked their vision and suffered extreme cold at night.

Newspapers of the day offer an insight into this desert war and souveniring:

“One batch of prisoners rounded up in a wire enclosure must have numbered about 3,000.  Here I spoke with a 24 year old infantryman who was a waiter in Rome until conscripted for the army six months ago.  He told me, “I did not want to fight but had no choice.  None of the men you see here have had enough to eat in the last fortnight.  The daily ration is a tin of bully beef to each two men, soup and a loaf of bread.  We are glad it is over.”

“Lots of us are wearing new Italian boots and they are very comfortable.  Some boys are wearing captured socks and black shirts – in fact, by the time it is finished we will be a motley crew all right.”

boots and pants

6th January 1941 BARDIA, LIBYA. Driver Morrison of the Photographic Unit rummages around the Italian Infantry positions and finds a new pair of pants.  Discarded boots, weapons and personal papers are strewn over the area.  (AWM Image 005316 photography Frank Hurley)

“It was funny a couple of days ago; we were resting beside our gun when we saw a half dozen blue-clad figures strolling over the horizon toward us.  When they reached us they made us understand that they were lost, having become separated from the rest of the herd.  [POWs] We promptly directed them on the right track and after giving us a decent Fascist salute they proceed on their way – unescorted.”

“Wine and cigars were among the luxuries the Australians captured from the Italians at Bardia.” 

quartermaster stores

Bardia. 1941-01-03. Pile of provisions and clothing on the ground after an Italian Quartermaster Store was destroyed by the Allies. Note the soldier in the background, possibly from 2/2nd Battalion, with a large cloth, possibly a captured banner. (Original housed in AWM Archive Store)

“We went into action singing Waltzing Matilda and The Wizard of Oz.  The Italians just couldn’t understand the mentality of soldiers marching into battle against a numerically superior foe with a song on their lips.  They were completely demoralised.”

“As soon as we got within 50 to 100 yards from the Italians with our bayonets glistening in the sun, they threw down their rifles and raised their hands. Some of the prisoners said afterwards that the surprise that they felt when they heard us singing was heightened by the grim look on our faces.  They told us, ‘We Italians sing when we are happy: never before have we heard men singing and looking so serious!’ ”

“The Italian officers did themselves well… dugouts furnished with chests of drawers containing full dress uniforms, silk dressing gowns, and colourful pyjamas.  There were bathrooms with full sized baths.  There were bottles of wine, embossed stationery, cameras, quantities of patent medicines and crockery in addition to uncounted quantities of valuable technical equipment such as wireless sets and replacements, field telephones and Breda automatic guns and rifles.  Today there is probably no single Italian tunic in a Bardia dugout which still has a badge or shoulder strap.  Men are wearing Italian boots and breeches and using Italian blankets. Souveniring has been carried to such an extent that much of the booty must be abandoned because it will overload the battalion transports.”

004906 Liquor and cigareets

5th January 1941 BARDIA, LIBYA. The boys of the 2/2nd Battalion, now in occupation of Bardia, celebrate their entry into the Italian strong hold with a feast of captured food, wine and cigars.  (AWM Image 004906, photographer Frank Hurley)

Looting or Larrikinism

Craig Stockings wrote in detail about the revelry of Australia soldiers after the Battle of Bardia.  Bardia Captured illustrates the surrender of Bardia. The following is an extract from his book, Bardia.

“After the guns fell silent the dusty yellow landscape in and around Bardia was littered with the remnants of the defeated Italian force. Papers blowing on the wind caught on broken vehicles, scaterred weapons, abandoned guns, piles of stores, and long columns of prisoners heading south.” Litter in Libya films these images.

4091136.JPG

27th December 1940 NEAR BARDIA – More of the many thousands of Italian prisoners captured during the Battle of Bardia. (AWM Image 004911 NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

“Much of the spontaneous Australian carousing was innocent enough.  Many soldiers who found themselves close to Bardia’s beaches, for example, stripped their grimy clothes and dashed into the Mediterranean to wash clean the filth of combat.  A severe flea infestation …to sup baths, shave and establish their own hairdressing salon.  Where caches were discovered Australian troops feasted on Italian rations and smoked Italian cigarettes.  Many platoon vehicles were soon weight down with cases of tuna, preserves and a variety of tinned veal and pasta meals.  In some areas the nature of the boot surprised those who stumbled upon it… ‘all sorts of queer clothing ,silk underwear both male and female, lots of scents and hair pomades. Eau-de-cologne… was a great favourite….

004913 Knights of Bardia

5th January 1941 BARDIA. “The Knights of Bardia” – Colonels for the Day. Dressed in captured Italian finery, men of the A.I.F. react to their sweeping victory.  (AWM Image 004913 NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

Not all celebratory activities were as innocent… particularly drunkenness, looting and dangerous larrikinism.. A barrel of captured wine was placed on a nearby truck and competitors drank mug for mug until only one man was left standing.  As one witness recounted, the ‘camp was a mess with three parts of the platoon lying drunk in heaps of spew and vomit’.  .. too much Italian cognac…

3999636

Bardia, Libya. 1941-01-04. An Italian prisoner of war (POW) is watched by some of his friends as he siphons wine from a barrel into his mouth while lying beside the barrel. Note the Italian camouflaged ground sheet rigged as a shelter on the left. The prisoners of war were under the supervision of members of 2/2nd Battalion. (AWM Image P02038.083 Original housed in AWM Archive Store)

Another distasteful post-battle pastime was the systematic robbery of Italian prisoners. As its most innocent this manifested as an informal type of resupply.  Almost every member… acquired at least one Italian pistol, officers helped themselves to Italian binoculars, which were superior to their British equivalents.  More concerning was the illegal theft of personal items… Shortly after the battle, he [one soldier] had ‘pockets full of money, wedding rings, some mother of pearl inlaid pistols and some flash fountain pens’, as well ‘had watches up both arms’… The same man later reminisced that for many Australians guarding prisoner columns, ‘it was like having an open go in a jewellery shop.’…

In one particularly atrocious incident, a soldier was tried at court martial (and found guilty) for tossing an Italian grenade into a prisoner cage, seriously wounding five unarmed Italians.

Tobruk POW CAge

23rd April 1941 TOBRUK. Birds of a feather stuck together in a common cage, German and Italian prisoners captured round about Tobruk by the Australian forces holding the town and surrounding country. (AWM Image 007482, Negative by F Hurley) 

Ossario Day 2018

Sombre and reflective, Kay Ball from Murchison Historical Society has written an article about the remembrance service at The Ossario 11th November 2018…

Murchison and District Historical Society Inc.

The Ossario, located in a quiet corner of the Murchison Cemetery was completed in 1961 and is a beautifully crafted Mediterranean style building. It contains the remains of Italian Prisoners of War and Internees who died on Australian soil during World War 2.

Murchison Ossario

Every year, on the second Sunday in November, hundreds of people gather to remember the 129 men and one woman for whom the Ossario is their last resting place.

On Sunday 11th November this year, a warm sunny day with a lovely clear blue sky, the occasion was again well attended by over 300 people. Mostly of Italian descent, they travel from Melbourne, interstate, overseas and across Victoria and are joined by locals who appreciate this special occasion. The ceremony is moving, suitably reverent and also colourful with many Italian Military Service uniforms, banners, flags, floral wreaths and bouquets in abundance.

Lining up at beginning…

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Farmer Supports POW Scheme

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Life on the Farm

(photos courtesy of AWM and individual contributors)

In response to a negative newspaper report on the POW workforce, Mr Male in Western Australia submitted a letter to the editor in support of the POW farm placement scheme.

A question is often posed: How do you quantify the value of the Italian POW workforce?  Mr Male is able to provide the answer.

Italian POW.

Mr L B Male, of Redmond, in writing of his Italian prisoner to the ‘Albany Advertiser’ certainly boasts the Ities as workers, Mr Male says:-

“I have had a POW since the inception of the scheme, and am well satisfied.  In fact, I can honestly say he is the best worker I have had on the place.  he works voluntarily from 5 am to 7 pm, and if necessary I am prepared to give a detailed account of his work, day by day.  Only dissatisfaction I have heard is from farmers who haven’t got any Italian labourers.

“It is said that some farmers think the military authorities nurse them too much.  Well, such is not the case as far as my Control Centre is concerned.

“They are very firms with both POW and employer, but are exceptionally fair to each.

“In my particular case, I was unable to obtain labour for three years.  Result: Fences not kept in repair; grass paddocks overgrown; calves running with cows that should be milked; only half the potatoes planted previously; and the farm generally going into a decline.  I thought I was going into one too!

“Now I have the farm back to normal, or even better than it was before the rot set in, and it is solely due to the work done by a POW in less than 12 months, with the co-operation received from the POW control centre.

“I have conversed with at least 20 employers of POW between Mt Barker and Albany, and not one of them has ever mentioned being dissatisfied.”

(Beverly Times (WA: 1905-1977), Friday 17 November 1944, page 4)

1944 ‘Italian POW.’, The Beverley Times (WA : 1905 – 1977), 17 November, p. 4. , viewed 09 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202749325