Giuseppe Noal and Pietro Marcon crafted a special gift for Colonel Montague Ambrose Brown, Commandant of Cowra Prisoner of War and Internment Camp: an alpine ice pick.
An ‘interesting’ gift but a gift with significance.
Background and Connections
Pietro Marcon served with the Alpini. The Alpini is Italy’s specialist mountain infantry and served in battle in the Greek – Albanian conflict of WW2. Pietro was captured 13.2.41 while Giuseppe Noal was captured three days before on the 10.2.41. Giuseppe’s card records his place of capture as Greece while Pietro’s card records Libya. [While an Alpini Corps served in East Africa, I do no know if the Alpini served in Libya]
The complex issues of record keeping implies that not all information for each Italian is correct. Some men are captured as ‘Libya Greece’ or ‘Albania Libya’. Others have ‘Progradecci Greece’ as place of capture but Progradecci is in Albania.
I have no doubt that Pietro and Giuseppe both served with the Alpini and were captured in Greece. Their journey is identical from arrival in Australia on the Queen Mary 13.1.041 to their departure on the Alcantara on 23.12.46, including placement at Q6 Home Hill Hostel vegetable project. These are men who forged a friendship before capture.
Looking further for a glimpse of Pietro and Giuseppe, a group photo taken in Cowra Camp highlights further common threads or connections.
The photo below is intriguing: seven out of the ten men were captured in Greece or Albania. All men arrived in Sydney Australia on the Queen Mary 13.10.41
Almerino Albertin from Abano Terme Padova : 1.3.41 Greece
Carlo Dell Antonio from Predazzo Trento: 3.12.40 Greece
Pietro Marcon from Rossano Veneto Vicenza: 13.2.41 (Alpini) [Greece?]
Giuseppe Noal from Via Felice Cavalotti Milano: 10.2.41 Greece
Giuseppe Oldani from Abbiategrasso: 3.12.40 Albania
Carlo Fossati from Lissone Milano: 3.12.40 Premeti [Pëmet Albania]
Riccardo Del Bo from Castrovillari Cosenza; 24.1.41 Greece
Mario Mancini and Giovanni Tadini could well have been captured in Greece or Albania as their dates of capture suggest this: 3.12.40 and 8.12.40.
Interestingly, Riccardo Del-Bo also made a gift for Colonel Brown: a caricature.
Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47841 Almerino Albertin; 48023 Carlo Dell Antonio; 48340 Giovanni Tadini; 48210 Pietro Marcon; 48234 Giuseppe Noal; 48199 Mario Mancini. Front row: 48251 Giuseppe Oldani; 48055 Carlo Fossati; 48106 Riccardo Del Bo; Unidentified (name cut off list). Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030149/22 Photographer Michael Lewecki)
The Ice Pick
The ice pick signifies the Alpini Corps and its connection to Pietro and Giuseppe. They decorated it with a hat badge and star. The alpine hat and feather are the most recognised features of the Alpini uniform.
They engraved their names, Colonel Brown’s name and a quote in Italian: ‘ABBIAMO ISSATO I PEZZI, LA, DOVE ALL’ UOMO, PESAVA PERFINO IL PANE NELLE TASCHE’.
The words are from a patriotic speech by poet Gabriele d’Annunzio: “Hanno portato I loro cannoni e issato I loro pezzi la’ dove all’uomo commune pesava perfino il pane in tasca”
A special thank you to Ermanno Scrazzolo for doing some background research for me and correction of place names.
Ermanno explains the quote in English: “we pulled up the pieces (cannons), up there where for the men even the bread in their pockets was a burden.”
Ermanno adds, “Normally the Alpine troops had mules for carrying cannon barrels, but where the mules could not go, the men had to pull up the barrels using ropes and their manpower.”
This was Pietro and Giuseppe’s journey: into the mountains of Greece and Albania during one of the coldest winters on record; dragging the cannons through the snow and high-altitude conditions; exhausted.
The ice pick is poignant and important, not only to Colonel Brown but for all families whose fathers fought in Greece and Albania. We are blessed that Colonel Brown’s family donated this item to the Australia War Memorial, giving another insight into the life of a soldier and prisoner of war.
It is with special thanks to Vinicio Sigon that we know the answer to this question. Vinicio was captured in Nevizza Albania. He was transferred from Albania to Greece to Egypt to Australia.
Possibly, this is a similar journey to other Italians who were captured in this theatre of war. Nevizza [I think] is Nevich or Neveçisht now on the outskirts of Korca [Korytza].
Vinicio Sigon served with ‘Alpine Troops’ when he was captured at Neviza Greece on the 30th December 1940. He was a 2nd Lieutenant and had served six years in the army. He is seated second from the left in the photo below.
Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Sambo; Rabusin; Fabiano; Papa; Marchi; Nebiolo. Front row: Vergani; Sigon; Lanza; Rosano; Socini; Bandirali. (AWM Image 030153/14 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)
Vinicio Sigon kept a log including his movements and dates.
Vinicio Sigon’s Journey
30.12.40 Captured at Nevizza
31.12.40 Agrinorasto [Argyrokastro]
1.1.41 Gianina [Janina/Ioannina]
5.1.41 Prevese [Preveza]
6.1.41 Patosso [Patras]
7.1.41 Atene [Athens]
11.1.41 Piseo [Pireas]
2.3.41 Creta- Canea [Crete- Chania]*
27-28.7.41 Mar Rosso [Red Sea]
2.8.41 Selon [Ceylon – Trincomalee]
5.8.41 2 Antimeridiane passagio equatore
10.8.41 Porto Commerciale di Perth [Fremantle]
15.8.41 Arrivo a Sidney
*Italian prisoners of war Crete: Reported that 16,000 Italian prisoners of war including 576 officers were held in four camps: Heraklion sector, Agio Thomas sector, Chania sector and Rethymno sector.
** The date of Vinicio’s arrival in Alexandria Egypt on 3rd May 1941 is significant.
***In the last week of April 1941, the British Commonwealth Forces were evacuated from Greece via Crete.
Allied Evacuation of Greece
Most likely the Italian prisoners of war held in Crete were evacuated under threat of a German assault on Crete. The German assault on Crete began 20.5.41.
Canea (Hania), Crete. 1941-04. Members of the 6th Division Signals stand on the wharf next to a ketch which is moored there. Two of these boats delivered 120 men from Greece during the evacuation to Crete. (Original print housed in AWM Archive Store) (Donor G White)
Khania (also known as Canea), Crete, photographed in May 1941 by Corporal Goodall.
1941-05. ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT. TROOPS OF 6TH AUSTRALIAN DIVISION ENTRAINING FOR CAMPS IN PALESTINE AFTER DISEMBARKING FROM CRETE FROM WHERE THEY HAD BEEN EVACUATED.
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT. 1941-05. DISEMBARKATION OF TROOPS OF 6TH AUSTRALIAN DIVISION AFTER EVACUATION FROM CRETE.
***Greek Campaign 1941
Australian and New Zealand troops (redesignated the ANZAC Corps) undertook some very successful local fighting [in Greece] but withdrawal was soon inevitable. The occupation of historic Thermopylae Pass by Vasey’s 19th Brigade was merely a respite in the retreat down to Athens. The evacuation began on 24 April and over 50,000 troops were removed over five successive nights. A number of small, isolated groups and individual Allied soldiers who had been cut off from the retreat were left behind in Greece. Many of these escaped largely owing to the bravery of the Greek people who assisted them.
Over 26,000 weary Allied troops landed on Crete in the last week of April 1941. They remained on the island for less than a month. In a brief, savage campaign, the Australians inflicted heavy losses on the German paratroopers. One German battalion lost more than two-thirds of its men. Another rearguard action by the 2/7th Battalion, AIF, and the New Zealand Maori battalion left 280 German dead and allowed the retreating forces to reach the evacuation point in Suda Bay. HMAS Perth was hit while carrying members of the AIF back to Egypt. The British admiral in charge of evacuation called it “a disastrous period in our naval history”.
Although 15,000 men were evacuated by ships of the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy, some 12,000 Allied troops, including 3,000 Australians, were left on Crete and most became prisoners of war of the Germans. As in Greece, some made daring escapes. Many were sheltered by the people of Crete.
How did 18,000 men of the Italian armed forces find themselves on the other side of the world in Australia?
The simple answer is ‘war’.
The politics of war is a complex subject. It does not matter which men chose to join Italy’s armed forces or who was conscripted; who was a fascist or who was a royalist; who became a ‘co-operator’ or who stayed firm in their beliefs and support of Mussolini.
A granddaughter of an Italian prisoner of war told me that she did not know how she would feel if she found out her nonno was a ‘fascist’.
Eighty years after the event, we must all remember to resist from overlaying our 21st century views on a war we did not live.
Our young Aussie lads ‘joined up’ in the armed forces with hopes for adventure and a chance to see the world. They fought, they endured hardships, some were captured, far too many lost their lives.
25th December 1940 Australian Troops NEAR BARDIA – THE COMFORTS FUND PROVED THEIR WORTH BY GETTING CHRISTMAS HAMPERS TO BOYS IN THE FRONT LINE ON CHRISTMAS DAY AND PARCELS CERTAINLY PROVIDED WELCOME CHANGE OF DIET BESIDES GIVING A PLEASANT SURPRISE. 2/2ND INFANTRY BATTALION, 15TH PLATOON, “C” COY. (Photographer: James Francis Hurley)
The Italians were also young men, full of hopes and dreams. They fought, they endured hardships, some were captured, far too many lost their lives.
Il Natale nel campo di aviazione di Scutari nel 1940
Christmas. Italian troops in Albania 25 December 1940.
The ‘Footprints Project’* is a community history project documenting a chapter in Australia’s history. Without the contributions from Italian and Australian families, this history was at risk of being lost.
It is with thanks to every individual who has made a contribution, we now have an understanding of the bigger picture for those Italian prisoners of war who came to Australia during WW2 and made significant economic and social contributions.
*Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Australia 1940-1952
Italian soldiers captured in Greece and Albania arrived in Australia on 13th October 1941 on the Queen Mary into Sydney. A number of Italian officers from the Greek Campaign arrived in Sydney on the Queen Mary’s previous voyage: 16th August 1940.
Unfortunately, these Italian prisoners of war, due to clerical processing oversights, are not clearly identified. It is difficult to know how many Italians from the Greek Campaign arrived in Australia. It appears that they were processed as prisoners of war in Egypt and the clerical staff recorded their place of capture as LIBYA. Some Italian soldiers must have requested the addition of Greece or Albania, so we have this confusion: Place of Capture- Libya (Greece) or Libya (Albania).
A special thank you to Giulia Sigon. Her nonno Vinicio Sigon was the impetus for me to delve into this theatre of war.
2nd Lieut Raimondo Uda serving with the airforce was captured on 30th July 1940: Antichitera Greece.
Italians Invade Greece
At 3 p.m. on Monday 28th October 1940, Italian troops crossed the border into Greece. In the first18 hours the Italians captured one small border town, but the Greeks counter attacked and advanced eight miles into Albania.
On 30th October 1940, the newspaper reported Italy’s invasion of Greece: with the headlines: Italy Invades Greece, Duce’s Ultimatum Rejected.
On 30th October 1940 2nd Lieut Francesco Tieri an accountant serving with the 18th Regiment is captured
On 1st November 1940, Gino Volpi 2nd Lieut, a student from Firenze is captured.
On the 3rd November 1940, Gabriele Masulli a mechanic from Portenza is captured in Greece.
On 7th November 1940, Captain Alfredo Moricone from Ascoli Piceno is captured.
ITALIANS’ SLOW PROGRESS IN GREECE SHATTERS AXIS PRESTIGE
Greek artillery is shelling Korca from the heights, six miles to the south of the city… The newly captured heights mentioned in today’s Greek communique- are believed to be south-west of Korca.
Yugoslav reports state that the Greeks captured a bridge on the Bechlista-Korca road above the Devoli River. The Greek advance in this sector was resumed after consolidating the positions beyond Bechlista, and attacks were continued throughout the night. Monastir, a point on Lake Presba, where the Yugoslav and Greek frontiers meet, was again bombed to-day, but there were, no casualties.
Antonio Damiani serving with an Alpine division is captured on 10.11.40 as is Luigi Mattei a Doctor, Corrado Celbrin, Ventruino Bacchschi Infantry.
Corporal Giovanni Bassignani with the 42 Fanteria is captured at Tepeleni on 13th November 1940.
The War in Greece Italians on Defensive
Threatened Supply Line Threatened
LONDON, November 12.
Latest reports of the fighting between the Greek and the Italians disclose that the Greeks have consolidated their positions on the centre front. It is also reported that Italian attacks on the Macedonian front have been repulsed.
The weather is clear on the Greek-Albanian frontier and the battle is still raging on the heights of Coritza. A Greek official statement claims farther successes in the air, Greek bombers being reported to have blown up ammunition dumps. The report also claims the further capture of Italians.
A message from Athens states that the smashing of the Italian Alpine divisions in the Pindus sector is considered an important victory. Italian generals pinned their hopes in the Alpine divisions being able to penetrate the Pindus mountains… The main Italian offensive against the Greek centre has been liquidated one week after the date set by Mussolini for the triumphal entry of Italian troop into Athens. The Italian drive against Salonika from Korca has also been flung back.
Only 8000 Alpine troops out of 12,000 escaped the Greek trap. A relieving infantry column was also routed.
Giovanni Brondo was captured in Albania on 26th November 1940. On the 29th November 1940, Raffaele Carrozzo and Giovanni Formasieri were captured. On 30th November 1940, Pietro Lazzarin, Alfredo Bianchi, Pietro Bruscagin, Giuseppe Bellon were captured in Greece while Angelo Fattorello was captured in Albania.
3 ALBANIAN TOWNS FALL TO GREEKS
ARGYROKASTRON, last of the main bases from which the Italians launched troops for the invasion of Greece, fell to Greek troops yesterday, completing a black week for the Italians. Premeti on the Voyusa River, north of Argyrokastron, fell on Wednesday, night and Santi Quaranta, the seaport base in the south-west was occupied just before Argyrokastron. This straightens the Greek line’ in the southern sector.
In the northern sector the westerly wing of the Greek Army, operating
from Koritza and Pogradetz, has pushed into Albania’s main oil
territory, the valley between the Skumbi and Delvino rivers.
Between 9th December 1940 and 23rd February 1941 the following soldiers are captured:
Vinicio Sigon (Nevizze). Luigi Cremaschi, Angelo Crippa (Pogredes), Riccardo Minari, Rodolfo Morelli (Pogradecci), Rocco Dolci, Francesco Lima, Primo Facchielli (Progradecci), Bettino Betti, Vitale Bartalucci (Pogradec), Adriano Bergamini (Goriza), Lodovico, Mario Barollo, Nello Avanzini (Nevizze), Luigi Di-Filippo (Clisuro), Gino Grandi (Chiusure), Gaetano De Mario, Antonio Pignatelli (SPI-Camarate) Donato Di Gregorio (Clisuro), Armando Continenza (Tepelene), Giuseppe Curti, Francesco Bernardini, Ezio Giorni, Alfredo Bellini, Pietro Franco, Gaetano Pavone, Giovan Battista De Gandenzi
SNOW ON THE BATTLEFIELDS
With mountain battlefields covered by fresh snow and hidden in storm clouds, and with visibility nil, operations in the Telelene area have been seriously hampered.
Ousted-from strongpoint after strongpoint and reeling back under the hammering of Greek artillery and the relentless pressure of tireless Greek infantry, the Italians once again found the weather an ally when they neededit most.
On battlefields a mile above sea-level snow once again lies deep, shrouding unburied dead and covering shell-scarred slopes and ridges with a mantle of dazzling white. Biting winds like blasts from the Arctic howl down ravines, and it is cold-bitterly, terribly cold.
Pack-mules slip on mountain paths treacherous with ice. Soldiers find snowdrifts five feet deep in front of their posts, making movement well-nigh impossible. Artillery observers trying to watch the enemy’s lines from positions carefully selected, can see nothing but a blanket of impenetrable fog.
It has been raining heavily for days. The Drinos and Aoous rivers are running bankers…
ITALIAN MORALE LOW
The Italians badly needed the respite the weather afforded them. Despite a stiffening of reinforcements of Bersaglieri and Blackshirts fresh from Italy they had lost position after position, and there had been convincing evidence that their morale was very low.
I saw a paper which was taken from a dead Italian officer. It was a long general order, exhorting Italian soldiers not to abandon their arms on the battlefield. The order stated: “Guard the arms which have been entrusted to you by the Fatherland. Cherish your cannons, machine-guns, and rifles. Those who abandon them are cowards and traitors. The enemy will use weapons you leave on their field of battle against you and your brothers.”
Considering the quantity of material of all kinds the Italians invariably jettison when defeated, the order was not without point.
The Greeks are using not only hundreds of Italian lorries, but Italian cannons, mortars, machine-guns, hand grenades, and even rifles captured since the war began.
I also saw papers found on a lieutenant colonel who was captured in this sector some days ago, when the Alpine battalion he commanded was smashed in a Greek attack. They included an order to captains of companies stating that it had come to his attention that men were surrendering and abandoning their lines. The colonel ordered the captains to post men with automatic rifles, with orders to fire on any soldier attempting to surrender
Prisoners frequently tell me they have been machine-gunned by their own troops when attempting to surrender. They say that this task is usually given to Blackshirts, who are posted to the rear of the front line.
From the 1st March to the 17th March 1941, the following men have been taken prisoners: Albertin Almerino (Monaster), Calligari Angelo, surgeon Boldrini Walter (Albania Pesdani), Graneri Lazzaro, Gaiassi Eugenio, Fraschini Bruno, Cacciamali Giovanni and Gabrieli Stefano (Telepeni) Tancredi Domenico (Albania Anivinocasit) Benzoni Bartolo, Giuseppe Gentile, Michele Locantore (Greece/Albania)