Tag Archives: Italian Prisoners of War Egypt

il soldato Palagianellese

 

Ferulli

Domenico Ferulli

(photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)

A very special thank you to Rossana Ferulli who is sharing her father’s memoirs.  From Palagianello Taranto, Domenico Ferulli was 21 years old when he was captured at Bardia on 3rd January 1941.  He was 27 years old when he returned home to his wife Rosa. It is an honour to share his story.  As Rosanna says, ‘Era un ragazzino ed è tornato un uomo.’  Domenico’s recollections add many important details to the journey of the Italian soldier and prisoner of war:***

Ferulli Domenico.

Domenico Ferulli is seated second from the left.

His photo is also in the small box to the left.

(photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)

Campo di prigionia 3C Soldati italiani. Nel riquadro in basso a sn. il soldato palagianellese Domenico Ferulli catturato il 3 gennaio 1941 a Bardia.  dopo 3 anni di prigionia in India viene condotto il 4 aprile 1944 via mare a Melbourne (Australia) ove sbarca il 26 aprile del 1944 e portato nel campo di prigionia N. 13. Rientrera in Italia il 30 Octobre 1946.  Tra il 3 ed il 5 gennaio 1941 cadono prigionieri a Bardia 40,000 soldati italiani.  Appiedati ed incolonnati sono avviati in direzione delle line inglesi.  Un proiettile di cannone proveniente dale batterie italiane centra per errore la Colonna: è una strage. Una decina di Soldati italiani sono fatti a brandelli terminano le loro sventure in quella sabbia.  Ci sono anche parecchi feriti.

A causa della mancanza di mezzi, I Soldati inglesi dicono ai prigionieri italiani che non sono in grado di soccorrere I feriti anche se rischiano di morire dissanguati.  I prigionieri italiano soccorrono I loro colleghi come mglio passono.  Sopravvissuti a mesi di Guerra, all’assedio ed alla battaglia, spetta loro una dura pigionia senza sapere quanto lunga e dove saranno portati.  La speranza di riabbracciare I loro cari e di rivedere l’amata Italia pero è come un fuoco sotto la cenere. Dopo un giorno di marcia giungono a Sollum bassa sul mare, località che nei mesi precedent hanno colpito con I pezzi d’artiglieria.  Da Sollum in poi le lunghe colonne di prigionieri italani sono sorvegliate da motociclisti con le moto Triump, Norton ed autoveicoli fuoristrada.  Per giungere a Marsa Matruh comminano anche di notte, soffrendo soprattutto la stanchezza e la sete.  Li li fanno salire a bordo d’autocarri.  Transitati non distanti dalla citta di Alessandria d’Egitto, mediante un ponte in ferro attraversano il grande fiume Nilo nella zona del delta.

Ad Ismailia, località al centro del canale di Suez, sono cinque giorni chiusi un un recinto nel deserto.  Sono spossati fisicamente e con il morale a terra.  La notte è talmente freddo che molti sono costretti a bruciare la giacca o le scarpe per riscaldarsi. Per cucinare si usa la paglia.  Fatti spogliare e fare una doccia tutto il vestiario è ritirato e bruciato in alcuni forni.  Periscono incenerite anche le migliaia di pidocchi, che da mesi hanno tenuto fastidiosa compagnia! Assegnano a ciascun prigioniero: una giacca leggera color cenere con una toppa di stoffa nero quadrata cucito dietro le spalle, pantaloni lunghi con banda nero, scarpe nuove, sapone per la pulizia e persino dentifricio con spazzolino da denti.  Da questi campi di raccolta e smistamento sono transferiti a Suez, porto sud mar Rosso.  Sono imbarcati su una nave inglese, probabilmente da carico, oltre 2000 prigionieri di varied armi e specialità.  Si sistemano alla meglio sul ponte e nella stiva, dormendo avvolti in una coperta.  Il cibo distribuito a bordo è scarso: quando c’e da spartirsi le poche patate o cipolle, le buone regole del vivere civile vanno a farsi friggere.  Esiste solo il brutale istinto di sopravvivenza che prevarica tutto, I litigi sono frequenti.  Attraversano il Mar Rosso: a sinistra della nave scorrono le coste desolate dell’Arabia, a dritta quelle dell’Africa.  Oltrepassato Aden, di giorno si va a riparasi tutti all’interno della nave perche in coperta non si riesce a risistere a causa del sole forte.  La nave e scortata da due cacciatorpediniere della Marina Reale inglese; dopo cinque giorni di navigazione, quando si è ormai in pieno oceano Indiano, queste navi si sganciano.  Le probabilità che qualche nave da Guerra Italiana li liberi, oramai, sono pressochè nulle.

Rapida e triste ricorre spesso sulla nave la cerimonia di sepoltura; chi non ce la fa, avvolto in un lenzuolo bianco, viene fatto scivolare in mare. Nell’Oceano Indiano si sente la vicinanza dell’equatore.  Qui il clima è molto piu umido di Bardia. Dopo circa 22 giorni di navigazione giungono al porto di Bombay in India, colonia inglese.

*** Rossana has solved a couple of puzzles for me. 

I had noticed in the photos taken at Cowra, only some Italians wore pants with a distinctive black stripe down the leg.  It seemed that only the Italians who had spent time in India wore these pants.  Were these pants standard issue for India?

Then on Sunday, I found photos taken in the camps of India, and on the back of the shirts was a diamond pattern of black material.  How odd, I thought.  Were these shirts standard issue for India?

Domenico’s story answers these questions: these items of clothing were issued in Egypt.  Maybe Italians going to India were issued with the clothing with black stripe and black diamond! Maybe those Italians going directly go Australia were given a different set of clothes!  One question might be answered. But another question is raised!

V-P-HIST-03468-24.JPG

Camp No. 8 Prisoner of War Camp India: Preparation of Vegetables

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03468-24)

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

To Palestine…

Every day there is new history to be learnt. What was the status quo regarding Italian prisoners of war in December 1940 and January 1941? Probably, strategic planning and availability of sites would have determined the flow of prisoners.  Which groups of Italian prisoners of war were sent to Egypt and which group of prisoners went to Palestine?

Sidi el Barrani Italian prisoners of war were sent to Palestine and ‘some’ Bardia Italians joined them.  With 38,300 Italian captured at Sidi el Barrani and thousands of allied army forces marshalling in Egypt, for the continued assault westward through Libya, these first prisoners were sent to Palestine. [Palestine was a Protectorate of the British Government: British Mandate of Palestine] Latrun Prisoner of War camp was constructed in three days.

Paolo Reginato records in his libretto some details of his time from Sidi el Barrani to Latrun Palestine:

I was taken prisoner [11 December 1940] with almost the entire division.  For 4 days we stayed in the desert (four days to remember), on the 15th [December] we left in column towards Marsa Matruh and on the 16th we left for Alexandria, here we stayed until 21st day when I was transported to the port and I was embarked.  On the Egiziano Ethiopia ship we left for Palestine and on the 24th we arrived in Haifa where we also passed ‘il bel giorno di Natale’. On the 30th we left and arrived in Latrum [Latrun] to a great concentration camp where we remained until 14th June 1941.

Australian war photographer Damien Peter Parer and Frank Hurley captured the events described by Paolo Reginato through the lens of  their cameras and newspaper articles recount the movements of Italian POWs:

Column of Italian Soldiers: Sidi el Barrani

Sidi Barrani to Sollum13th 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 Image 004436 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

Arrival at Alexandria Egypt

Alexandria

31st December 1940 Alexandria, Egypt. Italian prisoners being put ashore from an RAN destroyer.(AWM Image 005002/05 Photographer Damien Peter Parer)

Arrival at Haifa Palestine

The featured photo also records the arrival of Italian Prisoners of War to Haifa including the injured:[ 20th December 1940 HAIFA – A BRITISH CORPORAL AND A PRISONER ASSIST A SLIGHTLY DISABLED PRISONER TO THE TRAIN. (AWM Image 004607 NEGATIVE BY D. PARER)].

20 December first meal in Haifa

20th December 1940 HAIFA, PALESTINE. AUSTRALIAN TROOPS DISHING OUT ITALIAN PRISONERS’ FIRST MEAL IN PALESTINE. (AWM Image 004605 NEGATIVE BY DAMIEN PARER).

Haifa to Latrun via Yesodot

Italian POWs, captured by the British in North Africa, arrive at Wadi Sarar [name of train station] in Palestine near Yesodot. Latrun is 14 km east of Wadi Sara [Wady Sarar] train station.  Alighted from trains, the Italian prisoners of war were fed.  They were then assembled and from the photographic records, it appears that they walked to Latrun.  Injured POWs were loaded in ambulances.

20925u.jpg

Contrary to popular belief, winter in Palestine can be quite cold; both Italians and British are wrapped in their winter coats. Wady Sarar  Dec 21, 1940. [Library of Congress Matson Collection: Eric and Edith Matson]

12 Wady Sarar

21st December 1940 Men Eating on Ground Wady Sarar [Library of Congress Matson Collection: Eric and Edith Matson]

15 Wady Sarar

21st December 1940 Men Gathered in a Field Wady Sarar [Library of Congress Matson Collection: Eric and Edith Matson]

To Latrun Palestine

Information about the Prisoner of War camp at Latrun is scare.  Without Paolo Reginato’s mention of Latrum [Latrun], it is doubtful the location of this camp would be known. [Notice the absence of town name in the articles below.]  In 1940, Latrun was used for 3 months as a training camp for Polish soldiers. It is better known for a series of battles between  Israel Defense Forces and the Jordanian Arab Legion in 1948.

Haifa 1

1940 ‘ITALIAN PRISONERS.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 26 December, p. 5. , viewed 24 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47299778

Palestine

1940 ‘Drawing In On Bardia’, The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), 23 December, p. 1. , viewed 24 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248827242

Christmas Mass In Jerusalem 1940

The distance between Latrun and Jerusalem is 35 km.

Xmas Mass

1941 ‘Italian Prisoners Hear Christmas Mass in Jerusalem.’, Catholic Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1932 – 1942), 17 April, p. 13. , viewed 24 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146369616