Tag Archives: Italian prisoners of war in Australia

Finding Nonno

The history behind nonno’s stories

Robert Perna from Detroit Michigan writes, “Many years ago my grandfather told me about his time as a POW from Italy. He surrendered in North Africa and was first shipped to Iraq. Then he was shipped to Australia and worked on a cattle farm. He told me it would take weeks to walk the fence and repair it. He said the owner owned a territory. 

I’m looking for any way to find out who he lived with. He passed many years ago, but his memory of his time there was always very clear. He did end up going back to Italy because that’s where his family was.”

And so the journey begins for a grandson to meld a grandfather’s stories with historical fact.

Using the guide Finding Nonno, Robert found with ease his grandfather’s Australian records which confirmed a few details: his nonno Arcangelo was captured in North Africa: Amba Alagi on 5.5.1941; he was sent to India (not Iraq); he was shipped to Australia: onboard the SS Uruguay in 1943 which docked at Sydney; and he was assigned to farm work: in the N11 Prisoner of War Control Centre Glen Innes.

Robert recounts the details of Arcangelo’s conscription and war service, “My grandfather went to Rome to go pay the taxes on his property. While there, they recruited him off the streets* and sent him to Africa. He could not say goodbye to his family.

From there he was sent to Northern Africa where he was in charge of a platoon. They found out they were being attacked at dawn. So they hunkered into a hill waiting for the African army to attack. Once they ran out of bullets, everyone surrendered, so no one would get killed.” 

The piecing of history continues giving credence to Arcangelo’s memories of the day he was captured 5th May 1941:

1 May 1941 Viceroy of Italian East Africa Duke of Aosta and 7,000 troops were trapped at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia by Indian 5th Indivision to the north and South African 1st Brigade in the south.

3 May 1941 Allied and Italian troops engaged in heavy fighting at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia.

4 May 1941 29th Brigade of the Indian 5th Division launched another attack at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia, capturing 3 hills between 0415 and 0730 hours.

5 May 1941 3/2nd Punjab Battalion advanced toward the Italian stronghold at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia at 0415 hours. They were pinned down by 12 Italian machine guns for the most of the day. The attack was called off at dusk.

British Pathe footage captured the Italians after the surrender of Amba Alagi. Another detail from this battle comes from Craig Douglas at Regio Esercito History Group in Brisbane: “When the Italian troops surrendered at Amba Alagi, the British commander allowed them to surrender with the full honours of war. In tribute to their tenacious defence right to the end.”

The battle for Amba Alagi, the last Italian stronghold in Eritrea. Italians who surrendered Fort Toselli seen marching down the road from the fort. c. June 1941

(AWM Image 007945, Photographer: Unknown British Official Photographer)

From Amba Alagi, Arcangelo would have been sent to POW camps in Egypt to be processed and assigned a M/E number: 289564 [Middle East].  From Suez he would have been transported to India.

Critical Past footage gives a window into the past; the arrival of Italian prisoners of war in Bombay India.

The next stage of Arcangelo’s journey is his arrival in Australia which was reported in the newspapers.  Two ships from India arrived together in Sydney 4th October 1943 with 507 Italian POWs on each ship (one medical officer, 5 medical other ranks and 501 other ranks: MV Brazil and SS Uruguay.

ITALIANS FOR FARMS” Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954) 10 October 1943: 5. Web. 22 Jun 2019 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59187793

1000 Italian War Prisoners Arrive” Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) 7 October 1943: 4. Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95630892&gt;

 

Arcangelo Perna’s arrival is documented on the Nominal Rolls Cowra 12 (c) POW Camp arrival from overseas 5th October 1943. He is assigned his Australian POW number : PWI 55833. Notice that his rank is Corporal though his other documents have his rank as Italian and Private; somethings are lost in translation.

Nominal Rolls of Italian Prisoners of War to Cowra

(NAA: SP196/1, 12 PART 2, 1943-1944 Sydney)

Within two months of his arrival in Australia, Arcangelo is assigned to farm work N11 C.C. Glen Innes.

Robert has a clear memory of his nonno’s recollections of Australia, “ He told me he worked on a cattle farm there. First thing he had to do was mend the fence with the owner. So they packed up the cart and took off. It took over 3 weeks to walk the fence. After that he worked there for a few years. Once it was time to go, the owner begged him to come back and live there. My grandfather said no, he had a farm in Italy. He never said anything bad about being there in Australia. He said they were a nice family who treated him wonderfully.”

Arcangelo’s Service and Casualty Form provides the details of his time between leaving the Glen Innes farm and his repatriation.  A documented four day stay in the Glen Innes hospital and his transfer from the farm to Murchison suggests ongoing medical concerns.  Those Italian who were medically unfit were sent to Murchison. And it is while Arcangelo was at Murchison, official group photos of the Italians were taken. 

A search of the Australian War Memorial collection did not turn up a match for Arcangelo. And Arcangelo’s photo could have been missed because, not all photographs taken of the POWs include the names of the men in the photos.

With this information and a chance at finding his nonno, Robert set to looking through all the group photos taken at Murchison March 1945. And there he was: seated second from the right.

A special moment for Robert: he had found Nonno in Australia.

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 No. 13 POW Group.

(AWM Image 030229/13, Photographer: Stewart, Ronald Leslie)

Arcangelo was repatriated on Chitral  from Sydney on 24th September 1946. These early repatriations were for special consideration, medical or compassionate reasons. This was one of the early repatriation ships which boarded 300 POWs in Sydney and another 2900 in Fremantle Western Australia. The majority of Italian POWs held at Northam Camp WA were repatriated on Chitral.

 Robert continues, “When he came home, my grandmother wasn’t even home when he got there! One of my aunts were born while he was away. Plus, my dad was born about 9 months after he came home.”

These memories [of my nonno] have been a part of my life since he’s told me the story. It has been told hundreds of times. Now I have proof, pictures and info to back up my story,” Robert reflects.

No title” The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954) 24 September 1946: 3 (LATE FINAL EXTRA). Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231583722&gt;

*This is not the first time I have heard about this method of recruitment. A group of young men from the Lecce region, told a similar story to their Queensland family in Gayndah.

Longevity and Letter Writing

life and lifelong connections

Dedicated to Ferdinando Pancisi

I would like to introduce you to 101 year old Ferdinando Pancisi. Ferdinando (Ferdy) has lived a full life; in more ways than one. Life events saw him journey from his home in Italy to Libya to Egypt to India to Australia and then home to Italy. Like the majority of Italian prisoners of war sent to Australia, they were absent from Italy for seven years.

Ferdy settled in the village of Civitella di Romagna with his wife Anna; both work in their small convenience shop. With age comes wisdom, and his sage insights were shared in 2017, when he was interviewed .

Longevity also relates to the duration of a special friendship between Ferdy and his Boonah family: The Dwyers. A bachelor, Pat Dwyer applied for prisoner of war workers and Ferdy was sent to his Fassifern farm. Ferdy left the farm on 2nd February 1946 and Pat Dwyer wrote to him soon after. And so began a correspondence that has continued through the decades. Ferdy’s response to Pat’s first letter is typed below…

(Letter courtesy of Tim Dwyer)

Ferdy’s first letter to Pat Dwyer was written on 11th February 1946. From the records it is known that Pauly and Peter were on the farm of Pat’s brother Jack and Nicola and Cosmo were on the farm of Mr TM McGrath.

Ferdy and Pat shared their family news throughout the decades. Pat’s wife Joie took on the role of letter writing after Pat died and then son Tim has taken on this role in recent years.

For over 73 years Ferdy and the Dwyer family have sent letters, cards and photos back and forth across the decades and across the miles. I would think that their situation might be unique.

Seventy three years is a long time: a special connection between farmer and Italian POW; a tangible link between two men from different walks of life; a personal history of war and friendship; a heartwarming story of Ferdy and the Dwyer family; a connection that goes beyond the backdrop of war.

a unique friendship in many ways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping in Touch

Another Q6 Home Hill Italian!

With technology, people of the 21st century can keep contact with friends and family and find people with ease.

Rewind 1945: the only means of communication was with a letter but if you were a prisoner of war, letters were censored. The unseen communication network for Italian prisoners of war however must have been effective.

Word of mouth and ‘sleight of hand’ postal services keep friends and family in touch.

Luigi Tesoro had many friends, as his intercepted letter indicates.  Tesoro was a baker from Naples.  He had been captured in the Battle of Bardia 4th January 41 and arrived in Australia onboard Queen Mary 27 May 1941.  He spent time in Hay, then Q6 PWCH Home Hill before being returned to Hay for 120 days detention.

While serving his 120 days sentence, Tesoro was awarded 3 days No. 1 Punishment (which according to other records is bread and water)*on 8th January 1945 for having written a letter to Tafuto Giuseppe#, Yanco and for having given the letter to Esposito Carmine# to deliver at Yanco.  Letter was found when Esposito was searched.

Dearest brother Giuseppe.

I am writing you this letter to let you know I am in the best of health and at the same time I want to assure myself about you and all my friends.  Dearest Giuseppe I am very surprised you have not replied to my letter and a note I sent you by our friend Cavaliero@ and so I want to know why. Now I want to tell you that when I finish the 9 months prison they will probably send me to Murchison, but I am not sure.  I am sending you the address of our friend Giovanni Fruttaldo!, who is in No. 13 POW G.  Australia where is perhaps is our friend Comare.  I warn you when writing to me not to use my name.  Let me know how the other friends are, their names and where they live.  Enough I won’t write any more… Let me know where your friend Comariello Gennaro is and send me his address.  Your friend Giovanni, the brother of ??? where he is.  I met him at Lecce, Mario who worked in the hospital, Sbrighi Edgardo& has gone to Cowra.  Biasi^ the brother-in-law of friend Tatosi Cicco is on the farms.

(NAA:A7919, C98830)

Quite amazing how the Italians from one camp knew where their friends were or knew information about the comings and goings of their friends.  Love the comment: I warn you when writing to me not to use my name. There must have been a complicated unwritten system for letter writing and passing on information.

*7 days detention = 3 days bread and water, 4 days Australian army rations.  I can imagine that 4 days of Australian army rations was quite an insult for the Italians.

#Carmine Esposito (Baker from Naples) was released from Hay Detention compound 7th January 1945 and was returning to Yanco where Giuseppe Tafuto (Baker from Naples) was.

&Edgardo Sbrighi a baker from Forli was working on a farm at N6 PWCC Dorrigo

@ Possibly Celestino Cavalieri who was in Hay Detention Barracks at the same time and returned to Yanco.

! Giovanni Fruttaldo was from Naples and came to Australia on the Queen Mary in May 1941.

^Biasi – Possibly Biasi Gazzilli who worked on farms at V2 PWCC Colac.

Comare, Comariello and Tatosi – names are spelt incorrectly or are in code, as records cannot be found for these names.

Tesoro Cowra

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49564 G. Di Gloria; 49888 F. Palma; 46127 F. Martucci; 45665 G. Fruttaldo; 49505 L. Rubano; 46838 L. Tesoro; 49549 V. Morfeo. Front row: 57093 C. Calia; 46110 A. Montanari; 57147 A. Cerrutti; 45954 G. Luciano; 49585 A. Pastore. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWN Image 030173/03 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Serendipity – Photos of Nonno

Expect the unexpected

The Australian War Memorial has an extensive collection of photos featuring Italian prisoners of war. They show the men at work in camp workshops, in the fields and at sport.  There are also group photos which the Italians were allowed to purchase to send home to families.  But there are some complications with searches which I include below.

3915943 Murchison Sport

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in C Compound, No. 13 POW Group. Shown here are: 65915 F. Pieri; 65987 C. Rossi; 65209 G. Baffa; 65710 V. La Rocca; 65370 F. Carone; 65230 E. Baruzzi; 65197 A. Armeni; 65237 F. Battisti; 65300 L. Bruno; 65602 G. Furioli; 65398 S. Cavillin; 65864 A. Pacini. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030231/14 Photographer: Ronald Leslie Stewart)

Sometimes you get Lucky

I was searching the Murchison group photos for random photos of silver rings. Silver rings are another story but as I was looking through the photos I found a face I knew.  What are the chances!  This photo did not list the names of the men.  But I was sure I knew him. I had been introduced to Liborio Bonadonna in 2017 by his grandson Liborio Mauro. And I was pretty sure the man seated at the far right was Nonno Liborio.

Bonadonna maybe

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. (AWM Image 030229/10 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

I have been introduced to a number of Italian prisoners of war over the last three years and I know that sometimes, one man will appear in two or three photos, taken on the same day. And I know several of the men below.  Another story.

Buonadonna

Description Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 64837 A. Porcaro; 49904 S. Russo; 57220 G. Fino; Unidentified; 45531 V. Di Pietro; 61074 G. De Luca. Front row: 45685 B. Fiorentino; Unidentified; 46171 G. Massaro (holding a piano accordion); 46603 V. Massaro; 55168 L. Buonadonne. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photo documentation suggests that names are listed, back row, front row, left to right. (AWM 020229/02 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

Taken seven photos apart, Liboria Bonadonna is seated far right in both photos.  In 549 he is wearing casual clothes but in 557 he is wearing his uniform.  As his name was spelt incorrectly in 549, the photo was found with a search of his number 55168.
Alessandra’s Diligence Paid Off
Alessandra Nicoletti is researching her grandfather’s journey as a prisoner of war: Ermanno Nicoletti.  A search revealed this photo from Hay PW Camp.  Note the words: In this photo are known to be…
Nonno Ermanno is standing first left. And Alessandra also found the face of Agostino Marazzi a family friend.

 

AWM 3880406 Ermanno Nicoletti first left standing (1)

Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 45513 Francesco Del Viscio; 46331 Ermanno Nicoletti; 45852 Italo Gramiccia; 46320 Natale Nunziati; 46207 Valerio Mezzani 45498 Giovanni Di Pinto; 45496 Giuseppe Di Pilla; 46199 Agostino Marazzi; 46511 Alfonso Patrizi and 48922 Sergio Galazzi. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030143/26 Photographer Lewecki)

I am not sure  how many photos Alessandra looked at, but she then found Nonno Ermanno is this photo.  He is seated to the left of the man with the piano accordian.  He is holding a guitar. And at that stage in her search, she did not know he performed in operas and plays in the camp.

7278801

Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. A large group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. Some of the men are holding musical instruments. (AWM Image 030145/33 Photographer Lewecki)

 

Serendipity… Chance… Fluke…Fate

Many times in this research, things happen randomly. I often tell people “your nonno tapped you on the shoulder and helped you with your search” or ” your nonno made you find this research” as so many outcomes have been totally random. Unfortunately for some families, their questions are still left unanswered.

There is also a randomness in which army documents are archived. Why do WA Italian prisoners of war have a comprehensive and additional folio of documents while Queensland Italian POWs do not?  Often, we have to be satisfied that one knows more now than they did when a particular search began.

Some of the Hurdles

You can search by name or by prisoner of war number but sometimes the names are mispelt or numbers incorrect by a digit.

As well, while the Hay PW Camp photos give the names for the men in the group photos, the position of men is not known.

Additionally, many of the group photos are without names.  So if you are looking for someone, and their name does not come up with a search, you might have to check every photo.  To reduce the number of photos to search, do a check of the dates on the Service Card with the dates of the group photos.

Unfortunately,  Italian prisoners of war coming to Australia in 1944 and 1945 missed the group photo sessions in Hay and Cowra, so unless they spent time in Murchison in 1945, there might not be a photographic record for them.

Cowra Group Photos 16th September 1943 and 6th February 1944

Hay Group Photos 9th September 1943.

Murchison Group Photos 2nd May 1944 and 2nd and 4th March 1945.

Marrinup Group Photos 29th July 1944.