Tag Archives: Italian Prisoners of War India

Wide Variety of Uniforms

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Photos are from the Australian War Memorial Collection taken at Cowra and Murchison 1944-1945

On 16th August 1941, the second transport of Italian prisoners of war arrived in Sydney on board the Queen Mary.  What caught the attention of the press was the odd assortment of clothing that the Italians wore.  There were 817 Italian prisoners of war consisting of 405 officers and 412 ordinary ranks.  German prisoners of war also arrived into Australia on this transport.

Italians Down Under is a newsreel film taken in 1941. Watch this clip as Italian prisoners of war alight from a Sydney ferry onto the wharf and then step onto trains.

Italian POW Rossi Pith Helmet

Italo Rossi M/E 68057 Photo taken in India

 

BIG BATCH OF ITALIAN WAR PRISONERS HERE

WIDE VARIETY OF UNIFORMS

from Sun (Sydney, NSW: 1910-1954), Saturday 16 August 1941, page 3

Clad in an amazing variety of uniforms and headgear, a big batch of Italian prisoners of war – officers, N.C.O.’s and other ranks – has arrived in Sydney.

The party presented a remarkable contrast to that which arrived a few months ago.

Many to-day were in high spirits, and their demeanour indicated that they were not at all reluctant to ‘take up residence’ on Australian soil.

Several laughed and joked as they boarded the train that was to take them to their internment camp. Two defiantly gave the Fascist salute.

All of the first party to land were officers and among them were several airmen and one wearing dark blue naval uniform.

Sartorial honours went to a tall Italian who walked nonchalantly along the wharf clad in a sweeping dark blue cloak with scarlet lining and frogs.

An Alpini wore a slouch Tyrolean hat with a long feather and a grey well-cut uniform with thick woollen socks.

QM August 1941 Italian POWs

Headgear ranged from orthodox military caps to pith helmets and from blue woollen berets to improvised black felt skull caps.  Some retained traces of smartness in high-fronted peak caps of the Nazi types.

Taste in knee boots inclined towards the exotic in some instances. One officer wore gaiter-like coverings on his legs of a beige tint.

Knickers and Sandshoes

At the other end of the scale was an Italian in plain grey knickerbockers with white sandshoes.  Two wore dark eyeshades.

Mufflers ran the gamut of the colour range contrasting strangely with battered pith helmets and war-stained uniforms.

Many of the prisoners grinned cheerfully at cameramen but one was camera-shy.

He walked the full distance from the disembarkation point to the waiting train with a cardboard carton draped around his head and shoulders.

On the wharf was a high pile of luggage.  The Italians had come well prepared for their stay in Australia.  Several portmanteau and tarpaulin sheets covering them were camouflaged.

The rangers carried blankets and tin panikins.  A number were only youngsters.

QM August 1941 Italian POW

Several carried improvised draught boards and two started a game with pieces cut from a broom handle.

Medical Precautions

Exhaustive precautions to guard against the prisoners bringing dysentery to Australia were taken before the ship arrived.  Medical officers went aboard and carefully examined the medical history of every prisoner.

Elaborate arrangements had been made to have the men quarantined if this had been found necessary.

The Army Director-General of Hygiene made a special trip to Sydney to study the health situation before the prisoners landed.  Arrangements were made for the prisoners to be given meals on the train and they were accompanied by their own medical officers, as well as by Australian army medical men.

Panniers of medical stores were taken on the train to guard against illness on the journey.

Half a dozen of the prisoners who were ill were taken direct from the wharf to an ambulance and then to hospital.

Italian POW Hospital Queen Mary 1941

The photo below was taken in summer at Cowra. It shows the men some two and half years later and the odd assortment of clothing they wore.  Footwear consisted of sandals (possibly hand made), boots and high boots.  Clothing varied with tee shirts, buttoned shirts and safari suit tops of various colours being part of the Italians’ wardrobes.

Ippolito 3917517

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49115 C. Trentino; 49354 G. Ippolito; 49592 A. Poggi; 49107 G. Zunino; 48833 R. Bartoli; 49212 R. Papini; 48863 S. De Micco. Front row: 48939 A. Leto; 49172 A. Mandrini; 57531 B. Protano; 49923 F. Carlone; 45196 A. Ciofani. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(Australia War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes, Image 030173/11)

Money and Tokens

How many Prisoner of War money and Internment Camp tokens made their way back to Italy?

Upon entry into Australia, all money in the possession of Italian prisoners of war was to be ‘handed over’ to authorities.  Property statements were maintained indicating money on hand.  This statement was a receipt.

There are memories of the Italians having Australian coins with which they made rings for themselves and for their farm families. Black market trading in ‘canteen goods’ for Australian money is also inferred.  However, Italian prisoners of war caught with Australian currency were given 7 days detention for having money in their possession.

Property Statement.jpg

Property Statement for Antonio Arici

(NAA: MP1102/Arici, Antonio)

Many Italian prisoners of war managed to ‘hide’ money.  Alex Miles from Mooloo via Gympie has lost the Italian bank note he was given by one of the Italians.  It showed the she wolf with Romulus and Remus.

Veniero Granatelli has shared his father’s POW money.  His father, Filippo Granatelli managed to keep a bank note used in the Bhopal Prisoner of War Camp India, which is shown below.

Granatelli India

Bhopal Prisoner of War Currency

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

Very excitingly, are the coins that Filippo Granatelli kept hidden.  They are Internment Camp tokens.  These tokens were used as payment at the Army Canteen and their production and destruction was strictly controlled. A little of the history of these tokens is included below.

Granatelli Tokens

Internment Camp Tokens Australia

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

An indication of how valuable these coins are today is the price for a set of tokens.   Considered a rare and unique collection, a set can be purchased for $7,950. An uncirculated threepence sells for $250.00 and a penny token $299.00.

Tokens

Set of Internment Tokens

(Photo from: http://www.macquariemint.com/wwii-internment-camp-token-set-vf-unc#product.info.description)

The reasons for their introduction are as follows:

a) to prevent bribery of guards

b) to prevent escaping prisoners and internees from having in possession any money which will facilitate their remaining at large

c) to prevent the use of prisoners’ and internees’ money for subversive purposes.

A Department of  the Treasury letter 9th February 1948 summarises the production and post war holdings of these tokens:

5/- 34643 produced, 33903 held

2/- 91720 produced, 84428 held

1/- 18000 produced, 169771 held

3d. – 224000 produced, 182022 held

1d. -144630 produced,  104161 held

How many Internment Camp tokens made their way back to Italy?

Prigionieri in India

The history of Italian prisoners of war in India is a grey’ area for me.  I do not read Italian, and many of the books and articles written about this history is in Italian.

But this history is part of the journey of the Italians prisoners of war who arrived in Australia from 1943 – 1945 and so with my friend ‘Google translate‘ I try to read about this period of imprisonment.

The following extract is by: Edmondo Mazzinghi Testimonial Yol-La mia avventura

Take the time to open the link as there are many drawings of the camps, the tents and the barracks.

The following extract makes sense of a common breach in discipline for Italian POWs in Australia: fastening ground sheet to bed. This was something that the Italians did in India camps, which allowed them a little privacy…

I separé. 
Alcuni nella nostra baracca, come nelle altre, dispongono pezzi di stoffa sui lati della propria branda, come a formare dei separé. Sentiamo la necessità di raccoglierci nei nostri pensieri, di isolarci, per quanto possibile, anche dagli amici, di non vedere nessuno. Vengono così distesi dei fili di ferro, corde o regoli di legno, in modo da appenderci quella stoffa che riusciamo a racimolare, per lo più lenzuola logore e messe in modo da formare una piccola stanzetta che comprende la branda, la sedia e il bureau. Ci isoliamo pur consapevoli di fare cosa sgradita anche ai compagni di sventura e lì dentro al separé non rimane che leggere, dormire, pensare od osservare il tetto di eternit che ci sovrasta.
Ma anche questi separé, col passare del tempo, non riescono a metterci la tranquillità sperata, anzi è sufficiente che qualcuno faccia un movimento o un suono che subito ne nascono litigi o risse.
La pioggia cade con monotona insistenza, le gocce d’acqua picchiano incessanti sulle lastre ondulate di eternit che coprono le nostre baracche dove da quattro anni abbiamo la nostra dimora. Ci troviamo nel bel mezzo della stagione delle grandi piogge, che per tre mesi continui dell’anno cadono sull’immensa catena dell’Himalaya.
Sono le quattro del mattino, non riesco a riprendere sonno. Sta per sorgere un altro dei tanti giorni della prigionia; quanti ne sono trascorsi, non ricordo; certamente tanti, ma quanti ancora ne dovranno passare ? Sono nella stanzetta di legno, nel separé con i miei amici Russo, Menichini, Garetti, Radoccia, Marcheselli, tutti tenenti dello stesso reggimento: un pugliese, un napoletano, un piemontese, un abruzzese e un emiliano. Io il “toscanino”.
Anche oggi abbiamo avuto una lunga discussione animata sulla pronuncia di una parola; poi con l’aiuto di altri amici toscani e di un piccolo dizionario, apparso chissà come, ho avuto ragione. Quasi me ne dispiace, è già accaduto altre volte. Ma questi toscani !
Il “vecio” il piemontese, si rigira sul letto e dà un colpo di tosse, forse anche lui non dormirà. Povero vecio, è stato tutto il giorno a studiare quelle sue equazioni differenziali.
Lamenti quasi umani lacerano l’aria e s’infiltrano attraverso le pareti di tavole nella baracca. Sono sciacalli che scendono dalla montagna e oltrepassato il doppio reticolato, corrono veloci verso i depositi di rifiuti delle cucine dove trovano da mangiare. Poveri animali, anche loro lottano per sopravvivere. Forse la nostra presenza e i nostri avanzi del magro pasto serviranno a qualcosa.
Dodicimila siamo rinchiusi in questi campi, senza sapere quanto ancora dovremo starci. Povera mamma, mi hai lasciato, non hai resistito alla mia lunga assenza; però sapevi che ero prigioniero e che ero salvo. Ma perché volli scriverti fra le righe, in modo da evitare la censura, che io stavo come a S. Matteo a Pisa ? cioè un carcere ? Volli che tu sapessi che io stavo male, al contrario di quanto vi si faceva credere. I prigionieri inglesi in Italia si sapeva che venivano trattati bene, ma noi no, eravamo diventati dei numeri, solo numeri da conta. Per me fu uno sfogo, per te forse quella notizia fu il colpo di grazia e così quando ritornerò non ti rivedrò più.
Piango nel caldo umido della notte che invade la baracca; piano piano, non voglio che mi sentano i miei compagni. Un forte rovescio d’acqua e un altro ancora e di continuo s’infrangono sul tetto e il rumore diventa assordante. Oh ! Posso piangere senza trattenermi: sudo e piango con la pioggia e l’incubo finisce; m’addormento.
Un lento e dolce squillo di tromba ci sveglia. Non è la tromba irruenta e bersagliera della sveglia italiana. E’ una tromba che sembra dispiaciuta di svegliare, ma che però ordina di tornare alla realtà. Che notte è stata anche questa. Lunga notte di tormento.
– Ohé ! sveglia, facciam press – ci voglion contare ancora ! –
– Uh ! che bellezz ! ma quando finirà sta storia. E piove e ‘un la smette più ! –
– Guarda tuscanin, anch’io ci ho la muffa sulle scarpe ! –
Russo, il più anziano di noi, con l’asciugamano sulle spalle e il sapone in mano apre la porta e esce per andare a lavarsi, quando è investito da uno che corre urlando parole incomprensibili; poi mentre si allontana fra la pioggia si capisce meglio:…

V-P-HIST-03469-34.JPG

Group II Italian Prisoner of War Camp India

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03469-34)

In India

Tripepi 10 - Copy

Clothing Inventory for Italian POWs in India

(NAA: A7919 C98988 Tripepi, Domenico)

Information about the prisoner of war camps in India is difficult to find.  The British oversaw the operations of these camp sites, many of which had been used during the Boer War.

Italian Prisoners of War in India is a guide for ordering a copy of the record relating to Italians who spent time in POW camps in India.

It is thanks to a number of Italian families that we can see and read about some of the experiences of Italian prisoners of war who were then transferred to Australia.

Adriano Zagonara, Andriano Zagonara and a group of Italian POWs in India

(photos courtesy of Paola Zagonara)

Paola Zagonara remembers the stories her father Adriano Zagonara told her about working and living in India:

Paola Zagonara wrote,  “Mio padre raccontava che erano nel campo di Bangalore,e che dovevano costruire I binari della ferrovia, che pativano la fame perche’il rancio era solo una scodella di riso integrale al giorno, e che era una festa quando riuscivano a catturare un serpente:lo arrostivano e se lo mangiavano sul posto, cosi’assumevano proteine della carne,e si mantenevano in salute.Me lo raccontava quando eravamo a tavola ed io non volevo mangiare, ma allora ero piccola e non capivo molto….un caro saluto!”

 

 

Ferdinando Pancisi and Reference from POW Doctor in India

(photos courtesy of  Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti)

Ferdinando Pancisi remembers:

[I was in India for ] 2 years. I was working in the camp hospital. The doctor there wrote a letter of reference for me, here is the paper…He (the doctor) said that when you go back to Italy and you want to work in a hospital, give this letter to the doctors and they’ll surely give you a job.

He (the doctor) said that when you go back to Italy and you want to work in a hospital, give this letter to the doctors and they’ll surely give you a job. I was fine, I didn’t want for anything. I was doing a lot, male nurse, pharmacist, I did most things, because the doctor would just visit and leave!

[The doctor was a prisoner] Yes, the whole camp was run by prisoners. We made a hospital there just for the prisoners…

The 2nd World War was over in Italy but Japan was still going. In fact, our ship which transferred us to Australia was escorted by British destroyer ships.

(Interview with Ferdinando Pancisi 21 October 2107: Interviewers: Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti)

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Salvatore Morello : Memories of India

(photos courtesy of Luigi Tommasi)

Salvatore Morello and Pietro Pepe were in India together and than transferred to work on a Boonah district farm.

They came to Australia on the Mariposa. Three ships came to Melbourne from India at that time. There were a total of 4056 Italians on the ships. Mariposa, SS Mount Vernon and Vernon Castle arrived in Melbourne 26.4.44. On board were 8 officers and 4048 ORs From Melbourne, the Italian POWs were put on trains and taken to Cowra for processing.

Sacred Heart of Maria was embroidered by Salvatore while in India.  The words 1942 and India are sewn into the banner held by the angels.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 (2) - Copy

Luigi Iacopini with a group of Italian prisoners of war in a camp in India

(photo courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

life was monotonous and over time many of the men felt they were forgotten and became more desperate.  Health was the most serious worry.  At the camp, at Ramgarh many succumbed to beriberi and typhoid fever, ‘at an alarming rate’. The camp turned into a sea of mud and was filled with mosquitoes when the rains started.  Several hundred Italians died while interned during the war in India, some from natural causes but the majority from illnesses caught while in confinement.  For prisoners of war of all different nationalities, the war was characterised by a long, testing time of waiting in camps, longing for letters and hoping that their own news was getting through.  (Khan, Yasmin, The Rah at War: A People’s History of India’s Second World War)

Vincenzo Piciaccia from Pescara del Tronto (Ascoli Piceno) was captured 4th January a914 at Bardia.  From Egypt he was transported to India. The photo below is of a young 23 year old Vincenzo at Bangalore 1943.  He was transported to Australia and arrived in Melbourne 26th April 1944 onboard Mariposa.

Piciacchia Bangalore 1943

Vincenzo Piciaccia Bangalore India 1943

(photo courtesy of Leo Piciaccia)

Filippo Granatelli from Sant’ Elpidio (Ascoli Piceno) was captured at Asmara 6th May 1941.  He did not arrive in Australia until 13th February 1945. The group of Italians  onboard the General William Mitchell departed from India and were the last group of Italian POWs to arrive in Australia. Despite searches, Filippo managed to keep hidden a relic from his time in India, a One Anna note from Prisoner of War Camp Bhopal.

Granatelli India

One Anna from Bhopal

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

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)

Captured…On the Move

NorthAfrica.India.Australia

Once captured, Italian prisoners of war were impounded in temporary caged compounds in the deserts of North Africa.  They were then taken to Egypt and processed.  Each prisoner of war was given a M/E number (Middle East) and a card was sent to the families notifying them that their son or husband or father was a prisoner of war. From Egypt they were sent around the world: South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada and USA.

Costanzo Melino’s journey took him to India and then to Australia.  He worked on a farm in the Gympie district before being repatriated to Italy.  He returned to Australia post-war, sponsored by his Gympie employer,  his family joined him  and eventually they settled in northern NSW.

Costanzo Melino was captured at Bardia on 4th January 1941.

Costanzo Melino remembers:

Forty-seven thousand Italians were taken prisoner of war by the 8th Battalion of English under General Wavell. Our General at that time was Annibale Bergonzoli. My captain was Alberto Agostinelli.  We were taken to internment camps by foot.  We were given little to eat or drink.

Water 4159600

Italian prisoners Mersa Matruh getting their water tank filled. They were allowed half a gallon per man per day.” Image from a large album of 86 pages containing 1858 photographs associated with the service of Lieutenant Robert Otto Boese

(Australian War Memorial, Image P05182.012)

In February 1941, we were sent to Port Said in the Suez Canal and the following month to Bombay where the heat was unbearable and many Italians died of heat exhaustion.

These camps were well run by the English.  We were given baths and we had Indian cooks.  There were toilets and we were fed well although we all got sick as we were not used to the English diet.  After this the English asked us to cook our own meals which we did gladly, making our own tagliatelle and gnocchi from the flour.  There were at least three thousand prisoners divided ingroups of one hundred. We were counted twice a day. We were fenced in and surrounded by armed guards so that we could not escape.

V-P-HIST-03469-24

Original tent camp 1941 Bangalore Italian Prisoners of War

(Maddy’s Ramblings maddy06.blogspot.com.au )

Having nothing else to do, a lot of prisoners devoted their time to study.  I studied Italian and English.  We didn’t stay in the one place for long in India.  We were constantly moved and constantly guarded by Indian soldiers.  The German prisoners were kept separate to us.  When the Italians surrendered to General Dwight David Eisenhower we were sent to Australia to work on farms. It appeared that the two million U.S. servicemen in Australia needed food.  The U.S. headquarters was in Brisbane commanded by General Douglas MacArthur.  It was the U.S. who commanded us in Australian as they had civil and military control.

The English in India said to us: “Now you’ve surrendered we are allies so now you’ll have to go to work to feed yourselves.  You’ll be free in Australia and they’ll even pay you for your work”. Of course we were all happy, leaving the camps singing.  However, as soon as we boarded the train we found the Indian soldiers hidden in the train and at the next stop we got off in our usual manner as prisoners of war.  We were really only free when we got to Naples in 1947.

Capture.Surrender.Imprisonment

North Africa.QueenMary.Australia

The North African Campaign began in June 1940. The Italian soldiers were in the main conscripted who had undergone the most basic of training.  Not only were food and water in short supply by weaponry was inferior to that of the  Allies, tactical attacks not supported by aerial and navy divisions and provision of armaments was slow to appear.

Antonino Lumia has had his memories of being a soldier in the Italian army and prisoner of war in Australia recorded for posterity.   Lumia’s words were recorded by his grandson Damiano and can be heard via YouTube,  Antonino Lumia POW in Australia 1941-1946.

This recording is an invaluable insight into the personal experiences of the ordinary men who were caught up in the politics of war.  Lumia had his 28th birthday in the north African desert and was captured at Tobruk.

Special acknowledgement to Damiano Lumia for allowing for his work and the words of  Antonino to be reproduced here as part of this project.  His  assistance is invaluable as these memories provide depth and perspective for this history.

Antonino Lumia was captured at Tobruk 22nd January 1941

Antonino Lumia reminsices :

We took a white sheet. Sign of surrender. We hijacked our guns. Unlike the enemy.

Very soon after the tanks …… we could hear: “come! Come! Come! We are there, prisoners!

Everyone took his things. One can. A piece of bread. The captain shared the stocks.

They surrounded us like sheep. A tank in front of us … another behind. And we all, prisoners, in column. When the English and the Australians arrived … … to our captain … … they confiscated the watch, its binoculars …… his belt, his weapon. All our watches were confiscated.

To some soldiers their wallets, personal photographs. We walked towards their lines.

We were locked up in an airport. Not food. No water.

POW cage 3955959

Tobruk, Libya. 1941-03 to 1941-06. Originally an Italian ammunition storage area this section was converted into a prisoner of war cage after the first battle.  It held as many as 15,000 prisoners at a time.  Litter in the picture includes cast-off clothing and empty ‘bully-beef’ tins.  Two members of the ‘Olds and Bolds’, 1st Australian Corps Guard Battalion, in their temporary camp in the area.

(Australia War Memorial, Image 020079)

Encircled by tanks …

… if one of our soldiers approached the barriers he risked being killed. When we walked … dead on the side of the road. Close to me a corpse. Lying on the side of the road. Forbidden to approach it.

If we dared to do it, from the top of their tanks … a shot …… our turn to be killed.

They shut us in at this airport. 140000 men. No place to sleep. 140000 men … 140000 men …

No food. No water. The next day, some cried. Others said, “I shall never see my wife again.”

“I will never see my daughter again.” Discouraged. One of our Sergeant Major …… only son …

… born in Vittoria …… his mother treated him like a young lady. He was crying. “If my mother knew it.”

“In what condition I am”. He was wearing a scarf. Sand everywhere on him.

There the sand flew very high. When some of us started dying … … the British collected seawater in petrol cans. The drinking-water cisterns had been destroyed by us, Italian.

They were all made to explode, so as not to give them to the enemy. They brought sea water.

They lined the barrels of oil, full of sea water. A hundred barrels. Threatened by their weapons, they were grouped together. “First line, kneeling!” We walked on our knees.

“Line number two, on your knees!” They formed about fifty lines. I did not have a container.

I got near the barrels. In my throat bits of sand. I began to drink despite the oil that floated on the sea water. An armed Australian was looking at me. “No good! No good!”

Not good … I just stood up. Regardless of oil, sea water … … I had a saucepan … … I fill it and go back to those who had drunk. I detached my military insignia. Two green and red bands.

I made a cross on my clothes with the insignia. I wanted to make them believe I was a nurse.

“This one can pass …” “He will help us, transport the sick …”

POW medical station6053463

Bardia, Libya. 1941-01-04. An Italian prisoner of war (POW) posing with a stretcher bearer at a dressing station operated by the 6th Division. (Original housed in AWM Archive Store)

(Australian War Memorial, Image P02038.080)

I crossed their lines thanks to the badge of the red cross. Again I approach the barrels. I take an Italian soldier over me. “Pretend to be dead”

We’ll drink again! I lifted this stranger on my shoulders. With this stratagem, I made several round trips. I drank and gave drink to the “sick”. I made three trips.

I’ve never had so much water. I was overjoyed. Despite the traces of oil.

At night we lay down on the ground. If it was raining or cold … … with a blanket we gathered to four …

… our breaths warmed us. Eight days of this life. Bitter as the poison. Lice … … our clothes were filled …… our flesh were bloody … scratching lesions.

One morning, very early, they woke us up with their weapons. I said to my cousin, “Standing, let’s see where they take us.” A group of 2,000 soldiers came out. Again a march, framed by soldiers.

Head towards the port of Tobruk. In the port there were their kitchens. On the ground there were orange peel. Lemon peel.I fill my pockets.It’s always there to feed me. From time to time I ate a peel.

I ate everything. The sand, the bark of fruit. On a boat, we joined the ship, 20 soldiers at a time.

It was a food transport ship. They grouped us in 3 holds. No water. No toilets.

Everyone went to the toilet in front of the others. Luckily they kept the light. The ship went away.

arrival in Egypt. Ready to disembark.

We were on deck. The Egyptians insult us: “Mussolini … Mussolini .. to death!” The English intervened. They beat them with their truncheons. “Leave them alone … they are hungry, are full of lice …”. We got off the ship.On trucks, we traveled inside the country. They grouped us in tents.

Near the sea. Meat arrived in their kitchen. Their military doctor said: “This meat is infected …

… forbidden to share with the prisoners “.They buried everything. I and my cousin have observed everything. A semi-raw meat, potatoes … That night, cousin … At nightfall, kneeling, in the sand, …

A potato was found. It’s here, cousin. We filled our towels, headed for the tent.

The next day, it was washed 20 times. Sand …It was cooked with a little water …

We mixed everything with our daily pasta. That was delicious.

I had received 35 cigarettes for a week. I am not a smoker. You smoke? Here’s this. Give me your bread.

After 8 days, in Egypt, passage to the baths.The goal was to decontaminate us. We changed clothes.

We went back to the canal. Mussolini paid very dearly for the passing of his people. Indian soldiers arrived.

Indian soldiers

An Indian soldier guards a group of Italian prisoners near El Adem aerodrome, during the pursuit of Axis forces westwards after the relief of Tobruk.

(Imperial War Museum, Image E7180)

8 of us had been designated to clean up their garrison. Clean the toilet, pass the brush, collect garbage …I say to my cousin: “Let’s go …… maybe we could eat. I took a big wipe. Around my belt. Cousin, let’s see if there is food.

When we had finished cleaning, the guard gave us a cigarette each. As I did not smoke, I gave it to my cousin. We observed that they threw their waste into a barrel. I stretched my wipe.

I plunge my hands into their trash. I plunge my hands, and lifts this mud. Very acid.

He was warmed up between soldiers. We were hungry. Each day eight pasta and a piece of bread were received. I ran away with the towel. The guard said, “That’s not good!” … Shut up.

For you it is not good. For me it is excellent. In the tent I cut this mud with my knife.

I stirred up all this with our meal.

After eight days. Head towards the Suez Canal. We embarked (Queen Mary)

I asked, “Where are we going?” … “we do not know, perhaps in the United States, or in India …”.

I’ll see where we’ll end up. On this ship they ate.

A ship carrying 15,000 men. Each had his bed.I got on deck. I was walking. When my cousin came. He wore a towel filled with bread.He had cleaned the beautiful walls of the boat. He took all the loaves. I saw him on the deck of the boat: “come cousin …”We sat on the floor. And we ate.

Order was given to walk barefoot on the boat.The shoes damaged the floor.

It was a luxury ship. A captain came to meet us. “Come, come.” What does this man want? Lets go see… We needed follow-up. We went down the stairs. A commander was waiting for us, as well as an Italian interpreter.

The commander tells us: “I have ordered you to walk barefoot, and you, abusively, wear your shoes!”

But I can not walk barefoot. Give us sandals … The sergeant major thought I was standing up to the interpreter. He shouted, “Shut up!”

 

Queen Mary

In the main mess hall on board the SS QUEEN MARY (formerly the First Class dining saloon) where more than 2,000 troops can be fed at one sitting. In peacetime it used to take 800 First Class passengers but now sittings go on from 6 am till 9 pm.

(Imperial War Museum, Coote, R.G.G. (Lt) Image A25924)

Give us our sanction. If it’s impossible to express why we drove here? We were following the sentinel. They gave us white blankets. Beautiful covers with silk edges. He leads us to the front of the ship, where the chimney is. He locked us in a room full of soot. We lay down on our blankets.

We’ll see tomorrow morning … The next morning they brought us a half bucket of coffee.

No bread, nothing else.We split the bucket.

After 24 hours of confinement … … we went out …

My cousin looked at me and said, “you are blackened from head to toe”

My dear cousin, if I am blackened, you are in a totally indescribable state!

We slept in the soot.The blankets had become black …We went back to our beds.

One day a prisoner died on board. They packed it in a bag and thrown it into the water.The priest took his papers. Queen Mary.

We arrived in Australia.

POW boat

Italian Prisoners of War – Italian prisoners of war bound for a prisoner-of-war camp, disembarking following their arrival in Australia.

(National Archives of Australia, NAA: A11663, PA 189)