Tag Archives: L'Amico del Prigioniero

Dedication to All

Monsignor Giovanni Panico’s work was essential to both Australian and Italian families.  As Australasia’s Apostolic Delegate he coordinated requests to find Australian soldiers held in prisoner of war camps in Italy and south east Asia. He also was the intermediary to help to locate Italian soldiers held in Australia’s prisoner of war camps as well as sending messages to families in Italy.

From the Prisoner of War Bureau at North Sydney, Dr Panico, the Delegation secretaries, six women and one man were employed to liaise between families and prisoners of war to locate missing Australian, New Zealand and Italian troops.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

In November 1935, Dr Panico was appointed as the new Apostolic Delegate for Australasia.  He came with a wealth of experience from his previous postings to Bavaria, Prague, Czechoslovakia. He was reported to be an authority on canon law and could speak all the modern languages.

With Italy’s declaration of war on France and Britain in June 1940, it was made clear that Dr Panico was a citizen of the Vatican and that he held a Vatican passport. On the 20th June 1940, Dr Panico made wartime radio history with a broadcast directly with the Vatican radio station.  In this inaugural broadcast, Dr Panico received from Vatican City Radio the names of 26 member of the A.I.F. (Australian troops) with messages for their families.  He asked Australian families looking for information about sons or husbands, missing in action, to advise of the location eg Libya, Greece, Crete. This service was offered to Australians regardless of religion.

Dr Panico worked tirelessly throughout the war years.

Australia’s Attorney General and Foreign Minister HV Evatt wrote to the Holy See on 1st June 1946:

To His Holiness

Great gratitude from myself and Government for patient, untiring and invaluable assistance given throughout the war by Mons. Panico in noble work or relieving the lot of prisoners of war and anxieties of their relatives specially in connection with Australian prisoners of war in Japanese and German hands.

The workload of this service increased dramatically.  June 1940 saw the arrests and internment of Australian resident Italians in internment camps with families in Italy looking for information on their Australian relatives.  In May 1941, the first Italian prisoners of war from Egypt arrived and the service was extended to assist Italian POWs to send messages home to Italy as well as receiving messages from Italy for the whereabouts of ‘missing’ Italian troops.

By April 1944, it was reported that over 300,000 messages had been received.  The service expanded to a one-hour broadcast six days a week.  The transmissions included lists of prisoners of war and messages from them for their families in New Zealand and Australia.  For Italian prisoners of war held in Australian camps, Dr Panico would arrange requests from Australia via air or surface mail of telegram.

Visitation to prisoners of war and internees was also an important role played by Dr Panico.  He made journeys across Australia to report on the conditions in camps and to offer spiritual solace.  He distributed thousands of books, purchased musical instruments and donated money on behalf of the Vatican to the camps.

Distribution of Books at Yanco Camp December 1942.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

Once Italian prisoners of war were placed on farms, Dr Panico visited farms to speak with farmers and the Italians. He was impressed by his experiences: “After such an intimate experience of the conditions of the prisoners and internees in Australia, it is highly commendatory to hear the Apostolic Delegate say that in no country could these men and women be treated better than they have been and are being treated in Australia.” He was concerned about ensuring that Italian prisoners of war had opportunities to attend mass once a week.  To this end, Dr Panico disclosed, in secret, to the Vatican, that he was granted by the Australian government, 1600 litres of oil [fuel] per month to allow the transport of prisoners to Mass or for parish priests to visit the prisoners. As part of his ministry, a special mass and celebration in Gympie Queensland for the district’s prisoners of war was organised by Dr Panico.

In May 1944, Dr Panico reported to the Vatican on his visits to farms. The following was conveyed, “Egli rimase veramente commosso dell’accoglienza a lui fatta anche da proprietari non cattolici, e della maniera con cui essi trattavano i prigionieri. Con molta soddisfazione vide che in alcune case coloniche i prigionieri erano considerati come membri della famiglia, dormendo nella stessa casa dei proprietari, prendendo insieme ad essi il cibo e ricreandosi insieme dopo il lavoro. Il Delegato Apostolico intese con non minor soddisfazione, gli elogi che i proprietari delle fattorie facevano dei prigionieri, i quali, salvo pochissime eccezioni, hanno contribuito e contribuiscono non solo a mantenere alta la tradizione dei lavoratori italiani, ma anche a distruggere molti pregiudizi che i protestanti d’Australia avevano verso il cattolicesimo. Inoltre, l’affezione dimostrata dagli stessi prigionieri verso i bambini delle famiglie presso le quali lavorano, ha portato qualche volta a scene tenerissime.” (Collectanea Archivi Vaticani 52)

Spiritual welfare for prisoners of war was a priority for Dr Panico which he administered in many ways. Dr Panico visited Italian prisoners of war in POW camp and Australian military hospitals. He gave the Last Rites to Cesare Sottocorno at the 113 Australian General Hospital Concord Sydney and ensured that a gravestone was erected on his grave. Dr Panico provided the photo at the left and details of Cesare’s death which was then sent to Cesare’s family via the Vatican.  The following photo shows his visit to the infirmary at Cowra Prisoner of War Camp.

Grave of Cesare Sottocorno (photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)

L’Amico del Prigioniero was published by Dr Panico in May 1943, another example of his care and concern for the prisoners. In the preface he wrote, “L’intento del libro è già chiaramente delineato nel itiolo con ciuamammo chiarmarlo.” This liturgical work was taken home to Italy by many of the prisoners of war.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

Newspaper articles attest to Dr Panico’s farewell to the Italian prisoners of war.  In an unofficial capacity he was at a Sydney wharf to farewell Italian prisoners of war on the repatriation ship Moreton Bay in July 1946.  In November 1946, he was at a Fremantle wharf to say goodbye to those men boarding the SS Katoomba. The photograph records his conversation with one SS Katoomba prisoner of war.

A group photo of Dr Panico onboard an unnamed repatriation ship in 1946 reinforces his dedication to the welfare of the Italian prisoners of war.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

Dr Panico’s work did not finish with the end of war or once Italian prisoners of war were repatriated. He set up the Relief Committee, the Relief to Italy from Australia, which arranged for 50 tons of clothing to be sent to Europe.

In October 1948, after 13 years’ service in Australia, Dr Panico was appointed papal nuncio to Peru.

A special thank you to Rocco Severino De Micheli who has shared the photos of Dr Panico included in this article. Rocco relates that one of Dr Panico’s important and lasting legacies is the Ospedale Cardinale Giovanni Panico de Tricase (Lecce).

Statue of Giovanni Panico in Tricase (Lecce) (photo courtesy of Rocco Severino de Micheli)

Prayers, Priests and Chapels

The inspiration for this article began with a photo of the Cowra Chapel. After some research, I realised that this topic was much more complex.  Prayers, Priests and Chapels begins with the patron saints of villages and is a journey of the Italian soldier and prisoners of war through their faith.

Italy

There might have been exceptions but it was reported that all Italian prisoners of war were Catholic.  Evidence of their religious faith starts with the prayer cards they were given of the patron saint of their village. These prayer cards were taken with them to the battlefields, to the prisoner of war camps, to Australia and then finally returned with the men to Italy.

Domenico Feruilli’s Prayer Card (photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)

Libya

In Libya Roman Catholic Churches were built by the Italians before the outbreak of war. Did the Italian soldiers get an opportunity to visit these churches and pray? Did they light a candle for their safety in battle? Or maybe they made the sign of the cross as they passed by these churches on the way to battle?

Biagio di Ferdinando wrote, “During my travels from Tobruck to Bengasi, after Derna and Barce there were many beautiful villas, towns, schools, churches, all new.”  (Odyssey by Biagio di Ferdinando)

1st March 1941 BENGHAZI. EXTERIOR OF THE CATHEDRAL OF THE SACRED NAME OF JESUS. SMALL BOMBS HAVE FALLEN IN THE COURTYARD BEFORE THE CATHEDRAL AND THE BLAST FROM HEAVY GERMAN BOMBS HAS SHATTERED MOST OF THE WINDOWS. (AWM Image 006539, Photographer Hurley, James Francis (Frank)

Egypt

In 1941, the Apostolic Delegate for Egypt and Palestine had ‘Libro di Preghiere’ published in Palestine, with the permission of G.H.Q. Middle East. It was a prayer book distributed to Italian prisoners of war. 

It included Preghiera Del Prigioniero as well as part of a prayer for the prisoners by Pope Pius XII. For many, this would have been their only book but it was a book to give the men spiritual guidance and comfort.

Libro di Preghiere (photo courtesy of Daniel Reginato)

India

In India, the men were given materials to paint and sew with. The men drew inspiration from their faith. Filippo Granatelli’s ‘Last Supper’ is one example.

Filippo Granatelli 16.11.42 (photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

Many of the embroideries are religious in nature: the patron saint of a village, Jesus, The Sacred Heart, Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Giuseppe Polito: Rappresenta la Madonna degli Angeli, protettrice di Sacco (SA) il suo paese. (photo courtesy of Silvio Masullo)

Carved Wooden Statue of Madonna made by Isidoro Del Piccolo in Yol Camp India (photo courtesy of Ermanno Scrazzolo)

The Italians brought a little of Italy to the chapels in the British camps in India with elaborate decorations: paintings, statues, frescos and altars.

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 22, aile 4. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Prisonniers se recueillant devant un autel. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 22, wing 4. Italian prisoners of war camp. Prisoners meditating in front of an altar.

Prisoners Praying Camp 22 Wing 4 Bangalore (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-10A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 23. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Altar. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 23. Italian prisoners of war camp. Altar.

Camp No 23 Bangalore Altar (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-16A)

Worthy of note are the details of Our Lady of the Prisoner. The hat, the shirt with a black diamond patch, the shorts with the black strip; items which identified the men as prisoners of war have been meticuoulsy represented.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Groupe I. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Monument “Notre-Dame du prisonnier”. Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp. “Notre-Dame du prisonnier” monument.

Our Lady of the Prisoner Bangalore Group I 12.12.1941 (ICRC V-P-HIST=03474-05A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp 2. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Autel dans la chapelle. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 2. view of the altar in the chapel.

Bangalore Camp 2 View of the Altar in the Chapel (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-20A)

Australia: In the Camps

The first group of Italian prisoners of war arrived at Hay Camp New South Wales in May 1941. A 1943 report and a 1944 photo records information about how the spiritual needs of the Italians were catered for at Hay Camps 7 and 8:

The prisoners of war of these two camps are all Catholics. Camp 8 has a chapel adorned with a beautiful altar carved in wood and having a harmonium. The chapel of Camp 7 is located in one of the refectories; it also has a beautiful sculpted altar and a harmonium. Each camp has a prisoner of war priest who provides regular worship.

Camp priest, Virgilio Iacobelli featured below arrived in Australia on 27th May 1941 with the first group of Italian prisoners of war.  He served at both Hay and Cowra camps.

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. 45005 LIEUTENANT PADRE I. VIRGILIO IACOBELLI AN ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, AT THE ALTAR IN THE CHAPEL OF NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. ALL THE CRAFT WORK IN THE CHAPEL WAS DONE BY THE PRISONERS. PLAYING THE ORGAN IS 45192 SERGEANT MAJOR VINCENZO COMMARATA. (AWM Image 063360, Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)

To make way for new arrivals of Italian prisoners of war to Australia, Italians were transferred from the established camps at Hay to the tented camps of Cowra.  Cowra Prisoner of War Camps for the Italians were under construction.  In November 1941, photos and reports record the temporary chapel and arrangements for church services:

Each section has a large tent serving as a chapel, containing a pretty altar built for prisoners. The sacred candles, bread and wine are provided once a week by the local priest of Cowra.  Religious duties are carried out by three prisoner of war priests. Recently, Cowra had a visit from the Archbishop of Sydney, representing the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra No 12, section D. Autel en construction. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp 12, section D. Altar under construction

Cowra Camp No 12 Section D Altar under Construction 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00216)

Giuseppe Raimondi from Amaroni (Catanzaro) served as priest at Cowra Special Camp 12 D before being sent to Victoria: V28 Attwoods, Myrtleford Camp, Puckapunyal and V22 Rowville. Raimondi was called as a witness to an inquiry into Captain JM Waterson and the fatal shooting of Rodolfo Bartoli at V22 Rowville.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra No 12, section D. La chapelle. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp 12, section D. Chapel

Cowra Camp No 12 Section D The Chapel 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00215)

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra, camp A, série A. Autel dans un réfectoire. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp A, serie A. Altar in a dining hall.

Cowra Camp A Altar in the Dining room 3.9.42 (ICRC V_P-HIST-E-00218)

Faustino Lenti from Milano had been a Missionary Father in India and served at Cowra Camps.  Lenti was a charismatic and colourful character and by April 1944, it was reported: It is alleged that he controls a ‘basher gang’ composed of PoW… and that he employs a personal bodyguard for his protection. The latest information about him is that he fears an attempt will be made on his life. (NAA: SP196/2 443/1/5280)

Reports were conflicting.

Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Information Board (photo courtesy of David Ackers)

The Apostolic Delegate for Australia, Monseigneur Giovanni Panicio published ‘L’Amico del Prigioniero’ in1943.  It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.

Having the book written in Italian and Latin is significant.  Mass was said in Latin until the Second Vatican 1965. This book ensured that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian. This gesture was a significant show of concern for the spiritual welfare of the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.

Ermanno Nicoletti carved a piece of wood and turned it into a profile of his mother, while praying. Granddaughter Alessandra contemplates, “News of prisoners of war were scarce and at some point my grandmother almost lost faith that her son was still alive.” On the other side of the world in Australia, Ermanno ‘knew’ that his mother was praying for him and carved his thoughts in wood.

Wood Carving by Ermanno Nicoletti (photo courtesy of Alessandra Nicoletti)

Australia: Life on the farm

By the middle of 1943, the first Italian prisoners of war were sent to farm placements in the Hamilton district of Victoria and Coonabarabran district of New South Wales.  This trial was successful and was implemented throughout Australia: Prisoner of War Control Centres: Without Guards [PWCC].  In the Notice to Employers of Prisoners-of-War given to the farmers as part of the employment contract there is this statement:

5. You will be required to see that the following rules are obeyed:-

          (a) P.W. must not leave your property except-

(i) to attend religious services, for which special arrangements will be made by the Military Authorities; (NAA: D2380)

There are many memories of the Italians attending local churches. All manner of transport was used to get the men to church; bikes, horse and sulky, truck, car, on foot.  It was remembered the Italians would go to church with the Catholic family on the neighbouring farm, as the host family were not Catholic. Children of the time remember the Italians walking to church in their ‘red pyjamas’ a reference to the burgundy coloured uniform the men wore. Some Australians remember with shame that the Italian POWs had to stand at the back or sides of the church and had to leave the mass before its conclusion. Others recall the beautiful singing voices of the Italians during mass.

Italians in the Boonah district of Queensland attended a Mission Church because they learned that the pastor, Dr Dwyer spoke Italian. The Italians would enjoy conversations with Dr Dwyer after service.  Members of the congregation knew this was against the ‘rules’ and wondered if they would get arrested for their compassion. Father Steele from Beaudesert Queensland, assisted and nominated Paul Raffa with his application process to return to Australia.  It was Father Steele who welcomed Raffa when he disembarked from the ‘Napoli’ at Brisbane in May 1949.  

In June 1944, a special event was reported in the Gympie news:  His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. John Panico, has recently been visiting prisoners of war employed in various centres on the North Coast of Queensland.  At Gympie he met a large number of them at St. Patrick’s Church, where he celebrated Mass.  At 10 o’clock his Excellency addressed the people, speaking in Italian to the prisoners of war and tendering them excellent advice.  The services of these men are greatly valued by their employers because of their good habits and their knowledge of rural industries. (1944 ‘Of General Interest’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 7 June, p. 4. , viewed 12 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172213489)

However this event drew the ire of Smith’s Weekly whose headline was:  Fascist “Guard of Honor” and made mention of ‘dago prisoners of war’.

Also criticized was a decision by Commonwealth Authorities to give a petrol allowance [petrol was rationed in Australia during WW 2] to farmers to take Italian prisoners to church. The question was asked as to ‘why such benevolent treatment was accorded “these dagoes”.’

A kindly gentleman, Cyril Blacket of Pinery South Australia met an Italian prisoner of war at his local church.  With good intentions, Cyril tried to communicate with the Italian farm worker, via the Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War booklet the Italian had, but with little success.  Blacket applied to the Department of Army for a copy of the booklet, only to be warned: PW are not allowed to fraternise with members of the public, PW Camp Order No. 13 Sec 68 (c). (NAA: D2380)

1946 Cowra Camp

In 1946, the Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farm placements and brought into the camps to await repatriation. It was during this time that two altar panels for the chapel were painted by Cowra Italian POWs.

Cowra Chapel 1946 (courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)

Back to Italy

Ippolito Moscatelli from Ospitaletto di Cormano (Milano) returned to Italy with photos of the Cowra Chapel.  It is with special thanks to his granddaughter Francesca Maffietti that there is a record of the Cowra Chapel in 1946.

The altar panels survived. However they deserve a more detailed article.

How many other copies of this photo returned to Italy?

Have you seen this photo in your nonno’s collection?

Maybe you thought this photo was of a church in Italy?

Life as a soldier and as a prisoner of war was difficult.  Some Italians were absent from their families for ten years. Those years saw the men always on the move.  Life was a continual cycle of change.

One aspect of the men’s lives that did no change was their religious faith.

… prayer books, churches, chapels, paintings, frescoes, statues, embroideries, priests, photos, prayer cards, memories…

L’Amico del Prigioniero

It is thanks to Costanzo Melino that I know about L’Amico del Prigioniero. His daughter Rosa wrote Anzaro: The Home of my Ancestors which included her father’s memoirs of his time as a prisoner of war.

Costanzo said, “In 1943, Italy surrendered but we had to go to Australia [from India] to work on the farms.  We boarded an English ship which took us to Melbourne and then eventually by train to Cowra and Hay.  At that time we had an Apostolic Delegate who was from Lecce, also Pugliese, and he gave all the prisoners a book that I still have called the ‘Amico del Prigioniero’ (‘Friend of the Prisoner’’).”

The Apostolic Delegate was Monseigneur Giovanni Panico and he published this book through Pellegrini, Sydney, 1943.  It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.

Holy Days.jpeg

The book being written in Italian and Latin is significant.  As mass was said in Latin until Second Vatican 1965, ensuring that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian was a significant show of concern for  their spiritual welfare.

Also, while the Italians had access to books in Italian in the libraries of Hay and Cowra, when they were on the farm, a book in Italian was an important gesture on behalf of Giovanni Panico.

L'Amico.jpeg

There are six copies of L’Amico del Prigioniero are held in museums and libraries in Australia.  I spent a morning in the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW and felt honoured to view this special relic pertaining to Italian prisoners of war and internees.

To understand the importance of this prayer book in Latin and Italian, a little background is necessary, “…the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (also called Vatican II) to discuss how the Catholic Church would face the modern world. Until 1965, all Catholic Mass was said in Latin, and the Church realized that may alienate parishioners who spoke Latin only in church. So the Church had to translate the Catholic Mass into a variety of different languages. from http://www.dictionary.com/e/catholic/

(photos courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)