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
13th 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
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)].
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.
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]
21st December 1940 Men Eating on Ground Wady Sarar [Library of Congress Matson Collection: Eric and Edith Matson]
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.
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
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.
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