Brothers Marino and Mario Casadei arrived from India into Melbourne Australia on the General William Mitchell 13th February 1945.
Marino and Mario Casadei in a prisoner of war camp India (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)
The group of 2076 Italian prisoners of war on the General William Mitchell were the last group to be transported from India to Australia. The men were sent in all directions for farm work; as far away as Queensland and Western Australia.
From the group, 875 were sent to Cowra Camp. An unknown number did not go to farms but remained at Cowra Camp. Among the Cowra group were Marino and Mario Casadei, agriculturalists from Ravenna and Carlo Gulminelli, a clerk from Mezzano [ Ravenna].
About ten years ago Graham Apthorpe from Cowra sent the photo below of Carlo in his artist’s workspace at Cowra Camp to Matteo Casadio.
Carlo Gulminelli painted a portrait of Matteo’s grandfather Marino Casadei in September 1946. Marino’s portrait is sitting on the table, second from the left. Marino took home his portrait: an original by Gulminelli.
Carlo Gulminelli Cowra 1946 (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)
Matteo explains that the family name is Casadio but the surname was registered as CASADEI for Mario and Marino in the Australian records.
Portrait of Marino Casadei painted by Gulminelli (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)
Marino’s grandson Matteo has recently made contact with Carlo’s son. Carlo Gulminelli continued to paint in Italy all his life. Carlo Gulminelli has become an important painter, his paintings are well rated and appreciated in artistic circles. Please clink on the following line for more information about Carlo Gulminelli : Patrimimonio Culturale dell’Emilia Romagna
BUT questions remain:
Who are the other men that Carlo painted?
Does your family have a portrait painted by Gulminelli?
Matteo Casdio has a remarkable collection of photos which belonged to his grandfather Marino.
Marino and his brother Mario were both captured on 11th December 1940 at the Battle of Sidi Barrani.
From the records, Marino served with the 81 Batt. CCNN [81st: Alberico da Barbiano (Ravenna). This battalion was part of the 21 Aprile Division. Mario served with the 250 Leg. CCNN. [part of the 3 Gennaio Division]
Marino and Mario Casadio in Libya (photos courtesy of Matteo Casadio)
There was no consistency with information documented in the Australia records. For Marino and Mario the category on their card is SERVICE but the answers can be generic: Army, Battalion or Legion. Other forms have a category UNIT and the answers range from anti-aircraft, infantry, artillery, navy. Such is the complexity for Italian families trying to piece together the journey of their fathers and grandfathers.
The pieces of the puzzle slowly begin to fall into place. The Blackshirt Divisions are abbreviated as CCNN or CNN. Volunteers filled their ranks and MVSN refers to the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale or Voluntary Militia for National Security. One report suggests that in 1940, the MVSN consisted of 340,000 first-line combat troops.
There were four divisions which served in North Africa: 1. 23 Marzo CCNN, 2. 28Ottobre CCNN, 3. 21Aprile CCNN and 4. 3 Gennaio CCNN.
Marino Casadio and friends at a training camp in Italy (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)
Preparations for War
Marino was a soldier with the 21 Aprile Division while Mario served with the 3Gennaio Division. Both divisions had arrived in Taguria [Tajura/Tajoura] Libya in 1939 which is 14500km west of Sidi Barrani.
One of Marino’s photos is identified as being taken at Derna Libya. Derna is 400 km east of Sidi Barrani and from June 1940 suffered aerial attacks by the British with bombs landing at an aerodrome and the jetty. Derna was one of Italian military staging camps in Libya and housed motor parks, garages, petrol dump, barracks and a police HQ.
A 12th October 1939 photograph from Crociani and Battistelli’s The Blackshirts shows men from the 71st Blackshirt Battalion marching between Derna and Martuba.
According to Crociani and Battistelli, the 21 Aprile was disbanded in May 1940 and used to replenish the other three divisions. The 81st Battalion replaced the 154 Battalion from the 3 Gennaio. This meant that Marino and Mario were now serving together in the 3 Gennaio.
Marino at Derna Libya (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)
The Libyan Blackshirt divisions were part of the 10th Army’s invasion of Egypt in September 1940.
The Italian army advanced 75 miles in five days from Libya to take Sidi Barrani in Egypt. This advance was spearheaded by the Blackshirt divisions.
It was reported:
General Graziani now appears to have as many troops as he can handle in Egypt and is concentrating on the supply situation, particularly water.
Tank wagons and barrel laden lorries lumber across the dusty tracks.
There is no other explanation of General Grazani’s sudden aggression in the extremely unfavourable climatic and strategic conditions. September is one of the hottest months in tile western desert. Each soldier needs a daily ration of two thirds of a gallon of water, all of which must be carried on lorries. The machines need several gallons a day. The Italian tanks are not as good as the Germans used in France and the fine dust of the desert is an inveterate enemy on the land.
General Graziani, however, boasts that he and his men marched andfought on only a litre of water a day. His report to Rome states: “British and Egyptian military authorities claimed that it was impossible to transport over 20,000 men. They declared that our expedition had only a 20 to 1 chance of getting through and then only between November and March. They also declared that only a few mechanised cars could go through, but we got through 2000.”
Despite General Graziani’s confidence, the Italians are suffering severely
from the unceasing bombardment from the land, sea and air which is taking heavy toll of men and machines and causing havoc among the supply convoys.
13th December 1940 Sidi Barrani – the only thing left standing complete in Barrani was this monument proudly commemorating the liberation of Libya by the Italians (AWM Image 004418 Photographer: F. Hurley)