souvenir: an item that is kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event
Eugenio Talamo had a little over two years in Australia as a prisoner of war.
He arrived in Melbourne 29th December 1944 on the Melon; part of a group of 991 Italian prisoners of war from India and the second last group to arrive in Australia.
Upon return to Italy 19th February 1947 on the Otrontes Eugenio had three Australian souvenirs.
A button with a map of Australia is a reminder of the prisoner of war uniforms the Italians wore. These uniforms were second-hand Australian uniforms.
POW Uniform Button
(photo courtesy of Laura Demartino)
A 1945 Christmas Card is a reminder of the six Christmases he spent as a prisoner of war. The YMCA Australia [Societa Giovenu Cristiana Australia] provided for the Italian prisoners of war: books, sports and musical equipment and Christmas Cards.
1945 Christmas Card Issued to Italian Prisoners of War
(photos courtesy of Laura Demartino)
A copy of Propagation of the Faith Year Book 1945 is a reminder of the importance of the Catholic faith to the Italians. As best can be found, it is a book about the work of Catholic Missionaries in promoting the Catholic religion. Money was raised and used to support missionary programs. Two such programs were in Papua New Guinea and aboriginal communities in Australia.
Propagation of the Faith Year Book 1945
(photo courtesy of Laura Demartino)
Most ex-Italian prisoner of war rarely spoke about their trials of being a prisoner. Some kept a few souvenirs of Australia.
Eugenio’s souvenirs have added three more items to the collection of relics for this history.
Each relic assists families to have a greater understanding of the everyday life of an Italian prisoner of war in Australia.
It is with special thanks to Eugenio’s granddaughter Laura, that these souvenirs have been shared.
souvenirs… memories… family legacy
Nonna and Nonno Talamo (photo courtesy of Laura Demartino)
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.
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.
(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.
On 8th August 1945, Cafiero Veneri was sent to V26 Mornington Hostel [aka Fort Nepean and Portsea] to undertake maintenance and rehabilitation of the army facilities on Mornington Peninsula. His time there was short: 4 1/2 months.
On 23rd December 1945, Cafiero drowned while swimming off the Mornington Peninsula. His body was never recovered. Other Italian prisoners of war who died in Australia are laid to rest at The Ossario Murchison Victoria and they are remembered each year with an official service and ceremony on or around 11th November.
Other than a small newspaper article and the army records, there is no memory of Cafiero Veneri. His body was never recovered and any memory of him disappeared with the passing of those Australian and Italian soldiers who knew him:
Caught by undertow at Point Nepean while bathing early yesterday afternoon, Dafiero [Cafiero] Veneri, Italian P.O.W. interned at the local camp was carried out to sea. Attempts to rescue him were made by several eyewitnesses without success.
From Porto Fuori (Ravenna) Cafiero Veneri was born on 25th August 1913 . His parents were Maria Fabbri and Alfredo Veneri. He served with the Fanteria [Infantry] 250 Legione CC NN and was captured on the Egyptian/Libyan border at Sidi el Barrani 11th December 1940. Sent to POW camps in India, he arrived in Melbourne Australia 26th April 1944 on the Mariposa. He spent almost 8 months at Murchison POW Camp before being sent to V18 King Lake Hostel. The 150 Italians at this hostel were involved in forestry work and woodcutting. V18 Hostel closed in July 1945 and Cafiero Veneri was then sent to V26 Mornington Hostel.
There is nothing more poignant than a signature. A recorded memory of Cafiero Veneri.
War and imprisonment gave Alcide Stucchi the opportunity to learn languages and appreciate other countries and cultures.
It was in the prisoner of war camps of India that Alcide Stucchi studied languages: English and French. He found the weather unbearable and the food dreadful, but he learnt about monsoons, the Ganges and the sacred cow.
Alcide told his daughters that on his voyage to Australia, “flying fishes and the dolphins accompanied the ship while crossing the tropic.” Part of the magic and terror of Australia were memories of “seeing kangaroos running aside the train, and he was terrified by snakes and insects very venomous there.” Alcide kept a connection to Australia throughout his life. His daughter Miriam writes, “One of the strongest memories I have, is that of my father connecting frequently to Radio Australia in UHF, and listening to the starting jingle … the song of the Kookaburra, which he called Laughing Jack[ass] – and we, two small girls about 3-5 years, trying to catch the singing bird in the rear box of the radio (very big one, at the time).”
Of her father’s movements in Australia, Miriam Stucchi recalls, “I know he was detached to a local farm, but he was not a farmer, he hated horses and he refused to work and was sent back to the camp, where from time to time he acted as interpreter between the Italian prisoners and the people managing the camp, when necessary.”
After careful examination of Alcide’s Service and Casualty Card and in conjunction with Darren Arnott’s research into V22 Rowville, Miriam starts to piece together parts of her father’s journey in Australia. V22 Oakleigh was part of V22 Rowville and the above photo taken in February 1945 features a group of Italians at those camps. Alcide Stucchiis seated fourth from the left and Rodolfo Bartoli is seated fourth from the right. In jest, Alcide wrote on the back of the photo a message for his fiance Antonia; that in Australia he had become so tanned, that if she met him in the dark, she would take him for a thief, happily hand over her money for fear of her life. Upon his return to Italy, Alcide went to find Antonia and he told his daughters, “She [your mother] was advised during working hours that there was someone downstairs asking for her, and when she saw him, she almost did not recognise him after 7 years. He was so dark tanned that he could be taken for a north African person.”
Adding to this history Miriam reveals, “I vividly remember that my father told many times there was fighting between the prisoners, especially those coming from South Italy who used to walk always with a knife in the pocket and any discussion may end up with a man killed. He was particularly aware of the dangers and stayed usually apart, being only interested in living peacefully and learning languages.” One Italian prisoner of war, Angelo Franchitto was indeed found outside Rowville camp with a stomach wound inflicted by a knife in March 1946.
Conditions in Rowville camp were far from satisfactory. A number of Italians escaped and the Camp Commandant Captain Waterson used heavy handed tactics to assert his authority. Alcide Stucchi was called as a witness into Justice Simpson’s Inquiry into conditions in the camp and allegations against Captain Waterson including the circumstances regarding his fatal shooting of Rodolfo Bartoli.
The love of languages is one of Alcide’s legacies. Upon return to Italy, he found work as an interpreter using his English and French. He ensured his daughters learnt English and from the age of 7, he was their teacher. Later in formal classes at school, Miriam remembers, “My teacher told me that my pronunciation was not British but a bit Aussie.” Alcide’s granddaughter Alice specialised in English and German. And Alice like her grandfather found her way to Australia; to teach Italian and to appreciate the beauty of wonders like the Great Barrier Reef and the Blue Mountains.
I have intentionally left the stories of the Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill to last. The Q6 Home Hill centre was a purpose built hostel/camp to accommodate 255 Italian prisoners of war making it a very different situation to the Italian prisoners of war on farms in south-east Queensland. The Burdekin: Ayr, Home Hill, Brandon, Jarvisfield, Rita Island, Clare, Millaroo, Dalberg is my backyard and it was the first prisoner of war centre I researched and my original motivation for this research.
I have known from an early age that Italian prisoners of war were brought to Home Hill to grow vegetables. These POWs had been captured in North Africa and some of them tried to escape. I also knew about the Italian Queensland residents who were arrested when Italy declared war and sent to Loveday South Australia. My Aunty Dora’s father, we knew him as Nonno Jim, was one of those internees. So from my childhood I knew about these two historical events. Funny the stories you remember.
Alan Fitzgerald, who wrote the first comprehensive book about Italian prisoners of war in Australia, explains that his book, The Italian Farming Soldiers was inspired by his childhood memory of an Italian POW : ‘As a child, I saw my first Italian prisoner of war at Coonabarabran, New South Wales, in 1944. He stood out in his magenta-dyed uniform as he walked down a road in this small town of 2000 people.’
This project’s book Walking in their Boots has also been inspired by childhood memories, as told to me by my father Brunie Tapiolas.
I would like to introduce you to Vincenzo and Pasquale. Their story provides an insight into the men who were encamped on the banks of the Burdekin River. Their story gives a face to this Q6 Home Hill history.
Pasquale Landolfi seated centre with accordian 2nd March 1945 Murchison
(from Australian War Memorial, Image 030230/04)
Vincenzo di Pietro and Pasquale Landolfi did not want to be at the Home Hill POW Hostel. They really didn’t want to be in captivity. Twice escaped from Q6 Home Hill Hostel, they were sent south to Murchison in Victoria. Both escaped Murchison PW Camp. But that is another story.
During my research into this history I have become acquainted with several men in these photos: Riccardo del Bo, Liborio Bonadonna, Guglielmo De Vita, Pietro Rizelli, Sabato Russo and Bartolomea Fiorentino. Each man has a story. Liborio’s story is featured in A Father’s Love.
Vincenzo di Pietro standing second from the right 2nd March 1945 Murchison
(Australian War Memorial, Image 030229/02)
Enjoy this newspaper article from Bowen Independent(Qld: 1911-1954), Friday 6 October 1944, page 2 which is available to view online at trove.gov.au
Notice the vague reference to ‘a Northern camp’. Very little was known by the general public in the Burdekin about the POW camp which was deemed a military zone.
Escaped P.O.W. at Bowen
The intelligence of a local resident was responsible for the re-capture of two escaped Italian prisoners of war from a Northern camp, on Thursday.
Noticing two strangers, obviously foreigners, at the new railway station, he recalled press and radio announcements on the subject of the escape of two prisoners he took more than ordinary notice of them.
But the fact that they were mixing freely with troops [Australian] from a train in the station, most of whom wore Africa Star ribbons and were therefore familiar with the Italian soldier, made him hesitate to voice his suspicions.
Later he again noticed them on the road near the Salt Works, resting under a pandamus tree. They wore no hats, and the circumstances were very suspicious.
They later headed towards the Don [River] and passed under the small railway bridge, whereupon the observer decided to give the local Police a chance to investigate, which they did and rounded up the pair who turned out to be the wanted men.
The local resident is to be commended for his part in the re-capture.
MURCHISON, AUSTRALIA. 1943-01. PANORAMIC VIEW OF CAMPS OF NO. 13 PRISONER OF WAR GROUP. (JOIN UP WITH NOS. 28523 – 28533.)
Murchison, Australia. 5 March 1945. 740 Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from C Compound, No. 13 POW Group are engaged daily in picking tomatoes on the properties in the Shepparton district. This photograph shows the men leaving the compound to embuss on trucks for transport to the tomato gardens. (AWM 030239/10 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)
The above photograph shows the men dressed in jackets, trousers and overcoats which were Australian army surplus uniforms dyed burgundy. Work details away from the camp required the men to wear these uniforms.
In total, there are 150 men in Camp 13 c. The group comprises of Italian: 93 army, 10 sailors, 11 protected personnel, 14 merchant sailors. There are also 21 Finnish merchant sailors and 1 Romanian merchant sailor.
All prisoners of war have the right to wear their insignia of rank.
The camp commandant is Sergeant-Major Ernani De Cesare.
The 3 officers comprise of 2 doctors and 1 priest. The average age of the men in camp is 30 years.
The camps have flower gardens and vegetable gardens. Each camp has a beautiful memorial to the dead, made by the prisoners themselves.
Murchison, Australia. 28 February 1945. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) working in the ornamental gardens at Headquarters, No. 13 POW Group. Pictured, left to right: 47574 G. Marrone; 61484 V. Marrone; 47720 A. Simone; 45751 N. Gullaci; 7235 G. Rapetti. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030227/13 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)
MURCHISON, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA. 1944-05-22. MONUMENT BUILT BY ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR IN THEIR COMPOUND (13C) AT THE MURCHISON PRISONER OF WAR GROUP. (AWM Image 066762)
The camp has a barracks for workshops: tailors, barbers and shoe makers. Some prisoners are taking care of the cement construction and gravestone engraving for the tombs of the dead comrades.
MURCHISON, VIC. 1943-11-23/30. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR EMPLOYED IN THE TINSMITHS SHOP AT THE 13TH AUSTRALIAN PRISONER OF WAR GROUP. (AWM Image 061127 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)
Recreation and Sport
The camp has a library of 800 volumes. This camp houses 21 Finnish merchant sailors who would like to have books in English added to the library.
A barrack for recreation was constructed. It is a place for the orchestra and the stage plus seating for 500 people. Theatrical productions are presented from time to time. The camp has a small orchestra.
The cinema sessions are organised regularly via a small projector from the German camp. This camp would like to buy a small projector like the model from Camp 13B.
The sports field is big and is in the interior of the camp. The sport played mostly is football. The camp also has a tennis court.
MURCHISON, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA. 1944-05-22. AN ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR SOCCER FOOTBALL TEAM OF THE 13C COMPOUND, MURCHISON PRISONER OF WAR GROUP. (AWM Image 066755)
Apart from the ordinary chores necessitated by the normal upkeep of the camp, prisoner soldiers may be required to perform certain work outside the camp. This work is obligatory and is ordered by the camp commander.
MURCHISON, AUSTRALIA. 1943-01. PRISONERS OF WAR ENGAGED ON CONSTRUCTION WORK IN THE CAMP OF NO. 13 PRISONER OF WAR GROUP IN WHICH THEY ARE INTERNED. GERMAN AND ITALIAN PRISONERS, CAPTURED IN THE WESTERN DESERT, AS WELL AS CIVILIAN INTERNEES, ARE HOUSED IN THE CAMPS. (AWM Image 028598)
On the other hand, the suboffices, the protected personnel and the prisoners belonging to the merchant navy are not bound to the work. For the latter the work is voluntary. Officers may be called for supervisory work, but may also be available for another paid job. The officers are not bound to any work.
The working day is 8 hours. Two small breaks of 15 minutes each; one break for the morning tea and the afternoon tea. Lunch break is provided as well. Sunday is a day of rest.
Murchison, Australia. 5 March 1945. 740 Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from C Compound, No. 13 POW Group are engaged daily in picking tomatoes on the properties in the Shepparton district. This photograph shows the men leaving the compound and are checked out by an Australian Military Forces (AMF) officer and handed over to supervisors (right) in parties of twenty. (AWM Image 030239/08 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)
For movements of any importance, trucks are made available to the workers. prisoners in the Murchison Group’s camps carry out following work: gardening, logging, carpentry, cement-making, road building, camp improvement and unloading.
MURCHISON, VIC. 1943-11-23/30. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR CUTTING FIREWOOD ON A SAWBENCH AT THE 13TH AUSTRALIAN PRISONER OF WAR GROUP. (AWM Image 061117 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)
The group has a large vegetable garden with an area of 120 acres where all the work is done by the prisoners.
Each camp has tailors, shoemakers, carpenters and hairdressers.
Apart from this work many prisoners of war take care of personal work: fashioning of cabinets, chairs, tables, wood carvings, painting, drawing, weaving, making various wooden articles and children’s toys.
With the exception of ordinary chores eg cleaning barracks and ablution blocks, all other work prisoners of war receive a remuneration which is established as follows:
Unqualified work – 7.5 pence per day
Work qualified – 1 shilling 3 pence a day
Supervision work – 10 pence a day, when the team includes only unskilled workers.
Qualified supervision work – 1 shilling 6 pence a day, when the team includes one or more skilled workers.
Murchison, Australia. 5 March 1945. View of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in C Compound, No. 13 POW Group, picking tomatoes on a property in the Shepparton district where 740 Italian POWs work daily. An Australian Military Officer is seen, middle background, on a visit to the pickers to ensure maintenance of output. (AWM Image 032039/11 Photogrpaher Ronald Leslie Stewart)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Italian motorship Remo was in Fremantle harbour on 10th June 1940, the day of Mussolini’s declaration of war.
The ship was seized on 11th June 1940 under international rules. The 229 passengers were a diverse mix of nationalities: Italians, Hungarians, Poles, Greeks, Bulgarians Jugoslavs, Estonians and Finns. Italian women and children together with those of other nationalities were transferred to Melbourne. The Italian men were interned together with merchant seaman onboard.
Remo was loaded with cargo for several Australia ports including new machinery for a factory in Newcastle and technical equipment for Postmaster’s General Department. The ship was awarded to the Crown as Allied prize after the matter was heard in the Prize Court. By early July 1940, the Australian flag was flown from the Remo.
The crew of the Remo presented an interesting situation for Australian authorities. Were they prisoners of war or internees? In the first instant they were processed on 11.6.40 as ‘internees’. Officers were transferred to Fremantle Prison while the crew were transferred to an internment camp on Rottnest Island. On 24 and 25th September 1940, officers and crew were transferred to Harvey Internment Camp.
The internment camp in Harvey where up to 1,000 Italians were detained during WWII. (Source: Harvey Historical Society)
In transit to Victoria, officers and crew were then sent from Harvey Camp 2nd April 1942 to Parkeston Transit Internment Camp. This camp was situated 2 km north-east of Kalgoorlie on the Trans Australian railway line. It is recorded that the camp had accommodation for 20 internees in small cells.
The next stage of the journey was from Parkeston WA to Murchison Camp Victoria. One document records that these ‘internees’ were reassigned as ‘prisoners of war’ on 15th April 1942 as they departed for Murchison Camp. Other documents give the date 22nd June 1942 as the date of reassignment to POW.
The men arrived in Murchison on 18th April 1942. The officers and their batmen from the Remo were sent to an officers’ camp at Myrtleford and the crew joined Italian soldiers at Murchison and other work placements in Victoria and Tasmania.
Cosmo Valente was an oiler on the Danish tanker Anglo Maersk when it docked in Fremantle Harbour. He was 60 years old when he was ‘arrested’ on 25.6.40 and sent to Rottnest Island Internment Camp. As a lone Italian on the Anglo Maersk, he travelled with the group from the Remo.
The Remo was renamed the Reynella. It was used to transport foodstuffs and war materials from Australia to Great Britain. Some of the items on a 1940 run were jams, canned fruits, flour, wheat, tallow, hides and lead. In February 1949, the Reynella was no longer suitable for Australian services and the Federal Government offered the ship for sale to the Italian government for £1,875,000.
(1949). Passenger-cargo ship Reynella anchored in Newcastle Harbour, New South Wales, 12 November 1949
By November 1949, newspapers report the ship had been sold to an Italian company and had returned to its original name Remo.