Tag Archives: Myrtleford Prisoner of War Camp

Myrtelford Musings

From Intelligence Reports to 15th July 1943

War on Stoves

Following the report of a large stove in the hut of Lieut. Arnaldo GATTI many other small portable stoves were found in ‘B’ Compound, these mostly made from food tins line with baked clay.  All were removed. Similar exploration of ‘A’ Compound resulted in the removal of one G.S.-wagon-load of various types of stoves.  One contained a sewer grating which had been removed from the kitchen area.  In writing home, Arnaldo GATTI ‘makes a pass’ at the camp authorities.  He apologies for bad writing, as there is no heat in the huts and his hands are cold!

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Gisiano; A. Gatti. Front row: Francomano; De Maria; Alegnini; Russo; L. Gatti; Liberati.

The following appeared in camp newspaper “5B” – “The Australian policemen have made another incursion into our camps, taking immersion heaters and similar things. An exhibition of things made by prisoners of war would be interesting, if only for the interpretation of certain forms which these objects present.  We speak not of clothing, but of hammers, saws and especially of immersion heaters.  They are of all sizers from the ‘mignons’ for a single cup of tea to the ‘gigantic’ for a hot bath in one’s room.  There are some with ‘goo’ [?] handles and with ten laminations to boil water in ten seconds, others with laminations adaptable to any recipient. The more they take away the more our comrades will make. 

Soon they will take away the light even by day.

Luciano Gatti is the son of Arnaldo Gatti.  Alan Fitzgerald in his book, The Italian Farming Soldiers, provides information about this colourful duo.

New Fuses

A thorough inspection of electrical layout of ‘A’ compound found that all fuses except four were found to have been removed and replace by copper wire, heavy steel wire or pieces of galvanised iron and tin – no doubt to carry the extra load required for illicit equipment such as immersion heaters and stills.  On fuses being correctly replaced, the consumption of globes decreased noticeably during the following week. Only one globe had to be replaced against 25 supplied between 26 June and 8 July 1945. 

Camp Cmdt has ordered that occupants of any hut in which interference with electrical installations takes place will be placed in cells.

Letters from Myrtleford

From Intelligence Reports – 15 July 1943

Myrtleford Camp No. 5 was divided into two compounds: A and B. A compound housed those aligned to fascism and B compound was the Royalist compound. Two years after their capture, their letters highlight where their sympathies lie.

2nd Lieutenant Fortunato Donnini was a teacher by occupation.  He was captured at Sollum in June 1941.  He wrote:

“You can imagine the sort of life I am living, exactly the same as the life of collegiates of Regina Cocli” [Regina Cocli = gaol in Rome]

Lieutenant Carlo Pescatori records his occupation as Regular Army Officer.  He was captured at Agedabia in February 1941.  He wrote:

“We are excited about the news of the landing. Nobody talks about anything else.  I am hoping that everything will turn out in our favour and I feel miserable not being able to do a thing for my country.  Camp activities continue fortunately on a bigger scale and we have the opportunity to divert our thoughts to something else.” [Landing = Operation Husky was the Allies’ invasion of Sicily beginning on the night of 9-10th July 1943]

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Stella; Talamo; Moretti; Pescatori; Cavanna; Torti. Front row: Laccetti; Brugnoli; Barbaranelli; Cagnoni; Bonelli; Celestino.

Major Ubaldo Quaranta lists his occupation as Official R.E.I. in S.P.E.  He was captured at Spi Camerad Grecia in March 1941.  He wrote:

“Not even hot showers are missing. We have built a marvellous little church, tennis courts, bowling greens, and an amphitheatre for open air picture shows which we have twice a week for payment… The food, even if no longer the same as when we first came to Australia, is till good and sufficient.  Is there anything to complain about?  I show not only my moral superiority to the intriguers and inventers of tall stories but I show that the true soldier is always honest and proud of the foe whom he is fighting.” [Comments made the IO… speaks enthusiastically of the facilities and convenience of the camp, the letter is typical of the old officer of pre-Fascist era.]

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Panvini; Piragino. Front row: Pietravalle; Bertelli; Papandrea; Faga; Castellano; Quaranta.

2nd Lieutenant Antonio Cau states his occupation as student. He was captured at Giarabub in March 1941.  He wrote:

“The essential thing is that our friend from PREDAPPIO should make it snappy up there, then everything will turn out alright.  However, maybe PREDAPPIO himself will look after you and your people and he will tell you what to do.” [IO notes that PREDAPPIO is a small village in central Italy and Mussolino’s birthplace]

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Napoli; Lecis; Puggioni; Uda; Birocchi; Maccio. Front row: Maglietta; Motzo; Tonizzo; Correnti; Montalcini; Cau.

Over the next eight months, 2nd Lieutenant Antonio Cau allegiances shift.  In July 1944, he requests a change from Compound A to Compound B. 

In a letter to his family 6th March 1944, Cau wrote: “You ask me if I was satisfied with events? I do not know whether you realise that, since the end of 1937, when I was called up, I underwent a slow change.  Even the finest steel bends when in contact with granite. So it was with me. And also with others.  Then, when in Africa I saw and came into personal contact with all our miseries, veiled by pomp and empty talk, “full of nothingness’, I understood what we were and what we thought we were. And so did others. As a result even here at 12000 miles distance I felt Italy’s sigh of relief coupled with my own and those of others here (even if there were not many of us).

By April 1945, Cau was working on a farm in the Corryong district of Victoria. He wrote to 2nd Lieutenant Della Foglia B Cpd on 1st April 1945: “ Here they are mad about me, firstly, because have no children and secondly because I keep them in good spirits.  By now I speak Australian and if MOTZO knew about this he would cut my tongue…” [Both Motzo and Cau are from Sardinia. MOTZO is in the same photo as CAU]

War Prize

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.

1940 ‘Australian Defence: Parachute Patrol: Britain’s Food Supply:’, Chronicle (Adelaide, SA: 1895 – 1954), 4 July, p. 25., viewed 04 Jun 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92396089

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.

Going for a Walk

On the 7th September 1946, at approximately 2200 hours, sixteen Italian officers from Myrtleford Prisoner of War Camp escaped.

The escape was executed by cutting away part of the wire encirclement. 

Two years before, two planned escapes were foiled.  On 22nd September 1944, Rolando Secondo and Allesandro Palamidessi were found ‘fully dressed’ after lights out. Then on the 28th September 1944, Cesare Scoccia and Laerte Crivellini were also found ‘fully dresses’ after lights out.

The Argus newspaper reported the 1946 escape on Monday 9th September 1946:

“Most of the escapees are typically Italian in appearance. Vicchi, however, is an exception. Aged 34, he is 5ft 9in weights 10st 7lb and has red hair. Gualtieri should be easily noticed among a crowd, as he stands 6ft 5 in in his socks and is of slim build. The manner of dress is not known. Some of the men may be wearing burgundy prison clothes; others are believed to be wearing sports clothes or uniform.  Only one of the escapees speaks good English. He is Walter Sabiano [Fabiano], who stands 6ft and has blue eyes and fair hair.” (1946 ‘SIXTEEN ITALIANS ESCAPE AT WHOROULY’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 9 September, p. 20. , viewed 26 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22331454)

The reason for the 1946 escape was that the Italian officers were ‘going for a walk’. The authorities were concerned that the men might be heading for the Victoria/NSW border and military and civil police joined in the search for the men.

Walter Fabiano and Giuseppe Zappia were found 78 km from Myrtleford at Tallangatta on the 9th September 1946. They said that they had walked the entire distance.

Vinicio Sigon, Giovanni Vicchi, Alberto Vissani and Eriodante Domizioli were ‘captured’ at Buffalo Creek 16 km from camp on 11th September 1946.

Scipione Bobbio and Rolando Secondo were located at Moyhu 40km away from camp on the 11th September 1946.

Giovanni Battaglia, Gualtiero Gualtieri, Salvatore Scaffidi and Bonaventura Matera were located on the 11th September 1946 at Bobinawarrah, 28 kms from camp.

The last four Italians were captured at Wodonga, 65 km from camp: Cesare Soccia, Giorgio Cerio, Laerte Crivellini and Allessandro Palamidessi.

Six of the Italian officers who escaped on 7.9.46 are in the photo below.

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Gualtiero Gualtieri; Ortali; Giunta; Laerte Crivellini; Cesare Scoccia; Allessandro Palimedessi; Mercurio.                        Front row: Giovanni Vicchi; De Gianni; E. Zingone; Benso; Eriodante Domizioli.        (AWM Image 030153/06 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

The men represented the navy, army and airforce and had varied backgrounds:

AIRFORCE

Lieutenant Eriodante Domizioli a student from Macerata; captured 14.9.41 Marmarica and served with the airforce.

Lieutenant Laerte Crivellini a pilot officer from Senigallia Ancoma; captured 14.9.41 South Sollum.

2nd Lieutenant Alessandra Palamidessi a student from Pisa; captured 14.9.41 Sidi Omar and served with the airforce.

NAVY

Lieutenant Giorgio Cerio an engineer from La Maddalena; captured 25.6.41 Beach North Libya.

ARMY

2nd Lieutenant Vinicio Sigon an army officer with the Alpine Troops from Gorizia; captured 30.12.40 Neviza Greece.

2nd Lieutenant Giovanni Vicchi a lawyer from Faenza; captured 20.1.41 Kala Albania.

2nd Lieutenant Alberto Vissani an accountant (attorney) from Macerata; captured 22.1.46 Hani Balaban Greece.

2nd Lieutenant Giuseppe Zappia an electrician from Lecce; captured 11.3.41 Albania

2nd Lieutenant Cesare Scoccia a doctor from Fornova Taro Parma; captured 4.3.41 Klisura Albania.

2nd Lieutenant Giovanni Battaglia a teacher from Palermo; captured 11.12.40 Buq Buq.

2nd Lieutenant Salvatore Scaffidi an agricultural expert/student from Reggio Campi Rione Reggio Calabria, captured 21.1.41 Tobruk.

2nd Lieutenant Rolando Secondo an expert electrician from Catania; captured 21.1.41 Tobruk.

2nd Lieutenant Walter Fabiano an accountancy student from Genova; captured 22.4.41 Dintorni Tobruk serving as a Bersalieri sniper.

2nd Lieutenant Scipione Bobbio a student from Napoli; captured 16.5.41 Tobruk.

2nd Lieutenant Gualtiero Gualtieri a chemist from Firenze; captured 6.2.41 Agedabia.

2nd Lieutenant Bonaventura Matera a student, clerk from Napoli; captured 7.2.41 Agedabia.

Going for a walk unescorted

Interestingly, is part of a document relating to Compound B No. 5 PW Camp Myrtleford.

It is specifically an agreement form between Italian officers and their Camp Commandant which outlines the rules for freedom of movement without an escort, outside of the camp.

B Compound  No 5 PW Camp Myrtleford

Dichiaro che il comandante il mio camp d’internamento mi ha spiegato che, suboratamente al suo consenso, potro avere liberta di movimento, dietro parola d’onore, durante le ora stabilita dal Comandante, sia per uscire ed entrare il mio camp, sia per passegiate, senza scorta, entro la distanza di miglia 3 da tale campo d’internamento.

Prometto e m’impegno sul mio onore di ufficiale che, fino alla revoca dei summenzionati privilegi da parte del Commandante il Campo, oppure fino a specifica revoca di questa promessa ed impegno da parte mia. (Nel ultimo caso, sette (7) giorni prima della data della revoca, prometto che avvertiro per iscritto al Comandante del Campo della mia intenzione di revocare l’impregno)

  • Non tentero di fuggire o di prepare una fuga per me or per qualsiasi altre persone,
  •  non faro acquisti tranne presso lo spaccio del mio camp d’internamente e non ricevero ne daro qualsiasi articolo ad alcuno
  • Non entrero ne mi avvicinero a qualsiasi zona militare o stabilimento della forza armate, locale di divertimento fuori del mio campo d’internamento, osteria edificio pubblico o privato, veicolo pubblico o private ne entrero la zona abitata de una citta o commune. (NAA: A7919, C104007)

Uniform Regulations

Article 12 of the PW Convention, inter-alia, reads:-

“Clothing, underwear and footwear shall be supplied to prisoners of war by the detaining Power. The regular replacement and repair of such articles shall be assured.  Workers shall also receive working kit wherever the nature of the work requires it.”

What the records tell us

All prisoners of war were allowed to wear their badges of rank and insignia on their uniforms.

Clothing items, except for pyjamas, could not be purchased from the Canteen.

Clothing Issue

1 hat (a)1 hair brush
1 overcoat (a)1 shaving brush
2 coats, medical detachment (a)1 toothbrush
2 pairs of trousers, medical detachment (a)2 pairs of short cotton underwear (b)
1 pullover, labour detachment (a)1 comb
1 pair of trousers, labour detachment (a)2 pairs of woollen and cotton underwear (c)
1 pair of shorts (a) (b)1 jersey pullover (c)
1 pair of shoes1 safety razor with blade (d)
1 pair of laces2 flannel shirts
1 pair of braces2 cotton singlets (b)
2 pairs of woollen socks2 wool and cotton singlets (c)
2 towels3 cotton handkerchiefs
  • (a) Dyed burgundy
  • (b) Summer
  • (c) Winter
  • (d)One new blade a week in exchange for old blade

N.C.O.s and other prisoners of war

This group received a free issue of clothing and necessaries.

All articles were replaced free of charge when necessary.  Facilities were provided for repairs to shoes and clothing and prisoners of war employed as bootmakers, tailors, cobblers.

Prisoner of War Officers

Officers and men of equivalent rank must provide their own items and paid for at their expense. The clothing was manufactured in Australia and issued by authorities. Replacement officer uniforms were made after measurements were taken.  Completed uniforms were made in a venetian grey material, and cost approx. £5 each. The exception was for Japanese officers who were supplied with magenta dyed Australian Military Forces uniforms only but were allowed to wear any national uniforms they had in their possession.

Guerre 1939-1945. Myrtleford. Camp 5 B. Prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Camp 5B Myrtleford June 1943 ICRC V-P-HIST-03290-33A

Merchant Seamen Prisoners of War

Both officers and other ranks merchant seamen were provided with clothing and other items free of charge. Merchant Seamen officers and other ranks did not receive a payment as did other prisoner of war. When arrested, they had been in the employment of shipping companies. There was no agreement with the Italian government to provide a stipend (payment) for merchant seamen.

For this group, the seven first articles on the above list were replaced by a peaked cap, an overcoat, a vest and a pair of trousers suitable for merchant marines.  The material used was a dark green cloth.  The two flannel shirts were grey and had two collars each.  A blue tie was also issued.

What do the photos from Myrtleford Camp tell us

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. Groupe numéro 27. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp. Group number 27.

Non regulation overcoat possibly made from government issue blanket (centre)

Group Number 27 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-27

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. Groupe numéro 23. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp. Group number 23.

Non regulation fleecy winter vests Group Number 23 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-32

Guerre 1939-1945. Camp de Myrtleford. World War 1939-1945. Myrtleford camp.

Handmade plaited belt?

February 1945 Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-01882-19A

Guerre 1939-1945. Myrtleford. Prisonniers de guerre italiens.

Regardless of being a prisoner of war, the officers wore their uniforms with pride

Myrtleford Camp ICRC V-P-HIST-03290-36A

What have you done with your beautiful beard?

Guido Motolese was a surgeon serving on the Romolo in 1940. From June 1940 until November 1946, Motolese was interned as a prisoner of war in Australia.

In October 1949, Dr Motolese was now working on the Italian liner Toscana and returned to Australia.

The newspaper article from Age reports the meeting of the former prisoner of war and major from Loveday and Myrtleford POW Camps with the former army captain and paymaster of Loveday Internment Camp.

Mr Gallasch welcomed Dr Motolese with the words, “What have you done with your beautiful beard?”

What have you done with your beautiful beard?

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Gregorio Castigli; Bruno Grazioli; Vittoria (aka Antonio) Vagnini; Crita; Renzo Conti; Vittorio Poggioli. Front row: Lino Gardenghi; Broge; Guido Motolese; Vittorio De Nicola; Alberto Ferrari; Aldo Smeraldi. (AWM Image 030152/03 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Myrtleford Photo Album

Do you recognize your nonno in one of the photos?

My Dreams are Getting Better all the Time

The photos are from the Archives of the International Committee for the Red Cross.

Photos of Myrtleford Camp are also available for viewing at http://www.awm.gov.au

La Preghiera Del Legionario

This prayer is a patriotic poem inviting the Lord to save Il Duce’s Italy.

Dio, che accendi ogni fiamma e fermi ogni cuore rinnova ogni giorno la passione mia per l’Italia.

Rendimi sempre più degno dei nostri morti, affinchè loro stessi – i più forti – rispondano ai vivi: “Presente”!

Nutrisci il mio libro della tua saggezza e il mio moschetto della tua volontà.

Fa più aguzzo il mio sguardo e più sicuro il mio piede sui valichi sacri alla Patria:
Sulle strade, sulle coste, nelle foreste e sulla quarta sponda,che già fu di Roma.
Quando il futuro soldato mi marcia accanto nei ranghi, fa ch’io senta battere il suo cuore fedele.

Quando passano i gagliardetti e le bandiere, fa che tutti i volti si riconoscano in quello della Patria:
la Patria che faremo più grande portando ognuno la sua pietra al cantiere.

Signore! Fa della Tua Croce l’insegna che precedeil labaro della mia legione.

E salva l’Italia, l’Italia nel Duce, sempre e nell’ora di nostra bella morte.
Così sia.

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Zubiani; Mantovani; Pellisetti; Gauthier; Pane; Primiano. Front row: Buonaventura; Di Grazia; De Rosa; Tocco; Morra; Misitano. (AWM Image 03152/10 Photographer: Geoffrey McInnes)

Virgilio Zubiani was an Italian army chaplain who arrived in Australia as a prisoner of war in 23rd August 1941. He was sent directly to Murchison Camp. From Murchison Camp he was sent to Myrtleford Camp:- a camp for Italian officers, but also spent time at V29 Puckapunyal Hostel, V12 Broadford Hostel and V3 Wakool.

When he left Myrtleford Camp in October 1944, a number of documents were found in his possession and the authorities were concerned:
“16 typed copies* of the “Legionnaire’s Prayer” and an original copy of same printed by hand in exactly the same style as that used in the extreme fascist camp newspaper “Patria”. The typed copies had obviously been prepared for distribution among ORs. An annotated map of the layout of Murchison camp.” (NAA: A7919 C98944)

Map of Murchison drawn by Virgilio Zubiani (NAA: A7919 C98944)