Lamberto Yonna, a civilian internee was medically evacuated to the 113 Australian General Hospital (AGH) Concord Sydney in September 1941. Lamberto Yonna was a prominent Sydney businessman when he was arrested on 11th June 1940, a day after Mussolini’s declaration of war.
During his time in internment camps from June 1940 to January 1944 he recorded life behind barbed wire through art. He is well known for his cartoons both humourous and poignant.
Yonna acting as interpreter, sat with a young Italian prisoner of war Cesare Sottocorno in the 113 AGH. Sottocorno died on 22nd January 1942 while Yonna held his hand. In 1942 he painted Pax in terra hominibus bonae voluntatis.
Pax in terra hominibus bonae voluntatis
[Peace on earth, goodwill towards men]
A landscape featuring a tidy path lined by cypress trees on both sides leads towards a solitary cross in the distance, which is silhouetted against a vivid sunset. Painted by Lamberto Yonna, 1942 South Australia (AWM ART27808)
In November 1947, Yonna wrote to Cesare’s family. He had experienced difficulty in obtaining an address for the family and apologised for the delay in writing. He wrote about Cesare’s illness, operation, medical care and death.
Yonna reflected, “Questa morte ful il capitolo piu triste della mia tristissima vita di queglie anni…” His words were full of sadness but echos his philosophy: peace on earth, goodwill towards men.
Cesare Sottocorno was buried in the Rockwood Cemetery in Sydney.
Grave of Cesare Sottocorno (photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)
In September 1961, Cesare Sottocorno was laid to rest for a second time inside the Ossario at Murchison.
In February1942 Professor Lamberto Yonna was transferred from NSW to South Australia. It was another two years before he was released from internment at Loveday Camp South Australia in February 1944.
Before the war, Yonna taught languages at Yonnas School of Languages Sydney as well as being secretary for the Italian Chamber of Commerce Sydney. During internment in Loveday Camp he held art classes. After the war, he operated an import-export business Yonnas Agencies George Street Sydney.
In 1952 Yonna was mentioned by the newspapers as: ‘a professor of languages, is an artist of distinction and had exhibited in Sydney and overseas’.
Ironically, while he had been arrested as a security threat in 1940, in 1952 he became a Commissioner of the Peace for the state of New South Wales.
1941 Liverpool Lamberto Yonna: Camp Cartoon self-portrait of the artist who is in turn sitting for his portrait to be painted by two younger, serious artists. In the background, the three figures are depicted again, with the two younger men shown as being centaurs (half men, half horses) shooting arrows at their sitter, shown as a fleeing faun. (AWM ART27788)
“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” George Elliot
Vito Eliseo has a passion for local history and undertakes research trying to reconstruct the stories of all those from his village who died during WW II. Vito believes that is important to make these stories known to future generations. He is concerned that in Italy there are still children who do not know what happened to their parents.
One of the Italian prisoners of war who died in Australia during WW2 was Martino D’Aniello, a relative of Vito.
Vito explains, “Unfortunately no one is left of Martino’s immediate family, there were 2 brothers and a sister… I could not find any grandchildren.” Vito has written, In memoria di Martino D’Aniello which you can read at the end of this article.
Martino, a waiter from Serre (Salerno), was 20 years old when he was captured at Tobruk, Libya on the 22nd January 1941. He was 24 years old when he died at the Waranga Hospital [28 Camp Hospital], Murchison Camp Victoria on 3rd December 1944.
This is the sadness of war; regardless of where a soldier died: Libya, Egypt, India or Australia; regardless of whether the man died in battle, in a field hospital or in a prisoner of war hospital; the death of a young man is a tragedy.
List of Italians laid to rest at The Ossario (Photo courtesy of Alex Miles)
The government records offered up a little information about Martino’s death. Martino died 3 days after being sent to hospital for “Acute Nephritis” and then he was buried at the Murchison Cemetery on 5th December 1944. In 1961, his remains were exhumed and he was re-interred at The Ossario* Murchison on 6th September 1961 and his name is on a bronze plaque at its entrance.
There is some comfort in knowing where Martino now ‘rests in peace’. There is no comfort though knowing that your loved one died on the other side of the world without family and friends.
A series of extraordinary and unconnected circumstances, has brought to light an invaluable insight into the funeral of Martino. Martino’s funeral was photographed by a representative from the International Committee for the Red Cross.
Funeral of Martino D’Aniello 5th December 1944(ICRC V-P-HIST 01184-10)
On the 5th December 1944, under an Australian summer’s sky; surrounded by Cypress pines and eucalyptus, Martino’s compatriots stand solemnly at his graveside. He was far from home, but Martino was not alone.
Funeral of Martino D’Aniello 5th December 1944(ICRC V-P-HIST 01184-11)
Australian soldiers from the Murchison Camp together with Italian prisoners of war respectfully farewelled Martino. Vito reflects, “it is a consolation for his family to know that Martino did not die alone, he had the comfort of his companions and the generous people near him who considered him a guest and not a prisoner.”
Funeral of Martino D’Aniello 5th December 1944(ICRC V-P-HIST 01184-13)
Grave of Martino D’Aniello 5th December 1944with temporary marker front right(ICRC V-P-HIST 01184-12)
As men, we are all equal in the presence of death.
Martino D’Aniello nasce a Serre il 13 ottobre 1920 da Valentino e Michelina Mennella, un ragazzo come tanti altri, frequenta la scuola fino alla V elementare, e come tutti i suoi coetanei viene chiamato alla visita di leva il 6 giugno 1939, ed essendo di sana e robusta costituzione, per di più patentato, viene arruolato per poi essere chiamato alle armi il 1 febbraio 1940.
Viene assegnato al 1° Reggimento Fanteria G.a.F. (Guardia alla Frontiera) del XX° C.A. in Napoli, dopo la vestizione ed il necessario addestramento il giorno 8 marzo si imbarca per arrivare a Tripoli il giorno 11 marzo 1940.
Assegnato al XXXV° Settore di copertura, già dal successivo 11 giugno, viene a trovarsi in “territorio in stato di guerra”, la successiva assegnazione al 6° Autogruppo di Manovra lo condurrà a Tobruk, ed è su tale città che si stà concentrando l’attenzione degli inglesi per l’importanza strategica del suo porto.
La città cinta d’assedio dovette capitolare e fu occupata il 21 gennaio 1941, con la conseguente cattura di tutti i militari italiani che vi si trovavano, ed è in tale data che inizia l’odissea di Martino, con la sua tragica conclusione.
Gli inglesi a seguito delle positive vicende belliche in nord-Africa si ritrovarono a gestire alcune centinaia di migliaia di prigionieri che dovettero inevitabilmente smistare lontano dalle zone di guerra, e Martino, in questa moltitudine, si ritrovò prima a Ceylon e poi a Bombay in India, da qui ancora un altro trasferimento, a bordo del piroscafo Mount Vernon, che lo vede sbarcare il 26 aprile 1944 nel porto di Melbourne in Australia.
In Australia viene internato nel campo prigionieri di guerra di Murchison nel distretto di Vittoria, dove ai prigionieri è permesso anche di andare a lavorare fuori presso terzi, cosa che, dal 27 giugno 1944, inizia a fare anche Martino andando a lavorare presso mr. Kyneton, un allevatore di ovini, questo lavoro durerà poco, fino al 2 settembre, perché si ammala di una grave forma di nefrite, e rientra al campo.
Per l’aggravarsi delle condizioni il 30 novembre viene ricoverato nell’ospedale di Waranga, però il male è incurabile e muore il giorno 3 dicembre 1944 ed il giorno 5 dicembre viene sepolto nel cimitero della città di Murchison, poco dopo i compagni di prigionia provvidero a costruire una tomba più dignitosa che non il mucchio di terra che si vede nella foto.
Purtroppo le sue traversie ancora non erano finite, infatti il settore del cimitero dove era sepolto negli anni 50 subisce un allagamento, e questo episodio fece si che un italiano, che viveva nelle vicinanze, desse inizio ad una colletta tra i tanti italiani emigrati e con i fondi raccolti fu costruito un MEMORIALE, ove nel 1961 furono trasferiti i resti mortali di tutti i prigionieri italiani deceduti durante la prigionia.
Ogni anno il tale MEMORIALE, la domenica prossima all’ 11 novembre vi viene tenuta una cerimonia di commemorazione.
During World War II 4,000 Italian, German and Japanese POWs were detained at Murchison. Those who died at Murchison were buried in the local cemetery but floods in 1956 did major damage to the graves.
The Italian families in the municipality were persuaded by Luigi Gigliotti to pay for the building of a mausoleum – the Ossario. Luigi also convinced authorities to bury all the Italian POWs and detainees who died in Australian prison camps in the mausoleum. The Ossario is a fitting tribute to those Italians who were never to return home from Australia and each year on Remembrance Day there is a mass and service in recognition of these men.
The Ossario, as is shown below, is also the final resting place of the five Italians who died in Queensland: Giovanni Ciccocioppo (Q1 Stanthorpe); Nicola Evangelista (Q2 Nambour); Agostino Naibo (Q3 Gympie); Francesco Leone (Q4 Gayndah) and Francesco Primiano (Q7 Kenilworth). They were reburied at the Ossario on 6 September 1961. (National Archives of Australia NAA: A8234, 13A, 1915-1961)
(Murchison and District Historical Society Inc., 2014)
A special thank you to Kay Ball from Murchison and District Historical Society. Kay lay the wreath for the Evangelista family from Cassino Italy at the ceremony and service 11th November 2018.
Kay Ball Murchison: Laying Wreath for the Evangelista Family