Sometimes it is the little items which catch my eye.
Prisoner of war uniforms has left me quite perplexed.
For a few years now, I had noticed the black stripe down the side of trousers. This however only seemed to be for Italian POWs who had time in India.
This was confirmed by Domenico Ferulli’s recollections:
Ad Ismailia, località al centro del canale di Suez, sono cinque giorni chiusi un un recinto nel deserto. Sono spossati fisicamente e con il morale a terra. La notte è talmente freddo che molti sono costretti a bruciare la giacca o le scarpe per riscaldarsi. Per cucinare si usa la paglia. Fatti spogliare e fare una doccia tutto il vestiario è ritirato e bruciato in alcuni forni. Periscono incenerite anche le migliaia di pidocchi, che da mesi hanno tenuto fastidiosa compagnia! Assegnano a ciascun prigioniero: una giacca leggera color cenere con una toppa di stoffa nero quadrata cucito dietro le spalle, pantaloni lunghi con banda nero, scarpe nuove, sapone per la pulizia e persino dentifricio con spazzolino da denti.
Italians Taking Communion in a British Camp in India 1943
Suddenly, everywhere I looked, I saw the black diamond sitting squarely between the shoulders of a light colour jacket and shirt, as well as the black stripe down the leg of shorts and trousers.
Many of the clothing items the Italian soldiers brought into the camps in Egypt were infested with lice or fleas. It makes sense that these uniforms were burnt and new ones issued.
In May 1943 it was reported that Italian casualties (deaths, missing and prisoners of war) were 400,000.
Logistically, how did the Allied Forces procure 400,000 replacement clothing and find staff to sew on patches.
And what did these patches represent! Was there a code relating to intended destinations for the prisoners? Or was the allocation of uniforms random?
Prisoners of war in England wore a dark coloured uniform with either a pale coloured circle shaped patch sewn on the right leg or a diamond patch on the right leg.
Emilio Clemente is standing on the right of the photo
Prisoner of War Uniforms with patch on right trouser leg
English Prisoner of War Camp courtesy of Mimosa Clemente
Then I noticed an Italian prisoner of war in November 1941 at Cowra camp wearing a black diamond shaped patch on the backside of light coloured trousers.
The Italians who arrived in Australia during 1941, was transferred directly from Egypt to Australia. Did they receive these pants in Australia or Egypt? Answer: Egypt, because once in Australia, the Italians were issued with their Australia POW uniform.
The strap is taken from a uniform jacket issued to enemy prisoners of war and civilian internees held in Australian camps during the Second World War. (AMW Relic 32594)
The official Australian prisoner of war uniform was disposal Australian Army khaki uniforms which had been dyed burgundy as is illustrated in the above photograph. The men were allowed to keep other clothing to be worn only inside camp or for farm work, this included their national uniforms.
Canteen at Cowra Camp November 1941
(ICRC V-P-HIST-01879-32B 1941)
At Campo 306 Geneifa Egypt prisoners of war were photographed wearing the black diamond pants with dark shirts and there are groups of Italians wearing the black stripe pants and black diamond shirts. A pattern seems to emerge: prisoners once processed in Egypt were given clothing: 1. pale coloured pants with a black stripe and pale coloured shirt with a black diamond OR 2. dark coloured shirt and pale coloured pants with a black diamond on the backside of the pants.
The Kitchen at Geneifa Camp 360 Egypt (ICRC VP-HIST-00851-25)
The photo below was taken in 1943, Italian prisoners of war in Melbourne after arriving from India….black stripe on pant!
(1943). Italian Prisoners of War – Italian prisoners of war on their way to a prisoner-of-war camp, following their arrival in Australia.
(National Archives of Australia)
Cowra, NSW. 1944-02-03. Italian prisoners-of-war from No. 12 Prisoner-of-War Camp using a heavy duty pulley block and tackle to pull down a large tree in a paddock near the camp. (AWM Image 064137, Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)
Was the allocation of clothing random?
Was the use of stripes and diamonds random?
Did your father or grandfather mention the POW uniforms?
Has anyone else noticed these uniforms with patches or stripes?
Have a look at photos taken of nonno or papa in the camps of India?
The USA appear to have adopted a completely different approach as is indicated by the P.W. stamped on both shorts and shirts of these German prisoners of war.
German Prisoner of War Uniforms
(from Military Law and Vigilante Justice
in Prisoner of War Camps during World War II
Mark M. Hull, PhD, JD, FRHistS January-February 2020 MILITARY REVIEW)
Evandro Dell’Amico’s passion for this history is obvious. He has published two books relating to his father: Bruno Dell’Amico’s time as a soldier and prisoner of war.
Scheda descrittiva “IL VIAGGIO AUSTRALE” – The Aussie Journey
Ne “IL VIAGGIO AUSTRALE – The Aussie Journey”, prima edizione 2017 e seconda edizione nel 2018, con il logo del Consiglio Regionale della Toscana ed altri Enti Pubblici ed Associazioni private, l’autore, Evandro Dell’Amico, nato a Carrara il 21/5/1952, descrive
(photo courtesy of Evando Dell’Amico)
il lungo epistolario di guerra e di prigionia del padre Bruno.
Carrista dell’Esercito Italiano, nella seconda campagna d’Africa, il 7 febbraio 1941, viene ferito nella battaglia di Beda Fomm nei pressi di Agedabia in Cirenaica (LIBIA).
Fatto prigioniero degli Inglesi, resta in Egitto sino al dicembre 1941 e da qui viene trasferito in Australia, ove, come PIW n.49833, resterà, prevalentemente nel Cowra Camp nel New South Wales sino all’imbarco il 23 dicembre 1946 a Sydney, sulla nave della Regia Marina Inglese “Alcantara”.
Avendo scoperto, alla morte del padre Bruno, una “valigia dei ricordi” ove erano state raccolte foto e lettere del periodo bellico e della prigionia nel secondo conflitto mondiale, dopo la pubblicazione del primo libro “L’uomo tornato da lontano” e dopo contatti con la Presidente dell’Associzione di Amicizia Cowra-Italia, Maria Baron Bell ed il Vice Presidente della Cowra Breakout Association, Harvey Nicholson, Evandro Dell’Amico decide di tornare sulle orme del padre, 70 anni dopo la prigionia subita in Australia.
Nel frattempo avviene, prima, la pubblicazione, da parte di un giornalista australiano, John Madden, di una foto di una famiglia australiana con cui Bruno aveva fatto amicizia, durante i lavori agricoli prestati in una fattoria e poi, il successivo ritrovamento dell’unico superstite della famiglia, Eris Hackett.
In pochi mesi viene organizzata un viaggio in direzione Cowra ed una missione di memoria, pace ed amicizia tra i popoli, con il sostegno della Regione Toscana, la Provincia di Massa Carrara, il Comune di Carrara, di Massa e varie associazioni private.
Un’esperienza intensissima, con partenza da Milano il 2 agosto 2016, soggiorno a Cowra per partecipare a commemorazioni e manifestazioni, con scambio di doni e ritorno a Milano il 10/8. Successivamente, nello stesso mese, vengono recati i doni del Sindaco di Cowra Bill West e delle Associazioni di amicizia sopra ricordate, a Firenze, al Presidente della Toscana Enrico Rossi ed al Sindaco di Carrara, Angelo Zubbani ed al Sindaco di Massa, Alessandro Volpi.
Il libro “Il Viaggio Australe” è stato presentato pubblicamente a Carrara l’11/5/2018, dall’autore e dal prof. Giancarlo Tassinari, medico, docente dell’Università di Verona che era stato protagonista della “missione australe” nel 2016. La presentazione si è potuta avvalere di uno short fotografico realizzato dai due compagni di viaggio.
Il libro è stato oggetto di premi speciali / segnalazioni da parte di prestigiose giurie in Premi Letterari Europei, il “San Domenichino” e “Massa Città Fiabesca di Mare e di Marmo“, a Massa e “Thesaurus- Città della Rosa” ad Aulla.
“L’uomo Tornato Da Lontano” is Evandro Dell’Amico’s tribute to his father Bruno Dell’Amico: soldier, prisoner of war, film maker and advocate for the rights of workers. Evandro shares a little about his book and his father…
Evandro Dell’Amico has only recently learnt that his father Bruno performed in a play in June 1946 in the prisoner of war Camp Cowra, New South Wales. A precious memory from the past and a reminder that it is never too late to learn something new about your parents.
Scheda descrittiva sintetica dei libri “L’uomo tornato da lontano” di Evandro Dell’Amico
(Photo courtesy of Evandro Dell’Amico)
I libri di memorie familiari sul padre Bruno, scritti da Evandro Dell’Amico, nato a Carrara il 21 maggio 1952, prendono l’avvio nel 2013. Gli studi e la raccolta di materiale documentale e fotografico, affluiscono in una tesi laurea in lettere, discussa all’Università di Pisa, in data 7 luglio 2014. In parallelo a questa ricerca universitaria, gli eredi di Bruno Dell’Amico (Carrara, 1920-1998), Evandro e Lia, hanno realizzato un progetto culturale di digitalizzazione delle oltre trenta pellicole realizzate dal padre tra gli anni ’60-80. I risultati di questo progetto vengono presentati a Firenze, in data 7 aprile 2016, presso la sede del Consiglio Regionale della Toscana.
Nel giugno 2016 viene pubblicata la prima edizione de “L’UOMO TORNATO DA LONTANO –
The man who came back home from afar Carrara (ITALIA) – Cowra (AUSTRALIA)
“L’UOMO TORNATO DA LONTANO –
The man who came back home from afar Carrara (ITALIA) – Cowra (AUSTRALIA)
L’opera pubblica foto e documenti sulla vita del padre BRUNO DELL’AMICO che, nel dopoguerra, fu segretario del sindacato dei metalmeccanici FIOM CGIL, uomo politico di fede socialista, assessore al Comune di Carrara dal 1956 al 1970, sindacalista dei lavoratori ospedalieri di Carrara, Presidente dell’Associazione Diabetici di Carrara, sino alla morte, avvenuta il 1°maggio 1998. Nella sua veste di cineasta ha prodotto oltre trenta documentari girati prevalentemente nella provincia di Massa Carrara.
La prima parte del libro racconta la vita militare, l’addestramento da pilota carrista in Italia e la successiva partenza, nella 1^ campagna nell’Africa Settentrionale del 1940 e la 2^ del 1941. A seguito della disfatta della X Armata dell’Esercito Italiano, (comandata dal generale Giovanni Tellera, caduto sul campo), il 7 febbraio 1941, nella battaglia di Beda Fomm, presso Agedabia. in Libia, Bruno viene ferito e catturato dagli Inglesi. Dopo una breve prigionia in Egitto, il P.I.W. N. 49833 viene traferito in AUSTRALIA Sosterà prevalentemente nel Cowra Camp (New South Wales), 5 mesi a Canowindra e 10 mesi a Taree, tra il dicembre 1941 al dicembre 1946.
I flashback riportano all’attualità vissuta dal narrante, con ritorno su luoghi ove avvennero proiezioni di film di Bruno Dell’Amico
La quarta parte , “Il ritorno da lontano”, riprende la storia della prigionia in Australia ed avviene la “chiusura del cerchio”, ovvero attraverso i contatti del figlio Evandro con Associazione di Amicizia italo australiana, avviene la risoluzione di un “mistero”..che trova la sua conclusione nel secondo libro “Il viaggio australe” (ove viene pubblicato il corposo epistolario di guerra e di prigionia e viene descritta una missione di memoria, pace ed amicizia, ovvero il viaggio di ritorno del figlio, 70 anni dopo, sulle orme del padre, nel Cowra Camp nel New South Wales e dintorni).
“L’UOMO TORNATO DA LONTANO” è stato presentato :
-il 7 aprile 2016 , a Firenze, presso il Consiglio Regionale Toscano, assieme al “Progetto Cineteca”
-nel Luglio 2016, a Carrara, durante la Festa Provinciale CGIL di Massa Carrara;
-il 5 Agosto 2016 ,in occasione della missione di memoria, pace ed amicizia in AUSTRALIA, con il patrocinio di Regione Toscana, Comune di Carrara, Massa ed il sostegno di ANPI e CGIL MS, nella città di COWRA (New South Wales) ove nel 1941 era stato aperto un grande campo di concentramento. Lì, ed in altre zone dell’Australia, Bruno, assieme a migliaia di militari Italiani fu imprigionato o sottoposto a lavori agricoli in fattorie.
Il libro ha ricevuto premi speciali dalla giuria anche in Concorsi Letterari Europei
come il “San Domenichino e “Massa Città Fiabesca di Mare e di Marmo”, edizione 2017. Massa, 19 febbraio 2021 Evandro Dell’Amico
Hugh Cullimore Assistant Curator: Art Section at the Australian War Memorial has uncovered another painting by prisoner of war Riccardo Del Bo.
A caricature of Lt Colonel Brown is housed in the Australian War Memorial. It was attributed as a caricature painted by an Italian prisoner of war which, “depicts a profile portrait caricature of Lt. Colonel Montague Ambrose Brown (1899-1975) wearing a cap and uniform, who served as Group Commandant of the Cowra prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. During his time at Cowra, Lt. Colonel Brown became friendly with a number of the Italian POWs interred there, before returning to civilian duties in 1947. The Cowra prisoner of war camp was constructed in 1941-42 to house Italian POWs captured by Allied Forces during the war. By December 1942, some 2000 mainly Italian prisoners and internees were housed in the camp.”
Caricature of Lt Colonel Montague Ambrose Brown 1943 by Riccardo Pietro Edwardo Del Bo (AWM ART92902)
The signature of the artist appeared to be RDel-Bi, which was thought to be an abbreviation and not identifiable.
A little luck; a little magic and RDel-Bi is Riccardo Del-Bo. Confirmation came from grandson Riccardo Del-Bo in Italy, “..it is confirmed that the technique used is that of my grandfather and also the signature I found on other works. I always thank you for your interest.” The Del-Bo family is planning a ‘Retrospective Exhibition: Maestro Riccardo Del-Bo’ and is always interested in finding more evidence of Riccardo’s art. Other examples of his work can be found at this link :Maestro Riccardo Del Bo – 1914/1997
Riccardo Del-Bo’s legacy in Australia is two portraits and one caricature.
Riccardo was at Cowra Camp from October 9141 to October 1943 and Lt. Colonel Brown was at Cowra Camp from March to August 1943. This is the period when he painted Lt Colonel Brown. How many other caricatures did Riccardo paint while in Cowra?
Riccardo then left his mark at his next placement: a farm outside Stanthorpe, Queensland. He painted a young Janette Jones. The portrait of Janette’s sister Dorothy, unfortunately has been lost. Click on the link for this article: Del Bo the painter
Portrait of Janette Jones (photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)
The third Del-Bo portrait was rescued by Jennifer Ellis at a second hand shop in country Victoria and purchased for $2.00. Riccardo spent almost two years at the Murchison Prisoner of War Camp in Victoria; pointing in the direction that this portrait was painted in this camp. Click on the link for this article: Another Del-Bo
Portrait of a Lady by Riccardo Del-Bo (photo courtesy of Jennifer Ellis)
Three distinct prisoner of war placements; three distinct portraits.
The Italian prisoners of war were more than captured soldiers in burgundy coloured uniforms; they were individuals who amongst the backdrop of ‘imprisonment’ found a way to shine.
Francesca Maffietti: from Ospitaletto di Cormano (Milano) granddaughter of Ippolito Moscatelli for the photos of the Cowra Chapel;
Marco Lucantoni: from Napoli, son of Stefano Lucantoni for a program from the play ‘L’Antenato’ staged at Cowra 28th June 1946.
In Cowra POW Camp on the 28th June 1946, a group of Italian prisoners of war staged L’Antenato [The Ancestor] a Commedia in 3 Atti by Carlo Veneziani. This play was first staged in Genoa 1922 and in 1936 a film based on the play was produced. Click to read the script for the play.
The carefully designed and produced program highlights the efforts the men made for their production. If the quality of the program is a reflection on the efforts of the men in staging this play, then this production must have been excellent.
The play was directed by Guerrino Mazzoni, the sets created by Eliseo Pieraccini and Carlo Vannucci. Construction and equipment were by Stefano Lucantoni, Renato Bianchi, Felice di Sabatino, Luigi Proietti, Armano Mazzoni and Cesare Di Domenico. Program design (screenwriter) was by Giuseppe Carrari.
Performers were Bruno Pantani, Guerrino Mazzoni, Carlo Vannucci, Tarcisio Silva, Bruno Dell’Amico*, Luigi Giambelli, Renato Bazzani, Marcello Molfotti, Alvise Faggiotto, Stefano Lucantoni.
VANNETTA figlia della signora Leuci Tarcisio Silva
GERMANA fidanzata di Guiscardo Bruno Dell Amico
FANNY nipote di Egidio Luigi Giambelli
Il Cavalier BERGANDI Renato Bazzani
SAMUELE GANGA l’usuraio Marcello Molfotti
Il domestico ASCANIO Alvise Faggiotto
Il custode EGIDIO Stefano Lucantoni
Marco Lucantoni shared this program with me in October 2018, but its true value was not realised until the pieces of this historical puzzle were patched together.
Marco remembers, “My father [Stefano] often told me about his friend, this great artist who was Carlo Vannucci, creator of the Viareggio carnival floats.”
Carlo Vannuci, Tascisio Silva, Bruno Dell’Amico and Luigi Giambelli played the female roles. Males playing the females is a recipe for a highly comedic and hilariously funny performance.
These men came from all walks of life; some were single, others were married; their ages ranged from 25 to 34 years; and two brothers were part of the group.
The historical context of the play’s performance is that the majority of Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farm work by February 1946 with a promise of ‘going home soon’. Italian prisoners of war from Queensland and New South Wales were brought into the camps at Cowra, Hay and Liverpool to await repatriation.
L’Antenato was performed in June 1946; a little reprieve from the boredom and angst associated with the wait to return home. It would be 7 months for most of the Italian prisoners of war before they landed at Naples.
Fourteen of the seventeen men sailed on the Alcantara, departing Sydney on 23.12.46. Renato Bazzani left Sydney on the Moreton Bay on 30.7.46 while Lugi Proietti and Luigi Giambelli departed on the Ormonde from Sydney on the 31.12.46.
A quiet reflection from the great bard Shakespeare:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…
The Italians were sons, fathers, husbands, soldiers, prisoners of war, international travellers, letter writers, multi-linguists, diary keepers, actors, artists and eventually ‘FREE’.
The Cast and Crew
I include the details of the cast and crew in the hope that their families will find this article and this personal connection to the past.
Eliseo Pieraccini 1914 Clerk from Viareggio (Lucca)
Renato Bazzani 1915 Milano Policeman
Tarcisio Silva 1916 Clerk from Milano
Renato Bianchi 1917 Carpenter from Milano
Guerrino Mazzoni 1917 Clerk from Bologna (brother to Armano)
Alvise Faggiotto 1917 Verona Farmer
Cesare Di Domenico 1917 Farmer from Capistrello (Aquila)
Luigi Proietti 1919 Butcher Roma
Giuseppe Carrari1919 Clerk from Piombino (Livorno)
Felice di Sabatino 1919 Blacksmith Roma
Bruno Pantani 1919 Butcher from Roma
Luigi Giambelli 1920 Mechanic Milano
Bruno Dell’Amico* 1920 ELETTROTECNICO Carrara
Carlo Vannucci 1920 Decorator from Viareggio (Lucca)
Armano Mazzoni 1921 Clerk Bologna (brother to Guerrino)
*Bruno Dell’Amico: soldato, prigioniero di guerra, sindacalista e politico socialista, cineaste. Bruno’s son Evandro has written 3 books about his father: L’Uomo Tornato da Lontano, Il Viaggio Australe, L’Artigianodell’Immagine and 1 book about his uncle Evandro who was a prisoner of war in Germany: In Mio Nome, Mai Piu
Eliseo Pieraccini and Carlo Vannucci are names on the lists of Italian prisoners of war sent to Australia during WW 2. Individually, they were just a number and a name; their details were recorded and notated on multiple Australian Military Forces forms.
But there are invisible threads that connect the two men. They were both from Viareggio (Lucca) a seaside town on the Tuscan coast. They arrived in Australia from India onboard the Mariposa. Their only placement in Australia was Cowra: 27.4.44 until repatriation onboard the Alcantara 23.12.46. They both left a lasting legacy.
Vannucci’s occupation is recorded as ‘decorator’ and Pieraccini’s occupation is ‘clerk’. They are names that remain forever connected to this history and Cowra, because during their time in Cowra, they painted ‘renaissance’ style Altar Panels for Cowra Camp 12 (C).
Cowra Altar Compound 12 (C) c. 1946 (photo courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)
The coloured photo of the chapel at Camp 12(C) was one of three photos Ippolito Moscatelli took home to Ospitaletto di Cormano (Milano) with him; souvenirs of life as a prisoner of war in Australia. At first glance, granddaughter Francesca Maffietti thought this was a chapel in Italy. Her grandparents made pilgrimages to many chapels in Italy, taking photos along the way. At first glance this chapel could be mistaken for an Italian chapel; the decorations are undoubtedly Italian in style. Eliseo and Carlo through their art, brought a little of Italy to Cowra.
The wooden floor, corrugated iron roof, exposed beams and gaps between walls and roof: this is the chapel in 1946. The altar is painted in a fashion to appear like marble. The details are beautiful: the motif of the Holy Ghost represented as a dove above the crucifix, the cross on the front of the altar, the paintings of Mary and Jesus, the backdrop painted in burgundy, whites and shades of black. In contrast is the November 1941 chapel for Cowra Camp 12 (C). It consisted of an outdoor altar. Quite possibly this original altar eventually found a home inside a hut and bit by bit, decorative paintings were added as were religious items.
Outside Altar Cowra Camp 12 C 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00217)
The Virgin Mary painted by Eliseo Pieraccini (left) and Jesus painted by Carlo Vannucci (right) (photos from The Cowra Guardian December 24 2019, Council Seeks Heritage Listing for Italian POW Art Works)
In addition to this little know history is the close connection between Sergeant Robert Dunlop Burge and Carlo Vannucci. Hugh Cullimore, Art Curator at the Australian War Memorial provides the following information:“Sergeant Robert Dunlop Burge (N386934) was in charge of the Engineering section at Cowra prisoner of war camp from 15 May 1942 to 29 April 1947. During his service as a guard, Sergeant Burge formed friendships with several of the prisoners, including Italian artist Carlo Vannucci. Vannucci had been captured in Libya and transported by the US Navy to Australia, where he was interned in Cowra. Sergeant Burge organised paints and canvas from old flour bags for Vannucci and other artists in the camp. Sergeant Burge’s wife, Jenny Catherine Burge, regularly travelled on the train to visit her husband serving at the camp. Vannucci painted [a] portrait of Jenny for Sergeant Burge, as a gift.” And the same initial descriptor with this quote: “Sometime later on a routine workshop inspection Vannucci took me bysurprise with a gift of a framed painting which he had signed” Burge said in 1975, in an article published in the local paper at the time, as reported by the ‘Cowra Guardian’, 5 June 2014. “It was an impression from memory of a sea view in his home town Viareggio, an Italian well known seaside resort…The painting was an expression of Vannucci’s thanks.”
“La vacca capitolina” di Carlo Vannucci (Carro di prima categoria)terzo premio al CarnevalediViareggio 1979
In the Relic Collection of the Australian War Memorial, there is a sculpture that is attributed to Eliseo Pieraccini. Hugh Cullimore Art Curator provides the following information: The two [photos] titled CR25408 are of the Pieraccini work we have, with scant details on its creation. I note its strong Art Deco appearance, a style that was sliding out of fashion by the time of the War.
Statue made by Eliseo Pieraccini (AWM CR25408)
What works of art did your father bring home from Italy?
Did they create an item in wood or metal?
Do you have a painting or sketch made by your nonno?
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” ― Pablo Picasso
A special thank you to Francesca Maffetti, granddaughter of Ippolito Moscatelli and Hugh Cullimore, Art Curator Australian War Memorial for their contributions to this article.
POST SCRIPT: The history of the Cowra Camp is complicated. It consisted of 4 compounds: A, B, C and D each capable of accommodating 1000 people. It housed prisoners of war: Italian, Japanese, Korea and Formosan; and internees: Italian, Indonesian and Javanese. Which group lived in which compound changed during the years of its operation : 1941-1946.
In 1942 Compound D was named: Special Camp 12 (D) for Italian prisoner of war Dysentery Carriers [amoebic and bacillary carriers].
Cowra Camp also housed children. Indonesian families were interned at Cowra in September 1943.
By 1944 Compound D housed Japanese Officers, Formosans and Koreans.
Such was the complexity of the prisoner of war and internment camps in Australia.
The inspiration for this article began with a photo of the Cowra Chapel. After some research, I realised that this topic was much more complex. Prayers, Priests and Chapels begins with the patron saints of villages and is a journey of the Italian soldier and prisoners of war through their faith.
There might have been exceptions but it was reported that all Italian prisoners of war were Catholic. Evidence of their religious faith starts with the prayer cards they were given of the patron saint of their village. These prayer cards were taken with them to the battlefields, to the prisoner of war camps, to Australia and then finally returned with the men to Italy.
Domenico Feruilli’s Prayer Card (photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)
In Libya Roman Catholic Churches were built by the Italians before the outbreak of war. Did the Italian soldiers get an opportunity to visit these churches and pray? Did they light a candle for their safety in battle? Or maybe they made the sign of the cross as they passed by these churches on the way to battle?
Biagio di Ferdinando wrote, “During my travels from Tobruck to Bengasi, after Derna and Barce there were many beautiful villas, towns, schools, churches, all new.” (Odyssey by Biagio di Ferdinando)
1st March 1941 BENGHAZI. EXTERIOR OF THE CATHEDRAL OF THE SACRED NAME OF JESUS. SMALL BOMBS HAVE FALLEN IN THE COURTYARD BEFORE THE CATHEDRAL AND THE BLAST FROM HEAVY GERMAN BOMBS HAS SHATTERED MOST OF THE WINDOWS. (AWM Image 006539, Photographer Hurley, James Francis (Frank)
In 1941, the Apostolic Delegate for Egypt and Palestine had ‘Libro di Preghiere’ published in Palestine, with the permission of G.H.Q. Middle East. It was a prayer book distributed to Italian prisoners of war.
It included Preghiera Del Prigioniero as well as part of a prayer for the prisoners by Pope Pius XII. For many, this would have been their only book but it was a book to give the men spiritual guidance and comfort.
Libro di Preghiere(photo courtesy of Daniel Reginato)
In India, the men were given materials to paint and sew with. The men drew inspiration from their faith. Filippo Granatelli’s ‘Last Supper’ is one example.
Filippo Granatelli 16.11.42 (photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)
Many of the embroideries are religious in nature: the patron saint of a village, Jesus, The Sacred Heart, Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Giuseppe Polito: Rappresenta la Madonna degli Angeli, protettrice di Sacco (SA) il suo paese. (photo courtesy of Silvio Masullo)
Carved Wooden Statue of Madonna made by Isidoro Del Piccolo in Yol Camp India (photo courtesy of Ermanno Scrazzolo)
The Italians brought a little of Italy to the chapels in the British camps in India with elaborate decorations: paintings, statues, frescos and altars.
Camp No 23 Bangalore Altar (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-16A)
Worthy of note are the details of Our Lady of the Prisoner. The hat, the shirt with a black diamond patch, the shorts with the black strip; items which identified the men as prisoners of war have been meticuoulsy represented.
Our Lady of the Prisoner Bangalore Group I 12.12.1941(ICRC V-P-HIST=03474-05A)
Bangalore Camp 2 View of the Altar in the Chapel (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-20A)
Australia: In the Camps
The first group of Italian prisoners of war arrived at Hay Camp New South Wales in May 1941. A 1943 report and a 1944 photo records information about how the spiritual needs of the Italians were catered for at Hay Camps 7 and 8:
The prisoners of war of these two camps are all Catholics. Camp 8 has a chapel adorned with a beautiful altar carved in wood and having a harmonium. The chapel of Camp 7 is located in one of the refectories; it also has a beautiful sculpted altar and a harmonium. Each camp has a prisoner of war priest who provides regular worship.
Camp priest, Virgilio Iacobelli featured below arrived in Australia on 27th May 1941 with the first group of Italian prisoners of war. He served at both Hay and Cowra camps.
HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. 45005 LIEUTENANT PADRE I. VIRGILIO IACOBELLI AN ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, AT THE ALTAR IN THE CHAPEL OF NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. ALL THE CRAFT WORK IN THE CHAPEL WAS DONE BY THE PRISONERS. PLAYING THE ORGAN IS 45192 SERGEANT MAJOR VINCENZO COMMARATA. (AWM Image 063360, Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)
To make way for new arrivals of Italian prisoners of war to Australia, Italians were transferred from the established camps at Hay to the tented camps of Cowra. Cowra Prisoner of War Camps for the Italians were under construction. In November 1941, photos and reports record the temporary chapel and arrangements for church services:
Each section has a large tent serving as a chapel, containing a pretty altar built for prisoners. The sacred candles, bread and wine are provided once a week by the local priest of Cowra. Religious duties are carried out by three prisoner of war priests. Recently, Cowra had a visit from the Archbishop of Sydney, representing the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.
Cowra Camp No 12 Section D Altar under Construction 12.11.41(ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00216)
Giuseppe Raimondi from Amaroni (Catanzaro) served as priest at Cowra Special Camp 12 D before being sent to Victoria: V28 Attwoods, Myrtleford Camp, Puckapunyal and V22 Rowville. Raimondi was called as a witness to an inquiry into Captain JM Waterson and the fatal shooting of Rodolfo Bartoli at V22 Rowville.
Cowra Camp No 12 Section D The Chapel 12.11.41(ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00215)
Cowra Camp A Altar in the Dining room 3.9.42 (ICRC V_P-HIST-E-00218)
Faustino Lenti from Milano had been a Missionary Father in India and served at Cowra Camps. Lenti was a charismatic and colourful character and by April 1944, it was reported: It is alleged that he controls a ‘basher gang’ composed of PoW… and that he employs a personal bodyguard for his protection. The latest information about him is that he fears an attempt will be made on his life. (NAA: SP196/2 443/1/5280)
Reports were conflicting.
Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Information Board(photo courtesy of David Ackers)
The Apostolic Delegate for Australia, Monseigneur Giovanni Panicio published ‘L’Amico del Prigioniero’ in1943. It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.
Having the book written in Italian and Latin is significant. Mass was said in Latin until the Second Vatican 1965. This book ensured that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian. This gesture was a significant show of concern for the spiritual welfare of the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.
Ermanno Nicoletti carved a piece of wood and turned it into a profile of his mother, while praying. Granddaughter Alessandra contemplates, “News of prisoners of war were scarce and at some point my grandmother almost lost faith that her son was still alive.” On the other side of the world in Australia, Ermanno ‘knew’ that his mother was praying for him and carved his thoughts in wood.
Wood Carving by Ermanno Nicoletti (photo courtesy of Alessandra Nicoletti)
Australia: Life on the farm
By the middle of 1943, the first Italian prisoners of war were sent to farm placements in the Hamilton district of Victoria and Coonabarabran district of New South Wales. This trial was successful and was implemented throughout Australia: Prisoner of War Control Centres: Without Guards [PWCC]. In the Notice to Employers of Prisoners-of-War given to the farmers as part of the employment contract there is this statement:
5. You will be required to see that the following rules are obeyed:-
(a) P.W. must not leave your property except-
(i) to attend religious services, for which special arrangements will be made by the Military Authorities; (NAA: D2380)
There are many memories of the Italians attending local churches. All manner of transport was used to get the men to church; bikes, horse and sulky, truck, car, on foot. It was remembered the Italians would go to church with the Catholic family on the neighbouring farm, as the host family were not Catholic. Children of the time remember the Italians walking to church in their ‘red pyjamas’ a reference to the burgundy coloured uniform the men wore. Some Australians remember with shame that the Italian POWs had to stand at the back or sides of the church and had to leave the mass before its conclusion. Others recall the beautiful singing voices of the Italians during mass.
Italians in the Boonah district of Queensland attended a Mission Church because they learned that the pastor, Dr Dwyer spoke Italian. The Italians would enjoy conversations with Dr Dwyer after service. Members of the congregation knew this was against the ‘rules’ and wondered if they would get arrested for their compassion. Father Steele from Beaudesert Queensland, assisted and nominated Paul Raffa with his application process to return to Australia. It was Father Steele who welcomed Raffa when he disembarked from the ‘Napoli’ at Brisbane in May 1949.
In June 1944, a special event was reported in the Gympie news: His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. John Panico, has recently been visiting prisoners of war employed in various centres on the North Coast of Queensland. At Gympie he met a large number of them at St. Patrick’s Church, where he celebrated Mass. At 10 o’clock his Excellency addressed the people, speaking in Italian to the prisoners of war and tendering them excellent advice. The services of these men are greatly valued by their employers because of their good habits and their knowledge of rural industries. (1944 ‘Of General Interest’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 7 June, p. 4. , viewed 12 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172213489)
However this event drew the ire of Smith’s Weekly whose headline was: Fascist “Guard of Honor” and made mention of ‘dago prisoners of war’.
Also criticized was a decision by Commonwealth Authorities to give a petrol allowance [petrol was rationed in Australia during WW 2] to farmers to take Italian prisoners to church. The question was asked as to ‘why such benevolent treatment was accorded “these dagoes”.’
A kindly gentleman, Cyril Blacket of Pinery South Australia met an Italian prisoner of war at his local church. With good intentions, Cyril tried to communicate with the Italian farm worker, via the Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of Warbooklet the Italian had, but with little success. Blacket applied to the Department of Army for a copy of the booklet, only to be warned: PW are not allowed to fraternise with members of the public, PW Camp Order No. 13 Sec 68 (c). (NAA: D2380)
1946 Cowra Camp
In 1946, the Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farm placements and brought into the camps to await repatriation. It was during this time that two altar panels for the chapel were painted by Cowra Italian POWs.
Cowra Chapel 1946(courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)
Back to Italy
Ippolito Moscatelli from Ospitaletto di Cormano (Milano) returned to Italy with photos of the Cowra Chapel. It is with special thanks to his granddaughter Francesca Maffietti that there is a record of the Cowra Chapel in 1946.
The altar panels survived. However they deserve a more detailed article.
How many other copies of this photo returned to Italy?
Have you seen this photo in your nonno’s collection?
Maybe you thought this photo was of a church in Italy?
Life as a soldier and as a prisoner of war was difficult. Some Italians were absent from their families for ten years. Those years saw the men always on the move. Life was a continual cycle of change.
One aspect of the men’s lives that did no change was their religious faith.
(ICRC V-P-HIST-01881-01 New South Wales, camp of Cowra. Fountain.Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle-Galles du sud, camp de Cowra. Fontaine. )
Two Cowra Italian POW fountains have been uncovered and partially reconstructed. The larger of the two was used as a backdrop to the group photos. These group photos were taken of the Italian prisoners of war in September 1943 and February 1944. Some Italian families are fortunate to have seen their father or grandfather, posing with other Italian prisoners of war for a photo, in front of this fountain.
An archaeological assessment of the Cowra Camp reports, “ In contrast, are the remains of formal gardens established by the Italian POW are extant within the area of the Italian Compound A. They illustrate the transfer of cultural actives by the Italian prisoners into their new enforced environment. The construction of fountains using methods, possibly ethnic origin, is of exceptional research interest and reflects the prisoner’s expressions of their homeland and culture.” : Archaeological Assessment for the site of Prisoner of War Camp 12 Cowra, NSW. October 2003, Dr JL Tracey and Dr MM Tracey.
During the excavations a panel with A XXI EF was discovered, this dates the fountain to the twenty first year (Anno XXI) of the Fascist Era (Era Fascista): October 29 1942 to October 28 1943.
Fountain Inscription XXI EF(Cowra Guardian September 17 2014, Cowra-Italy Friendship Association resolves to support museum push)
By 2014, archaeological work had uncovered the remnant of the fountains, and the smaller of the two fountains has been reconstructed. Two men responsible for the unearthing of the collapsed fountains and subsequent partial reconstructions were George Ridley and Richard Bell.
Richard Bell and George Ridley
(Cowra Guardian September 17 2014, Cowra-Italy Friendship Association resolves to support museum push)
Reconstruction of the smaller fountain(Lyn W April 2016 Tripadvisor)
Fragments of concrete are important reminders of a history which is relevant and important for thousands of Italian families. They link the past with the present; they give a context to photos or memories.
There are also almost invisible links to this history. The photo below is testament to this: Amante, Guarnaci, La Iacona were all sent to Gympie Queensland for farm work and they are all from Sicily; Vizzini and Giarratano are from Villarosa (Enna); Bloise, Armentano and Amoroso are from Mormanno (Cosenza); Foringo and Gordini are also from the province of Cosenza.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57037 A. Amante; 57273 G. Guarnaccia; 57288 G. La Iacona; 57252 S. Giambusso; 57051 C. Avola; 46957 S. Vizzini; 57257 G. Giarratano. Front row: 57268 M. Gordini; 57070 L. Bloisi; 57046 R. Armentano; 57038 S. Amoroso; 57226 D. Foringo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030173/15 Photographer: McInnes, Geoffrey)
Notice also the the difference in the gardens between the first photo and the 1944 photos of the fountain. The shrubs have grown and are neatly trimmed. The 1944 photo below is taken at a slightly different angle, which highlights two gardens.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Shown here are: 49777 Father F. Lenti, Military Chaplian; 57147 A. Cerrutti; 49593 A. Poggi; 57534 G. Quintiliani; 49557 A. Mercurio; 49439 G. Carrari; 45953 G. Lo Russo; 57431 F. Pelliconi; 57122 N. Chiaranta; 57521 A. Vezzola; 57289 R. La Notte; 57136 P. D’Autilia; 48214 F. Mainardi; 57102 F. Caraccio; 45006 B. Arbasi; 57432 G. Pennacchio; 45739 M. Gatti; 57118 N. Cerreto; 46466 A. Piermattei; 57528 F. De Scisciolo; 49621 L. Piervirgili; 57196 P. Di Siena; 57227 F. Fornari; 57171 V. De Lucia; 57318 M. Lullo; 57278 C. Iacolari; 57339 G. Manda; 46264 N. Monteleone; 57355 S. Martella; 57293 C. La Rosa; 45169 C. Catuogno; 57435 T. Peruzzini; 57277 R. Iacobucci; 57402 G. Napolitano. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030175/04 Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)
Today’s article is with thanks to Rocco Martino in New York. Twelve weeks ago, he offered to pay for a copy of the Alcantara Nominal Rolls of Italian Prisoners of War.
There were over 20 ships which transported Italian prisoners of war from Australia to Italy but not all lists have been digitalized by the National Archives of Australia. The four main transport ships were Alcantara, Ormonde, Otranto and Orontes, sailing the end of 1946/ beginning of 1947.
After I published the article about the Ormonde titled: Sailing Home, Rocco made his generous offer. Thank you most sincerely Rocco on behalf of the 3321 Italian families whose fathers and grandfathers were on this ship.
The Alcantara departed Sydney on 23rd December 1946. Official military documentation records that there were 3321 Italian prisoners onboard: 77 officers and 3244 ORs.
The group of Italians were transported in six train from Cowra to Sydney where they embarked the Alcantara from Pyrmont Wharf. The event was reported in the newspapers and no doubt the Italians would have seen the humour and irony in the situation where the Italians ‘munched hard-boiled eggs, tarts and sandwiches’ while the ‘guards went without food‘. Upon arrival in Sydney, the Italians were given a mug of tea and fruit.
The Telegraph, Prisoners Eat: Guards Starve, 23 December 1946.
The Italians were allowed up to 90 lbs of personal possessions and the photo below show all manner of baggage. Some Italians had used their cash funds to buy up essential items like soap, toothpaste, clothing for their family, boots and canned food, as they already knew these items were in short supply in Italy. “Most of the Italians wore camp made felt slippers and carried one or two pairs of new boots. One in every twenty had a musical instrument, a violin, mandolin, guitar or accordion.”
Daily Advertiser, Back to Italy, 25 December 1946
The departure of the ship was held up waiting for the crew (Australian guards who no doubt went in search of food). Scheduled for a 4 pm departure, the Alcantara sailed at 6.30pm. In the article below, you can see one of the Italians enjoying his sandwich and cup of tea.
Nicola Auciello is pictured on the bottom right. He had reason to smile as he was engaged to an Australian girl. Nicola’s fiancee Muriel travelled to Italy at the end of 1947 and married Nicola in Bari in April 1948. They returned to Australia in December 1948 taking up residence on a sheep property at Wee Waa.
Each of the 3321 Italians would have their own special story. One Italian, showed the newspaper reporter a picture of his 11 year old son, who had never seen. Other Italians commented that they wanted to return to Australia and they were not looking forward to seeing ‘how bad’ the situation was in Italy.
The Sun, Italian POW’s Leave for Home, 23 December 1946
The Alcantara according to Domenico Masciulli’s testimony, arrived into Naples on 22nd January 1947.
Take the time to read through the lists of Italians. You will find men from your village or town; and men who were born in USA, Brazil, Argentina, France, Libya, Switzerland and Scotland.
This is an invaluable document and while looking through the names in the lists, it is difficult not to feel a definite sense of certainty: these men: brothers, fathers, grandfathers and sons were finally going home.
Many a name on the list is familiar to me; I have had contact with their families or spoken with their Australian farming families. I have seen their life through photos: after they returned home, on their wedding day, with their children. And you have been introduced to them through the articles on this website: Domenico Petruzzi, Domenico Masciulli, Francesco (Ciccio) Cipolla, Stefano Lucantoni, Angelo Amante, Angelo Valiante, Adriano Zagonara, Salvatore Morello, Vincenzo Pace, Fortunato Gobbi, Luigi Iacopini, Paolo Reginato, Ferdinando Pancisi, Giuseppe Mangini, Costanzo Melino, Antonio Lumia, Domenico Tiberi.
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.