Tag Archives: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani Cowra

Repatriation: Alcantara

Today’s article is with thanks to Rocco Martino in New York.  After I published the article about the Ormonde  titled: Sailing Home,  Rocco made his generous offer to pay for a copy of the Alcantara Nominal Rolls of Italian Prisoners of War.Thank you most sincerely Rocco on behalf of the 3321 Italian families whose fathers and grandfathers were on this ship.

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.

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.

1946 Dec 23 The Telegraph

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.”  

1946 Dec Daily Advertiser

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.

Alcantara Four Italians

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.

Alcantara Troop ship 1942

Alcantara

(Martin Harrison, Medals Research Site, http://martinharisonsmedalresearch.weebly.com/gray-leslie-frank)

You can view the lists of Italian Prisoners of War two ways.

1. 1946 Alcantara Rolls

2.  Go to http://www.naa.gov.au  and search [Nominal rolls of Italian Prisoners of War at Cowra POW camp, for transfer from Australia to Naples, Italy per ALCANTARA] [Box 9]

NAA: SP196/1, 10 PART 15

Finding Nonno

The history behind nonno’s stories

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.

ITALIANS FOR FARMS” Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954) 10 October 1943: 5. Web. 22 Jun 2019 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59187793

1000 Italian War Prisoners Arrive” Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) 7 October 1943: 4. Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95630892&gt;

 

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. 

A search of the Australian War Memorial collection did not turn up a match for Arcangelo. And Arcangelo’s photo could have been missed because, not all photographs taken of the POWs include the names of the men in the photos.

With this information and a chance at finding his nonno, Robert set to looking through all the group photos taken at Murchison March 1945. And there he was: seated second from the right.

A special moment for Robert: he had found Nonno in Australia.

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 No. 13 POW Group.

(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.

No title” The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954) 24 September 1946: 3 (LATE FINAL EXTRA). Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231583722&gt;

*This is not the first time I have heard about this method of recruitment. A group of young men from the Lecce region, told a similar story to their Queensland family in Gayndah.

Attori e Artisti

A series of remarkable events has contributed to a greater understanding of the staging of a play at Cowra Camp June 1946.

Background

A special thank you to the following people and their contributions:

Hugh Cullimore: Assistant Curator- Art Section, Australian War Memorial Canberra, for his knowledge of Cowra artists Carlo Vannucci and Eliseo Pieraccini;

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.

The Play

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.

The Actors

The roles were played as follows:

Il Barone di MONTESPANTO Bruno Pantani

L’ingegnere Guiscardo MONTESPANTO  Guerrino Mazzoni

La Signora LEUCI Carlo Vannucci

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

Reflections

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.

Marcello Molfotti 1912 Mechanic Quesa Lucea (Quiesa [Lucca]) [Navy]

Stefano Lucantoni 1914 Plumber from Roma

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’Artigiano dell’Immagine and 1 book about his uncle Evandro who was a prisoner of war in Germany: In Mio Nome, Mai Piu

Two Artists and a Cowra Chapel

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.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra No 12, section C. Autel en plein air. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp 12, section C. Outdoors altar.

Outside Altar Cowra Camp 12 C 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00217)

The Altar panels of Mary and Jesus are stored at the Cowra Regional Art Gallery. Details about the panels can be found at: https://www.cowraguardian.com.au/story/6550175/council-seeks-heritage-listing-for-italian-pow-art-works/

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)

Carlo Vannucci

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 by surprise 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.”

Colleen Hill, daughter of Sergeant Burge visited Carlo in Italy in 2014 as reported: https://www.cowraguardian.com.au/story/2332256/a-new-generation-of-friendship/

Carlo Vannucci on return to Italy continued his artistic passion with his involvement in the Carvevale di Viareggio: https://2017.gonews.it/2015/09/30/viareggio-carnevale-morto-carlo-vannucci-decano-dei-carristi/  The facebook group: Carnevale di Viareggio highlights a number of Carlo’s works. 

“La vacca capitolina” di Carlo Vannucci (Carro di prima categoria)terzo premio al CarnevalediViareggio 1979

Eliseo Pieraccini

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. 

A Portrait by Gulminelli

Brothers Marino and Mario Casadei arrived from India into Melbourne Australia on the General William Mitchell 13th February 1945.

Marino and Mario Casadei in a prisoner of war camp India (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)

The group of 2076 Italian prisoners of war on the General William Mitchell were the last group to be transported from India to Australia. The men were sent in all directions for farm work; as far away as Queensland and Western Australia.

From the group, 875 were sent to Cowra Camp. An unknown number did not go to farms but remained at Cowra Camp. Among the Cowra group were Marino and Mario Casadei, agriculturalists from Ravenna and Carlo Gulminelli, a clerk from Mezzano [ Ravenna].

About ten years ago Graham Apthorpe from Cowra sent the photo below of Carlo in his artist’s workspace at Cowra Camp to Matteo Casadio.

Carlo Gulminelli painted a portrait of Matteo’s grandfather Marino Casadei in September 1946. Marino’s portrait is sitting on the table, second from the left.  Marino took home his portrait: an original by Gulminelli.

Carlo Gulminelli Cowra 1946 (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)

Matteo explains that the family name is Casadio but the surname was registered as CASADEI for Mario and Marino in the Australian records.

Portrait of Marino Casadei painted by Gulminelli (photo courtesy of Matteo Casadio)

Marino’s grandson Matteo has recently made contact with Carlo’s son. Carlo Gulminelli continued to paint in Italy all his life. Carlo Gulminelli has become an important painter, his paintings are well rated and appreciated in artistic circles. Please clink on the following line for more information about Carlo Gulminelli : Patrimimonio Culturale dell’Emilia Romagna

BUT questions remain:

Who are the other men that Carlo painted?

Does your family have a portrait painted by Gulminelli?

POW Ricordo Cowra

1.1.45

Artefacts made by Italian Prisoners of War are rare. While there are many memories of the gifts made by the POWs such as rings, engravings and wooden objects, there are few items still in existence.

So an email from David Stahel in Brisbane is very exciting. David owns a boxed chess set made by Italian POWs in Cowra.  It is not only beautiful but it is special because of the story behind the board.

Cowra Chess

Badge on Chess Set

( from the photographic collection of David Stahel)

 

The Italian prisoners of war were making chess sets in 1944, when Geoffrey McInnes captured them on film.  And quite possibly David’s chess set was one such set made by the Italian POWs. The photo below shows five Italian POWs working on a lathe built from salvaged timber and metal to produce chess pieces. The sets were sold for 35/- to Army Amenities Section.

Cowra Chess AWM 4134226

(AWM Image 064356 Photo by McInnes, Geoffrey Cowra, NSW. 1944-02-07)

David’s chess sets adds detail to the history of the chess sets being made by Italian POWs at Cowra.  “My father had a chess board that he told me he bought from an Italian POW for some packs of cigarettes.  I grew up with this board and learnt to play draught and chess on it with my father… the painted watercolour scene (unsigned) is very reminiscent of the Italian countryside.  The workmanship of the board and pieces are of a very high standard. Inside is quilted with a satin like fabric. Pawns, rooks, bishops, kings, queens, draught have been turned on a lathe which the knights are carved from a turned base… My father was a lieutenant in the artillery, specifically in the anti aircraft arena,” writes David Stahel.

Cowra Chess Pieces

Boxed Chess Set

( from the photographic collection of David Stahel)

The concept of Italian POWs selling boxed chess sets for 35/- raises a few questions.  POWs were not allowed to have in their possession Australian currency, so what happened to the proceeds of sales.  Quite possibly funds were deposited into the canteen fund.  Profits from the canteen were used by POWs to purchase books for the camp library. Prisoners of war were allowed access to books and music to further their studies and libraries were established in camps. Additionally, access to books and music was a way for POWs to usefully occupy their leisure time.

 

Serendipity – Photos of Nonno

Expect the unexpected

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.

3915943 Murchison Sport

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.

Bonadonna maybe

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.

Buonadonna

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.

 

AWM 3880406 Ermanno Nicoletti first left standing (1)

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.

7278801

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.

Marrinup Group Photos 29th July 1944.

 

 

Three Distinct Del-Bo Paintings

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.

Repatriation to Italy 1943

Salvatore Targiani’s journey as a prisoner of war is unusual.

He arrived in Sydney Australia on the Queen Elizabeth 15th October 1941 and departed from Sydney 29th March 1943.

When Salvatore was captured at Bardia, he had been serving with the 17th Hygiene Unit for 18 months.

This information is key to Salvatore’s arrival and repatriation.

When the Queen Elizabeth arrived in Sydney, a newspaper reported:

“Some of the prisoners were ill and they were carried in stretchers to military ambulances and taken to hospital”.

Salvatore’s experience as an orderly/health worker in Libya no doubt continued to be utilised in the camp hospitals in Egypt, on the Queen Elizabeth to Australia and on the repatriation ship.

Although Salvatore did not talk about his war years and he did not work in the health industry after the war, his grandson Salvatore Di Noia agrees with these thoughts about his nonno. Medical orderlies were classed as ‘protected personnel’.****

Salvatore Targiani

(photo courtesy of Salvatore Di Noia)

The Oranje left Sydney on 29th March 1943. Salvatore was on this ship, which arrived in Suez Egypt 18th April 1943.

Oranje had first arrived in Sydney March 1941.  It was converted to a hospital ship and during the war made 41 voyages from Australia and New Zealand to the Middle East transporting Australian and New Zealand wounded. She was the largest hospital ship operating from Australia.

She was painted white with a green band around her hull. Three red crosses were painted on each side of the ship as well, red crosses were painted on her funnels.

21 August 1941 The Dutch hospital ship Oranje off the Western Australian coast in 1941, shortly after the completion of its conversion as a hospital ship. The red crosses and green stripes on the white hull were meant to be a conspicuous reminder to enemy vessels of its non-combatant role. The ship evacuated wounded Australian soldiers from the Middle East. (AWM 302809)

In 1943, the Italian prisoners on Oranje were part of a Mutual Repatriation Scheme.

This was a mutual exchange arrangement between Great Britain and Italy. At Suez, this group of wounded, sick and protected personnel was handed over to a British Escort. The group were then taken by train to Alexandria then ship to Smyrna Turkey.

Archived documents provide the following informing regarding the number of Italian prisoners of war on this transport:

Protected Personnel: 92 officers and 455 other ranks = 547

Medical Cases: 38 officers and 37 other ranks = 75

Total number repatriated: 622

The following items were noted regarding the voyage:

Concerned Italian prisoners of war were concentrated at Cowra before embarkation.

Funds are provided from Ship’s Imprest Account to enable Italians to make canteen purchases.

NSW Division of Australian Red Cross Society provided Red Cross stores for use on the journey.

Arrangements were made for free issue of cigarettes and/or tobacco to Italian prisoners of war other ranks at the same scale as camp issue.

One Chaplin (RC) was included with the escort to administer to the prisoners of war.

The Apostolic Delegate was permitted to inspect the prisoners of war after embarkation.

(NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1)

In June 1941, the Netherlands government officially handed over to the Australian and New Zealand governments, the ocean liner Oranje, for the duration of the war. It was fully equipped as a hospital ship and shown here is the interior of one of the wards showing rows of neatly made beds. (AWM 008035)

The following photos are from the 8th May 1943 exchange at Izmir [Smyrna].

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. La “Città di Tunisi”.

Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03230-14A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Grands blessés italiens sur le ponton qui les transportera jusqu’au “Gradisca”.

Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03230-15A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Des italiens sont déposés sur le ponton qui les amènera au bateau “Gradisca”.

Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03229-34A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Personnel protégé britannique en direction du “Tierea”, bateau britannique à l’arrière plan.

Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03230-05A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Personnel protégé.

Exchange of Prisoners of War Izmir 8.5.43 (ICRC VP-HIST-03230 10A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Grands blessés italiens sur le ponton qui les transportera jusqu’au “Gradisca”.

Exchange of Prisoners of War Izmir 8.5.43 (ICRC VP-HIST-03230 13A)

****

(NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1)

There were three Mutual Repatriation exchanges from Smyrna in 1943: 14-19th April 1943; c. 5-8th May 1943 and 2-3 June 1943. The April exchange is part of a facebook post for the ICRC: https://www.facebook.com/ICRCArchives/ One Day in History 19th April 1943.

The Cowra Fountains

The Cowra Fountain

(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)

Views of the Italian section at Cowra POW Camp (https://shortysrvadventures.com/2017/07/29/days-100-101-chilling-in-cowra/)

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)