Tag Archives: Prigionieri di guerra italiani in Australia

Impersonating an Officer

So many Italian prisoners of war, so many individual stories.

I found Giuseppe Spinelli by accident.

A solicitor from Rome, Giuseppe was with an artillery unit when he was captured in Bardia 4th January 1941.

Upon arrival in Australia on 13th October 1941, his rank was recorded as “Lieutenant”

It was 13 months before the authorities realised that the rank of Giuseppe Spinelli was sergeant.

I thought, did Giuseppe believe he could impersonate an officer?

Did the officers in the camps of Egypt and on the voyage to Australia not realise his deceit?

I offer the suggestion that Giuseppe Spinelli was suffering from a serious injury or medical condition. 

Groups of Italian prisoners of war were being sent to Australia and my suggestion is that an Italian medical officer claimed him to be a lieutenant to accelerate his chances of getting out of Egypt and to better medical care!

Giuseppe arrived in Sydney on the Queen Mary on 13th October 1941.  On this transport, there were 110 Italian officers. Giuseppe did not travel by train to Cowra with the other Italians. Instead on the 14th October 1941, Giuseppe was taken to 113 AGH (Australian General Hospital) in Concord Sydney.

CONCORD MILITARY HOSPITAL. PHOTOGRAPH PUBLISHED IN AUSTRALIA IN THE WAR OF 1939-45, MEDICAL, VOL 2, MIDDLE EAST AND FAR EAST, PAGE 431. (AWM Image 043228)

The newspapers reported that two ambulances ‘took away two stretcher cases and a few other men who were sick’.

1941 ‘Prisoners of War’, Glen Innes Examiner (NSW: 1908 – 1954), 14 October, p. 1. , viewed 20 Aug 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178556884

Upon arrival in Australia, he had a box of medicine which was returned to him on the 9th December 1941.

Giuseppe spent from 14th October 1941 in the 113 AGH until 5th December when he arrived at Murchison Camp.

Two months later, on the 5th February 1942, his record states: Falsely stated Lieut. – his status is Sgt.  

Maybe one day, Giuseppe’s family will tell me more of his story.

1941 The Journey from Egypt to Australia

Did your father or grandfather arrive in Australia during 1941 on the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth?

I have spent a number of hours this week, walking in the footsteps of Gunner George Davidson Mackie of the Australian 2/1 Anti-Aircraft Regiment.

The diaries of Mackie have been digitalised by the Australian War Memorial and available for viewing: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C2662639

Mackie’s journey is the same journey as the Italian prisoners of war who sailed to Australia in 1941; only in the reverse. Mackie travels from Sydney to Port Tewfik on the Queen Mary which was in convoy with the Queen Elizabeth and Acquitania

As Mackie explains segments of his journey, it is easy ‘to see’ the journey of the Italian prisoners of war in 1941.

 Australia’s first Italian prisoners of war boarded the Queen Mary in Suez 7th May 1941 and arrived in Sydney 25th May 1941. 

Mackie boarded the Queen Mary on her return voyage from Sydney to Suez: 29th June 1941 to 25th July 1941.

The Queen Mary disembarks the Australian troops one day and the next day embarks Italian prisoners of war and Australian troops for the return voyage to Australia: Suez 26th July 1941 to Sydney 16th August 1941.

Mackie’s diary gives insight into life on the Queen Mary from its closely slung hammocks, beautiful timbered panels in the corridors, stifling heat, ‘jack up’ [hunger strike] by soldiers, the bugle calls, the Queen Mary newspaper: QM Daily, ‘two up’ games [coin toss gambling game] and the heavy seas and seasick men.

c. June 1941 QUEEN MARY AND QUEEN ELIZABETH PASSING (AWM Image 007960)

Mackie describes the farewell out of Sydney Harbour Heads, the tumultuous seas across the Great Australian Bight, refuelling at Fremantle, the sights and sounds of Trincomalee (Ceylon), the passage through the Bab al Mandab Straits (Gate of Tears), disembarking at Port Tewfik, a walk through the French Quarter at Suez and a train journey along the Suez Canal. 

The Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth [Lizzie] and the Acquitania travel in convey with the ‘HMAS Australia’ as the guard ship. Mackie comments that the convey is taking 17,000 troops to the Middle East.

29 April 1919 The battle cruiser HMAS Australia passing through the swing bridge on the Suez Canal. Some of the ships crew can be seen on deck and part way up the mast. A row boat is in the foreground. (AWM B03031 Oswald Hillam (Ossie) Coulson)

Mackie expresses that sense of majesty of the convoys of WW2 and the imminent danger.  The ‘valiant old Acquitania’ slips in the heavy seas while ‘out front and playing submarines, the Australia still keeps guard while she rolls and tosses to the fury of the sea.’ [playing submarines: disappears under the waves]

Once in Egypt, Mackie feels as if he comes face to face with characters from every book he has read and every film he has seen and feels as if he is living inside The Arabian Nights. He describes the sights, sounds, smells and colours of this foreign country.

On Sunday 27th July 1941, Mackie writes:

Moved from Suez 10am Saturday. Marched from camp to the railway with full kit and bags about a mile.  The train’s maximum speed was 25 miles per hour. It was the least boring trip I have had. Every 100 yards contained something of interest. The strangest of all I think was to see natives in ones, twos of little parties appearing in the desert with a pack on their heads, coming apparently form nowhere and going nowhere.

Little native villages appeared now and again. Just little mounds of mud.

There was a great prison camp with thousands of Italian prisoners.  They were all pretty well dressed and the officers (who were as numerous as the ordinary ranks) look quite decent and very clean and tidy.  They all made Fascist salutes and made signs of shooting us, cutting our throats and so on.  We cursed them loudly in good old Aussie swear words.  It was done however with a great deal of smiling and grinning on both sides.

GINEIFA, EGYPT, 1941. PRISON CAMP AT GINEIFA, NOT FAR FROM SUEZ. TAKEN FROM PASSING TRAIN. (AWM Image P00237.056)

Then came the great Suez Canal and the Bitter Lakes.

PORT TEWFIK, EGYPT. 1942-02. TROOPS OF THE A.I.F. MARCHING TO THE DOCKS FOR EMBARKATION TO AUSTRALIA. (AWM Image 025659)

The road which runs along beside the canal was continually carrying military transport. Along the canal banks are military posts which are mostly A/A. These posts are manned to a great extent by Indian Troops.  To add interest to the canal there was the shipping.  Modern liners sliding down between the sand and ancient sail boats.

A British Aerodrome with dozens of Hurricanes was another sight worth seeing along side this is a huge base dump.

The whole country appears to be a huge camp.

Next to the dump is a Native Labour Camp.  This stretches over many acres.  It is a curious looking camp as the tents are dug down into the sand for coolness and coloured the same for camouflage.

The aerodrome and hangers are completely the colour of sand while all motor vehicles are camouflaged in various colours.

WESTERN DESERT, EGYPT. 1942-10. NEW CAMOUFLAGED TANKS BEING TRANSPORTED TO THE FRONT ON TRAILERS. NOTE THE COMPARISON OF SIZE WITH THE STAFF CAR ALONGSIDE. (AWM Image 025167)

Photos are used for illustrative purposes. Only the photo of the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth are relevant to Mackie’s voyage.

Diario di un Prigioniero di Guerra Italiano 4

15-7-41 . . .Questa mattina ci siamo imbarcati per destinazione ignota. Naturalmente le voci che corrono sono molte. Alcuni dicono ci portano in Sud Africa, altri in India ed altri ancora in Australia. Dovunque si vada sarà sempre meglio che rimanere nel deserto. Tutti noi siamo pieni di diversi sentimenti, sappiamo che questo viaggio significa allontanarsi ancora di più dalle nostre famiglie e nessuno sa per quanto tempo, però siamo  anche pieni di quello spirito di avventura che si ha quando si parte per terre nuove e sconosciute e comunque la cosa più importante è che questo viaggio rompe la monotonia della prigionia ed aiuterà certamente il tempo a passare più in fretta. La vita a bordo, benché soggetti a stretta disciplina è abbastanza buona abbiamo da mangiare a volontà e siamo trattati bene, possiamo passeggiare sul ponte e l’aria di mare ed il riposo sta facendo bene a tutti e specialmente da un punto di vista nervoso è un gran calmante. Di notte nell’oscurità più completa, alcune volte si pensa che disastro sarebbe, se dovessimo essere silurati, ma d’altro canto ò meglio cercare di non pensarci e sperare sempre per il meglio. La vita è naturalmente sempre la stessa e siamo privi di qualsiasi notizia, chi sa quando riceverò ancora posta da casa, forse mesi e mesi passeranno prima che i miei sappiano se sono morto o vivo e prima che ricevano posta da me ed io da loro. Questa è la parte più brutta, il pensare alle sofferenze di mia moglie e di tutti i miei che chissà per quanto tempo saranno nell’incertezza. Bisogna proprio cercare di essere filosofi, tutto è destinato a finire e bisogna cercare di avere fiducia anche nelle ore più nere. Sto pensando di cominciare a studiare l’inglese, mi aiuterà certamente a passare il tempo e può darsi che mi possa essere utile in futuro, c’è un proverbio che dice, non tutti i mali vengono per nuocere, ed allora certe volte comincio a sognare ad occhi aperti e dopo la prigionia mi vedo stabilito con la mia famiglia in una di queste terre lontane di cui qualche volta avevo sentito parlare da paesani che erano tornati al paese a fare un viaggio e per far vedere che avevano fatto fortuna. E’ bello sognare perchè si dimentica il presente e si ha una speranza per l’avvenire, che alcune volte se si vuole veramente guardare in faccia sembra così nero che mette paura. Fra di noi vi è un soldato che è stato qualche anno in America e che parla l’inglese, domani gli voglio domandare che cominci a darmi alcune lezioni. Sarebbe interessante poter parlare con le sentinelle inglesi e vedere che cosa pensano e quale è loro attitudine, sono degli uomini e dei lavoratori come me, sono sicuro che se potessi parlare sarebbe molto interessante ed anche un grande aiuto.

15-8-’41 … E’ passato giusto un mese da quando ho scritto l’ultima volta su questo diario, il fatto è che non ho avuto niente di eccezionale che mi spingesse a rompere l’apatia e la pigrizia per prendere la penna in mano. Siamo passati da Capetown, ma naturalmente dato che proseguivamo non ci hanno fatto sbarcare e quindi a parte del porto non abbiamo visto niente altro. Appena arrivati credevamo che finalmente eravamo giunti a destinazione, ma invece dagli ordini che ricevemmo era evidente che si andava ancora avanti. Dove? Adesso il Sud Africa era escluso e rimaneva soltanto o l’India o l’Australia. Vedremo se ci fermeremo in India o se proseguiremo ancora. Fra pochi giorni lo sapre mo perchè la voce córre che saremo presto in Bombay.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Groupe I. Camp no 1 de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Détenus devant leur tente. Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp 1. Detainees in front of their tent. Au fond, un autel construit par les prisonniers.

Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp 1. Detainees in front of their tent. (ICRC Image V-P-HIST-03469-04)

NB No transports of Italian prisoners of war arrived in Australia in September 1941. ‘Nonno’ would have disembarked at Bombay.

Il Risveglio

On the 30th November 1944, the first issue of Il Risveglio was published in Australia.

The Department of Army were aware of this new publication in Italian and on 29th November 1944 actioned a stop to the process of copies of Il Corriere being sent from India to Australia.

What does this mean?

Firstly, we now know the Italian prisoners of war had had access to the Italian language newspaper Il Corriere.

Secondly, we assume that Italian prisoners of war will now have access to Il Risveglio.

Thirdly, newspapers arriving from India meant that the news is already out of date by the time it is read in Australia. The Italian prisoners of war would now be reading ‘current’ news.

Fourthly, what other newspapers and journals did the Italians have access to? [I will write more on this later.]

It’s official!

An official public confirmation is made in June 1945: farmers can purchase copies of Il Risveglio for their prisoner of war workers and the newspaper is already available in prisoner of war camps (subject of approval from Camp Commandant).

From the Editor

Nei nostri scritti riuniamo un atteggiamento di amicizia verso la popolazione australiana con la fierezza della nostra origine e delle nostre tradizioni storiche e colturali. Laboreremo sempre con le forze amanti della liberta del progresso nella difesa di
questi quattro grandi principi:
Liberta’ di parola
Liberta’ di stampa
Liberta’ di religione
Liberta’ di vita

In our writings we gather an attitude of friendship towards the Australian population with the pride of our origin and our traditions historical and cultural. We will always work with freedom-loving forces of progress in the defense of
these four great principles:
Freedom of word
Freedom of the press
Freedom of religion
Freedom of life

With Honour

Giuseppe Pierro a clerk from Rionero in Vulture (Potenza) died on 4th July 1945 at the 115 Heidelberg Military Hospital Victoria. As per requirements*, he was honourably buried at the Springvale War Cemetery.

He was the first Italian prisoner of war buried at this Commonwealth War Graves cemetery. His burial on 6th July 1945 was photographed by Henric Wingfiled Brammall.

Roman Catholic Chaplain JC English of the 115 Heidelberg Hospital lead the funeral cortege along the road to the cemetery and conducted the funeral service graveside. The funeral cortege consisted of a gun carriage carrying Giuseppe’s coffin. The coffin was covered by the Italian flag.  The pall bearers were Italian prisoners of war.

A solemn procession which acknowledged the life and death of Giuseppe Pierro was dignified and honourable.

Giuseppe Pierro is now laid to rest in peace at the Ossario Murchison Cemetery Victoria.

The Ossario Murchison (photo courtesy of Alex Miles)


*The Geneva Convention requirements relating to the deaths of prisoners of war state:
PART V

DEATHS OF PRISONERS OF WAR

Art. 76.
• The wills of prisoners of war shall be received and drawn up under the same conditions as for soldiers of the national armed forces.
• The same rules shall be followed as regards the documents relative to the certification of the death.
• The belligerents shall ensure that prisoners of war who have died in captivity are honourably buried, and that the graves bear the necessary indications and are treated with respect and suitably maintained.
(ICRC Archives)

Farmacista militare

An army has its medical and surgical unit, so it makes sense that it also has a pharmacy unit. This article honours those chemists who found themselves in the Chemist Reserve Unit in Libya. I would like to know further about these units and their operation as information remains elusive.

These chemists arrived in Australia on the Queen Mary 13th October 1941 and they departed on the Oranje 29th March 1943 as part of a mutual exchange arrangement with Italy.

They weren’t in Australia long enough to have their photos taken at the officers’ camp at Myrtleford and they returned to Italy before the Allies offence Operation Husky into Sicily in July 1943.

NB This list is not necessarily complete

Nicola Ferorelli from Molfetta [Bardia]

Giuseppe Allegri from Cassine (Alessandria) [Tobruk]

Mario Cassone from Alba (Cuneo) [Tobruk]

Mario Andreotti from Sorrento (Napoli) [Bardia]

Luigi Caione from Palena (Chieti) [Sidi el Barrani]

Rocco Giliberti from Avellino [Tobruk]

Romolo Lamberti from Roma [Bardia]

Valentino Mari from Torino [Agedabia]

Luigi Mutini from Mercatello (Pesaro) [Bardia]

Giorgio Polidori from Montemarciano (Ancona) [Halem Nibeua M.E. (9.12.1940)]

Celestino Riccardelli from Caserta (Napoli) [Agedabia]

Giuseppe Buono from Boscotrecase (Napoli) [Tobruk]

Vincenzo Troili from Genova [Bardia]

Raffaele Chiarelli from Torino [Agedabia]

Clerio Garrone from San Giorgio Canavese (Aosta) [Bardia]

Rocco Lo Faro from Favazzina (Reggio Calabria) [Tobruk]

Renzo Conti from Firenze [Bardia]

Attilio Tulimiero from Avellino [Tobruk]

A first…

Sometimes, the little details get missed.

I have seen a letter dated XXII, a plaque for a Cowra fountain dated XXI but for the first time I have seen a date for the fascist calendar used on a REPORT ON PRISONER OF WAR: XIX.

Rocco Cariglia was with Maritime Command Tobruk when he was captured in Libya on 5th January 1941.  On 22nd October 1941, nine days after arriving in Australia, he signed and dated his Report on Prisoner of War.

Is this unusual? 

I doubt that the Australian army clerk processing the form or Lieutenant McCarthy who signed the form noticed these few strokes of the pencil/pen.

And if they did, did they realise the statement Rocco was making.

Rocco Cariglia from Gargamico [Foggia]

From Cowra Camp Rocco was transferred to Murchison Camp in Victoria before being transferred to Western Australia. He departed Australia on the Chitral in September 1946.

This discovery is a reminder that the prisoner of war forms are filled with little bits of information which helps create ‘the bigger picture’.

Uniform Regulations

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

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

What the records tell us

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

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

Clothing Issue

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

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

This group received a free issue of clothing and necessaries.

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

Prisoner of War Officers

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

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

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

Merchant Seamen Prisoners of War

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

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

What do the photos from Myrtleford Camp tell us

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handmade plaited belt?

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

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

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

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

Myrtleford Photo Album

Do you recognize your nonno in one of the photos?

My Dreams are Getting Better all the Time

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

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

Rosary Beads

Rosary beads are one of the most recognised symbols of Catholicism.

Before I received this photo from Rocco Severino De Micheli, I had not thought about rosary beads and prisoners of war. But for a catholic, rosary beads are important.

Graziella from Cormano Lombardia provides her personal perspective, “Rosary is a powerful weapon against evil. It means CROWN OF ROSES and every time you recite a Hail Mary, with a bead, it is like giving a rose to the Virgin Mary. I say this prayer every day and I always have a rosary in my bag and another one under my pillow. When you hold a Rosary in your hand you feel protected; you are under the mantle of the Virgin Mary and whatever happens you are protected.”

from “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995

The apostolic delegate Giovanni Panico is photographed distributing rosary beads to prisoners of war in Gaythorne Camp Queensland*.


a small but significant gesture


Another interesting reference to rosary beads comes from India. Italian prisoners of war in the British camps in India made requests through the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) for sandalwood and carving knives so that they could make rosary beads.
Rosary beads are like prayer beads used in other religions. To pray the rosary is to recite specific prayers corresponding with particular beads on the string.
A rosary is a made up of a crucifix, one larger bead, three small beads, another larger bead and then a medal. After the medal comes a larger bead again, followed by a group of 10 smaller beads.
Rosary beads are a symbol of religion: a souvenir of your home, parish church, your youth; a reminder to pray.


What did rosary beads mean for the Italian prisoners of war?

*If the photo is dated 1942, then the only residents of Gaythorne Camp were internees, Australian resident Italians who were arrested in parts of Queensland and sent to Gaythorne Camp before onward movement to southern camps.
*If the men in the photo are Italian prisoners of war, then the photo would have been taken from October 1943 onwards.

Further Notes

The image below is of a WW 2 Pull Chain Rosary. Another smaller version of the rosary is the rosary circle.

https://vatican.com/2/Rosaries-Wwii-Soldiers/