Tag Archives: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in India

Sebastiano from Ortona a Mare Chieti

With a handful of photos, Paolo Zulli is looking for information regarding his uncle, Sebastiano Di Campli, prisoner of war in Australia. Sebastiano was sent to work on farm/farms in the N13 Moss Vale district in New South Wales from 10.4.44 to 30.3.45. The government records indicate that some 110 Italian prisoners of war worked on farms in this area from March 1944 to November 1945.

Italian prisoners of war assigned to farm work, were issued with a ‘Bag, kit universal’ which was supposed to be withdrawn when rural workers returned to camp.  Not so for Sebastiano whose bag is still coloured with the red used to dye clothing and other items issued to prisoners of war and internees. Sebastiano’s kit bag still bears his Australian prisoner of war number: 57181.

Di Campli (2)

Kit Bag: Sebastiano Di Campli

(photo courtesy of Paolo Zilli)

Sebastiano’s photos tell more of his journey as a soldier and prisoner of war. Sebastiano was serving with the 44 Regiment Artiglieri Division Marmarica when he was captured on 3rd January 1941. A group photo taken in Libya was one of the treasured mementoes which returned to Italy with him.

Di Campli (1)

Libya: Sebastiano Di Campli and friends

(photo courtesy of Paolo Zilli)

From their capture at Bardia, Sebastiano and a friend Nicola Costantino (also from Ortona a Mare), were together when they were processed at Geneifa Egypt. How is this known: Sebastiano’s M/E prisoner of war number is 71770 while Nicola’s M/E number is 71768. Special bonds of friendship are confirmed by a family story that Nicola saved Sebastiano’s life in Libya.

From Egypt they were both sent to camps in India. On the reverse of Nicola’s photo is inscribed: 26.4.1942 Ricordo di Costantino Nicola. In 1943, they arrived in Australia, within two months of each other, then Nicola was sent to South Australia while Sebastiano stayed in New South Wales.

India: Sebastiano Di Campli and Nicola Costantino

(photo courtesy of Paolo Zilli)

Two months before being sent to Moss Vale and farm work, Sebastiano Di Campli was captured by the lens of Geoffrey McInnes at Cowra POW Camp on 6th February 1944.  He is standing third from the right and was immediately recognised by his nephew Paolo.

AWM 3899063

 Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57040 G. Angelozzi; 57413 G. Palladinetti; 57422 D. Pasquini; 57168 D. Del Romano; 57181 S. Di Campli; 57277 R. Iacobucci; 57448 V. Pizzica. Front row: 57235 L. Fresco; 57195 M. Di Prato; 57224 G. Flacco; 57420 A. Paolucci; 49872 P. Morelli. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(AWM Image 030173/16, Photographer: McInnes, Geoffrey)

Glimpses of information about N13 Prisoner of War Control Centre Moss Vale can be found in the newspapers of the day. An article in the Picton Post on 11 May 1944 mentioned, “Sixty four prisoners of war employed on farms in Moss Vale district are said to be rendering excellent service.” Another article mentions Mr C McInnes owner of New South Wale’s largest piggery- “The Yedman”, which had 1400 pigs. The piggery was run by Mr McInnes, one employee and two prisoners of war and there was concern as to how to staff his piggery with the Italians being recalled in November 1945.

A reporter for the Sun newspaper visited five Italian prisoners of war at a farmhouse in the Moss Vale district. This is their story: N13 Moss Vale Antonio, Mario, Giuseppe, Pietro and Domenico

Another article mentions the strong affinity between a Moss Vale farmer and his family and ‘the men in their prisoner garb’, as well as the ongoing communication between farmer and an Italian post-war: An Italian Ex-P.O.W. Who Died from Grief

Along with his photos and kit bag, Sebastiano returned to Italy with a holy card for Maria S.S. della Libera. The picture of Holy Mary was kept with him while in Libya, Egypt, India and Australia, a source of comfort and a tangible and personal link to his home in Ortona a Mare Chieti.

Di Campli (4)

Holy Card belonging to Sebastiano Di Campli

(photo courtesy of Paolo Zilli)

Paolo knows that his wish to find Sebastiano’s farming families in and around Moss Vale is unlikely to happen, but he would at least like to know a little more about this district and primary industries in those times.

 

The Big Picture: 1943

A question often raised is: ‘Why were Italian prisoners of war sent to Australia?’

Statistics aid in an understanding of the global situation in May 1943: Italian casualties numbered 400,000. ‘And the figures for the North African campaign were not completed yet.’

nla.news-page000011440715-nla.news-article106048757-L3-21559ca028125615b50f212a9df2d8b8-0001

1943 ‘EMPIRE CASUALTIES.’, The Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate (NSW : 1882 – 1950), 22 May, p. 2. , viewed 08 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article106048757

The question becomes then, ‘What do the Allies do with these Italian prisoners of war?’  accommodation, food, water, sanitation, clothing, interpreters, guards, short term strategies and long term strategies….

In a SECRET War Cabinet Agendum 10th September 1943, titled, Prisoners of War. Responsibility and Accommodation, the situation is presented:

  • By 1st January 1944, America will have accommodation for 250,00 prisoners.  By 1st July 1944, the figure will be increased by 100,000.
  • Approximate nubmers of prisoners held various, particularly Empire:-

United Kingdom 76,700; Canada 23,500; Australia 7,100; New Zealand 800; South Africa 49,000; India 67,000; Middle East 71,000; East Africa  60,000; West Africa  600; Persia/Iraq  1,200; Jamaica  600; Caribbean  600.

No. 1 Indian Prisoners of War Cage

Where was the No. 1 Indian Prisoners of War Cage?

Alessandro Rizzi was captured at Asmara, Eritrea on the 1st April 1941.

He is processed at No. 1 Indian Prisoner of War Cage.

Q: Where was this camp?

A: No. 1 Indian Prisoner of War Cage (Decamere)

It is with thanks to Fabrizio Chiaramonte and his facebook group [ documenti dei prigionieri di guerra italiani WWII] that we have an answer.

Decamere is in Eritrea, south south east of Asmara. It is now known as DEKEMAHARE. The card has the Italian soldier captured at Adi Quala 14.6.42 and arrived at No. 1 Indian POW Decamere C. on 16.6.42 via FS Adi Ugri. He was then sent to Fort Baldiserra (Asmara) before departing for South Africa from Massawa.

Just as those Italians captured in Libya were sent to POW camps in British territories of Egypt and Palestine, it seems that those Italians captured in Ethiopia and Eritrea were sent to camps in the closest British territory: Sudan or onward to South Africa.

SUDAN

The answer may lie in this extract from Moore and  Fedorowich:

In the Sudan a similar system of twelve semi-permanent camps was built to accommodate a population which had grown to 79,000 POWs by July 1941. The camps were divided into three administrative regions located along the Nile valley between Khartoum and Atbara, in the Red Sea hills near Port Sudan and in Eritrea outside the port of Massawa. Once at the Sudanese and Eritrean coasts, the POWs were transported to India, Kenya and South Africa when shipping could be found.2 [Moore B., Fedorowich K. (2002) Italian POWs in Africa, 1940–3. In: The British Empire and its Italian Prisoners of War, 1940–1947. Studies in Military and Strategic History. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230512146_4%5D

Can you add information about the No. 1 Indian Prisoners of War Cage or the Italian prisoner of war camps in the Sudan?

KENYA

The first few months of 1941 saw the British authorities establish the pattern for accommodating their Italian prisoners across the Empire. The immense numbers captured in Italian East Africa were eventually despatched by rail and by sea to camps in Kenya. As had been the case in Libya and Egypt, it was deemed urgent for strategic reasons to evacuate the prisoners from Abyssinia as soon as possible. However, the transfer of prisoners to Kenya was far from easy. Logistical problems combined with the now familiar delays due to a shortage of shipping prevented British military authorities from sending large numbers to Kenya after the completion in April 1941 of the first stage of operations in Italian East Africa. Nevertheless, the delay proved to be a small blessing for it allowed time for the Kenyan authorities to build twelve permanent camps that would house 50,000 European captives. [{Moore B., Fedorowich K. (2002) Italian POWs in Africa, 1940–3. In: The British Empire and its Italian Prisoners of War, 1940–1947. Studies in Military and Strategic History. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230512146_4%5D

Map of Prisoner of War Camp in Kenya

[https://www.warhistoryonline.com/instant-articles/three-italian-prisoners-of-war.html]

Prisoner of War Uniforms around the world

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.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp 2. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Communion donnée par un délégué apostolique. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 2. Holy communion given by an apolostic delegate.

Italians Taking Communion in a British Camp in India 1943

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-19A)

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.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle-Galles du sud, camp de Cowra. N°12, Section D. La cantine. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, n°12, section D. The canteen.

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.

Geneiffa, camp N° 306. Fourneaux.

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)

Was your father sent to India?

Today I wish to share a few images of Italians in the British Camps in India. It is a way to highlight the archives of the International Committee for the Red Cross.

Many families are already applying for personal documents from the Red Cross for their family members. There is also an extensive audio-visual collection available for viewing.

The ICRC’s historical archives comprise 6,700 linear metres of textual records and a collection of photographs, films and other audio archives. Tens of thousands of documents are available in digital format on the ICRC audiovisual archives portal.

While it is improbable that you will find a photo of your father, you will however view photos which will highlight aspects of the daily life and routine of Italian prisoners of war.

A picture is worth a thousand words…

Was your father a….

BAKER

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 21, aile 1. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Boulangerie Word War II. British India. Camp 21, wing 1. Italian prisoners of war. Bakery.

PASTA MAKER

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Groupe I. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Préparation de spaghetti. Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp. Prisoners preparing spaghetti

TENNIS PLAYER

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 21, aile 1. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Equipe de tennis. Word War II. British India. Camp 21, wing 1. Italian prisoners of war. Tennis team.

SHOE MAKER

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 23, aile 3. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Cordonniers. Word War II. British India. Camp 23, Wing 3. Italian prisoners of war camp. Shoemakers.

TAILOR

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 16 de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Couturier. Word War II. British India. Italian prisoners of war camp 16. Tailor.

INSTRUMENT MAKER

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 21. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Luthiers. Word War II. British India. Camp 21. Italian prisoners of war camp. Instrument makers.

ARTIST

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 23, ailes 1 & 2. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Prisonniers peignant des portraits. Word War II. British India. Camp 23, wings 1 & 2. Italian prisoners of war. Prisoners drawning portraits.

MUSICIAN

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 23, aile 5. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Orchestre. Word War II. British India. Camp 23, wing 5. Italian prisoners of war. Orchestra.

ACTOR

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 23, aile 5. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Troupe d’acteurs. Word War II. British India. Camp 23, wing 5. Italian prisoners of war. Theatre troupe.

CHESS PLAYER

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 5. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Partie d’échecs. Word War II. British India. Camp 5. Italian prisoners of war. Game of chess.

BILLARDS PLAYER

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Groupe II. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Partie de billard. Word War II. British India. Group II. Italian prisoners of war camp. Game of billiards.

BOXER

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Groupe I. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Groupe de boxeurs. Word War II. Bangalore, Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp. Group of boxers.

TEACHER

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 14. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Salle de cours. Word War II. British India. Camp 14. Italian prisoners of war. Class room.

FOOTBALLER

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 21. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Equipe de football. Word War II. British India. Camp 21. Italian prisoners of war. Football team.

JOINER

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 22, aile 5. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Menuisier. Word War II. British India. Camp 22, wing 5. Italian prisoners of war. Joiner.

BOCCE PLAYER

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 23, ailes 1 & 2. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Partie de pétanque. Word War II. British India. Camp 23, wings 1 & 2. Italian prisoners of war. Petanque game.

India: Camp at Yol

Yol Prisoner of War Camp was situated at the base of the Himalaya Mountains.  It housed Italian prisoners of war in four camps: Group V – YOL: Camps 25 to 28. It had its own currency.

V-P-HIST-03471-01.JPG

Yol Italian Prisoner of War Landscape Group V

Details of the camps are in the following article: Yol: Once a haven for prisoners of war

Lido Saltamartini was a resident of Yol Camp.  He made a camera and took photos of the camp which are featured in his book: 10,000 in Himalaya 1941-1947

Further information on Yol can be read at:

La storia dei diecimila soldati italiani prigionieri in India(take the time to read the comments at the bottom of the article)

and in Angela Giannitrapani’s book: Quando Cadra La Neve a Yol:

Cosa può mai spingere due uomini anziani a lasciare l’Italia per raggiungere un villaggio remoto alle falde dell’Himalaya? “Quando cadrà la neve a Yol”, nell’eco di una predizione, lo rivela. Racconta del viaggio che porta sulle orme che gli stessi protagonisti lasciarono cinquant’anni prima e che ora, ultra settantenni, ripercorrono. È un viaggio del tutto differente da quello del passato quando, prigionieri degli inglesi durante la Seconda Guerra Mondiale, attraversarono quasi tutta l’India da sud a nord per raggiungere il campo di prigionia al quale erano stati destinati. Ora lo fanno da uomini liberi, ma devono ancora affrontare conti in sospeso e incontrare fantasmi sepolti nella memoria.

Quando Cadra La Neve a yol

As a tribute to the Italian prisoners who had been held captive at Yol, is this beautiful memorial:

Yol Monument 2Yol Monument

Yol Memorial to Italian Prisoners of War

(photos from Twitter: hpatil@himan127)

 

A list of Italian Prisoners of War who were sent to Yol can be found in an article by Giovanni Marizza: ALCUNI PRIGIONIERI ITALIANI IN INDIA

Further articles by Marizza: 2a Parte and 3a Parte

ICRC Reports on Italian Prisoners of War in India

A comprehensive report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on its activities during the Second World War was published in May 1948.

Specific situations relating to India were mentioned:

Conditions of Health in the Camps:

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Groupe I. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Salle d’hôpital. Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp. Hospital ward.

World War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp. Hospital ward. ICRC V-P-HIST-03473-26

India.- The authorities took the necessary measures to ensure health and cleanliness in camps despite the difficulties due to the geographical situation and climate.  Both cholera and malaria had to be dealt with.  The fairly large numbers of cases of syphilis amongst PW should also be mentioned.

In 1941, sanitary installations were satisfactory.  In certain camps there were as many as 24 showers for 400 men.  Many of the rooms were provided with ventilators, and the buildings were properly insulated against the heat.

Altogether, there was a shortage of medicaments, in particular quinine for treating malaria.  The diseases most common were typhoid fever, dysentery, malaria and syphilis.  The majority of PW were vaccinated against typhus.  Paraffin oil was poured on the surface of ponds near some camps to prevent the spread of malaria.

In 1942, cholera broke out in several camps, but was effectively dealt with.  In some camps there were more than 500 cases of syphilis.  One of the most difficult problems to solve was a regular supple of water.  The chief anxiety of the doctors was to prevent epidemics.

It was observed in 1943 that the men who had been vaccinated did not have cholera.  On the other hand, in was found very difficult to contend with malaria in certain camps, where 60 to 80% of PW were stricken.  Typhoid fever and dysentery were an almost continual menace and extensive measures were taken against them; there was also a great need for medicaments, and the ICRC rendered substantial services in this field.

From 1944 onwards everything was working satisfactorily in PW camps in India. Serums were sent out to the infirmaries in Ceylon, where venomous snakes were common.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Groupe I. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Lavage du linge. Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp. The washing. Au centre, les réservoirs à eau et les latrines.

World War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp. The washing and at rear of photo water tanks for latrine cleaning. ICRC V-P-HIST-03469-05

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Groupe II. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Système de clarification et de purification d’eau. Word War II. British India. Group II. Italian prisoners of war camp. System of water purification.

World War II. British India. Group II. Italian prisoners of war camp. System of water purification.ICRC  V-P-HIST-03470-15

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Groupe V. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Installation de désinfection. Word War II. British India. Group V. Italian prisoners of war camp. Desinfection plant.

World War II. British India. 05/1943 Group V. Italian prisoners of war camp. Disinfection plant. ICRC V-P-HIST-03471-20

Clothing:

In India, as the delegates found when they visited PW camps during 1941 and 1942, conditions in respect of clothing were most inadequate.  There were complaints from every side, with regard to shortage both of clothes and underclothing, and of footwear.  The delegates were moved to intervene, but the situation did not improve to any degree till 1943 and 1944, after fresh issues had been made.

Clothing Issue in India: Michele Truono (NAA:  A7919, C98805)

Memories of home…

The photos tell a little about life in a British prisoner of war camp in India…

A simple cup of coffee

Canteens were established in each camp.  A range of products were sold: head ache tablets, powders for the digestion, toothpaste, cigarette holders, playing cards, combs, shaving cream, lemon squash, flavoured essence, items of clothing,  exercise books, cigarettes.

Have to admire the Italians who made a coffee machine (is this a perculator?).  There are even espresso cups and saucers.

V-P-HIST-03470-18.JPG

Italian Prisoners of War: Canteen at Camp No. 4 British Camps in India

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03470-18)

Life is a combination of magic and pasta …Federico Fellini

A little flour, a little water, a little magic and the Italian cooks at Bangalore make fresh pasta…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Italian Prisoners of War: Bangalore Group I Preparation of Spaghetti

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03470-20 to 034723)

Treasures in Thread

Take a look at four beautiful embroideries sewn in the POW camps in India…

A little background: where did the cloth and thread come from?

Australian POWs in German camps used threads from worn out socks and jumpers as well as cotton from their army issue ‘housewife’.

Indian Publication Volumes 8-9 January 1941, listed items to be included in POW packages eg coloured silks and cotton threads, plain linen or canvas for embroidering.

The Red Cross sent supplies of recreational and educational material in bulk to prisoner of war camps.

The YMCA is also mentioned as a group who not only contributed books to Australian PW camps but were known also to provide material for tapestry, carpentry, embroidery and leatherwork.

The canteen at Camp No. 22 in India sold balls of mercerized cotton (like Coats Mercer Crochet Cotton).

Cloth used was from a variety of sources eg handkerchief, calico, canvas, cotton; salvaged or repurposed materials.

Treasures in Thread

Treasured keepsakes, given as gifts to Queensland farming families or taken home to Italy come in many forms.  One does not necessarily pair needlework with Italian soldiers. Possibly a skill taught in the camps to wile away the hours of monotony.  The hands of farmers and soldiers were capable of producing the most delicate needlework.

Antonio Fracasso embroided this handkerchief in June 1941 in a camp at Bangalore India.  He was captured at Bardia Libya on 6th January 1941.  These details give an estimation about how long the prisoners were held in Libya and Egypt before sailing for India… a few months at the most.

Fracasso. Embroidery A XIX EF

Salvatore Morello took his embroidered work home to his wife and daughter. The Sacred Heart of Mary (Sacro Cuore di Maria) was worked on canvas.  The angels’ banner reveals that it was created 1942 in India.

Morello Embroidery 1942 India

Sacro Cuore di Maria

(photo courtesy of Luigi Tommasi )

Knight on Horse was embroidered by Francesco Pintabona who stayed with the Harsant family at Warril View via Boonah.  Made into a cushion, the fabric has yellowed with age, but the embroidery shows a calm hand an a good eye. It was made while Frankie was in a camp in India.

Francesco Pintabona

Helen Mullan (nee Rackley) explains this about her embroidered gift: Before he left the farm, Domenico gave me the needlework of “Madonna and Child”.  He had painstakingly worked on a men’s handkerchief, when in a prison camp in India, I believe.  It was kept folded in an envelope for many years.  It is my special treasure, a reminder of Domenico, and I felt I needed to share this treasure with everyone, so I had it framed.  It has pride of place in my China Cabinet. You can see that is a combination of needlework and drawing with a painted background.  I have often wondered if he ran out of cotton as there are sections which have not been embroidered like the feet and the arms of the angel. It looks like he copied the image because you can see his pencilled in grid pattern.  As an adult, I reflect upon what it must have been like in the POW camp in India and the hours he spent embroidering this “Madonna and Child”.

Domenico.Rackely.jpeg

Embroidery by Domenico Mascuilli

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Another beautiful embroidery made in Derradoon India in 1942 can be viewed at Embroidery made by an Italian POW

An embroidery sewn in Australia by Italian POW: Gayndah Australia

Bouquet of Australia Wildflowers was crafted by Domenico Petruzzi who lived with the Robinson family at Glen Ellen via Gayndah.  The lettering at the bottom was Domenico’s addition: Remember Domenico Petruzzi Prisoner of War.

Gayndah Tapestry (2)

Embroidery by Domenico Petruzzi Q4 Gayndah

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Crocifisso Salvatore Martinicca’s  embroidered  handkerchief was sewn while he was in England: Saint Antonio di Padova  

Today it is called ‘Embroidery Therapy’ but during WW 2, embroidery was a recreational and theraputic past time; a means to keeping the hands and the minds occupied during the long months of confinement in POW camps.

During WW 1, soldiers recuperating in hospital were given embroidery to help keep them busy.

Andrea in India

Andrea Favatella had c. 3 years in India.  As many families have found, information on these ‘India’ years is difficult to locate.

For some Italians sent to Australia, depending upon the version of A.A. Form A111, that is used, the From whom received section will provide the details of the previous camp the Italian prisoner of war was at: Andrea’s last India Camp is No. 5 (Bangalore).

Favatella Andrea (NAA: MP1103/2)

The ICRC audio-visual resources offers a glimpse of Bangalore Camp 5 as seen below:

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp no 5 de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Vue entre les baraques d’une aile du camp. Word War II. Bangalore. Italian prisoners of war camp 5. General view between barracks in one of the wing of the camp.

1943 View between the barracks of a wing in Camp 5 Bangalore (ICRC V-P-HIST-03469-36)

Amongst Andrea’s collection of books he returned to Italy with, is a copy of Breve Raccolta di Preghiere per I Prigionieri di guerra italiani in India.  A special thank you to Nino Favatella for sharing a photograph of his father’s prayer book. 

Religion was important to the Italian prisoners as is highlighted by the art work produced with religious images, the prayer cards the Italians kept, and the prayer and mass books prepared specifically for Italian prisoners of war in Egypt and Palestine, India and Australia.

Andrea Favatella’s Prayer Book from India

(photo courtesy of Nino Favatella)

Religious devotion is also illustrated with the chapels constructed within the prisoner of war camps.  The chapel below was built at Camp 5 Bangalore.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore, camp de prisonniers de guerre N° 5. Extérieur d’une chapelle.

Exterior of the Chapel at Bangalore Camp 5 1943 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-0420-7)

Connecting Italian families to this history is difficult after the passing of 75 years. 

William Shakespeare wrote: “There is a history in all men’s lives.”

Equally important: there is a history in every item your grandfathers and fathers brought home to Italy.