Tag Archives: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in India

Storia di un contadino italiano in Australia – parte 1: la cattura e l’inizio del viaggio

by Elena Fortini

Nella maggior parte dei libri di storia le migliaia di uomini catturati e fatti prigionieri durante i due conflitti mondiali che hanno segnato il Secolo breve figurano solo come numeri, una perdita inevitabile nell’economia di guerra. Eppure, si tratta di una parte non trascurabile del nostro passato: ogni uomo partito al fronte vi ha portato parte di sé, una storia nella Storia che non possiamo permetterci di dimenticare. Per questa ragione voglio raccontare la prigionia di mio zio Vincenzo, un modesto contadino cremonese che si è trovato a coltivare le immense distese australiane.

Vincenzo Ambrogio: Uncle of Elena Fortini (photo courtesy of Elena Fortini)

Vincenzo Ambrogi nasce il 5 settembre 1917 a Soncino, un piccolo borgo medievale in provincia di Cremona. Primo di 7 figli tra cui mia nonna Rosa, detta Carla, il 2 settembre 1938 viene chiamato alle armi in qualità di caporale nel 45° Reggimento Artiglieria Divisionale “Cirene”. Dopo un breve passaggio a Bari, l’11 settembre a Napoli si imbarca per la Libia; due giorni dopo sarà a Bengasi.

Map of Western Desert Campaign 1941/42 (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Operation_Compass)

A seguito dell’ingresso dell’Italia nel secondo conflitto mondiale, il 10 giugno 1940 il territorio libico è dichiarato in Stato di guerra. A settembre la Divisione partecipa alla prima offensiva italiana in Egitto, ma la controffensiva britannica non si fa attendere: dopo una serie di attacchi che provocano importanti perdite, a dicembre la Divisione è costretta a ripiegare entro la cinta fortificata di Bardia, vera roccaforte italiana in Libia. L’esercito italiano non resisterà a lungo: il 5 gennaio 1941 Vincenzo è catturato, insieme a migliaia di altri soldati, dall’esercito inglese, in quella che è passata alla storia come la catastrofica sconfitta di Bardia.

6th January 1941 BARDIA. A GROUP OF ITALIAN PRISONERS BEING BROUGHT IN BY THE A.I.F. DURING THE MOPPING UP OPERATIONS IN THE SURROUNDING HOLES. (AWM Image 004904 NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

Da qui, dopo chilometri e chilometri percorsi a piedi nel deserto nordafricano, raggiunge il campo di concentramento 309, in Egitto, e successivamente il campo 308, entrambi nell’area di Alessandria. Da alcune relazioni stilate da inviati della Croce Rossa Internazionale si evince che la situazione dei prigionieri non era delle più terribili: tolto che la maggior parte dormiva per terra, direttamente sulla sabbia, a causa della scarsità di tende a fronte dell’arrivo massiccio di uomini (successivamente verranno costruite delle baracche dai prigionieri stessi), a ciascuno venivano date in dotazione due coperte per proteggersi dal freddo; i prigionieri indossavano la propria divisa e venivano consegnate scarpe nuove a chiunque ne avesse bisogno. Il cibo, preparato dagli italiani stessi, era razionato in quantità sufficienti, e durante le lunghe giornate d’attesa sono documentate persino partite di calcio. Sul campo era presente un cappellano militare per l’assistenza religiosa, mancavano però libri da leggere e i prigionieri lamentavano di non ricevere notizie per posta dai propri famigliari.

La prossima tappa del viaggio di Vincenzo sarà Suez, il vero polo di smistamento: qui i prigionieri saranno divisi e inviati nelle più svariate colonie inglesi; è il vero inizio della traversata che porterà mio zio all’altro capo del mondo. Ogni prigioniero segue sorti diverse: c’è chi viene inviato nel Regno Unito, chi nel Medio Oriente, chi ancora in Sudafrica. Il 30 novembre 1941 Vincenzo si imbarca per l’India. Arriverà a Bombay il 16 dicembre e sarà internato nei campi 9 e 12, entrambi nell’area di Bhopal, nell’India nord-occidentale. In una cartolina compilata per la Croce Rossa Internazionale scrive di essere stato catturato illeso e di stare bene.

Click: Arrival of Italian prisoners in Bombay

Il 20 aprile 1942 scrive la seguente lettera indirizzata alla famiglia e mai giunta a destinazione:

“Carissimi genitori, dopo lunga assenza di vostre notizie, non sapendo il perché di tutto questo mentre invece ho ricevuto notizie da Alberto, il cugino della cascina Fornace, alla cui cara lettera tuttavia non posso rispondere, la quale mi ha molto rallegrato sentendo le sue parole di giovane militare, e il rientro di Giulio, mio fratello, in patria dalla sua prigionia. Miei cari voi, sapete che non posso rispondere a tutti coloro che mi scrivono, perciò lascio a voi i miei più graditi saluti con una stretta di mano di vero cugino affettuoso. Ma appena potrò […] a tutti darò un mio saluto e un invito di arrivederci presto. Miei cari, da che mi trovo nelle Indie ho ricevuto 4 lettere, una del cugino e tre di Gina [la maggiore delle sorelle]. Desidero notizie dai dintorni e dai cugini. Non pensate male che tutto passa e ringraziamo sempre Iddio che tenga sempre la salute e un dì ci rivedremo.
Termino rilasciandovi i miei più sinceri saluti a tutta l’intera famiglia, e un bacio all’ultimo piccolino e Babbo e Mamma. Saluti parenti e riconoscenti da sempre, Vincenzo”

Camp 9 India: General View of Camp, Italians packed up ready to move to another camp, models of planes made by the Italians (ICRC VP-HIST-03470-07, VP-HIST- 03470-12, VP-HIST- 03470-30A)

Sappiamo però che il periodo in India è stato probabilmente il più difficile dell’intera prigionia: il clima duro, la scarsità di cibo e le disastrose condizioni igieniche dei campi indiani, unitamente al pericolo causato dagli insetti portatori di malaria, facevano sì che molti prigionieri si ammalassero, anche gravemente. In particolare, i campi dell’area lagunare di Bhopal, dove si trovava mio zio, erano noti per l’aria estremamente malsana. Lo stesso Vincenzo trascorse più di due mesi nell’ospedale del campo, e subì un’operazione. La situazione precaria e la persistente incertezza sul futuro spingevano molti a tentare il gesto estremo.

Ma la storia di Vincenzo è diversa. Nel gennaio 1944 lascia infatti il subcontinente indiano e viene imbarcato sulla nave Mariposa: direzione Melbourne, Australia.

Continua…

1944-03-28. AERIAL PORT BOW VIEW OF THE AMERICAN TRANSPORT SS MARIPOSA WHICH MADE FIVE TROOP CARRYING VOYAGES TO AUSTRALIA BETWEEN 1942 AND 1944. (NAVAL HISTORICAL COLLECTION) (AWM Image 303592)

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.

Prisoner of War Uniforms

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)

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. The questions arises: where was this camp?

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.

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]

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.

Prayers, Priests and Chapels

The inspiration for this article began with a photo of the Cowra Chapel. After some research, I realised that this topic was much more complex.  Prayers, Priests and Chapels begins with the patron saints of villages and is a journey of the Italian soldier and prisoners of war through their faith.

Italy

There might have been exceptions but it was reported that all Italian prisoners of war were Catholic.  Evidence of their religious faith starts with the prayer cards they were given of the patron saint of their village. These prayer cards were taken with them to the battlefields, to the prisoner of war camps, to Australia and then finally returned with the men to Italy.

Domenico Feruilli’s Prayer Card (photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)

Libya

In Libya Roman Catholic Churches were built by the Italians before the outbreak of war. Did the Italian soldiers get an opportunity to visit these churches and pray? Did they light a candle for their safety in battle? Or maybe they made the sign of the cross as they passed by these churches on the way to battle?

Biagio di Ferdinando wrote, “During my travels from Tobruck to Bengasi, after Derna and Barce there were many beautiful villas, towns, schools, churches, all new.”  (Odyssey by Biagio di Ferdinando)

1st March 1941 BENGHAZI. EXTERIOR OF THE CATHEDRAL OF THE SACRED NAME OF JESUS. SMALL BOMBS HAVE FALLEN IN THE COURTYARD BEFORE THE CATHEDRAL AND THE BLAST FROM HEAVY GERMAN BOMBS HAS SHATTERED MOST OF THE WINDOWS. (AWM Image 006539, Photographer Hurley, James Francis (Frank)

Egypt

In 1941, the Apostolic Delegate for Egypt and Palestine had ‘Libro di Preghiere’ published in Palestine, with the permission of G.H.Q. Middle East. It was a prayer book distributed to Italian prisoners of war. 

It included Preghiera Del Prigioniero as well as part of a prayer for the prisoners by Pope Pius XII. For many, this would have been their only book but it was a book to give the men spiritual guidance and comfort.

Libro di Preghiere (photo courtesy of Daniel Reginato)

India

In India, the men were given materials to paint and sew with. The men drew inspiration from their faith. Filippo Granatelli’s ‘Last Supper’ is one example.

Filippo Granatelli 16.11.42 (photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

Many of the embroideries are religious in nature: the patron saint of a village, Jesus, The Sacred Heart, Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Giuseppe Polito: Rappresenta la Madonna degli Angeli, protettrice di Sacco (SA) il suo paese. (photo courtesy of Silvio Masullo)

Carved Wooden Statue of Madonna made by Isidoro Del Piccolo in Yol Camp India (photo courtesy of Ermanno Scrazzolo)

The Italians brought a little of Italy to the chapels in the British camps in India with elaborate decorations: paintings, statues, frescos and altars.

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 22, aile 4. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Prisonniers se recueillant devant un autel. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 22, wing 4. Italian prisoners of war camp. Prisoners meditating in front of an altar.

Prisoners Praying Camp 22 Wing 4 Bangalore (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-10A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Indes britanniques. Camp no 23. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Altar. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 23. Italian prisoners of war camp. Altar.

Camp No 23 Bangalore Altar (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-16A)

Worthy of note are the details of Our Lady of the Prisoner. The hat, the shirt with a black diamond patch, the shorts with the black strip; items which identified the men as prisoners of war have been meticuoulsy represented.

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Groupe I. Camp de prisonniers de guerre italiens. Monument “Notre-Dame du prisonnier”. Word War II. Bangalore. Group I. Italian prisoners of war camp. “Notre-Dame du prisonnier” monument.

Our Lady of the Prisoner Bangalore Group I 12.12.1941 (ICRC V-P-HIST=03474-05A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Bangalore. Camp 2. Prisonniers de guerre italiens. Autel dans la chapelle. Word War II. Bangalore. Camp 2. view of the altar in the chapel.

Bangalore Camp 2 View of the Altar in the Chapel (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-20A)

Australia: In the Camps

The first group of Italian prisoners of war arrived at Hay Camp New South Wales in May 1941. A 1943 report and a 1944 photo records information about how the spiritual needs of the Italians were catered for at Hay Camps 7 and 8:

The prisoners of war of these two camps are all Catholics. Camp 8 has a chapel adorned with a beautiful altar carved in wood and having a harmonium. The chapel of Camp 7 is located in one of the refectories; it also has a beautiful sculpted altar and a harmonium. Each camp has a prisoner of war priest who provides regular worship.

Camp priest, Virgilio Iacobelli featured below arrived in Australia on 27th May 1941 with the first group of Italian prisoners of war.  He served at both Hay and Cowra camps.

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. 45005 LIEUTENANT PADRE I. VIRGILIO IACOBELLI AN ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, AT THE ALTAR IN THE CHAPEL OF NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. ALL THE CRAFT WORK IN THE CHAPEL WAS DONE BY THE PRISONERS. PLAYING THE ORGAN IS 45192 SERGEANT MAJOR VINCENZO COMMARATA. (AWM Image 063360, Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)

To make way for new arrivals of Italian prisoners of war to Australia, Italians were transferred from the established camps at Hay to the tented camps of Cowra.  Cowra Prisoner of War Camps for the Italians were under construction.  In November 1941, photos and reports record the temporary chapel and arrangements for church services:

Each section has a large tent serving as a chapel, containing a pretty altar built for prisoners. The sacred candles, bread and wine are provided once a week by the local priest of Cowra.  Religious duties are carried out by three prisoner of war priests. Recently, Cowra had a visit from the Archbishop of Sydney, representing the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra No 12, section D. Autel en construction. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp 12, section D. Altar under construction

Cowra Camp No 12 Section D Altar under Construction 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00216)

Giuseppe Raimondi from Amaroni (Catanzaro) served as priest at Cowra Special Camp 12 D before being sent to Victoria: V28 Attwoods, Myrtleford Camp, Puckapunyal and V22 Rowville. Raimondi was called as a witness to an inquiry into Captain JM Waterson and the fatal shooting of Rodolfo Bartoli at V22 Rowville.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra No 12, section D. La chapelle. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp 12, section D. Chapel

Cowra Camp No 12 Section D The Chapel 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00215)

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Cowra, camp A, série A. Autel dans un réfectoire. War 1939-1945. New South Wales, camp of Cowra, camp A, serie A. Altar in a dining hall.

Cowra Camp A Altar in the Dining room 3.9.42 (ICRC V_P-HIST-E-00218)

Faustino Lenti from Milano had been a Missionary Father in India and served at Cowra Camps.  Lenti was a charismatic and colourful character and by April 1944, it was reported: It is alleged that he controls a ‘basher gang’ composed of PoW… and that he employs a personal bodyguard for his protection. The latest information about him is that he fears an attempt will be made on his life. (NAA: SP196/2 443/1/5280)

Reports were conflicting.

Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Information Board (photo courtesy of David Ackers)

The Apostolic Delegate for Australia, Monseigneur Giovanni Panicio published ‘L’Amico del Prigioniero’ in1943.  It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.

Having the book written in Italian and Latin is significant.  Mass was said in Latin until the Second Vatican 1965. This book ensured that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian. This gesture was a significant show of concern for the spiritual welfare of the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.

Ermanno Nicoletti carved a piece of wood and turned it into a profile of his mother, while praying. Granddaughter Alessandra contemplates, “News of prisoners of war were scarce and at some point my grandmother almost lost faith that her son was still alive.” On the other side of the world in Australia, Ermanno ‘knew’ that his mother was praying for him and carved his thoughts in wood.

Wood Carving by Ermanno Nicoletti (photo courtesy of Alessandra Nicoletti)

Australia: Life on the farm

By the middle of 1943, the first Italian prisoners of war were sent to farm placements in the Hamilton district of Victoria and Coonabarabran district of New South Wales.  This trial was successful and was implemented throughout Australia: Prisoner of War Control Centres: Without Guards [PWCC].  In the Notice to Employers of Prisoners-of-War given to the farmers as part of the employment contract there is this statement:

5. You will be required to see that the following rules are obeyed:-

          (a) P.W. must not leave your property except-

(i) to attend religious services, for which special arrangements will be made by the Military Authorities; (NAA: D2380)

There are many memories of the Italians attending local churches. All manner of transport was used to get the men to church; bikes, horse and sulky, truck, car, on foot.  It was remembered the Italians would go to church with the Catholic family on the neighbouring farm, as the host family were not Catholic. Children of the time remember the Italians walking to church in their ‘red pyjamas’ a reference to the burgundy coloured uniform the men wore. Some Australians remember with shame that the Italian POWs had to stand at the back or sides of the church and had to leave the mass before its conclusion. Others recall the beautiful singing voices of the Italians during mass.

Italians in the Boonah district of Queensland attended a Mission Church because they learned that the pastor, Dr Dwyer spoke Italian. The Italians would enjoy conversations with Dr Dwyer after service.  Members of the congregation knew this was against the ‘rules’ and wondered if they would get arrested for their compassion. Father Steele from Beaudesert Queensland, assisted and nominated Paul Raffa with his application process to return to Australia.  It was Father Steele who welcomed Raffa when he disembarked from the ‘Napoli’ at Brisbane in May 1949.  

In June 1944, a special event was reported in the Gympie news:  His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. John Panico, has recently been visiting prisoners of war employed in various centres on the North Coast of Queensland.  At Gympie he met a large number of them at St. Patrick’s Church, where he celebrated Mass.  At 10 o’clock his Excellency addressed the people, speaking in Italian to the prisoners of war and tendering them excellent advice.  The services of these men are greatly valued by their employers because of their good habits and their knowledge of rural industries. (1944 ‘Of General Interest’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 7 June, p. 4. , viewed 12 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172213489)

However this event drew the ire of Smith’s Weekly whose headline was:  Fascist “Guard of Honor” and made mention of ‘dago prisoners of war’.

Also criticized was a decision by Commonwealth Authorities to give a petrol allowance [petrol was rationed in Australia during WW 2] to farmers to take Italian prisoners to church. The question was asked as to ‘why such benevolent treatment was accorded “these dagoes”.’

A kindly gentleman, Cyril Blacket of Pinery South Australia met an Italian prisoner of war at his local church.  With good intentions, Cyril tried to communicate with the Italian farm worker, via the Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War booklet the Italian had, but with little success.  Blacket applied to the Department of Army for a copy of the booklet, only to be warned: PW are not allowed to fraternise with members of the public, PW Camp Order No. 13 Sec 68 (c). (NAA: D2380)

1946 Cowra Camp

In 1946, the Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farm placements and brought into the camps to await repatriation. It was during this time that two altar panels for the chapel were painted by Cowra Italian POWs.

Cowra Chapel 1946 (courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)

Back to Italy

Ippolito Moscatelli from Ospitaletto di Cormano (Milano) returned to Italy with photos of the Cowra Chapel.  It is with special thanks to his granddaughter Francesca Maffietti that there is a record of the Cowra Chapel in 1946.

The altar panels survived. However they deserve a more detailed article.

How many other copies of this photo returned to Italy?

Have you seen this photo in your nonno’s collection?

Maybe you thought this photo was of a church in Italy?

Life as a soldier and as a prisoner of war was difficult.  Some Italians were absent from their families for ten years. Those years saw the men always on the move.  Life was a continual cycle of change.

One aspect of the men’s lives that did no change was their religious faith.

… prayer books, churches, chapels, paintings, frescoes, statues, embroideries, priests, photos, prayer cards, memories…

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.

Longevity and Letter Writing

life and lifelong connections

Dedicated to Ferdinando Pancisi

I would like to introduce you to 101 year old Ferdinando Pancisi. Ferdinando (Ferdy) has lived a full life; in more ways than one. Life events saw him journey from his home in Italy to Libya to Egypt to India to Australia and then home to Italy. Like the majority of Italian prisoners of war sent to Australia, they were absent from Italy for seven years.

Ferdy settled in the village of Civitella di Romagna with his wife Anna; both work in their small convenience shop. With age comes wisdom, and his sage insights were shared in 2017, when he was interviewed .

Longevity also relates to the duration of a special friendship between Ferdy and his Boonah family: The Dwyers. A bachelor, Pat Dwyer applied for prisoner of war workers and Ferdy was sent to his Fassifern farm. Ferdy left the farm on 2nd February 1946 and Pat Dwyer wrote to him soon after. And so began a correspondence that has continued through the decades. Ferdy’s response to Pat’s first letter is typed below…

(Letter courtesy of Tim Dwyer)

Ferdy’s first letter to Pat Dwyer was written on 11th February 1946. From the records it is known that Pauly and Peter were on the farm of Pat’s brother Jack and Nicola and Cosmo were on the farm of Mr TM McGrath.

Ferdy and Pat shared their family news throughout the decades. Pat’s wife Joie took on the role of letter writing after Pat died and then son Tim has taken on this role in recent years.

For over 73 years Ferdy and the Dwyer family have sent letters, cards and photos back and forth across the decades and across the miles. I would think that their situation might be unique.

Seventy three years is a long time: a special connection between farmer and Italian POW; a tangible link between two men from different walks of life; a personal history of war and friendship; a heartwarming story of Ferdy and the Dwyer family; a connection that goes beyond the backdrop of war.

a unique friendship in many ways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remarkable…

What do Giuseppe Quarta, Tito Neri and Antioco Pinna and  have in common?

 

Giuseppe Quarta Tito Neri Antioco Pinna

(Photos courtesy of Antonio Quarta, NAA: A367 C85639, Luigi Pinna)

This is the question I had to ask myself when Antonio Quarta contacted me recently.  Antonio’s father  was from Arnesano (Lecce), he was captured in Bardia (Libya) and he worked on farms in the Burnie and Deloraine districts of Tasmania.

Remarkably, Giuseppe Quarta had a photo of ‘Adam and Eve’, the same photo Antioco Pinna from Palma Suergio (Cagliari) also had.Adam and Eve’ was a statue sculptured by Tito Neri in the Loveday Camp (SA) in 1946.

Caporale Tito Neri

‘Adam and Eve’ by Tito Neri

(Photo courtesy of Antonio Quarta)

All three men were captured in different battles of war and came from different parts of Italy, but all three are connected to ‘Adam and Eve’.

The connection is that Giuseppe, Antioco and Tito had all resided in Camp 12 POW Camp India (Bohpal) before boarding the ship Mariposa in Bombay, arriving in Melbourne on 5.2.44.  After being processed in Murchison Camp (Victoria) they went their separate ways: Giuseppe to farm work in Tasmania, Tito to farm work in South Australia and Antioco to forestry work in South Australia.

In 1946, all Italian prisoners of war were brought back into six main camps around Australia to await repatriation.  It was at Loveday Camp (SA) that the three men were reunited once more: Tito Neri arrived at Loveday Camp (SA) on 27.2.46, followed by Antioco Pinna  on 3.4.46 and Giuseppe Quarta on 10.4.46.

Sometime between 27.2.46 and 7.11.46, Tito Neri created and destroyed his statue of ‘Adam and Eve’. Fortunately, Tito Neri and his statue were photographed and more than one copy of the photograph was produced with one copy now in Sardinia (Pinna) and one copy in Puglia (Quarta).

So many more questions are raised: who took the photo? how many photos were reproduced? do other Italian families have the same or a similar photo? do any Australian families have a photograph of ‘Adam and Eve’.

The completion of the statue must have been an important event for the Loveday Camp. Not only were photographs taken, but as  Dott. Andrea Antonioli, Commune di Cesena. explained in his biography of Tito Neri,  “Adam and Eve … nevertheless appears even in an Australian magazine.”  

Another reference to the statue can be found on Flickr: “Life size statues of Adam and Eve and the serpent (snake) which was sculptured by the Italian prisoner in the background. He had requested permission to make the statue out of cement, but it was denied, so he made it out of mud, and it was so beautiful that the commandant of Camp 14 gave him permission to cover it in concrete. According to the chief engineer at the camp, Bert Whitmore, the man destroyed the statues after the war, before he left.”

6393183925_fbdf382cf6_b

Adam and Eve and Sculpture at the Loveday Internment Camp

(from Flickr)

 

Questions. Answers. And more Questions.

Artistic and Romantic

The story of Tito Neri began with two photos sent to me by Luigi Pinna from Cagliari Sardinia. They were a puzzle.  Why did Luigi’s father, Antioco Pinna have in his possession two photos of a sculpture created in South Australia by Tito Neri?    What was the story behind these photos?  Where was this sculpture of Adam and Eve created?  Did this sculpture or any record of it still exist?#

Who was Tito Neri?

Tito Neri was a talented and well-respected sculptor from Villa Casone di Cesena (Forli). But for a time, he was an Italian prisoner of war living and working on South Australian farms.

While Neri’s Australian Service and Casualty Form records his occupation as bricklayer his biography relates that from a young age, he had a natural talent for art.  He went on to train at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. For further details of his work: Neri Tito

In 1939, he was sent to Libya as a soldier in the 11th Artillery Division, 202 Regiment and was captured at Alam El Tumar 9th December 1940. Sent to prisoner of war camps in India, Neri found time to sculpture with some of his memorable works being: Il Barbaelettrica, Il Duce, Il Re e L’Aquila Imperial, Don Bosco in marble, Il Re di’Ingheiterra Girogio IV, I Re Magi.*  Word spread amongst the English of his talents.

From his Australian POW record, he arrived in Melbourne, onboard the Mariposa and sent to Murchison for processing before a transfer to Sandy Creek POW Camp in South Australia.  Farm placement on farms in the S2 Willunga POW Centre and S1 Mt Barker POW Centre, left him with little time to pursue his art. A comment made by one of his employers was, “This man is a clever sculptor and all spare time is given to this. Works well otherwise.”

Neri Tito PWI 58694

Tito Neri

(NAA: A367, C85639)

He worked on a farm owned by Hartley Roy Moulds of Ashbys Road Inman Valley where he fell in love with the farmer’s daughter, Hazel who left an impression on the ‘sculptor’s soul.‘ An S2 PWCC Willunga report records, “This man is a good type, above average intellect, but romantic… Not necessarily bad but would be better employed away from women.”

 Neri was transferred to the Usher farm near Meadows and also worked for six weeks at Mr MS (Maurice Samuel)  Pearce’s farm Doringa at Paris Creek.  He also worked Mr FS Evans farm at Aldgate Stirling which was his most serene and welcoming placement.

“For his art, the years lived in Australia are much less prolific than those in India and that is due to the hard and unceasing work in the ‘farms’. In fact, Neri only sculpts a few subjects: a kangaroo, a large snake in cement, a bust of a Boss and above all, an Adam and Eve which nevertheless appears even in an Australian magazine,” as is explained in his biography by Dott. Andrea Antonioli, Commune di Cesena.

Puzzling however, is how did Antioco Pinna have in his possession two photos of Adam and Eve and the serpent, which could possibly be the sculpture mentioned in his biography.

Tito Neri. Adam and Eve

A Puzzle: Is this Tito Neri with his sculpture Adam and Eve?

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

Antioco Pinna from Cagliari Sardinia and Tito Nero from Villa Casone Forli were in different theatres of war: Pinna Wolkefit Ethiopia and Neri Alam Et Tumar Libya.  What they do have in common is time in the POW Camps in India, arrival in Australia on the Mariposa 5th February 1944, time at Loveday POW Camp in 1946 and their repatriation on Strathmore 7th November 1946.  While Pinna was assigned to work in Prisoner of War Control Hostels on government projects: forestry, Neri worked on individual farms.

Still a puzzle: where in South Australia did Neri create his Adam and Eve?  Does this sculpture still exist?  What Australian magazine was his work featured in?

#The sculpture was created at Loveday Prisoner of War Camp during 1946.  It was said that Tito Neri destroyed his work before leaving the camp for repatriation to Italy.

*Dott. Andrea Antonioli, Ufficio Topomostica Commune di Cesena,  is the writer of TITO NERI: A Biography.