Luigi Iacopini’s journey as a soldier and prisoner of war is told through the photos he kept. His photos are like a diary recording major events in his early adult life.
Born 24.5.16 in Ponzano Di Fermo Ascoli Piceno, Luigi’s occupation was a barber.
A reminder of his military service in the infantry is a photo of a young Luigi in full dress uniform.
(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)
Craig Douglas from Regio Esercito History Group Australia recognised the uniform and writes, “it looks like he belonged to the 115 Infantry Regiment, 62nd Infantry Division Marmarica. Destroyed 5 January 1941 at Bardia.” And yes, Luigi was captured at Bardia on 3rd January 1941.
Luigi and other young soldiers in Derna Libya. Derna is on the coast between Benghazi and Tobruk. It was taken on 25.?.38. Luigi was 22 years old.
Italian Soliders in Derna 1938
(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)
The rattan matting, the socks and sandals, the shorts and trousers with a distinctive stripe down the sides are common to photos in the POW Camps in India. Luigi was 25-27 years old.
A group of Italian prisoners of war in a POW Camp in India
(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)
A group of Italian prisoners of war at a Gympie farm. The photo was possibly on a Amamoor farm and taken on the day of departure from the farms in the first week of January 1946. Luigi was 29 years old.
Luigi Iacopini, Giovanni Meconi and Fortunato Gobbi went to the farm of JJ Parr at Amamoor on 5th August 1944.
Other Italian POWs who worked on the farm of JJ Parr were Vincenzo Licocci, Francesco Bevilacqua. Alessandro Di Placido, Costanzo Melino and Pasquale Di Donato.
Italian Prisoners of War at a Gympie Farm
Alessandro Di Placido (?) first on left, Fortunato Gobbi second on left, Luigi Iacopini centre
(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)
Luigi was repatriated on the Alcantara on 23rd December 1946.
A special event held in Gympie June 1944 involved Italian prisoners of war, the Apostolic Delegate Giovanni Panico and local Gympie residents.
Three versions of the event are reproduced: memories of Costanzo Melino, mainstream newspaper article under a section: Of General Interest and newspaper article from right wing Smith’s Weekly titled Fascist ‘Guard of Honor’.
The marrying of memories and primary sources is important in any historical research. Very little specific information about Italian prisoners of war was published in Australian newspapers of the time so to have three versions of the one event is extremely rewarding and enlightening.
Identity Card for Costanzo Melino PW57373
(NAA: J3118, 117)
Appreciation for a Special Honour
Costanzo Melino had recounted a special event in Gympie while he was a prisoner of war working on a farm. His memories were recorded 30 years after the event; they were vivid and specific:
I even recalled the visit of the Italian Archbishop Giovanni Panéco.[Panico] We were all working on farms in those times and we gathered for Mass at Gympie. We even marched in our group in the procession around the church in his honour. It was a special occasion. There was a band of Australian women playing and we were allowed to celebrate by dancing with these women for the first time. I don’t recall any Australian men being present at this dance. We danced for a few hours and then we were allowed to return to our farms. It seemed to us to be a special honour. (Costanzo Melino)
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. During his stay in Gympie the Apostolic Delegate was welcomed by the mayor and leading citizens and thanked for the interest he displayed in visiting the district. During his stay his Excellency and his secretary were the guests of Mgr. Molony. [1944 ‘Of General Interest’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 7 June, p. 4. , viewed 02 Oct 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172213489%5D
Fascist “Guard of Honor”
At Gympie (Q) at a religious ceremony, Dago prisoners of war formed the “guard of honor” for the officiating cleric. There were afterwards entertained at a dinner and, to top it off, some of the local belles danced with them. Because of these Fascists, many of our young Australians like in the Libyan Desert. To parade them in an Australian town is just about the limit. “Pro Patria.” Gympie, Q. [1944 ‘LEADERLESS LEGION’, Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), 28 October, p. 19. , viewed 02 Oct 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article235765732%5D
Here is Costanzo Melino: his music and his life philosophy…
My research into Italian prisoners of war in Queensland has a number of public faces: the book Walking in their Boots, the website: italianprisonersofwar.com and the facebook page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia
It was through the facebook page that I received notification from Nino Amante in Italy. On 23rd March 2018, Nino wrote, “Sono il figlio di Angelo Amante, il più alto nella foto.” Nino had not only found a photo of his father on the facebook page but he then found the website’s article, A Day in the life of … and comments about his father’s time working on a farm ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian via Gympie 72 years ago.
This was an accident. Nino had been searching the internet for an article about his son, named for his grandfather, Angelo Amante, and instead found his father. Nino was overwhelmed.
I believe that things happen for a reason. I do not know the chances of bringing together the son of an Italian prisoner of war and the son of a Goomboorian farmer. But a google search and a phone call* has brought together the two sides to this history.
Nino Amante’s words and contact has brought this story ‘full circle’. “E’ stata per me una grande emozione avere delle informazioni da aggiungere a quelle raccotle dall sua viva voce, quando mi parlava del period della sua prigionia,” Nino reflects. Nino not only has knowledge about his father’s time on this farm, but he has a connection to Jim and John Buchanan who were young boys at the time and who have fond memories of Angelo.
More importantly, Angelo’s story before and after ‘Redslopes’ emerges. At 19 years old, Angelo Amante began his military training, first in Turin and then in Bolzano. He was a member of the 7th Reggimento Bersaglieri(marksmen). He was then transferred to Taranto and in 1941, he left Italy by ship for Libya. He was lucky to survive the journey to Libya, as many soldiers died after the fleet was bombed by the British.
Angelo Amante: 19 years old
(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)
Angelo was captured at Gialo, a Libyan oasis town on 25th November 1941. Gialo was taken by British and Punjabi troops on 24th November 1941, but a small group of Italian soldiers continued fighting in the north east El Libba sector. After four hours of combat, two Italian had been killed and 27 Italian soldiers were taken prisoner.
Possibly the photo below of a relaxed Angelo was taken at Benghasi, his first experience of Libya. Like many of his generation, Angelo spent ‘his youth’ in foreign and difficult circumstances. He returned home to Italy when he was 25 years old. Nino explains, “Sei dei suoi anni piubelli trascorsi fra guerra e prigionia.”
Angelo Amante in Libya 1941
(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)
Angelo’s journey is like many of his peers. Italy to the battle field to Egypt to India to Australia to Italy. Angelo arrived in Melbourne Australia 29th December 1943. The next day he was in the Cowra PW & I Camp. His time there is recorded in a group photo Cowra 6th February 1944. Ten days later, Angelo was sent to Gaythorne Queensland 16th February 1944.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57037 A. Amante; 57273 G. Guarnaccia; 57288 G. La Iacona; 57252 S. Giambusso; 57051 C. Avola; 46957 S. Vizzini; 57257 G. Giarratano. Front row: 57268 M. Gordini; 57070 L. Bloisi; 57046 R. Armentano; 57038 S. Amoroso; 57226 D. Foringo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/15)
Before Nino’s internet search, he had one photo and the stories about his father’s time in Australia, but he did not know dates or places. Nino says, “Sapevo che mio padre era stato in Australia, ma in quale parte di Australia? Che era vissuto in una fattoria, ma quale fattoria?” But his time in Australia was always remembered with fondness, a place to which Angelo wanted to return. In 1956, Angelo made preparations to emigrate to Australia with his wife and family. During a medical visit, it was discovered he had a small heart problem and his dreams of going to Australia ended. But his family kept safe a small photo of three men and two boys, knowing that it was an important part of Angelo’s memories of Australia.
Angelo Amante , Salvatore Scicchitani (Schichitano), Vincenzo Cannavo with John and Jim Buchanan at Redslopes Goomboorian via Gympie
(courtesy of Nino Amante)
For over seven decades, this photo did not have a context. Nino knew that the photo was from his father’s time on a farm, but he did not know where in Australia this farm was located. Angelo told his family a story about chilli plants he had grown on this farm and now he knows it was Jim, a little boy who tasted the chilli with severe repercussions. Angelo told his family about a trip to the city, to undergo a medical visit at the hospital and the wonder of seeing so many kangaroos on the way.
Jim’s memories and Angelo’s stories to his family are being slotted together. Nino writes that his father arrived in Australia from POW camps in India with very poor health. Angelo had contracted malaria and Nino remembers the story of an old lady on the farm who realised the seriousness of his condition and encouraged him to eat and the need for him to regain his strength. Jim knows exactly who this lady was, his Aunty Mag [Margaret], who was the matron (supervisor) for the Land Army girls on the farm. Angelo’s visit to the Gympie Hospital is recorded in the farm diary: August 21 1944 – Angelo going to hospital. And the stories travel back and forth between Italy and Australia and across the decades.
Upon Angelo’s return to Italy, he made his way home to Fiumefreddo di Sicilia and his widowed mother. Angelo married in 1953 and moved to Mascali, his wife’s home town. He continued to work the land and raised his family: Nino and Giuseppina. In 1984, Angelo passed away at the age of 63.
(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)
The sharing of stories and memories, the answering of questions and the ‘Miracoli di Internet!’ is like finding those missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle and finally being able to put them in place.
*In September 2017, I telephoned Jim Buchanan in Gympie. I had been told that he was the person to speak to about some of the Italian prisoners of war in the Gympie district. Jim’s words to me were, “I think you will be surprised with what I have to tell you. I don’t think you will have found another one like this.” And surprised I was!
Jim’s father Neil Buchanan had kept a farm diary for ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian. Peppered through the entries from 7th March 1944 to 1st January 1946 are references not only about farm life, but also to the Italian prisoners of war at ‘Redslopes’. This diary offers a very unique and firsthand account about the employment of Italian prisoners of war.
On 24th March 2018, I telephoned Jim again. I told Jim that I had some extraordinary news for him. Angelo’s son had sent me an email. It took a few minutes for the news to sink in. Jim is rarely lost for words. I said to Jim, I wonder if Angelo took any photos home to Italy with him. Nonplussed, Jim felt that this is not probable as very few photos were taken in those days. Like Nino Amante, this journey for the Buchanan family is emotional and remarkable.
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]
From the time the Italians were captured in North Africa to the time they were repatriated and handed over to authorities in Naples, the footprints of the Italian POWs can be traced through a dossier of documents. Each document provides a glimpse into the journey of a prisoner of war.
Collectors of military records and military postal correspondence have preserved important documentation regarding prisoners of war. Together with official documents in national archives, items in private collections assist researchers to piece together a more complete picture.
The start of the official documentation begins with each Italian being registered, processed and allocated a Middle East prisoner of war number (M.E. or M/E). This number is a British number and stays with the Italians in the camps of India. The men captured in Libya and Greece/Albania were processed in Egypt POW Camps. The men captured in Eritrea and Ethiopia were processed in Sudan.
The men from the Bartolomeo Colleoni were among the first Italian prisoners of war: date of capture is 17 July 1940. You will notice Nicola Aucello’s Middle East Number: 34.
Notification of Capture- Prisoner of War – Comite International de la Croix Rouge
Once the Italian prisoners of war were processed in Egypt, they were given a Notification of Capture card to send to their next-of-kin. Information included place of imprisonment: Italian POW Camp N. 19, Egypt.
from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore
Letter to Italy – from Prisoner of War Cage in Middle East
Mail from Egypt. When you read the address: Camp 321 POW Cage 5, Chief POW Postal Centre Middle East, one understands why letters when missing and were never received.
Every time an Italian prisoner of war was transferred, they were given a card to send to their next-of-kin regarding the transfer: Transfed to India.
from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore
Italian Prisoner of War in India
A number of documents have survived relating to POWs in India. On the Australian Service and Casualty Record, there is a M/E number. This is the number given to the Italian prisoners of war once they were processed in Egypt. This number stayed with the men in India, and then is recorded on their Australian card as well.
India: Prisoner’s of War and Civil Internee’s History Sheet – of particular interest is the record of vaccinations and inoculations. Some Italian families have found this pink India History Sheet in file for their father in the Italian military archives.
(NAA: A 7919, C99078 Isaia Torrese)
India: Envelope containing POW photos for prisoners of war – Bangalore
(NAA: A7919, C104104 Gino Santolini)
India: ID photograph
Some India ID photos are in the Australian dossiers for an individual. You will notice that the background and format is different to the Australian ID photos. If you have a photo with a similar backdrop, more than likely it is from India. I do not know if ID photos were taken in Egypt and Sudan. This is an unknown.
(NAA: A7919, C100451 Italo Rossi)
from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore
India: Financial Record for No 16 Prisoner of War Camp, Bairagarh
Procedures ensured that financial accountability for all income and expenses was recorded.
(NAA: A7919, C101033 Giorgio Migliore)
India: Booklet – Clothing and Supplies
Italian prisoners of war in India were issued with a Clothing and Supply Booklet which accounted for the dispersal of items to the men.
(NAA: A7919, C98805 Michele Truono)
Notification of Transfer to Australia
Once the Italians arrived in Australia, they were given a card to notify next-of-kin of their transfer: Transfrd to Australia. To comply with Article 36 of the Geneva Convention, these cards were to be sent within a week of arrival at their camp. Lorenzo Illuzzi was scheduled to be transferred to South Africa, but was sent to Australia instead.
from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore
Italian Prisoner of War in Australia
Australia: Service and Casualty Form for Prisoner of War
This form contains valuable information about the movement of the Italian prisoner of war. Finding Nonno is a HOW TO interpret the information on this form.
(NAA: MP1103/1 PWI60929 Romano, Pietro)
Australia: Property Statement
Financial accountability required a Property Statement to be issued for each prisoner of war regarding the amount of money relinquished to authorities upon arrival in Australia.
(NAA: MP1103/2 Brancato, Salvatore PWIX66245)
Australia: Medical History Sheet
Each Italian prisoner of war was medically examined upon arrival in Australia.
from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore
Australia: Agreement to work on farms
Italian prisoners of war volunteering for farm work, completed the form below.
(NAA: A7919, C101443 Costa, Francesco PWIM12105)
Australia: Identity Cards Issued for POWs allocated to PWCC and PWC Hostels
For Queensland, Italian prisoners of war sent to work on farms, their Identity Cards were issued at Gaythorne PW & I Camp.
(NAA: J3118, 65 Fresilli, Sebastiano)
This is a copy of an Identity Card for Italian prisoners of war who worked in Victoria.
(NAA: A7919, C102791 Di Pietro, Camillo)
Australia: Army Issue Post Card
Written to Filippo Modica (father) from Gaetano Modica (son) who was in New South Wales (Cowra and Liverpool Camps and N20 PWCC Murwilimbah)
from the collection of Carlo Pintarelli AICPM
Australia: Army Issue Notelope
You will notice a signature: Blunt above the addressee’s name. This was the captain of the Q8 Prisoner of War and Control Centre. All mail for Queensland Italian POWs went via POW Camp at Gaythorne, which was the parent camp for the men.
from the collection of Carlo Pintarelli AICPM
Australia: Christmas Card: Natale 1943
Christmas Cards were provided to the prisoners of war by the YMCA. They were provided in German and Italian.
from the collection of MARIAMAR AICPM
Australia: Mixed Medical Commission Assessment
To comply with Article 68 of the Geneva Convention, A Mixed Medical Commission was formed to assess cases for early medical repatriation. The men had to be in a fit condition to travel. Seriously wounded or seriously ill prisoners of war could ask to appear before the Commission. There were 1400 Italian prisoners of war examined in Australia, with 242 being recommended for early repatriation. The form below was part of this process. Orzaio Baris was repatriated on Empire Clyde, a Royal Navy hospital ship.
(NAA:A7919, C101259 Baris, Orazio)
Australia: Financial Statement of Account
Upon repatriation, a Statement of Account was presented to the prisoners of war. The financial settlement as below was settled the day before repatriation. The Australian Government remitted monies owed to the Italian prisoners of war to the British Government. The British Government (or relevant authority) then remitted this money to the Italian government. Discharge papers included a detailed record of finances for each man.
Once in Naples, the Italian prisoners of war were accompanied by their Australia guards onshore. The Italians are no longer prisoners of war. They are still members of the Italian Armed forces. The Australian guard detachment deliver the necessary paperwork to the Italian authorities including medical records.
The Italians are handed a Riconoscimento allo Sbarco card. Giuseppe Lutro’s card from the ‘Ormonde’ outlines the next stage of the process.
Vito Pastore writes in reference to LoRusso’s return to Naples… “He introduced himself to the Accommodation Center of S. Martino in Naples where group drew up a questionnaire and sent in return license. Placed on leave on 6 \ 2 \ 47″.
Accommodation Centre at San Marino Napoli is also mentioned on documents in individual military records.
Important for Italian families to know, is that families can obtain a copy of Service Records for their fathers/grandfathers, from the Office of State Archives in their region.
At the Military Housing Centre in Naples (San Martino), the POWs were registered and given two months leave together with a payment of 10,000 lire. Technically, they were still soldiers in the Italian Armed Services. Due to inflation 10,000 lire had little value.
Declaration of Leave from Naples Military Command Centre
(From “Guerra e Prigionia di Giovanni Riboldi”)
The men would then have to report to their local Military District Offices. There, more paperwork was completed regarding military service and time spent as a prisoner of war. This was important documentation, which was needed to determine when one could receive a pension. I have been told that, “For every year you [Italian soldier] served in the army, you were given a 2 year reduction in your pension age.”
For those Italians who had experienced hospitalisation or a medical condition, they would not be discharged until further medical investigations were completed.
The declaration below from Giovanni Riboldi, also provides detailed information about his time as a prisoner of war. He was captured on 7.2.41 at Agedabia, was liberated by the Italians on 5.4.41 and was captured again at Sidi Oma [Sidi Omar] on 22.11.41.
A very special thank you to Rossana Ferulli who is sharing her father’s memoirs. From Palagianello Taranto, Domenico Ferulli was 21 years old when he was captured at Bardia on 3rd January 1941. He was 27 years old when he returned home to his wife Rosa. It is an honour to share his story. As Rosanna says, ‘Era un ragazzino ed è tornato un uomo.’ Domenico’s recollections add many important details to the journey of the Italian soldier and prisoner of war:***
Domenico Ferulli is seated second from the left.
His photo is also in the small box to the left.
(photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)
Campo di prigionia 3C Soldati italiani. Nel riquadro in basso a sn. il soldato palagianellese Domenico Ferulli catturato il 3 gennaio 1941 a Bardia. dopo 3 anni di prigionia in India viene condotto il 4 aprile 1944 via mare a Melbourne (Australia) ove sbarca il 26 aprile del 1944 e portato nel campo di prigionia N. 13. Rientrera in Italia il 30 Octobre 1946. Tra il 3 ed il 5 gennaio 1941 cadono prigionieri a Bardia 40,000 soldati italiani. Appiedati ed incolonnati sono avviati in direzione delle line inglesi. Un proiettile di cannone proveniente dale batterie italiane centra per errore la Colonna: è una strage. Una decina di Soldati italiani sono fatti a brandelli terminano le loro sventure in quella sabbia. Ci sono anche parecchi feriti.
A causa della mancanza di mezzi, I Soldati inglesi dicono ai prigionieri italiani che non sono in grado di soccorrere I feriti anche se rischiano di morire dissanguati. I prigionieri italiano soccorrono I loro colleghi come mglio passono. Sopravvissuti a mesi di Guerra, all’assedio ed alla battaglia, spetta loro una dura pigionia senza sapere quanto lunga e dove saranno portati. La speranza di riabbracciare I loro cari e di rivedere l’amata Italia pero è come un fuoco sotto la cenere. Dopo un giorno di marcia giungono a Sollum bassa sul mare, località che nei mesi precedent hanno colpito con I pezzi d’artiglieria. Da Sollum in poi le lunghe colonne di prigionieri italani sono sorvegliate da motociclisti con le moto Triump, Norton ed autoveicoli fuoristrada. Per giungere a Marsa Matruh comminano anche di notte, soffrendo soprattutto la stanchezza e la sete. Li li fanno salire a bordo d’autocarri. Transitati non distanti dalla citta di Alessandria d’Egitto, mediante un ponte in ferro attraversano il grande fiume Nilo nella zona del delta.
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. Da questi campi di raccolta e smistamento sono transferiti a Suez, porto sud mar Rosso. Sono imbarcati su una nave inglese, probabilmente da carico, oltre 2000 prigionieri di varied armi e specialità. Si sistemano alla meglio sul ponte e nella stiva, dormendo avvolti in una coperta. Il cibo distribuito a bordo è scarso: quando c’e da spartirsi le poche patate o cipolle, le buone regole del vivere civile vanno a farsi friggere. Esiste solo il brutale istinto di sopravvivenza che prevarica tutto, I litigi sono frequenti. Attraversano il Mar Rosso: a sinistra della nave scorrono le coste desolate dell’Arabia, a dritta quelle dell’Africa. Oltrepassato Aden, di giorno si va a riparasi tutti all’interno della nave perche in coperta non si riesce a risistere a causa del sole forte. La nave e scortata da due cacciatorpediniere della Marina Reale inglese; dopo cinque giorni di navigazione, quando si è ormai in pieno oceano Indiano, queste navi si sganciano. Le probabilità che qualche nave da Guerra Italiana li liberi, oramai, sono pressochè nulle.
Rapida e triste ricorre spesso sulla nave la cerimonia di sepoltura; chi non ce la fa, avvolto in un lenzuolo bianco, viene fatto scivolare in mare. Nell’Oceano Indiano si sente la vicinanza dell’equatore. Qui il clima è molto piu umido di Bardia. Dopo circa 22 giorni di navigazione giungono al porto di Bombay in India, colonia inglese.
*** Rossana has solved a couple of puzzles for me.
I had noticed in the photos taken at Cowra, only some Italians wore pants with a distinctive black stripe down the leg. It seemed that only the Italians who had spent time in India wore these pants. Were these pants standard issue for India?
Then on Sunday, I found photos taken in the camps of India, and on the back of the shirts was a diamond pattern of black material. How odd, I thought. Were these shirts standard issue for India?
Domenico’s story answers these questions: these items of clothing were issued in Egypt. Maybe Italians going to India were issued with the clothing with black stripe and black diamond! Maybe those Italians going directly go Australia were given a different set of clothes! One question might be answered. But another question is raised!
Camp No. 8 Prisoner of War Camp India: Preparation of Vegetables
The Italians soldiers, airmen and sailors who were captured from December 1940 to February 1941, believed the propaganda promises that the second advance would arrive quickly to liberate the increasing numbers of prisoners of war. This was not to happen.
Another insult was that they felt betrayed by the Italian Commanders. Before capture, the soldiers were ordered to destroy everything. The belief was that the enemy would not take any of the supplies. Water tanks were tainted with oil and food supplies destroyed. How then were the Allies expected to conjure food and water for 40,000 prisoners at Bardia? This order to destroy Italian provisions contributed to the deaths of Italians from starvation. The other betrayal was that the commanders ‘vanished’ so as to evade capture.
Ferdinando Pancisi remembers, “We hadn’t eaten for days. Food wasn’t arriving. We tried our best to survive. We were trying to make do looking for food on one side or the other of the Front, looking everywhere that we could and we survived. Well those who managed, survived, many others didn’t make it. I went for 7 days and 7 nights without food or water because the English were not giving us anything. I tried asking a British guard for some food or water and he’d always reply “tomorrow, tomorrow”. For 8 days we were kept at Bardia. Then they moved us to near Alexandria in Egypt near the SuezCanal. Every now and then they would send some of us to some part of the World.
For me, India. I was trying to depart, I wanted to go. I was trying to get out of there. People were dying of starvation, there were fleas and head lice, we couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t a nice place to be.”
13th December 1940 SIDI BARRANI – A STREAM OF PRISONERS NEARLY TWO MILES LONG CAME INTO SIDI BARRANI FROM THE SOLLUM AREA, THERE TO AWAIT TRANSHIPMENT TO PRISON CAMPS. (AWM 004436 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).
The Italian POWs also suffered from bombardments by the Germans. Filthy, covered in lice and sand, hungry and thirsty, there are many testimonies that the Italians did not eat or drink for seven days. There was always a promise of ‘tomorrow’ from the British and Australia.
10th December 1940. WESTERN DESERT – THE MOST PRECIOUS COMMODITY IN THE DESERT….WATER. EVERY OPPORTUNITY MUST BE TAKEN TO REPLENISH SUPPLIES & THESE ITALIAN PRISONERS, ALTHOUGH THEIR WORRIES ARE OVER, ARE TAKING NO CHANCES OF RUNNING DRY DURING TIME OF WAITING TO BE SENT TO SOME COMFORTABLE PRISON CAMP. (AWM Image 004452 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).
From places of capture the men walked to internment areas; caged compounds; and then to marinas at Bardia, Sollum or Tobruk.
“In fact, now prisoners they led us to Sollum and I stayed there for five days. Waiting for the propaganda promises of the Army that the 2nd advance that would come to free us. Hunger, the despair was so great and who knows the destiny what would have reserved for us. So from Sollum they transferred us to Mersamentuck in a concentration camp in Egyptian territory. From there they took us to the station and as beasts they put us in a freight train, and each wagon more than 40 -50 prisoners to reach a concentration camp along the Suez Canal.
The number of prisoners, which could not be counted, was high and I can affirm that the treatment for us was of the pitiful and inhuman ones that not everyone could sustain. In this field I stayed for about two months, then they took us to lead us to Suez and from there embarked on an English ship, think that in a hold, below sea level, worse than animals we were amassed in 700 prisoners. For nineteen days by sea we suffered that penance, until we arrived in Bombay in India and received another “moral slap”.” Domenico Masciulli
Loaded onto supply ships, Italians were first used to unload supplies before embarkation.
SIDI BARRANI – ITALIAN PRISONERS EARNING THEIR KEEP & HELP TO UNLOAD STORES FROM BRITISH SUPPLY VESSELS. LOWER RIGHT CORNER MEMBERS OF THE “COMMANDERS” – A SORT OF ENGLISH FOREIGN LEGION, WHO BECAUSE OF THEIR SLOUCH HATS ARE OFTEN MISTAKEN FOR AUSTRALIANS. (AWM Image 004464, PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).
One ship transporting 400 Italians from Libya to internment camps in Egypt hit a mine. Eight minutes from the first explosion, the ship sunk. Casualties were heavy among the prisoners and Australian guard. It was reported: “The prisoners were sitting on deck laughing and talking and playing cards…there was a thunderous explosion… the whole ship rocked and shuddered and stopped…and on the prisoners deck hell had broken loose. ..the water was full of prisoners full of fear. They were clutching one another and screaming over and overs, ‘Madre, madre…’. Italians too frightened to jump [into the water] were clinging to the rails and rigging as the ship’s bow canted high into the air. A mine sweeper collected the survivors and transferred them to an Australian destroyer.”
MERSA MATRUH, EGYPT. C.1941. GERMAN PRISONERS OF WAR CAPTURED IN THE WESTERN DESERT IN A COMPOUND SEEN THROUGH THE BARBED WIRE PERIMETER. (AWM Image P00064.013)
Others were sent directly to Alexandria.
31st December 1940 Alexandria, Egypt. An Australian destroyer with Italian prisoners aboard. (AWM Image 005002/03 Photographer Damien Peter Parer)
Recollections tell of being treated no better than beasts as they were loaded into train crates. Sent to camps such as Quassassin or Ismailia the Italians eventually were sent to camps at Geneifa where they were officially processed.
In time they boardered ships at Suez headed for Australia or India. ‘Emanuele Favoloro a fishman from Lipari Sicily: “…took us to Alexandria in Egypt. Here we were given a loaf of bread for tomorrow. But we ate it instantly and starved fthe next morning. We had plenty of water. We got given five cigarettes and I sold my cigarettes for more bread. My biggest horror from the war is the starvation and lack of water plus the horror of the deaths. After six months in Alexandria, I was taken to Quassassin Camp. We worked carrying light poles. I was there six months and then I was shipped to Suez where I became ill and was left behind whereas the others went to Australia.” Favoloro Emanuele from Bocia Cesarin by Cesare Romane Stefanate.
GINEIFA, EGYPT, 1941. PRISON CAMP AT GINEIFA, NOT FAR FROM SUEZ. TAKEN FROM PASSING TRAIN. (AWM Image P00237.056)
Luigi Bortolli kept a diary and detailed maps of Campo 9 Ismailia and Campo 2 Suez: Luigi Bortolotti: From Tobruk to Clare.
Paolo Reginato was a soldier with the 202 Regg. Artiglieria Division XXVIII Ottobre when he was captured at Sidi el Barrani 11 December 1940.
A special thank you to Daniel Reginato and his family for sharing the details of his father’s libretto. Paolo’s record of his days as a soldier and a prisoner of war is adding a personal perspective to this history; written at the time his comments are brief but poignant.
Libretto di Paolo Reginato
(photo courtesy of Daniel Reginato)
Paolo writes:On 8th December (in the afternoon) we suffered a heavy naval bombardment and on the 9th we were attached by a strong artillery fire throughout the day, the same afternoon when the fire ceased the order came to retreat to Sidi el Barrani. Our subcommander takes a bottle of anise and makes us all drink, one by one with his own hands on his knees around him, at night we follow the retreat and on the morning of 10th we are located 10 km from Sidi el Barrani where we went again. We attacked with batteries and armed cars throughout the day, at night the fight continued until day 11, at hour 9 I was taken prisoner with almost the entire divison.
From Second World War Official Histories, Volume 1 – to Benghazi (AWM):
Naval ships were to shell the Maktila positions on the night before the attack,  air support was to be given by No. 202 Group which included three squadrons and one flight of fighters, three squadrons and two flights of day bombers and three squadrons of night bombers… [9th] Frightened, dazed or desperate Italians erupted from tents and slit trenches, some to surrender supinely, others to leap gallantly into battle, hurling grenades or blasting machine guns, futile against the impregnable intruders… On the morning of the 10th the 4th Armoured Brigade was lying on an arrowhead between Sidi Barrani and Buq Buq, facing on the west a series of Italian camps…the 7th Hussars attacked the enemy’s posts but they were too strong to take with out costly losses and by early afternoon the main strength of the brigade had been sent eastwards… 6th Royal Tanks and the 2nd Royal Tanks attacking… the 16th Brigade had attacked at dawn on the 10th..Advancing over open country in a dense dust storm it was met by effective artillery fire and was held… Finally a concerted attack late in the afternoon broke the enemy’s resistance and by 4.40 Sidi Barrani had fallen.
12th December 1940 SOME OF LATEST BATCH OF 4000 PRISONERS FROM AREA BETWEEN BARRANI AND Buq Buq. ALL ITALIAN TROOPS WERE WELL-CLOTHED & ARMED & IN GOOD PHYSICAL CONDITION BUT SEEMED IN NO MOOD FOR FIGHTING AFTER THE FIRST FEW HOURS OF THE ENCOUNTER. (AWM Image 004431 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).
Long columns of dejected prisoners in drab olive-green and khaki streamed eastwards. In the whole battle 38,300 prisoners, 237 guns and 73 tanks were captured. Four generals were taken: Gallina of the Group of Libyan Divisions, Chario of the 1st Libyan Divison, Piscatori of the 2nd Libyan, Merzari of the 4th Blackshirt.
Queensland families remember their Italian POW workers telling little of the fighting, but many a comment was made about one aspect of their capture. While they tolerated the Australian and British soldiers confiscating their watches, they were resentful that the Allies took their personal photographs from them.
Captured at Tobruk 22nd January 1941, Antonino Lumia reflected, “When the English and the Australians arrived… to our captain… they confiscated the watch, his binoculars… his belt and his weapon. All our watches were confiscated. To some soldiers their wallets, personal photographs. We walked towards their lines.”
Fighting in the desert was never a picnic. Soldiers were parched, water and food scare, they battled sandstorms which blocked their vision and suffered extreme cold at night.
Newspapers of the day offer an insight into this desert war and souveniring:
“One batch of prisoners rounded up in a wire enclosure must have numbered about 3,000. Here I spoke with a 24 year old infantryman who was a waiter in Rome until conscripted for the army six months ago. He told me, “I did not want to fight but had no choice. None of the men you see here have had enough to eat in the last fortnight. The daily ration is a tin of bully beef to each two men, soup and a loaf of bread. We are glad it is over.”
“Lots of us are wearing new Italian boots and they are very comfortable. Some boys are wearing captured socks and black shirts – in fact, by the time it is finished we will be a motley crew all right.”
6th January 1941 BARDIA, LIBYA. Driver Morrison of the Photographic Unit rummages around the Italian Infantry positions and finds a new pair of pants. Discarded boots, weapons and personal papers are strewn over the area. (AWM Image 005316 photography Frank Hurley)
“It was funny a couple of days ago; we were resting beside our gun when we saw a half dozen blue-clad figures strolling over the horizon toward us. When they reached us they made us understand that they were lost, having become separated from the rest of the herd. [POWs] We promptly directed them on the right track and after giving us a decent Fascist salute they proceed on their way – unescorted.”
“Wine and cigars were among the luxuries the Australians captured from the Italians at Bardia.”
Bardia. 1941-01-03. Pile of provisions and clothing on the ground after an Italian Quartermaster Store was destroyed by the Allies. Note the soldier in the background, possibly from 2/2nd Battalion, with a large cloth, possibly a captured banner. (Original housed in AWM Archive Store)
“We went into action singing Waltzing Matilda and The Wizard of Oz. The Italians just couldn’t understand the mentality of soldiers marching into battle against a numerically superior foe with a song on their lips. They were completely demoralised.”
“As soon as we got within 50 to 100 yards from the Italians with our bayonets glistening in the sun, they threw down their rifles and raised their hands. Some of the prisoners said afterwards that the surprise that they felt when they heard us singing was heightened by the grim look on our faces. They told us, ‘We Italians sing when we are happy: never before have we heard men singing and looking so serious!’ ”
“The Italian officers did themselves well… dugouts furnished with chests of drawers containing full dress uniforms, silk dressing gowns, and colourful pyjamas. There were bathrooms with full sized baths. There were bottles of wine, embossed stationery, cameras, quantities of patent medicines and crockery in addition to uncounted quantities of valuable technical equipment such as wireless sets and replacements, field telephones and Breda automatic guns and rifles. Today there is probably no single Italian tunic in a Bardia dugout which still has a badge or shoulder strap. Men are wearing Italian boots and breeches and using Italian blankets. Souveniring has been carried to such an extent that much of the booty must be abandoned because it will overload the battalion transports.”
5th January 1941 BARDIA, LIBYA. The boys of the 2/2nd Battalion, now in occupation of Bardia, celebrate their entry into the Italian strong hold with a feast of captured food, wine and cigars. (AWM Image 004906, photographer Frank Hurley)
Looting or Larrikinism
Craig Stockings wrote in detail about the revelry of Australia soldiers after the Battle of Bardia.Bardia Captured illustrates the surrender of Bardia. The following is an extract from his book, Bardia.
“After the guns fell silent the dusty yellow landscape in and around Bardia was littered with the remnants of the defeated Italian force. Papers blowing on the wind caught on broken vehicles, scaterred weapons, abandoned guns, piles of stores, and long columns of prisoners heading south.” Litter in Libya films these images.
27th December 1940 NEAR BARDIA – More of the many thousands of Italian prisoners captured during the Battle of Bardia. (AWM Image 004911 NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).
“Much of the spontaneous Australian carousing was innocent enough. Many soldiers who found themselves close to Bardia’s beaches, for example, stripped their grimy clothes and dashed into the Mediterranean to wash clean the filth of combat. A severe flea infestation …to sup baths, shave and establish their own hairdressing salon. Where caches were discovered Australian troops feasted on Italian rations and smoked Italian cigarettes. Many platoon vehicles were soon weight down with cases of tuna, preserves and a variety of tinned veal and pasta meals. In some areas the nature of the boot surprised those who stumbled upon it… ‘all sorts of queer clothing ,silk underwear both male and female, lots of scents and hair pomades. Eau-de-cologne… was a great favourite….
5th January 1941 BARDIA. “The Knights of Bardia” – Colonels for the Day. Dressed in captured Italian finery, men of the A.I.F. react to their sweeping victory. (AWM Image 004913 NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).
Not all celebratory activities were as innocent… particularly drunkenness, looting and dangerous larrikinism.. A barrel of captured wine was placed on a nearby truck and competitors drank mug for mug until only one man was left standing. As one witness recounted, the ‘camp was a mess with three parts of the platoon lying drunk in heaps of spew and vomit’. .. too much Italian cognac…
Bardia, Libya. 1941-01-04. An Italian prisoner of war (POW) is watched by some of his friends as he siphons wine from a barrel into his mouth while lying beside the barrel. Note the Italian camouflaged ground sheet rigged as a shelter on the left. The prisoners of war were under the supervision of members of 2/2nd Battalion. (AWM Image P02038.083 Original housed in AWM Archive Store)
Another distasteful post-battle pastime was the systematic robbery of Italian prisoners. As its most innocent this manifested as an informal type of resupply. Almost every member… acquired at least one Italian pistol, officers helped themselves to Italian binoculars, which were superior to their British equivalents. More concerning was the illegal theft of personal items… Shortly after the battle, he [one soldier] had ‘pockets full of money, wedding rings, some mother of pearl inlaid pistols and some flash fountain pens’, as well ‘had watches up both arms’… The same man later reminisced that for many Australians guarding prisoner columns, ‘it was like having an open go in a jewellery shop.’…
In one particularly atrocious incident, a soldier was tried at court martial (and found guilty) for tossing an Italian grenade into a prisoner cage, seriously wounding five unarmed Italians.
23rd April 1941 TOBRUK. Birds of a feather stuck together in a common cage, German and Italian prisoners captured round about Tobruk by the Australian forces holding the town and surrounding country. (AWM Image 007482, Negative by F Hurley)
Once captured, Italian prisoners of war were impounded in temporary caged compounds in the deserts of North Africa. They were then taken to Egypt and processed. Each prisoner of war was given a M/E number (Middle East) and a card was sent to the families notifying them that their son or husband or father was a prisoner of war. From Egypt they were sent around the world: South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada and USA.
Costanzo Melino’s journey took him to India and then to Australia. He worked on a farm in the Gympie district before being repatriated to Italy. He returned to Australia post-war, sponsored by his Gympie employer, his family joined him and eventually they settled in northern NSW.
Costanzo Melino was captured at Bardia on 4th January 1941.
Costanzo Melino remembers:
Forty-seven thousand Italians were taken prisoner of war by the 8th Battalion of English under General Wavell. Our General at that time was Annibale Bergonzoli. My captain was Alberto Agostinelli. We were taken to internment camps by foot. We were given little to eat or drink.
Italian prisoners Mersa Matruh getting their water tank filled. They were allowed half a gallon per man per day.” Image from a large album of 86 pages containing 1858 photographs associated with the service of Lieutenant Robert Otto Boese
(Australian War Memorial, Image P05182.012)
In February 1941, we were sent to Port Said in the Suez Canal and the following month to Bombay where the heat was unbearable and many Italians died of heat exhaustion.
These camps were well run by the English. We were given baths and we had Indian cooks. There were toilets and we were fed well although we all got sick as we were not used to the English diet. After this the English asked us to cook our own meals which we did gladly, making our own tagliatelle and gnocchi from the flour. There were at least three thousand prisoners divided ingroups of one hundred. We were counted twice a day. We were fenced in and surrounded by armed guards so that we could not escape.
Original tent camp 1941 Bangalore Italian Prisoners of War
(Maddy’s Ramblings maddy06.blogspot.com.au )
Having nothing else to do, a lot of prisoners devoted their time to study. I studied Italian and English. We didn’t stay in the one place for long in India. We were constantly moved and constantly guarded by Indian soldiers. The German prisoners were kept separate to us. When the Italians surrendered to General Dwight David Eisenhower we were sent to Australia to work on farms. It appeared that the two million U.S. servicemen in Australia needed food. The U.S. headquarters was in Brisbane commanded by General Douglas MacArthur. It was the U.S. who commanded us in Australian as they had civil and military control.
The English in India said to us: “Now you’ve surrendered we are allies so now you’ll have to go to work to feed yourselves. You’ll be free in Australia and they’ll even pay you for your work”. Of course we were all happy, leaving the camps singing. However, as soon as we boarded the train we found the Indian soldiers hidden in the train and at the next stop we got off in our usual manner as prisoners of war. We were really only free when we got to Naples in 1947.