Tag Archives: Prigionieri di guerra italiani Libya

Miracoli di Internet!

 

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 (1)

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 (3)

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.

A Amante standing first left

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 (2)

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.

Angelo Amante (4)

Angelo Amante

(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.

POW Paperwork Trail

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.

A special sincere grazie to Vitoronzo Pastore for his permission to reproduce the documents relating to Donato Lorusso and Lorenzo Illuzzi.  Members of the Associazione Italiana Colleczionisti Posta Militare have been most helpful in my quest to find prisoner of war letters for Italians who were in Australia and Queensland in particular.

  1. 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.

Notification Egypt Prisoner of War

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

2. 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.

Mike White Worldwide Postal History

2. Notification of  Transfer to India

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.

India

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

3. 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.

Torrese India Pink

(NAA: A 7919, C99078 Isaia Torrese)

India: Envelope containing POW photos for prisoners of war – Bangalore

Santolini Bangalore envelope

(NAA: A7919, C104104 Gino Santolini)

India: ID photograph

Italian POW Rossi Pith Helmet

(NAA: A7919, C100451 Italo Rossi)

India: Postcard

Postcard from India

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.

Migliori Canteen India

(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.

Trunono India Clothing Card

(NAA: A7919, C98805 Michele Truono)

4. 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.

Italian POW Transfer to Australia lluzzi

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

5. 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.

Service and Casulty Form Italian POW Pietro Romano

(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.

Brancato Salvatore Record of Property

(NAA: MP1103/2 Brancato, Salvatore PWIX66245)

Australia: Medical History Sheet

Each Italian prisoner of war was medically examined upon arrival in Australia.

Medical History

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

Australia: Agreement to work on farms

Italian prisoners of war volunteering for farm work, completed the form below.

Costa F agreement to work

(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)

Letter 13

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.

Letter 2

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.

CArd 1943 Natale

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.

Baris Orazio Medical Committe form

(NAA:A7919, C101259 Baris, Orazio)

Australia: Financial Statement of Account

Upon repatriation, a Statement of Account was presented to the prisoners of war.  Exactly how this money was paid to the POWs is unknown.  The financial settlement as below was settled the day before repatriation.

Statement of Accounts

 Statement of Account: Umberto Confrancesco

6. Back in Italy

Once in Naples, the Italian prisoners of war were accompanied by their Australia guards onshore.  The POWs were delivered to Army Headquarters and necessary paperwork including medical records were handed over.  The Australians were given a receipt for their prisoners.

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″.

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, the POWs were registered and given two weeks leave together with a payment of 10,000 lire.  Technically, they were still soldiers in the Italian Armed Services.

Discharge Giovanni Riboldi.jpg

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.”

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.

 

Riboldi Declaration

Declaration: Distretto Militare di Tortona

(From “Guerra e Prigionia di Giovanni Riboldi”)

il soldato Palagianellese

 

Ferulli

Domenico Ferulli

(photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)

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:***

Ferulli Domenico.

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!

V-P-HIST-03468-24.JPG

Camp No. 8 Prisoner of War Camp India: Preparation of Vegetables

(ICRC V-P-HIST-03468-24)

To Palestine…

Every day there is new history to be learnt. What was the status quo regarding Italian prisoners of war in December 1940 and January 1941? Probably, strategic planning and availability of sites would have determined the flow of prisoners.  Which groups of Italian prisoners of war were sent to Egypt and which group of prisoners went to Palestine?

Sidi el Barrani Italian prisoners of war were sent to Palestine and ‘some’ Bardia Italians joined them.  With 38,300 Italian captured at Sidi el Barrani and thousands of allied army forces marshalling in Egypt, for the continued assault westward through Libya, these first prisoners were sent to Palestine. [Palestine was a Protectorate of the British Government: British Mandate of Palestine] Latrun Prisoner of War camp was constructed in three days.

Paolo Reginato records in his libretto some details of his time from Sidi el Barrani to Latrun Palestine:

I was taken prisoner [11 December 1940] with almost the entire division.  For 4 days we stayed in the desert (four days to remember), on the 15th [December] we left in column towards Marsa Matruh and on the 16th we left for Alexandria, here we stayed until 21st day when I was transported to the port and I was embarked.  On the Egiziano Ethiopia ship we left for Palestine and on the 24th we arrived in Haifa where we also passed ‘il bel giorno di Natale’. On the 30th we left and arrived in Latrum [Latrun] to a great concentration camp where we remained until 14th June 1941.

Australian war photographer Damien Peter Parer and Frank Hurley captured the events described by Paolo Reginato through the lens of  their cameras and newspaper articles recount the movements of Italian POWs:

Column of Italian Soldiers: Sidi el Barrani

Sidi Barrani to Sollum13th 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 Image 004436 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

Arrival at Alexandria Egypt

Alexandria

31st December 1940 Alexandria, Egypt. Italian prisoners being put ashore from an RAN destroyer.(AWM Image 005002/05 Photographer Damien Peter Parer)

Arrival at Haifa Palestine

The featured photo also records the arrival of Italian Prisoners of War to Haifa including the injured:[ 20th December 1940 HAIFA – A BRITISH CORPORAL AND A PRISONER ASSIST A SLIGHTLY DISABLED PRISONER TO THE TRAIN. (AWM Image 004607 NEGATIVE BY D. PARER)].

20 December first meal in Haifa

20th December 1940 HAIFA, PALESTINE. AUSTRALIAN TROOPS DISHING OUT ITALIAN PRISONERS’ FIRST MEAL IN PALESTINE. (AWM Image 004605 NEGATIVE BY DAMIEN PARER).

Haifa to Latrun via Yesodot

Italian POWs, captured by the British in North Africa, arrive at Wadi Sarar [name of train station] in Palestine near Yesodot. Latrun is 14 km east of Wadi Sara [Wady Sarar] train station.  Alighted from trains, the Italian prisoners of war were fed.  They were then assembled and from the photographic records, it appears that they walked to Latrun.  Injured POWs were loaded in ambulances.

20925u.jpg

Contrary to popular belief, winter in Palestine can be quite cold; both Italians and British are wrapped in their winter coats. Wady Sarar  Dec 21, 1940. [Library of Congress Matson Collection: Eric and Edith Matson]

12 Wady Sarar

21st December 1940 Men Eating on Ground Wady Sarar [Library of Congress Matson Collection: Eric and Edith Matson]

15 Wady Sarar

21st December 1940 Men Gathered in a Field Wady Sarar [Library of Congress Matson Collection: Eric and Edith Matson]

To Latrun Palestine

Information about the Prisoner of War camp at Latrun is scare.  Without Paolo Reginato’s mention of Latrum [Latrun], it is doubtful the location of this camp would be known. [Notice the absence of town name in the articles below.]  In 1940, Latrun was used for 3 months as a training camp for Polish soldiers. It is better known for a series of battles between  Israel Defense Forces and the Jordanian Arab Legion in 1948.

Haifa 1

1940 ‘ITALIAN PRISONERS.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 26 December, p. 5. , viewed 24 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47299778

Palestine

1940 ‘Drawing In On Bardia’, The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), 23 December, p. 1. , viewed 24 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248827242

Christmas Mass In Jerusalem 1940

The distance between Latrun and Jerusalem is 35 km.

Xmas Mass

1941 ‘Italian Prisoners Hear Christmas Mass in Jerusalem.’, Catholic Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1932 – 1942), 17 April, p. 13. , viewed 24 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146369616

Capture…what next and where to!

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.”

Sidi El Barrani.jpg

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.

1940 Water

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.

1940 supplies

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).

Some were shipped to Marsa Matruh (Mersa Matruh) and entrained to Alexandria: Film footage of the Italians on trains 

Mersha Merah

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.

Eypt POW onboard troopship 1940

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.

Geneifa POW Camp AWM 2

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.

Edmondo Mazzinghi Testimonial Yol-La mia avventura: is in Italian and includes numerous photos for his journey.

Canal Zone Camps

It was 1941 and those sent to Australia did not return home until January-February 1947.

Map 2

Marsa Matruh… Alexandria…Port Said…Ismailia…Suez…

(from Google Maps)

 

the words of an Italian soldier

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.

libretanono1Libretto 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 dring, 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.

Newsreel: Fall of Sidi Barrani

From Second World War Official Histories, Volume 1 – to Benghazi (AWM):

Sidi El Barrani from Chapter Six Victory at Barrani AWM

Naval ships were to shell the Maktila positions on the night before the attack, [8] 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 frenades or blasing machine guns in futile belavour of 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 withouth 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 reisatance and by 4.40 Sidi Barrani had fallen.

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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 oive-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.

Sidi el Barrani Italian dispositions

Sidi El Barrani

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Desert War

Stories from the Desert

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.”

boots and pants

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.” 

quartermaster stores

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.”

004906 Liquor and cigareets

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.

4091136.JPG

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….

004913 Knights of Bardia

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…

3999636

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.

Tobruk POW CAge

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)