Tag Archives: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani No. 3 POW Labour Detachment

L’Amico del Prigionieri

Arthur Henry Patrick enlisted in the Australia Army 21st July 1941 and detached to Cowra Prisoner of War and Internment Camp. On 20th March 1942 he was detached to the 3 POW Labour Detachment. 

3 POW Labour Detachment is also known as No. 3 Labour Detachment Cook SA. A group of 300 Italian prisoners of war from Hay PW Camp were assigned to work in 6 railway camps along the Trans Australian Railway Line. This labour detachment was approved on 13th March 1942 and the first group of Italian prisoners of war arrived on 8th April 1942.

Arthur Henry Patrick was a young man of similar age to the Italian POWs, having been born in 1919*. He was assigned to Camp 1, also known as Camp 1 The Plains SA.

His family donated photographs and two items to the Australian War Memorial.  It is thanks to Arthur Patrick that we have photographs of one of the camps and an understanding of the impact this Australia soldier had on the Italians: “His family relates that he developed a good relationship with many Italian POWs while he was guarding prisoners helping to build the railway line across the Nullarbor Desert. Such was his rapport with the Italian prisoners that he was presented with two hand crafted items, a tank carved from part of a railway sleeper and a belt that had been plaited from 18 pairs of boot laces.”

1943 Studio portrait of NX148826 Private (Pte) Arthur Henry Patrick, 9 Works Company. Pte Patrick.

The plaited belt made from shoelaces is new information for this project.  The Australia War Memorial records: “This belt is associated with the service of NX148826 Private Arthur Henry Patrick. This belt was made from leather bootlaces by Italian prisoners of war working on the railways in South Australia during the Second World War. The belt was presented as a gift to Patrick as a sign of regard from the prisoners and is said to have been made from 18 pairs of their bootlaces. At the time, Patrick was stationed at ‘The Plains No.1’ internment camp six miles outside of Watson in South Australia, supervising prisoners working on the track there. He had enlisted with the Militia in July 1941 and initially served at the prisoner of war camp in Cowra. He was transferred to 3 POW Labour Detachment in March 1942 and served with them until September. It was probably during this period that he received this belt. Patrick transferred to the AIF in March 1943 and was discharged from service in March 1946.”

c1942 Brown leather plaited belt with brass buckle. There are six stud holes in the tongue of the belt which is crafted out of plain leather. On the inside of the tongue the wearer’s name – ‘ARTHUR PATRICK’ – is written in black marker.

The Italians were resourceful. With little in the way of possessions and money, they found ways to make gifts from everyday items.  This belt is one such example. 

I wonder if the Australian Quartermaster found it odd that 18 men were asking for new shoelaces.

*The records do not register a camp number for the Italians.  But the youthfulness of the group is evident by this sample: Gennaro Agrimi 1918, Luigi Agnello 1919, Armando Accica 1920, Natale Vitale 1920, Alfredo Mattero 1918, Sergio Barigarriz 1920, Giuseppe Bruno 1920.

One of the first and last…

Vincenzo Nigro from Tursi [Matera] was among the first group of Italian prisoners of war to arrive in Australia directly from Egypt: May 1941.

His Australian adventure began at a wharf in Sydney, most likely Pyrmont Wharves. Once disembarked the men were given a pannikin and an overcoat before boarding a train for Hay Camp. He was registered as No. 1305 on the Queen Mary list.

1941 ‘No title’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 27 May, p. 9. (CITY FINAL LAST MINUTE NEWS), viewed 21 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article186639501

Hay Camp’s first residents were Italian internees.  These internees departed Hay Camp to make way for the Italian prisoners of war. The photo below was taken in January 1942 in Camp 8. 

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Hay, camp No 8. Groupe de prisonniers de guerre italiens. World War II. Hay Camp. .

Hay Prisoner of War Camp 8 January 1942 (ICRC 1942 V-P-HIST-E-00239)

By 1942, there were c. 5000 Italian prisoners of war in Australia. Groups of men at Hay Camp were sent to Cowra Camp and Murchison Camp to assist with construction of these camps and additional buildings. 

Vincenzo was sent to No. 3 Labour Detachment Cook for maintenance work on the Trans Australian Railway line from South Australia to Western Australia. He worked seven months in one of the six subcamps but after a transfer to the Camp Hospital at Cook for rheumatism, he returned to Hay Camp in March 1943.

NAA: B300, 8247 Part 2 Employment of prisoners of war

Vincenzo was then sent to Yanco Camp. The prisoners of war worked on farms to produce vegetables for the allied forces.

Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle Galles du Sud, camp de Hay pour prisonniers de guerre italiens, détachement de Yanco. World War II.

Detachment at Yanco Camp 1.11.1944 ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00225

Vincenzo Nigro is in the back row, first left

Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 45349 Luigi Caputo; 45493 Vincenzo Diovisalvi; 45668 Antonio Lo Frano; 45344 Emanuele Chiruzzi; 48069 Francesco Fiore; 45590 Luigi De Luca; 45100 Giuseppe Blasi; 48201 Antonio Manzella; 45442 Nicola Donnadio and 46326 Vincenzo Nigro. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photographer Michael Lewicki

After a placment at Yanco Camp and a return to Hay Camp for hospital admission, Vincenzo was sent to work at N3 Kywong Hostel. This which was a firewood cutting labour detatchment. Kywong had replaced Riley’s Bend firewood camp. Trees were felled and firewood cut to supply the Hay prisoner of war camps. The photo below was taken at Riley’s Bend Hostel but is indicative of the type of facilities at Kywong Hostel.

RILEY’S BEND, HAY AREA, NSW. 1944-01-18. TENT LINES OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR (POWS) AT THE RILEY’S BEND FUEL CAMP, SOME TWENTY FIVE MILES FROM THE 16TH GARRISON BATTALION POW DETENTION CAMP. THESE TENTS HOUSE THE POWS WHO CUT FIEWWOOD FOR THE BASE CAMP. NOTE THE WELL KEPT GARDEN IN THE FOREGROUND. (AWM Image 063523 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Vincenzo’s last 13.5 months in Australia were spent at Cowra Camp from 28.11.45 to 10.1.47.  The war had ended; hostilities had ceased and talk of repatriation to Italy was a common conversation during those months.

Finally, on 10th January 1947, Vincenzo was on the Otranto when she departed Sydney for Naples. Vincenzo’s Australia journey had ended. 

He was amongst the first group to board; in this group were the last 448 Italian prisoners of war from New South Wales.

More Italians boarded at Melbourne and Fremantle making a total of 3709 Italian prisoners of war on the ship. The run to Naples was 27 days. 

Otranto (https://passengers.history.sa.gov.au/node/933331)

Italian POWs on the Nullarbor Plain

No. 3 P.O.W. Labour Detachment on Trans-Australian Railways

Parnell Robert Fliker

Sub Camp 6: Nurina

(photo by Robert Parnell, Flickr)

A special thank you to Malcolm Davis who brought to my attention information relating the Italian prisoners of war on the Nullarbor; the No. 3 Labour Detachment and providing me with links to information on this group of Italian P.O.W.s. Information from this article has been summarised from the file NAA: B300, 8247 Part 2 Employment of prisoners of war [ Trans Australian…]  in conjunction with information from SA Heritage Survey and photographs are from Robert Parnell.

Grazie mille to Malcolm Davis for this  rare photo of one of the POW camp sites across the Nullarbor. The photo was taken from the cab [cabin] of a loco [locomotive] in the 1950s.

Cook early 1950s

The establishment of No. 3 P.O.W. Labour Detachment was approved in March 42. The first group of Italian POWs arrived at HQ Cook on 8.4.42 and the last group departed from HQ Cook c. 15.10.43. The POW workforce was drawn from Hay PW Camp.

No 3 Labour Detachment Cook SA List of Names

Purpose:

“It is intended to employ the P’s O.W. laying sleepers and ballast on the Watson-Rawlinna Section (Approx 320 miles) of the Trans Australian Railways, and for this purpose six work camps will be established at intervals along the permanent way.  At each work camp there will be 2 N.C.O’s. and up to 16 guards, 20 railways workers in charge of a Head Ganger, and 50 to 60 Italian P’s.O.W., making a total strength at each camp of approximately 100.” Cook was established as the headquarters: HQ Cook with three subcamps in WA and three subcamps in SA.

13.3.42 Approval is given for the formation of No 3 P.O.W. Labour Detachment with Italian POWs drawn from Hay PW Camp NSW

300 POWs = 270 workers, 8 medical orderlies, 8 sanitary orderlies, 14 cooks

Allocation to 6 camps = 45 workers, 2 cooks, 1 medical orderly, 1 sanitary orderly = 49 POWs

5.4.42 Italian prisoners of war leave Hay PW Camp

8.4.42 Italian prisoners of war arrive at HQ Cook Camp for dispersal to six camps (not at stations) over 277 miles established along the railway line

Map

13.5.42 Concern over the scale of rations for AMF staff and POWs is raised.  Scale of rations was the same as that of Italian internees at Loveday.  It was considered inadequate considering the nature of work the POWs were undertaking.

16.5.42 Nine POWs arrive at Camp 13B Murchison: refusal to work (Giuseppe Copia, Emilio di Lallo, Vincenzo di Pietro, Luigi Di Micco, Stanislao Granata, Alfredo Mattera, Luigi Rossi, Antonio Renella, Cristoforo Toscano)

19.5.42 Antonio Renella. Stanislao Granata, Alfredo Mattera, Luigi Rossi and Cristoforo Toscano write  letters to Camp Commandant at Camp 13B  Murchison regarding their treatment. After refusing to work on the basis that they were not obliged under the International Convention [Geneva] to undertake work of a war nature, they endured 7 days of bread and water, were not allowed to take their personal possessions with them to detention, had tobacco, cigarettes, foodstuffs, letters and money confiscated, were threatened with bullet shots, rifles and bayonets in a menacing manner, were abused, insulted, being hit by AMF Captain, while in detention the water for personal hygiene was that that had been used to wash plates and utensils in the Australian camp.

1.6.42  Scale of rations for AMF staff and POWs is adjusted.

food June 42.jpg

2.6.42 Inspection Report submitted by Inspector POW and Internment Camps

From the report: “Nine men refused to work on the grounds that they would be assisting military operations, and that their families in Italy, and they themselves, on return after the war, would be subjected to retaliatory action.  They have been removed….”

“It is understood that the railway authorities are satisfied with the work being done by P.O.W., which they estimate at 60% to 70% of that performed by civilian fettlers.”

“Books and indoor games are available in all camps.  There is a radio set in each camp which is available to guard, P.O.W. and fettlers alike… Soccer balls are being obtained. On Sundays P.O.W. are permitted, under escort to hunt rabbits in the desert.  Provided proper precautions are observed, there would not appear to be any objection to this practice, which affords exercise and entertainment, and provides an appreciated addition to the rations.”

“Small railway tents and bunks are provided for guards and P.O.W. those seen were clean and in good order.  5 blankets per man are now available and will probably be needed during the winter months.”

“Guards, fettlers and P.O.W. share the same mess room [provided by the Railways]. In one case, a hessian partition had been erected.  Proper solid partitions should be erected in every camp.”

“Apart from the lack of accommodation, the Canteen Service appears to be adequate, under the circumstances.  The Canteen Sergeant, or his representative, travels by the weekly ration train, which enables him to spend a short time in each camp, during which he hands over bulk supplies to the Sergeant in charge and collects cash and tokens from him.  Actual sales are conducted by the Sergeant in each camp.”

“A ganger interviewed assured me that any sabotage to the line was impossible… I am by no means confident that he is right.”

“At one camp, a man became unintentionally lost in the desert after rabbitting.  After a search of several hours had proved unsuccessful, he found his way back to camp.  On the following night, two men escaped from the same compound and, after wandering around all night, returned to camp of their own volition.  It would not be impossible for a man to be lost in the desert and die of thirst.”

“It was suggested that any clergymen who might come to Cook from time to time, might be invited to visit the camps.  Nothing further seems practicable, except that I was informed in one camp that the P.O.W enjoyed listening to broadcasts of church services.”

“There is far too great a tendency to rely on the desert as providing all the security necessary.

5.6.42 Military Court of Inquiry begins for the purpose of “inquiring into and reporting on (a) the general administration of No 3 P W Labour Detachment (b) allegations regarding the intoxication of OC Detachment in the presence of members of the guard, P W and civilians; and (c) allegations that OC Detachment has used violence on a prisoner of war.” The above POW complaints were not under investigation.  Witnesses were AMF staff and Railway employees.  Captain Naughton was exonerated on all charges.

June 1942 There are 299 POWs attached to No. 3 Cook Labour Detachment

18.9.42 35 additional POWs arrive at Cook.  Fly menace and rabbit problem is raised.

31.1.43 PW numbers: 297 with 22 unfit and 12 others awaiting transfer to Hay.

12.2.43 Directive: one work camp to be vacated for accommodation of alien labour.

2.3.43 Camp 1 to shifts to 507 mile.

16.2.43 Imperative that Pw not be permitted contact with alien workers

25.2.43 Camp 6 (802 mile) closed.

11.3.43 28 Italian POWs are recommended on medical grounds to be returned to Hay.

18.3.45 Four Italian POWs are returned to Hay

March 43 Report-Camp 6 is closed and POWs distributed amongst remaining camps

18.3.43 24 Italian POW depart Cook for Hay

18.3.43 4 Italian POWs depart for Hay

Cook Numbers

15.4.43 45 Italian POWs are returned to Hay

May 43 200 POWs attached to Cook

15.5.43 Commonwealth Railways request to retain 4 subcamps.

20.5.43 Intention to vacate two more camps by 15.6.43 leaving 130 POWs working on the project.

26.5.43 Agreement made that the POW labour force would be replaced with men employed by the Civil Aliens Corps (in the majority, these men were released from internment and allocated to work for the Civil Aliens Corps)

15.6.43 Partial evacuation of 3 camps and 130 POWs; 44 returned to Hay; 42 returned to Hay

21.6.43 Camp 5 at 752 miles and Camp 4 at 682 miles are vacated.

21.6.43 44 Italian POWs leave Cook for Hay

23-24.6.43 44 Aliens arrive to replace POWs

24.6.43 42 Italian POWs leave Cook for Hay

1-3.7.43 52 Aliens arrived to replace POWs

15.8.43 Camp 3 vacated 56 POWs to Hay

16.8.43 Camp 2 vacated 56 POWs moved to Cook. Total strength at Cook = 4 AMF officers and 52 ORs; 56 PW

20.9. 43 Evacuation of Cook HQ is postponed

  1. 15.10.43 53 Italian POWs leave Cook for Adelaide

Geographic Location of Sub Camps and

Numbers of AMF Staff and POWs

June 42

Location of camp and subcamps for No.3 Labour Detachment Cook

2nd June 1942 Secret Report

Section of Trans Australia Railway along which the No.3 Labour Detachment Operated

Place names in bold correspond with place names on the map

WA

Rawlinna; Wilban; Haig; Nurina; LoonganaMundrabilla; Forrest

Reid; Deakin

WA-SA Border

SA

Hughes; Denman; Koonalda Block Point; Cook; Thomiar;

Fisher; O’Malley Block Point; Watson

Cook Plan

  Plan of Cook and POW HQ

Parnell Flicker.jpg

Sub Camp 6: Nurina

(photo by Robert Parnell, Flickr)