Tag Archives: Prisoners of War Repatriation

Repatriation to Italy 1943

Salvatore Targiani’s journey as a prisoner of war is unusual.

He arrived in Sydney Australia on the Queen Elizabeth 15th October 1941 and departed from Sydney 29th March 1943.

When Salvatore was captured at Bardia, he had been serving with the 17th Hygiene Unit for 18 months.

This information is key to Salvatore’s arrival and repatriation.

When the Queen Elizabeth arrived in Sydney, a newspaper reported:

“Some of the prisoners were ill and they were carried in stretchers to military ambulances and taken to hospital”.

Salvatore’s experience as an orderly/health worker in Libya no doubt continued to be utilised in the camp hospitals in Egypt, on the Queen Elizabeth to Australia and on the repatriation ship.

Although Salvatore did not talk about his war years and he did not work in the health industry after the war, his grandson Salvatore Di Noia agrees with these thoughts about his nonno. Medical orderlies were classed as ‘protected personnel’.****

Salvatore Targiani

(photo courtesy of Salvatore Di Noia)

The Oranje left Sydney on 29th March 1943. Salvatore was on this ship, which arrived in Suez Egypt 18th April 1943.

Oranje had first arrived in Sydney March 1941.  It was converted to a hospital ship and during the war made 41 voyages from Australia and New Zealand to the Middle East transporting Australian and New Zealand wounded. She was the largest hospital ship operating from Australia.

She was painted white with a green band around her hull. Three red crosses were painted on each side of the ship as well, red crosses were painted on her funnels.

21 August 1941 The Dutch hospital ship Oranje off the Western Australian coast in 1941, shortly after the completion of its conversion as a hospital ship. The red crosses and green stripes on the white hull were meant to be a conspicuous reminder to enemy vessels of its non-combatant role. The ship evacuated wounded Australian soldiers from the Middle East. (AWM 302809)

In 1943, the Italian prisoners on Oranje were part of a Mutual Repatriation Scheme.

This was a mutual exchange arrangement between Great Britain and Italy. At Suez, this group of wounded, sick and protected personnel was handed over to a British Escort. The group were then taken by train to Alexandria then ship to Smyrna Turkey.

Archived documents provide the following informing regarding the number of Italian prisoners of war on this transport:

Protected Personnel: 92 officers and 455 other ranks = 547

Medical Cases: 38 officers and 37 other ranks = 75

Total number repatriated: 622

The following items were noted regarding the voyage:

Concerned Italian prisoners of war were concentrated at Cowra before embarkation.

Funds are provided from Ship’s Imprest Account to enable Italians to make canteen purchases.

NSW Division of Australian Red Cross Society provided Red Cross stores for use on the journey.

Arrangements were made for free issue of cigarettes and/or tobacco to Italian prisoners of war other ranks at the same scale as camp issue.

One Chaplin (RC) was included with the escort to administer to the prisoners of war.

The Apostolic Delegate was permitted to inspect the prisoners of war after embarkation.

(NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1)

In June 1941, the Netherlands government officially handed over to the Australian and New Zealand governments, the ocean liner Oranje, for the duration of the war. It was fully equipped as a hospital ship and shown here is the interior of one of the wards showing rows of neatly made beds. (AWM 008035)

The following photos are from the 8th May 1943 exchange at Izmir [Smyrna].

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. La “Città di Tunisi”.

Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03230-14A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Grands blessés italiens sur le ponton qui les transportera jusqu’au “Gradisca”.

Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03230-15A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Des italiens sont déposés sur le ponton qui les amènera au bateau “Gradisca”.

Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03229-34A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Personnel protégé britannique en direction du “Tierea”, bateau britannique à l’arrière plan.

Exchange of Prisoners of War 8.5.43 Izmir (ICRC VP-HIST-03230-05A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Personnel protégé.

Exchange of Prisoners of War Izmir 8.5.43 (ICRC VP-HIST-03230 10A)

Guerre 1939-1945. Izmir. Echange italo-britannique de prisonniers de guerre grands malades et blessés à l’aide de deux hôpitaux-navires. Grands blessés italiens sur le ponton qui les transportera jusqu’au “Gradisca”.

Exchange of Prisoners of War Izmir 8.5.43 (ICRC VP-HIST-03230 13A)

****

(NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1)

There were three Mutual Repatriation exchanges from Smyrna in 1943: 14-19th April 1943; c. 5-8th May 1943 and 2-3 June 1943. The April exchange is part of a facebook post for the ICRC: https://www.facebook.com/ICRCArchives/ One Day in History 19th April 1943.

Sailing Home

Ormonde 3

The Ormonde departed from Sydney on 31st December 1946.  The official army records record that 2231 Italian prisoners of war were on the boat: 52 officers and 2179 ordinary ranks.  A group of 1992 Italian POWs came from the Liverpool Prisoner of War & Internment Camp in Sydney, as the above form highlights.

If your father or grandfather was repatriated to Italy on the Ormonde then you will find this file very interesting as it contains a list of the Italians on this ship:

[Repatriation of Italian Prisoners of War per Ormonde 24.12.1946] [0.5cm; box 9] Series numberSP196/1 Control Symbol 10 PART 16

The file can be found at the National Archives of Australia   Find : Search the Collection and click on Go to Record Search. Enter the words repatriation Ormonde and you will be taken to the file.

I will explain a little about these National Archives files.  The two personal files for every Italian prisoner of war in Australia, are available, free of charge.  Other files like the file for the Ormonde is free to view because someone has paid for a copy.  When this happens, the file is then available free to everyone.  There are files for other repatriation ships eg Alcantara, Otranto, Chitral.  You can view them if you visit the National Archives of Australia in Sydney.  Or you can pay for a copy of the file and help other Italian families.

The newspaper photo below holds a clue to the journey of the Italian prisoners of war.  The men boarded at Pyrmont Wharf in Sydney. Captain Morgan mentions Di Biasi, a former Fiat mechanic in the article below.  The man mentioned is Benvenuto De Biasi, born in Belluno and resident of Genoa.  Is the man’s surname Di Biasi or De Biasi?  The newspaper article states Di Biasi and his record has De Biasi.

 

Farewell Ormonde

Ormonde. - Copy

1946 ‘Australian Guards Farewell Italians’, The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 24 December, p. 2. (LATE FINAL EXTRA), viewed 17 Jan 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229545602

The Ormonde docked at Fremantle in Western Australia and boarded 20 more Italians. Worthy of note was that there were Italian Lieutenants onboard.

These newspaper articles are available from Australia’s archived newspaper website: Trove .  This is another excellent resource.  There are ways to ‘refine’ your search eg decade, years.  If you search Italian prisoners of war, this title is too general.  It would be difficult to navigate if you do not know English.  I know I would have difficulty searching databases in Italian.

Ormonde

1946 ‘Road Back’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 31 December, p. 6. (HOME EDITION), viewed 17 Jan 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article78214705

My research has been about finding the pieces of the puzzle and putting them all together. Documents, photos, newspaper articles, stories and memories are very important in recording this history in a context:  footprints of Italian prisoner of war from the battlefields of Africa to Palestine to Egypt to India to Australia and return to Italy.

And another clue emerges: what pier did the Italians leave Melbourne from: Station Pier. Quite possibly it was also the place where the Italians arrived into Melbourne Australia in 1943 – 1945.

Ormonde Kissing Flag

1946 ‘ITALIAN KISSES OUR FLAG’, Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), 28 December, p. 1. , viewed 17 Jan 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article171343636

Waiting to Go Home

With the war over, Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farms at the end of 1945 – beginning of 1946. With a sense of hope, they believed that they would be home in Italy within one or two months.  Many letters written to Queensland farmers from their ex POW workers talk of going home soon.

Reality was, that the majority of Italian prisoners of war were not repatriated until end of December 1946 – January 1947. Recalling 13,500 Italian prisoners of war into the POW and Interment camps came with logistical problems.  However, a number of Italian POWs were sent to army ordinance sites and training sites for a range of duties from ordinance maintenance, maintenance and improvements of camps, salvage work, vehicle maintenance.

N33 Hostel Nobby’s Road was one such site. Alan St John spoke with a number of Italians working there…

NOBBYS ITALIANS ARE NOT SO HAPPY

By Alan St. John

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW: 1876-1954), Saturday 28 September 1946, page 5

A TRUCKLOAD of red-uniformed Italians prisoners-of-war rolls westwards up Hunter Street.  They look interesting.  They smile, reveal flashing white teeth.  Their long, dark hair flicks with the wind and they seem carefree, even irresponsible.

To chat with the 36 Italians behind barb wire, I went to their camp at Nobbys this week.  They turned out to be interesting, but don’t let those happy smiles fool you.  They are not irresponsible.  These sallow-skinned Latins are worried men with a sterile past and a cloudy future.  About Christmas time they are due to go home.  They have to search for their people, to eat, to work and to seek stability in a country still heaving after the convulsions of war.

Corporal-major (an n.c.o. rank) Mario Dominelli has a thin face and steady, serious, dark eyes. He told me with emphasis: “We have nothing to be happy about.  We are penniless.  We have lost all our youth.  We will soon return to a strange home with 30 years and more on our shoulders to start with.”

Dominelli, 30, son of Milanese master carrier was impressed into the Italian Army three and a half years before the war.

There was no option about Dominelli’s becoming a soldier. Failure to attend the call-up would have resulted in a visit from a burly gendarme and possibly, in rough treatment.  The period of service was meant to be 18 months, but when war hove in sight, young men just were not released.

Dominelli served as a motor mechanic with tanks in Libya and was ‘caught’ by the Australian Desert Rats in 1941.  About two and a half years of his imprisonment he spent in India, but when Italy surrendered prisoners of war there were released on parole.  He had charge of 60 men.  When he came to Australia, he went behind barbed wire again.  He can not understand why, though it is all over now, he is still behind the wire.

“Australia is a fine country,” he said. “But I should be let out to see it.”

The serious Dominelli became graver at mention of his family. “My people – I have not heard of them for three years.”

ENGLISH LOOKING

A contrast to his fellows is Carlo Narboni, whose tall, straight figure, blonde hair, blue eyes and ruddy complexion could cause him to be taken for an Englishman.  A native of Tripoli, he was in the Italian army two years before the war, as an artilleryman.  He was one of thousands the Australians captured at Tobruk.

Narboni has seen something of Australia during his five years here, much of his time being spent on a farm at Coonabarabran.  Carlo is useful with his hands and, at Nobbys, has turned out an excellent carpenter.

Though his father and brother in Italy are trying to rehabilitate their big rope works in Padua, 27 – year-old Erminio Navarin, a Venetian who has been in uniform since 1938, wants to stay in Australia.  But arrangements to allow prisoners of war to remain here are still in the ‘talking’ stage, he has been told.  When he turned 18, Navarin failed to report for army service.  The breach cost his father a fine of about £7.

LITTLE MAN, BIG TRUCK

Another Nobbys prisoner attracted to Australian farming life is Gaetano Cavallaro, a 25-year-old native of Rovigo, near the ancient Italian city of Padua.  He has worked on farms at Murwillumbah and Tamworth.  Cavallaro, who was 18 when he joined the army, is only 5ft. 2 in tall and the camp dwarf.  He was driving a 35-ton Isooto Frashini army truck when he was cut off from his unit in Bardia.  He, too, was taken in charge by the Aussies.  He is keen to see his parents, four sisters and a brother, in  the town which he says is ‘something like Newcastle.’

At 46, Lorenzo Strambi, grey-haired and sombre, who entertains his Nobbys camp-mates with his guitar is a victim of circumstance.  Out of work, he left his native Genoa for Africa and became a quarry-worker in Addis Ababa.  War came; there was no transport to take him home so he was pushed into the army.  He has not seen his wife and 21 year old son for eight years, and this week he received a letter from his wife for the first time in four years.

GONDOLIER, TENOR

Nobbys other musical Italian is Crescenzio Catuogno who was a real Neapolitani gondolier.  His civilian job was to punt tourists around Naples Harbour in his gondola and, as an added attraction, entertain them with his fine tenor voice.

Nobbys Catuogno 3918936

Gondola Tenor: Crescenzio Catuogno standing at far right

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49305 E. Allunni; 46486 F. Palladino; 48249 G. Olivares; 46433 G. Polise; 49690 A. Rea; 45169 C. Catuogno. Front row: 49310 A. Argento; 49566 A. Di Pala; 49670 G. Joime; 45256 A. Ciancio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030148/10)

Marshalo (Warrant-Officer) Florentino left Nobbys recently with a nervous breakdown. [Domenico] Florentino was highly intellectual – a Bachelor of Economics, a chartered accountant, and holder of a first-class steamship master’s ticket.  The confinement of camp life got the better of his highly strung temperament, and he was sent south for special treatment.

Florentino failed to adapt himself to the life, as his comrades, who have worked out their own forms of expression. Some study trades, some read, and some make trinkets.  To finish off his cement garden ornaments, Angelo Fumagalli, even makes his own paint-oil mixed with soil, brick dust and pulverised Nobbys rock.  One of his creations is a model six-story building.

The prisoners go to Mass at Tighe Hill every Sunday.

Their food is good, and they make their own excellent macaroni.  In addition to a free ration of cigarettes (from a special fund), the Italians may buy six ounces of tobacco and three packets of papers a month.  They have their own currency: half pennies and pennies with their centres punched out, rated at 2/ and 5/. Pay for non-commissioned ranks is 1/3 a day.

But the prisoner of Nobbys are far from happy.  I don’t blame them. Carlo Narboni, the English-looking fellow, shrugs and explains: “Eat ees good here, and the capitani he is a gentleman.  But if you have been a soldier, you will understand: we have been away from home a too long time.”

Nobbys Florentino 3872124

Domenico Florentino: Happier Times at Liverpool Camp before he was transferred to Nobbys Camp

LIVERPOOL PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNMENT CAMP, NSW 1945-11-21. DOMINIC FLORENTINO (LEFT), THE CAMP LEADER, AND FORTUNATO PALLADINO, THE SECOND IN CHARGE OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR. LIVERPOOL PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNMENT CAMP, NSW 1945-11-21. DOMINIC FLORENTINO (LEFT), THE CAMP LEADER, AND FORTUNATO PALLADINO, THE SECOND IN CHARGE OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR.

(PHOTOGRAPHER L. CPL E. MCQUILLAN; AWM)