Tag Archives: Queen Mary Italian POWs

1941 The Journey from Egypt to Australia

Did your father or grandfather arrive in Australia during 1941 on the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth?

I have spent a number of hours this week, walking in the footsteps of Gunner George Davidson Mackie of the Australian 2/1 Anti-Aircraft Regiment.

The diaries of Mackie have been digitalised by the Australian War Memorial and available for viewing: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C2662639

Mackie’s journey is the same journey as the Italian prisoners of war who sailed to Australia in 1941; only in the reverse. Mackie travels from Sydney to Port Tewfik on the Queen Mary which was in convoy with the Queen Elizabeth and Acquitania

As Mackie explains segments of his journey, it is easy ‘to see’ the journey of the Italian prisoners of war in 1941.

 Australia’s first Italian prisoners of war boarded the Queen Mary in Suez 7th May 1941 and arrived in Sydney 25th May 1941. 

Mackie boarded the Queen Mary on her return voyage from Sydney to Suez: 29th June 1941 to 25th July 1941.

The Queen Mary disembarks the Australian troops one day and the next day embarks Italian prisoners of war and Australian troops for the return voyage to Australia: Suez 26th July 1941 to Sydney 16th August 1941.

Mackie’s diary gives insight into life on the Queen Mary from its closely slung hammocks, beautiful timbered panels in the corridors, stifling heat, ‘jack up’ [hunger strike] by soldiers, the bugle calls, the Queen Mary newspaper: QM Daily, ‘two up’ games [coin toss gambling game] and the heavy seas and seasick men.

c. June 1941 QUEEN MARY AND QUEEN ELIZABETH PASSING (AWM Image 007960)

Mackie describes the farewell out of Sydney Harbour Heads, the tumultuous seas across the Great Australian Bight, refuelling at Fremantle, the sights and sounds of Trincomalee (Ceylon), the passage through the Bab al Mandab Straits (Gate of Tears), disembarking at Port Tewfik, a walk through the French Quarter at Suez and a train journey along the Suez Canal. 

The Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth [Lizzie] and the Acquitania travel in convey with the ‘HMAS Australia’ as the guard ship. Mackie comments that the convey is taking 17,000 troops to the Middle East.

29 April 1919 The battle cruiser HMAS Australia passing through the swing bridge on the Suez Canal. Some of the ships crew can be seen on deck and part way up the mast. A row boat is in the foreground. (AWM B03031 Oswald Hillam (Ossie) Coulson)

Mackie expresses that sense of majesty of the convoys of WW2 and the imminent danger.  The ‘valiant old Acquitania’ slips in the heavy seas while ‘out front and playing submarines, the Australia still keeps guard while she rolls and tosses to the fury of the sea.’ [playing submarines: disappears under the waves]

Once in Egypt, Mackie feels as if he comes face to face with characters from every book he has read and every film he has seen and feels as if he is living inside The Arabian Nights. He describes the sights, sounds, smells and colours of this foreign country.

On Sunday 27th July 1941, Mackie writes:

Moved from Suez 10am Saturday. Marched from camp to the railway with full kit and bags about a mile.  The train’s maximum speed was 25 miles per hour. It was the least boring trip I have had. Every 100 yards contained something of interest. The strangest of all I think was to see natives in ones, twos of little parties appearing in the desert with a pack on their heads, coming apparently form nowhere and going nowhere.

Little native villages appeared now and again. Just little mounds of mud.

There was a great prison camp with thousands of Italian prisoners.  They were all pretty well dressed and the officers (who were as numerous as the ordinary ranks) look quite decent and very clean and tidy.  They all made Fascist salutes and made signs of shooting us, cutting our throats and so on.  We cursed them loudly in good old Aussie swear words.  It was done however with a great deal of smiling and grinning on both sides.

GINEIFA, EGYPT, 1941. PRISON CAMP AT GINEIFA, NOT FAR FROM SUEZ. TAKEN FROM PASSING TRAIN. (AWM Image P00237.056)

Then came the great Suez Canal and the Bitter Lakes.

PORT TEWFIK, EGYPT. 1942-02. TROOPS OF THE A.I.F. MARCHING TO THE DOCKS FOR EMBARKATION TO AUSTRALIA. (AWM Image 025659)

The road which runs along beside the canal was continually carrying military transport. Along the canal banks are military posts which are mostly A/A. These posts are manned to a great extent by Indian Troops.  To add interest to the canal there was the shipping.  Modern liners sliding down between the sand and ancient sail boats.

A British Aerodrome with dozens of Hurricanes was another sight worth seeing along side this is a huge base dump.

The whole country appears to be a huge camp.

Next to the dump is a Native Labour Camp.  This stretches over many acres.  It is a curious looking camp as the tents are dug down into the sand for coolness and coloured the same for camouflage.

The aerodrome and hangers are completely the colour of sand while all motor vehicles are camouflaged in various colours.

WESTERN DESERT, EGYPT. 1942-10. NEW CAMOUFLAGED TANKS BEING TRANSPORTED TO THE FRONT ON TRAILERS. NOTE THE COMPARISON OF SIZE WITH THE STAFF CAR ALONGSIDE. (AWM Image 025167)

Photos are used for illustrative purposes. Only the photo of the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth are relevant to Mackie’s voyage.

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)

Voices from the Past

At the beginning of this project, I had a wish list.  It was a simple list: to find one Queenslander who remembered the Italian prisoners of war and to double the number of photos of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland.  The only three photos in the public domain which feature our Queensland POWs  are housed in the John Oxley Library.

My wish list  for one story and three photos has been exceeded many times over.

BUT  I had never expected to find the testimonies of Italians about their time as prisoners of war. This project is honoured to have these testimonies as part of its collection.

 Antonino Lumia’s  story is told in more depth in A Voice from the Past, Fighting in North Africa and Capture.Surrender.Imprisonment .  His grandson Damiano Lumia recorded his grandfather’s memories over 40 years ago ensuring that the voice of the Italian soldier can be heard and that his experiences are not forgotten.

Lumia.JPG

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR HAVING A MEAL IN THEIR MESS AT NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. PICTURED ARE: 46007 ANTONIO LUMIA (1); 45824 BRUNO GALLIZZI (2); 46734 ALMO STAGNARO (3); 48355 GIUSEPPE ARRIGONI; (4); 45087 ANTONIO BACCIGALUPO (5); 46620 MICHELE RIZZO (6); 46626 EMILIO RUOCCO (7); 46635 FRANCO RONDELLI (8); 45900 ALESSANDRO IANNOTTA (9).

(AWM, Image 063371 McInnes, Geoffrey)

Costanzo Melino’sstory is part of a book written and published by his daughter Rosa Melino “Anzaro: The Home of My Ancestors”.  Captured… On the Move and Captured at Bardia share the everyday details of life as a young Italian soldier.  Costanzo returned to Australia after the war with his family following later. Life as a soldier was difficult but life as a ‘new’ Australian presented many challenges for the Melino family.

Q3 Gympie Italian prisoner of war Melino Costanzo

Costanzo Melino c 1940

(photo courtesy of Rosa Melino)

Ferdinando Pancisi is 100 years old and living and working in a tiny village Civorio in Alta Romagna.  Tim Dwyer (ex Boonah) arranged for Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti to visit Ferdinando (Ferdy) in October 2017.  His memories were recorded on 21st October 2017. They offer a stoic perspective on life, war, death and imprisonment.  Ferdy had worked on the farm of Pat Dwyer Fassifern via Boonah and for over 70 years the Dwyer family have corresponded with Ferdy.  At first it was Pat Dwyer, then his wife Joie and recently son Tim.  This is a special family connection and legacy.  Against all odds, Tim arranged for Ferdy to be interviewed so that his ‘voice’ will never be silenced.

Ferdy.Anna.Tim.Ferdy

Anna Pancisi, Tim Dwyer and Ferdinando Pancisi

(photo courtesy of Cathy Dwyer)

Angelo Valianteis a well known and much respected resident of the Stanthorpe district.  His story is recorded in a book, newspapers and a mural painting.  Seizing an opportunity and an offer to have an interview filmed, I travelled with Ann Megalla to Stanthorpe in October 2017 to talk with Angelo about his time as a prisoner of war.

Stanthorpe.Valiante

Angelo Valiante – Mural by Guido van Helten : Stanthorpe

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Memories Crafted in Wood

Two Italian prisoners of war were taken to the farm of JB Townsend (Jack) at Glen Alpin via Stanthorpe on the 14th March 1944. While the archiving of files relating to Italian prisoners of war is a little ad hoc, once you find the documents, one realises that the Army clerks did keep immaculate records.

Stanthorpe Glen Alpin

Movement of Prisoner of War

(NAA: BP242/1, Q43299)

Both Isidoro De Blasi and Rosario Morello (Marello) came to Australia onboard the first transport of Italian POWs, the Queen Mary* arriving in Sydney on the 27th May 1941.  They were in the first group of 2016 Italian POWs to take up residence at Hay PW & I Camp.

Isidoro De Blasi was a barber from Alcamo Trapani and Rosario Morelli was a baker from Militello in Val di Catania.

Esme Colley (nee Townsend) remembers the men and snippets of memories about their time living on their Glen Aplin farm.  She recalls the rings that were made from Australia coins, the fox that was skinned and left in the river for 3 days to soften (and was later made into a delicious stew), the Italian family behind them who befriended these Italian workers and Rosario who later returned to the Stanthorpe district with his family.

Rosario continues to be remembered by the Townsend family because he returned to the Stanthorpe district post war, but he also left the family with tangible mementos: three items crafted in wood. The turret of the tank rotates, and motifs of angels, lions and Australian wildlife adorn the wooden gifts. And carefully carved in timber are the words Camp 8 HAY, Morello R. P.O.W.

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 Wooden Items carved by Rosario Morello

(Photos courtesy of Esme Colley (nee Townsend))

Rosario Morello’s story is part of Echoes of Italian Voices: Family Histories from Queensland’s Granite Belt written by Franco and Morwenna ArcidiaconoExtract from ‘The Morello Family’: When Rosario Morello was captured in Tobruk in north Africa he became a Prisoner of War (POW). He was subsequently sent to far off Australia and the course of his life changed forever.  In 1941, when Rosario arrived on these foreign shores he could not have imagined that Australia would become his home and the country where he would eventually raise his family.”  Sacrifices were made by Rosario, his wife Carmela and their children and in time hard work and saving of money had the family transition from labouring and renting to farm owners.  Within six years of Rosario’s return to Australia he owned his farm, cultivated scrub to increase farm yields and had built a new home for his family. In time, the farm became Red Rosella one of the Granite Belt’s large family vegetable growing enterprises.

 

De Blasi Isidoro in the photo

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: 46032 Raffaele Lomonaco; 46627 Giuseppe Restivo; 46007 Antonio Lumia; 45586 Isidoro De Blasi; 46206 Gaetano Mineo; 45360 Giuseppe Cannata; 45103 Leonardo Barbera; 45997 Pietro Lomonte; 46221 Antonio Rondi and 47999 Leonardo Ciaccio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030143/33 Photographer Lewecki)

Isidoro De Blasi is one of the men in the Hay photo.  At the time of the photo, he is 24 years old 5’ 6” and average build (150lbs at time of arrival in Australia). Like many of the Italian POWs, they are almost forgotten or their faces remain unidentified as is the case in this photo.  We know that the second man kneeling on the left is Antonino Lumia as his grandson Damiano Lumia has acknowledged him.  The list of names therefore bears no resemblance to placement of men.

Hopefully, one day, Isidoro’s family will find his face amongst this group of 10 men and find a context to their grandfather’s time as a prisoner of war in Australia. And the Townsend family can be introduced to Isidoro again.

*On the army register of Italian POWs onboard the Queen Mary Rosario Morello is number 661 and Isidoro De Blasi is number 1833. The list of the names of the first 2016 Italian prisoners of war is a reminder of the large numbers who were sent to Australiafor the duration of the war.  In total, some 18,000 Italian POWs worked and lived across the six states of Australia from 1941-1947.

Register of Queen Mary May 1941

(NAA:PP 482/1, 16)

 

 

Stefano Lucantoni: In his spare time

Marco Lucantoni from Napoli has a special collection of items belonging to his father Stefano Lucantoni.  As a prisoner of war in Australia, Stefano kept himself occupied in several ways.

Lucantoni Libya.jpeg

He had a lot on his mind: his family. His wife Egle was pregnant when he had last seen her in 1939.  His son was seven years old before father and son met.

A special thank you to Marco and his brothers for sharing Stefano’s treasured keepsakes.  Relics like these give credence to the historical accounts. They tell the personal history of Italian prisoners of war in Australia.

CHESS

Stefano took home with him a beautiful chess set made in Cowra. Featuring the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the image was a reminder of Stefano’s arrival in and departure from Sydney: 1941 and 1946.

Lucantoni (8)

PLAYS

In Cowra on the 28th June 1946, a group of Italians staged L’Antenato a Commedia in 3 Alli. Stefano played the part of Egidio.

The carefully designed and produced programme highlights the efforts the men made for their production. The play was written by Guerrino Mazzoni, the sets created by Eliseo Pieraccini and Carlo Vannucci. Montaggio by Stefano Lucantoni, Renato bianchi, Felice di Sabatino, Luigi Proietti, Armano Mazzoni and Cesare Di Domenico.  Performers were Bruno Pantani, Guerrino Mazzoni, Carlo Vannucci, Tarcisio Silva, Bruno Dell Amico, Guigi Giambelli, Renato Bazzani, Marcello Falfotti, Alvise Faggiotto, Stefano Lucantoni. Suggestore was Giuseppe Carrari.

They were men from all walks of life: electrical engineer, butcher, clerk, mechanic, plumber, butcher, decorator, policeman, farmer, blacksmith, carpenter.

Lucantoni (2)

Lucantoni (3)

EDUCATION and LANGUAGE CLASSES

Lucantoni (1)

It was considered imperative that POWs occupied their leisure time usefully and the policy was to provide opportunities for POWs to further their studies.  Libraries in the camps were established and canteen profits used to purchase additional text books relevant to courses undertaken. Books from overseas were allowed in the areas of banking and financial, medical, scientific, art, economics, music, agriculture, religion, trade and commerce as well as periodicals of a general literary nature. Grammatica – Italiana – Inglese is Stefano’s exercise book from these language classes and shows his meticulous notes.

Lucantoni (9)

The book, Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War was specifically published and given to Italian POWs being allocated to farm work under the Prisoner of War Control Centre: Without Guard scheme.  Some of the sections were: Tools, Machinery, Farm Produce, Animals, Hygiene and Medical, Family, House and Conjugation of Verbs.

Lucantoni (6)

Stefano’s third book, Piccola Guida per Gli Italiani in Australia was written by Padre Ugo Modotti December 1944.  He worked closely with the Italian migrant community in Melbourne from 1938 to 1946.  He wrote this booklet for the Italian migrants.

On 9 March 1945, the Directorate of Prisoners of War was aware of this booklet and on 31 March 1945 approval was granted to distribute Picolla Guidi per Gli Italiani to the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.

By 1945, there was a relaxation in how the Italian POWs were viewed.  While they were still POWs, they were not considered a high security risk.  It was also a time when the Italians were thinking about life in Australia after the war and requesting permission through their farmers to stay in Australia and not be repatriated.

A guide for Italian migrants to Australia, this book gave the Italian POWs information to prepare for the time when they would return to Australia as migrants and free men.

METAL WORK

A story of love and a story of imprisonment.

The ring shows the intials E and S entwined and signifies the love of Stefano and his wife Egle.  Made in silver and another metal, the silver was obtained from Australian coins eg florins and shillings. Although it was forbidden for POWs to have Australian currency in their possession, necessity and ingenuity always find a way around the rules.

Lucantoni (7)

The emblem is carefully crafted with the words: Ricordo Campo 12 A Cowra and entwined initials POW. It was the badge for the chess set.

Lucantoni (4)

LETTER WRITING

Lucantoni (5)

This card was printed and distributed for Natale 1944. A bucolic Australia landscape of sheep, gum trees and space.  Despite processes in place for prisoners of war to send postcards for Notification of Capture and Transfer of Prisoner, Stefano’s wife believed him dead and asked the Red Cross to try to locate some information about him.

In September 1941, Egle received a letter from the Red Cross telling her that her husband was a prisoner of war in Australia. Instructions were given to send mail to: Posta per prigionieri di Guerra, Australia.

Any wonder why mail was lost and months and sometimes years passed before mail was received.  The image on this postcard was very foreign to Stefano’s family, but its arrival conveyed love and hope.

Lucantoni Stefano and Egle

Stefano and Egle: Happier Times

A special thank you to Marco Lucantoni for the photographs used in this article.

Wide Variety of Uniforms

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Photos are from the Australian War Memorial Collection taken at Cowra and Murchison 1944-1945

On 16th August 1941, the second transport of Italian prisoners of war arrived in Sydney on board the Queen Mary.  What caught the attention of the press was the odd assortment of clothing that the Italians wore.  There were 817 Italian prisoners of war consisting of 405 officers and 412 ordinary ranks.  German prisoners of war also arrived into Australia on this transport.

Italians Down Under is a newsreel film taken in 1941. Watch this clip as Italian prisoners of war alight from a Sydney ferry onto the wharf and then step onto trains.

Italian POW Rossi Pith Helmet

Italo Rossi M/E 68057 Photo taken in India

 

BIG BATCH OF ITALIAN WAR PRISONERS HERE

WIDE VARIETY OF UNIFORMS

from Sun (Sydney, NSW: 1910-1954), Saturday 16 August 1941, page 3

Clad in an amazing variety of uniforms and headgear, a big batch of Italian prisoners of war – officers, N.C.O.’s and other ranks – has arrived in Sydney.

The party presented a remarkable contrast to that which arrived a few months ago.

Many to-day were in high spirits, and their demeanour indicated that they were not at all reluctant to ‘take up residence’ on Australian soil.

Several laughed and joked as they boarded the train that was to take them to their internment camp. Two defiantly gave the Fascist salute.

All of the first party to land were officers and among them were several airmen and one wearing dark blue naval uniform.

Sartorial honours went to a tall Italian who walked nonchalantly along the wharf clad in a sweeping dark blue cloak with scarlet lining and frogs.

An Alpini wore a slouch Tyrolean hat with a long feather and a grey well-cut uniform with thick woollen socks.

QM August 1941 Italian POWs

Headgear ranged from orthodox military caps to pith helmets and from blue woollen berets to improvised black felt skull caps.  Some retained traces of smartness in high-fronted peak caps of the Nazi types.

Taste in knee boots inclined towards the exotic in some instances. One officer wore gaiter-like coverings on his legs of a beige tint.

Knickers and Sandshoes

At the other end of the scale was an Italian in plain grey knickerbockers with white sandshoes.  Two wore dark eyeshades.

Mufflers ran the gamut of the colour range contrasting strangely with battered pith helmets and war-stained uniforms.

Many of the prisoners grinned cheerfully at cameramen but one was camera-shy.

He walked the full distance from the disembarkation point to the waiting train with a cardboard carton draped around his head and shoulders.

On the wharf was a high pile of luggage.  The Italians had come well prepared for their stay in Australia.  Several portmanteau and tarpaulin sheets covering them were camouflaged.

The rangers carried blankets and tin panikins.  A number were only youngsters.

QM August 1941 Italian POW

Several carried improvised draught boards and two started a game with pieces cut from a broom handle.

Medical Precautions

Exhaustive precautions to guard against the prisoners bringing dysentery to Australia were taken before the ship arrived.  Medical officers went aboard and carefully examined the medical history of every prisoner.

Elaborate arrangements had been made to have the men quarantined if this had been found necessary.

The Army Director-General of Hygiene made a special trip to Sydney to study the health situation before the prisoners landed.  Arrangements were made for the prisoners to be given meals on the train and they were accompanied by their own medical officers, as well as by Australian army medical men.

Panniers of medical stores were taken on the train to guard against illness on the journey.

Half a dozen of the prisoners who were ill were taken direct from the wharf to an ambulance and then to hospital.

Italian POW Hospital Queen Mary 1941

The photo below was taken in summer at Cowra. It shows the men some two and half years later and the odd assortment of clothing they wore.  Footwear consisted of sandals (possibly hand made), boots and high boots.  Clothing varied with tee shirts, buttoned shirts and safari suit tops of various colours being part of the Italians’ wardrobes.

Ippolito 3917517

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49115 C. Trentino; 49354 G. Ippolito; 49592 A. Poggi; 49107 G. Zunino; 48833 R. Bartoli; 49212 R. Papini; 48863 S. De Micco. Front row: 48939 A. Leto; 49172 A. Mandrini; 57531 B. Protano; 49923 F. Carlone; 45196 A. Ciofani. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(Australia War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes, Image 030173/11)

The first 2000 Italian POWs

The first 2016* Italian prisoners of war arrived in Australia on the Queen Mary 25th May 1941.  The Queen Mary had been the jewel in Cunard White Star Line between wars making voyages across the Atlantic. Catering for 2332 passengers, the Queen Mary was berthed in New York at the start of hostilities.  The Queen Elizabeth joined her in New York before both ships were sent to Australia for use as troop transport ships.  On the return journey to Australia, Italian and German prisoners of war were embarked in the Middle East. The Queen Mary brought Italian POWs to Australia on three occasions during 1941, as did the Queen Elizabeth.  Military record cards use the reference “Q.M.” and “Q.E.”

With the entry of the USA into the war at the end of 1941, the Magnificent Queens: the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth were re-routed as  transports for American troops. They would transport between 12,000 to 15,000 armed personnel on these voyages.

The newspaper article below describes the arrival of Australia’s first 2016 Italian prisoners of war and the circumstances of their arrival.

Queen Mary Bunks

Queen Mary: The Swimming pool is now a troops sector, with tiers of bunks for men

(from the Imperial War Museum: Coote, RGG (Lt) Image A25931)

ITALIAN PRISONERS

2000 Arrive in Sydney

INLAND INTERNMENT CAMP

first

(photo from Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 – 1954), Thursday 29 May 1941, page 1)

Sydney, May 26,- A large shipment of 2000 Italian prisoners of war captured in Libya has arrived in Sydney and the first trainload of about 500 have been sent off to an inland internment camp in New South Wales.

Unimpressive physically, wearing a nondescript mixture of  garments in which the greenish-grey Italian field uniform predominated, the prisoners were brought ashore by ferry and immediately issued with A.I.F. greatcoats, relics of the war of 1914-1918, which have been dyed a burgundy colour. At the prison camp they will be dressed completely in wool uniforms of this colour, which is so conspicuous that it should act as a strong deterrent against attempts to escape.

There was no sign yesterday, however of any wish among the prisoners to cause trouble.  Overshadowed by their Australian guards, they trooped ashore quietly with few smiles and only a little quiet talk among themselves.  Some scowled as press photographs were taken.  The ship guards described their behaviour on the voyage was docile.

first 2

(photo from The Courier Mail (Brisbane, Qld.: 1933-1954) Wednesday 28 May 1941, page 3)

Before they were disembarked, a number of them sought the senior officer and asked if they could not be allowed to stay and work until the end of the war on the ship, which has been engaged as a transport carrying Australian troops overseas.  Their offer was not accepted. On the voyage out, much of the scullery work was done by the prisoners, who also waited on the members of the A.I.F. who were returning after being wounded.

The only officers among the prisoners ware five medical officers and a priest.  one of the doctors was a distinguished surgeon in Italy, a professor of surgery at the University of Turin.  A doctor who came ashore yesterday was wearing black field boots, green-grey breeches and a khaki drill tunic with the gold braid insignia of a captain’s rank on his shoulder straps, three stars below a larger star, the device giving a general effect more like the shoulder badges worn by a brigadier in the British forces.  His batman followed him ashore laden with the baggage of both and wearing Red Cross arm and cap badges.

None of the prisoners speak English, but the medical officers almost all speak some French.  Corporal Craig, of the Eastern Command Records Staff, who speaks Italian, French and Greek, acted as the military interpreter.  After serving in the first A.I.F., he lived for nearly 20 years in Alexandria and spent a period in Italy in the service of an American motor firm, who established tractor assembly works there.

The medical captain, who came from Piedmont, explained through the interpreter that he was a civilian who had been called up from the reserve for service.  he had been in Libya eight months before he was taken prisoner.  When asked by an Australian officer what he thought of Australia, he replied briefly: “No opinion”. Then he smiled wryly and added, “Very nice, but I am a prisoner.” He said that the average age of the prisoners would be 24 or 25. They looked younger.  Most of them came from Southern Italy, though a few were taller men who looked though they might have come from the north.

Half a dozen wore sailors’ uniforms, but it was explained that they were not necessarily naval men as they used any clothes they could get hold of.  A number were in shorts.  There were several tropical helmets, one with Tobruk and Bardia painted on it.

As they filed ashore from the ferry in a double line between military police guards with fixed bayonets, they were handed their burgundy coloured coasts and a tin mug each.  A packet meal supplied by the railway refreshment service was given to them on the train.

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(photo from Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.: 1872-1947), Tuesday 27 May 1941, page 9)

An assortment of moustaches and many beards, including one black spade Balbo model, adorned the swarthy faces, many of which looked as though their owners might have come from Alexandria or Port Said, rather than from Italy.  They carried untidy packs containing their belongings.  One man, when offered a burgundy coloured greatcoat, proudly gestured towards his pack to show that he already had a coat, an Italian model.  he looked puzzled as he walked on carrying his distinctive Australian garment.

All the prisoners were medically examined with great care before being sent ashore.  The official instruction is that anyone with any sign of infectious disease is to be quarantined rigorously to guard against the introduction of epidemic diseased from the Middle East.

(Kalgoorlie Mine (WA: 1895-1950), Wednesday 28 May 1941, page 1)

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(photo from Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.: 1872-1947), Friday 30 May 1941, page 7)

*Nominal Roll for the Queen Mary identify 2016 Italian POWs.  Other sources record 2006 and the newspapers rounded off the numbers to 2000.

Queen Mary’s First Italian POWs

27th May 1941

Also on board were 6 budgerigars, 7 canaries and 1 parrot

Here are photos of the Queen Mary as she sailed into Sydney Harbour bringing to Australia the first group of Italian prisoners of war.  For 2016 Italian families, these photos are a very personal connection to their father or grandfather’s arrival to Australia.

While the men shown in the photos, would more than likely have been armed forces personal from Australian and New Zealand,  the images none-the-less reflect the moments of sailing in to Sydney Harbour and arriving at a destination, far away from the battles of Libya.QM c May 1941 3.JPG

Sydney, NSW. Troops line the rails on board the troop transport ship Queen Mary as she arrives at the wharf to embark troops for overseas service. C. May 1941 (AWM Image 007205 Photographer Unknown)

Sydney siders were used to seeing the Queen Mary enter the harbour as she had already made many journeys to and from Sydney carrying troops and passengers: Trincomalee (Ceylon), Bombay (India), Singapore and Suez (Egypt).

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Sydney, NSW. Bow view of the troopship Queen Mary being escorted by tugs as she enters the harbour to embark troops for service overseas. c. May 1941 (AWM Image 007210 Photographer Unknown)

Service and Casualty Forms can be a bit of a puzzle.  Italian prisoners of war in the first group to arrive in Australia, will have the same two lines as below.  Q.M. = Queen Mary.  And technically, while they were captured in Libya, they embarked at Suez. From Sydney they were trained to Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.

Lumia 1 - Copy

The photos of the Queen Mary taken by an Australian Official Photographer add the description: Sydney, NSW. Bow view of the troopship Queen Mary as she enters the harbour to embark troops for overseas service. c. May 1941.  This series of photographs are part of the Australian War Memorial collection.  There was much secrecy surrounding the transport movements from and to Australia during WW2. It is therefore not surprising that there is no mention of Italian prisoners of war.

QM c May 1941 209

c. May 1941 Sydney, NSW. Bow view of the troopship Queen Mary as she enters the harbour to embark troops for overseas service. (AWM Image 007209 Photographer Unknown)

The lists of passengers onboard this voyage of the Queen Mary are available from the National Archives of Australia.  The document’s title is QUEEN MARY [Departed Middle East 6th May 1941, arrived Fremantle 21 May 1941 – nominal rolls of passengers] [inlcudes lists of Italian prisoners of war, AIF, RAN, NZEF, RAF, ACCS and UWCA personnel embarked Middle East for return to Australia] NAA: PP482/1, 16 

There were 3088 people onboard: 761 crew, 290 troops, 2016 prisoners of war, 15 civilians, 6 D.B.S.  Immigration also noted that there were 6 budgerigars, 7 canaries and 1 parrot.

Interesting notations on some of the documentation for  troop transports are H.T. “N.N.” H.T. “K.K.” H.T. “L.L.”  H.T. “P.P.” The names of the ships have been omitted and one reference states that ‘details have been excluded which might compromise the convey’. This seems to be the case for transports for Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Mauretania and Aquatania voyages; likely reason for non disclosure of ship’s name is secrecy of troop movement.

H.T. “N.N.” voyage from Suez to Sydney in May – June 1941 offers an insight into conditions onboard the transport ships.  On this voyage, which left Suez 24th May 1941 and arrived in Sydney 15th June 1941, 1000 Italian prisoners of war were boarded and who were to be disembarked at Trimcomalee: “22nd May 1941 1,000 Italian prisoners of war were brought on to the ship with what appeared to be a rather inadequate guard of 130 Ciganlese troops under the command of two British Officers.  The prisoners, however were small, and for the most part very young, and seem thoroughly dispirited… During the severe heat of the voyage from Suez, it had been necessary to bring the prisoners on deck during the day and allow them to sleep there at night.” AWM2018.8.411

Part of this journey’s report are general comments about the hammocks and washing. The daughter of one Italian prisoner of war remembers her father saying that while they were on a luxury liner, in his case Queen Elizabeth, the toilets could not cope with the number of men onboard these  transports and they would have to walk through ankle deep sewerage, a most unpleasant and unhygienic situation.

HAMMOCKS:

Hammocks, instead of bunks, were alloted in certain sections, and those troops allocated to them suffered considerable discomfort owing to overcrowding and lack of ventilatiohn.  The rows of hammocks overlapped at both ends so that a man lay with a pair of feet on each side of his head.  this was particularly unpleasant in the hot weather.  In addition, the hammocks were slung very close to the ceiling where the foul air accumulated… Owing to the manner in which it was necessary to tie the hammocks in order to hand them so close together, they could not be taken down during the day, with the result that it was impossible to walk upright in the hammock sections.

WASHING OF CLOTHES:

The washing and drying on men’s clothing presented many difficulties.  It was not possible to supply fresh water for this purpose, but an issue from the Comforts Fund of soap that would lather in salt water helped matters considerably… Almost the only place where clothing could be washed was the baths and wash basins, and after that there was the problem of drying the garments.  Quantities of damp clothing hanging in sleeping quarters increased the already high degree of humidity, but if hung on deck a man had to stand by his clothes until they dried, otherwise there was the danger of them blowing overboard or being stolen.  Drying in the sleepign quarters appeared to be the lesser evil. AWM2018.8.411