Tag Archives: Queen Mary transport ship Italian prisoners of war to Australia

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)

 

 

Resourceful

Resourceful is an apt description of Mario Marino.  A stone mason from Pentone Catanzaro, as a prisoner of war in Australia, he nominated his occupation as ‘bricklayer’, a more versatile job.  Throughout his life, he continued to work with concrete, stone and bricks in the construction industry in Morwell Victoria owning his own business and operating as Marino Bros.

Among the first 2000 Italian POWs to be shipped directly from Libya to Sydney onboard Queen Mary, from Sydney he was trained to Hay. He travelled with two compatriots also from Pentone, Salvatore Tarantino and Graziano Mustari.

As a ‘skilled’ POW, Mario was put to work in construction at Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.  Put to work making clay bricks, Mario spent over two and a half years at Hay before being sent to Cowra. He also had experience in surveying and did surveying for clearing and road building while at Hay. Salvatore was sent to Murchison and then V4 Leongatha while Mario and Graziano stayed together in Cowra then Gaythorne.  Their Queensland farm allocations had them sent in different directions: with Mario going to the farm of R Brown at Bapaume in Q1 Stanthorpe area and Graziano to Q3 Gympie area.

Marino, Hay

Hay, NSW. 1944-01-13/14. Sergeant M. Marino an Italian prisoners of war stacking freshly made clay bricks in the drying shed at the 16th Garrison Battalion Prisoner of War Camp

(Australia War Memorial Image 062932)

It appears that Mario’s resourcefulness had him reallocated to a Victorian farm in the V4 Leongatha area.  Interestingly, Salvatore also was at V4 Leongatha at the time and they both spent time together at V22 Rowville.

Repatriated to Italy in January 1947, it wasn’t long before he married Marietta and made plans to return to Australia. He left Italy onboard the Toscano in June 1949 and his first son Antonio was born in July 1949.  It would be three years before he would meet his first born child, when his wife and child arrived in Melbourne in 1953.

The  Carmody family of Leongatha had been Mario’s POW employer and sponsored his return to Australia. Settling in Leongatha, Mario was joined by his brothers Giuseppe and Angelo. All three brothers worked at the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine in the latter part of 1951.  Giuseppe drove the horse and cart which took coal out of the mine on railway lines, Mario was a seamer, lying on his stomach in cramped confines shovelling out the coal and Angelo would stack the coal tightly in the kibbles. Vince Moranti was a family friend who also worked with the Marino brothers in the coal mine.

Built between 1953 and 1954, the Traralgon Hospital construction site became Mario’s new workplace.  Continuing working in construction and concrete, he then established himself as a concrete contractor and won council contracts such as footpath building.  By 1954, Mario applied for naturalization and in 1955 his naturalization was reported in the newspaper.

Not forgetting his POW compatriots, Mario sponsored Salvatore Tarantino in 1955 and in 1956 Graziano Mustari also migrated to Morwell. Graziano however returned to Italy in 1964.

A growing migrant community in the district opened an opportunity for Mario to branch out into a food emporium  in Church Street Morwell, selling salamis, coffee, cheeses and other continental goods.  He diversified further by taking his shop to the farmers of the district and his children remember the box of juicy fruit chewing gum kept in the truck.

Returning to construction, Mario continued to work in the industry until his retirement. A supporter of the local football club, the Morwell community held him in high regard and he would always be asked to join the trainer and coach at home games.

And of those days as a prisoner of war, Mario told his family that as soldiers in the sands of Libya, Mussolini gave them little hope and only a pistol with one shot and a rifle with another.  The soldiers were half starved and they didn’t have a chance. But his time as a prisoner of war in Australia opened the door to a new start in life for his family.

Resourcefulness and optimism were trademarks to Mario’s life.

 

Marino, Mario 1955

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1849-1957) Thursday 17 November 1955

 

 

 

 

 

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)

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).

QM c May 1941 210.JPG

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