Tag Archives: Repatriation of Italian POWs

I want to go home…

Crescenzio RAVO was 18 years old when he was captured at Tobruk on 22nd January 1941.  He spent his 19th birthday on the Queen Elizabeth as she made her way to Australia, arriving in Sydney 15th October 1941.

Ravo 1

 Crescenzio Ravo: 19 years old Cowra PW & I Camp 17.11.41

NAA: A7919, C100635

His 20th and 21st birthdays were celebrated in Cowra and his 22nd and 23rd birthdays at Q6 Home Hill hostel. Three weeks after his 24th birthday, he escaped from Murchison POW Camp.

While he was at Q6 Home Hill hostel, Sept 1944 to November 1945, he had spent 67 days in detention.  He has escaped from Q6 and was found at Iona School and had also gone walkabout a couple of times while on work duty. Once in Murchison, he damaged property of the Commonwealth, used threatening language and then escaped again.

History is interesting. The full picture does not always reveal itself.  In a moment of sentimentality, I reflect that Crescenzio was the age of my sons, while I have been undertaking this research.  I wonder how they would act and react at being in such an unfamiliar environment. Both would endure their situation, very differently.

I think however angry Crescenzio was, however brazen and sullen, the final page in his file helps tell his story; he just wanted to go home.

Repatriation orders were for all Italian prisoners of war to transported to Italy.  Those men who were Italian, but were residents of Libya or Eritrea or Ethiopia were placed in an uncertain situation.  Home was not Italy, and therefore once in Naples, would transfer to their home in a ex-Italian colony be automatic? This is the situation Crescenzio found himself in: repatriation to Italy, but how would he get home to Tripoli? Did repatriation orders include directives for those Italians whose home was not in Italy?  Would Crescenzio be stranded in Naples without the means to make his way to Libya?

The following entry answers these questions:

War Diary: 2 Sep 46 “Commands have been informed that except in exceptional circumstances Italian PW will not be repatriated to former Italian colonies.”

Ravo 2

Letter by Ravo to PW Camp Authorities

NAA: A7919, C100635

What is known about this situation is that a return to Libya was difficult.

Here are the journeys of two other Italian soldiers who were Libyan residents:

From ‘A Father’s Love’: Liborio Bonadonna

But Liborio’s return to his family in Tripoli was further delayed. Once he arrived in Naples, he required an operation.  Fighting bureaucracy, he tried to gain permission several times to reach Libya and his wife and parents.

Liborio’s grandson, Liborio Mauro says that “He told her [my grandmother] if I’m not able to join you, I would like to go back in Australia. After 3 times, he finally joined my grandmother in Libya where my father Carmelo was born in Tripoli in 1949.

Abele Damini was also a resident of Libya.   Valerio Damini writes, “After the war, Abele came to Afragola (Napoli province) identification center, he did not wait for official re-embarkation and, boarding clandestinely in an illegal ship, he tried to reach Libya coast by himself. He then be imprisoned in Libyan prison (for I do not know how long), where he got sick and died.”

After six years in captivity, these Italians who were residents of the colonies, deserved quick and free passage to their homes and families.

Sailing Home – Ormonde

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.


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

Arrival in Naples 1946

Col. A.W. Sandford, the son of Sir Wallace Sandford wrote an article Naples – when Italian Prisoners Return Home  which was published in November 1946.  While on his way to Hamburg to re-joining the British Army of occupation, he travelled in a ship transporting returning Italian POW.

The repatriation ship was most likely Chitral which had left Australia in September 1946 with over 2700 Italian prisoners on board.




From Advertiser (Adelaide, SA: 1931-1954), Thursday 21 November 1946, page 6.

...From the decks below a constant murmur of hushed excited voices could be heard – over three thousand prisoners, straining their eyes to catch their first glimpse through the grey mists of the docks where they hope to find parents, wives, children, friends, lovers or at worst the attentions of the Italian Red Cross and a rail warrant to freedom.

The light grew slowly more intense as we approached the entrance to the harbor, and one could discern dimly the shaped of buildings in the distance and shipping nearer at hand.  Quite suddenly as the pilot clambered aboard from this ramshackle launch, the first rays of morning struck a cluster of white and pink villas on the headland, away to port – Posilippo, the ‘garden suburb’ of the town.  The city itself shielded by Vesuvius was still plunged in grew gloom, but these scattered villas and palaces on their romantic terraced cliff glittered fiercely in the sun.

By this time more passengers had begun to appear and were standing in twos and threes on the boat deck leaning over the rail.  They watched the sun strike the ancient castle on Capodimonte as we slipped into the harbour mouth and stared in surprise at the city which began to appear, like a stage effect through the dissipating mist.

Battered Harbour

The harbour was impressive.  The carved stone arms of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies still stand on the western mole, as they stood in Nelson’s day and between the pillars could be seen among the trees towards Posilippo, the glittering white cube of the Villa Emma, where Lady Hamilton held court.

The massive Castel Nuovo still dominates the docks but the splendid new quays built of reinforced concrete by the Fascists have stood far less well than solid Bourbon stone masonry the effect of high explosive bombs.

Naples Castell.jpg

The Fort of Castell Dell’ Ovo 1944 Naples

(Photo from Imperial War Memorial)

The murmur of the returning prisoners of war had grown to a loud babble as they saw the Italian warships huddled ingloriously against the naval mole and two large liners burned out and rusted lying on the bottom of the city Side.  Another liner had capsized just beneath the eastern mole, and in the centre of the docks, an American troopship was discharging across the hull of another capsized and rusting casualty.  This they observed in a second and then all eyes were turned to the nearest quay which was clearly made ready to receive us.  Stevedores were busy trundling gangways, there were lines of trucks drawn up, lines of carabinieri and here and there the scarlet caps of British military policemen.

Then all at once the prisoners seemed to see in the shadow of the damaged gallery rows and rows of dark-clothed men and women, and a good many children too.  These struggled and shouted and gesticulated from beyond the police cordon in the shadows striving to make themselves heard above the yelling of soldiers and stevedores and the raucous braying of a brass band which struggled on to the quay without a conductor and burst at once into a rendering more vigorous than accurate of “Funiculi, Funicula”.

The complete story is available here: Naples – when Italian Prisoners Return Home

Following are two video links: Italian Prisoners of War Return to Naples  and  View of buildings near Naples 1946

Chitral 2

1946 ‘No title’, The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 10 October, p. 24. , viewed 19 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75342761

Repatriation to Italy

A common question asked by families is: why did it take so long for our loved ones to return to Italy?

I have heard one suggestion: that the Australian government wanted to use Italian prisoners of war as ‘slave’ labour for an extra year. This is incorrect. *

A ‘big picture’ approach must be taken to this complex issue.

The statistics:

559,000 held in captivity by the Allied Forces

650,000 held in German prisoner of war camps

60,000 held in Russian prisoner of war camps

TOTAL: 1,260,000 Italian prisoners of war to be repatriated to Italy

The logistics:

How does the Italian government and Italian military receive and process these numbers.

Each man repatriated had to be processed at the point of entry into Italy.  For the Italians in Australia, this was Naples. Each man had to present himself to the Accommodation Centre (referred to as San Martino in Naples) for the processing of his documentation and his arrival.  Financial settlement of accounts. Two months leave with pay was granted and documented and these individual files would need to be lodged centrally and also forwarded to the closest military centre for each man.

How will these men be transported and what are the logistics in returning 559,000 from the corners of the world by boat; 710,000 by road or rail.

The Australian Situation:


The arrangement of shipping suitable to transport several thousand Italian prisoners of war at a time, together with an Australian Armed Forces Guard was not a simple process.

Safe Passage

Shipping passages had been heavily mined during the war.  Mine clearance was slow and tedious.

Geographic location

Australia was at the end of the line. One would think that shipping c. 18,000 was a simple task compared with shipping several hundred thousand from USA. 

*Australian Authorities wanted ‘slave labour’? NO.

At the end of 1945 and beginning of 1946, Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farm work. There were two reasons: to have the Italians ready for repatriation AND to free up jobs for returned Australian soldiers.

Farmers in some districts asked for a delay in the removal of the Italian farm workers until after the summer harvest.  This was the case in the Stanthorpe district of Queensland.

The Australian authorities had an accommodation problem.  Capacity for Cowra Camp 4000; Hay Camp 3000; Murchison Camp 4000; Marrinup Camp 1500; Sandy Creek Camp 600. Loveday Internment Camp SA was re-opened in 1946 for prisoner of war and Northam Army Camp WA was used as a prisoner of war camp.

The Australian authorities did establish small hostels at Australian Military sites which served two purposes: additional housing of Italians outside of the barbed wire camps AND utilisation of labour on camp maintenance. Psychological and physically this situation was more favourable than sitting in Cowra Camp or Murchison Camp…. WAITING….

Additionally, those families whose loved ones returned to Italy in February 1947 are probably unaware of the previous repatriations: 30.7.46 Moreton Bay, 24.9.46 Chitral, 6.10.46 SS Katoomba, 8.11.46 Strathmore, 30.11.46 Rangitata, 12.12.46 Empire Clyde, 14.12.46 Moreton Bay, 23.12.46 Alcantara, 31.12.46 Ormonde.  The 1947 repatriations: 10.1.47 Otranto and 21.1.47 Orontes.

The following newspaper article provides an insight into the situation.

Lack of Ships Holds Up Italian P.O.Ws


Repatriation of 13,000 Italian P.O.W.s from Australia is expected to begin early next year if shipping is available.

A start is to be made within a few weeks on the return of 150,000 Italians from Britain but Australia will be slower because of transport difficulties.

Withdrawal of the 1800 prisoners on Victorian farms will begin within the next 10 days but will not be completed until March.  First to be withdrawn will be those who have been employed by the Department of commerce and have lived in hostels in vegetable growing areas. Next will be those who have been living on the farms in which they are employed. All the 13,000 when withdrawn will be returned to internment until they can sail. Their withdrawal was ordered by the Commonwealth because of fears that their continued employment might prejudice Australians, particularly servicemen, seeking work. [Herald (Melbourne, Vic.: 1981-1954), Saturday 10 November 1945, page 5.]

The Complexity of Repatriation

In December 1946, Commander Alfredo MORONE of the Italy Navy was sent to Australia by the Italian Government.

In a prepared statement Commander Morone outlines the administrative and financial aspects pertaining to repatriation.  His statement is comprehensive: Ufficio di Collegamente: Per I Prigionieri di Guerra Italiani in Australia.

The documents are in Italian and English and obtained from National Archives of Australia: NAAMP742/1, 255/18/591.