Antonino was captured at Tobruk 22nd January 1941. His grandson Damiano Lumia recorded his nonno’s memories. Listen to Antonino as he tells us his story: A Voice from the Past
In 1940, Emanuele was sent to Tobruk. “I was a sailor on a small boat that was used to ferry goods between ships on the harbour… I recall as soon as we reached the harbour, one midnight, the bombing began. This bombing was to last nine months… The constant booms of the bombs drove us half crazy.
23rd January 1941 TOBRUK – THESE AUSTRALIANS ARE TAKEN BESIDE A WALL WHICH SHOWS DAMAGE CAUSED BY THE INTENSE BARRAGE FROM BRITISH FORCES PENETRATING THE ITALIAN DEFENCES. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).
There were six ships in the harbour that night… the Liguria (passenger ship), the Serenitas (carrying cement), the Manzoni (carrying mechanics) and the Serenco (carrying wood). I’ve forgotten the other two.
23rd January 1941 TOBRUK – THE “SERENTATIS” ANOTHER ITALIAN SHIP SCUPPERED, A TRICK THAT THE ITALIANS SEEM TO HAVE LEARNT FROM THEIR AXIS FRIENDS. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).
… Our role in Tobruk Harbour was to supply goods to all the Italian soldiers, Navy and Air Force…
My worst memory is the night before I was taken P.O.W. by the Australian soldiers. Our Commanders ordered us to destroy everything in Tobruk Harbour… The generals took the attitude, ‘The enemy must not have any of our goods,’ but in doing this they condemned their own men to death by starvation.
Tobruk was captured the next day. We had to destroy even the ships that were half sunk. Even the Italian cruiser, the San Giorgio was destroyed by us.
23rd January 1941 TOBRUK – ITALIAN PRISONERS LEAVING THE TOWN ON FOOT. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).
That evening we found the Aussies waiting. They greeted us with ‘hands up! Come down to the wharf!’. They took us to an open area and we were surrounded. They put us in a line and made us walk twelve kilometres to the operation field. We had no food or drink…
23rd January 1941 TOBRUK – MOST OF THE ITALIANS CARRY POCKETSFUL OF GRENADES AND IT IS THEREFORE NECESSARY TO SEARCH PRISONERS FOR THESE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. NOT ONLY BECAUSE OF POSSIBLE TREACHERY BUT THEY FORGET THEY ARE CARRYING THEM ABOUT AND SOMETIMES THIS FORGETFULNESS IS DANGEROUS. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).
I remember one night they [Germans] bombed us. The Germans our friends, thought we were the enemy. About two hundred and eighty-one Italians died that night.
After one week, the Aussie solders took about one thousand people and took us to the harbour of Tobruk again. There was an Egyptian ship called Solum, and we went on board. The ship sailed us to Egypt…Alexandria… when we neared Bardia, we saw three planes.. and they threw bombs at us. When the ship was hit by a bomb, the Captain tried to take the ship to shore. Being a fisherman, I knew how to swim. Many men drowned…. The trucks came to rescue us and took us to Alexandria in Egypt. My biggest horror from the war is the starvation and lack of water plus the horror of the deaths. Here we were given a loaf of bread for tomorrow…. We had plenty of water. We got given five cigarettes and I sold my cigarettes for more bread. From Alessandria I was taken to Quassassin Camp. We worked carrying light poles and then we were shipped to Suez… I was sent to Zonderwater (near a mining town). I worked as a kitchen hand for two years.” (from Boccia Cesarin-An Historial Link – Italy – Australia by Cesare Romane Stefanate)
Manlio Sulis was at Tobruk and his son Giovanni Sulis provides insightful details about Tobruk and the journey: Tobruk -Sollum – Alexandria – Geneifia Camp 306 – Zonderwater
Luigi Bortolotti was an infantry sergeant who was captured on 21st January 1941 at Tobruk. His diary of 300 pages details his journey from ‘the sad day of my capture to that longed-for day of my release.’
Desmond O’Connor used Luigi’s diary to write: From Tobruk to Clare: the experiences of the Italian prisoners of war Luigi Bortolotti 1941-1946.
Luigi’s journey: Tobruk–Alessandria-Ismailia-Suez-Hay includes detailed sketches of Campo 9 Ismalia, Campo 2 Suez and Campo 7 Hay.