Tag Archives: Siege of Uolchefit Ethiopia

Captured at Uolchefit

by Joanne Ciaglia

Giuseppe Guerrera was born on 15/3/1909 in San Lupo to Nicola Guerrera and Antonia Guerrera.  He became a farmer in San Lupo.  The Guerrera clan had land high in the hills overlooking San Lupo.  He had an arranged marriage and married Antonia Guerrera from Pontelandolfo.  Antonia died at the age of 24 without having had any children.  Giuseppe met and married Carmela Marra on 19/11/1935 in San Lupo.  Carmela was from Cervinara, Avellino.  Her father used to make charcoal and the family moved around quite a lot.  There was total objection to the marriage between Giuseppe and Carmela.  Carmela was not from San Lupo, moved around with her father’s work and the family were considered peasants!  They had their first daughter Angelina in 1936. 

Giuseppe Guerrera (photo courtesy of Joanne Ciaglia)

Giuseppe went into WW2 fighting for Italy and was sent to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.  Giuseppe was then sent to Uolchefit (Wolchefit) in Ethiopia where there were 4,000 Italian soldiers.  The soldiers were there to protect the route to Gondar garrison, the last remaining outpost flying the Italian flag.  Giuseppe was captured on 28/9/1941 and sent to India as a POW. He stayed in India until 9/5/1944 where he was sent to Australia and interned in the POW camp Cowra in NSW.  When he arrived in Australia he had 2,500 Lire.  On 9/6/1944 he was awarded 21 days detention for offence against good order and discipline and on 11/1/1945 he was awarded 168 hrs detention for refusing to work.  The war ended in September 1945.  On 13/11/1945 Giuseppe was marched from Cowra to Liverpool and on 23/12/1946 he was repatriated back to Italy.  There is a Cowra Italy Friendship Monument in Cowra which serves to celebrate the involvement of the Italians in the evolution of Cowra’s rich cultural environment.  It also commemorates the Italians who, during WW2, served on the side of the Allies, the Italian POW’s lodged at the Cowra POW Camp and Italian and Australian service personnel who lost their lives for their country. 

When Giuseppe returned back to San Lupo, he did not know that his wife gave birth to a second daughter, Nicolina who was born in 1939.  He had left to go to war without knowing that Carmela was pregnant.  When he came back to San Lupo, Nicolina was 7 years old.

Even though he was a prisoner here, he was so impressed with how he was treated in Australia, that he wanted to return.  Giuseppe’s brother, Donato Guerrera was already in Sydney and in April 1951 he sponsored his brother Giuseppe to come to Sydney to live.  Giuseppe arrived in Fremantle in November 1952 on the ship Ravello and then went on to Sydney.  Donato also got Giuseppe a job at Sugar Cartage Ltd in Saunders Lane, Pyrmont as a labourer.  His eldest daughter, Angelina came out by herself in 1954.  Carmela became friendly with a family at the port of Napoli who were also leaving for Australia.  She asked if they could look after her 18 year old daughter during the trip.  They did until they embarked in Melbourne and Angelina went on to Sydney.  A year later both his wife Carmela and his youngest daughter Nicolina followed.  To save pennies for the long trip to bring his wife and youngest daughter, he survived on milk and Sao biscuits.  I think this was common among men saving to bring their wife and children out.

Giuseppe also worked at a wool factory where he got his hand caught in a machine.  His hand was never the same again.  Still somehow, with an injury, he was also a kitchen hand at the Chevron-Hilton Hotel in Kings Cross.  This was Sydney’s first major hotel in the international style.  After working there, due to his hand injury, he could only help out at hospitals delivering food to the wards.  The family would joke that Nonno was claustrophobic and that he would put the food trolley in the elevator and send it to the above ward.  He then ran up the stairs, sometimes beating the elevator.

Carmela Marra and Giuseppe Guerrera (photo courtesy of Joanne Ciaglia)

Giuseppe lived through tough times.  His first wife died and later he went to war in Ethiopia and then became a prisoner of war for 5 years, the first 3 years in India and the last 2 in Australia.  He left his home town in San Lupo and came to Sydney to live.  He injured his hand in a workplace accident.  This would have made life very hard for him, but he still managed to find work.  Giuseppe died in Sydney on 12/8/1992.

The Barley Pit of Wolchefit:  the siege as told by Raffaele Talarico another of the Italian soldiers at Wolchefit/Uolchefit.

In the beginning…

When and where did the life of a soldier begin for Jormen Salami?

Roma 28.3.40

Jormen Salami and friends Roma 28.3.40

(photo courtesy of the family of Jormen Salami)

A baker from Sustinente Mantua, Jormen sent the about photo home to his parents with the words: “Your son remembers you, together with his friends, in the first days of military service”

Craig Douglas from Regio Esercito History Group adds a little more detail for this photo:
The soldier centre in uniform is from one of the elite grenatieri-grenadier regiments.” 
The photo is remarkable.  This is the beginning of Jormen’s journey which will take him from the safety of his village to Rome for training, then dispatch to Addis Ababa Ethiopia before facing fierce fighting at Uolchefit Ethiopia.

Addis Abeba 1940

Addis Abeba Abyssinia 1940

(photo courtesy of the family of Jormen Salami)

Italian troops at Uolchefit (Wolchefit) protected the route to Gondar garrison, the last remaining outpost flying the Italian flag. Troop numbers at Uolchefit had totalled 4000 soldiers of which 1000 were colonial soldiers. At the time of surrender there were 1,631 Italian and 1,300 colonial soldiers.

Besieged since April 1941 and with more than a month completely cut off, Uolchefit ceased resistance at the end of September 1941: “The Rome communique stated, “The heroic garrison at Wolchefit, which has been closely besieged since April 15 and has received no food supplies for some days, was ordered to cease hostilities on Friday [26.9.41]’.” 1941 ‘WOLCHEFIT CEASES RESISTANCE’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 29 September, p. 8. , viewed 20 Jun 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17749704

Jormen Salami was captured 28.9.41.

The Barley Pit of Wolchefit describes the situation of the siege as told by Raffaele Talarico another of the Italian soldiers at Wolchefit.


By I.S.O. Playfair – Chapter 16, Playfair, I.S.O. (1956). The Mediterranean and Middle East: “The Germans come to the Help of their Ally” (1941). HISTORY OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR. II. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54678658


1941 ‘Surrender of Wolchefit’, Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954), 8 October, p. 3. , viewed 20 Jun 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95138148