Tag Archives: SS Katoomba from Fremantle 1946

Dedication to All

Monsignor Giovanni Panico’s work was essential to both Australian and Italian families.  As Australasia’s Apostolic Delegate he coordinated requests to find Australian soldiers held in prisoner of war camps in Italy and south east Asia. He also was the intermediary to help to locate Italian soldiers held in Australia’s prisoner of war camps as well as sending messages to families in Italy.

From the Prisoner of War Bureau at North Sydney, Dr Panico, the Delegation secretaries, six women and one man were employed to liaise between families and prisoners of war to locate missing Australian, New Zealand and Italian troops.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

In November 1935, Dr Panico was appointed as the new Apostolic Delegate for Australasia.  He came with a wealth of experience from his previous postings to Bavaria, Prague, Czechoslovakia. He was reported to be an authority on canon law and could speak all the modern languages.

With Italy’s declaration of war on France and Britain in June 1940, it was made clear that Dr Panico was a citizen of the Vatican and that he held a Vatican passport. On the 20th June 1940, Dr Panico made wartime radio history with a broadcast directly with the Vatican radio station.  In this inaugural broadcast, Dr Panico received from Vatican City Radio the names of 26 member of the A.I.F. (Australian troops) with messages for their families.  He asked Australian families looking for information about sons or husbands, missing in action, to advise of the location eg Libya, Greece, Crete. This service was offered to Australians regardless of religion.

Dr Panico worked tirelessly throughout the war years.

Australia’s Attorney General and Foreign Minister HV Evatt wrote to the Holy See on 1st June 1946:

To His Holiness

Great gratitude from myself and Government for patient, untiring and invaluable assistance given throughout the war by Mons. Panico in noble work or relieving the lot of prisoners of war and anxieties of their relatives specially in connection with Australian prisoners of war in Japanese and German hands.

The workload of this service increased dramatically.  June 1940 saw the arrests and internment of Australian resident Italians in internment camps with families in Italy looking for information on their Australian relatives.  In May 1941, the first Italian prisoners of war from Egypt arrived and the service was extended to assist Italian POWs to send messages home to Italy as well as receiving messages from Italy for the whereabouts of ‘missing’ Italian troops.

By April 1944, it was reported that over 300,000 messages had been received.  The service expanded to a one-hour broadcast six days a week.  The transmissions included lists of prisoners of war and messages from them for their families in New Zealand and Australia.  For Italian prisoners of war held in Australian camps, Dr Panico would arrange requests from Australia via air or surface mail of telegram.

Visitation to prisoners of war and internees was also an important role played by Dr Panico.  He made journeys across Australia to report on the conditions in camps and to offer spiritual solace.  He distributed thousands of books, purchased musical instruments and donated money on behalf of the Vatican to the camps.

Distribution of Books at Yanco Camp December 1942.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

Once Italian prisoners of war were placed on farms, Dr Panico visited farms to speak with farmers and the Italians. He was impressed by his experiences: “After such an intimate experience of the conditions of the prisoners and internees in Australia, it is highly commendatory to hear the Apostolic Delegate say that in no country could these men and women be treated better than they have been and are being treated in Australia.” He was concerned about ensuring that Italian prisoners of war had opportunities to attend mass once a week.  To this end, Dr Panico disclosed, in secret, to the Vatican, that he was granted by the Australian government, 1600 litres of oil [fuel] per month to allow the transport of prisoners to Mass or for parish priests to visit the prisoners. As part of his ministry, a special mass and celebration in Gympie Queensland for the district’s prisoners of war was organised by Dr Panico.

In May 1944, Dr Panico reported to the Vatican on his visits to farms. The following was conveyed, “Egli rimase veramente commosso dell’accoglienza a lui fatta anche da proprietari non cattolici, e della maniera con cui essi trattavano i prigionieri. Con molta soddisfazione vide che in alcune case coloniche i prigionieri erano considerati come membri della famiglia, dormendo nella stessa casa dei proprietari, prendendo insieme ad essi il cibo e ricreandosi insieme dopo il lavoro. Il Delegato Apostolico intese con non minor soddisfazione, gli elogi che i proprietari delle fattorie facevano dei prigionieri, i quali, salvo pochissime eccezioni, hanno contribuito e contribuiscono non solo a mantenere alta la tradizione dei lavoratori italiani, ma anche a distruggere molti pregiudizi che i protestanti d’Australia avevano verso il cattolicesimo. Inoltre, l’affezione dimostrata dagli stessi prigionieri verso i bambini delle famiglie presso le quali lavorano, ha portato qualche volta a scene tenerissime.” (Collectanea Archivi Vaticani 52)

Spiritual welfare for prisoners of war was a priority for Dr Panico which he administered in many ways. Dr Panico visited Italian prisoners of war in POW camp and Australian military hospitals. He gave the Last Rites to Cesare Sottocorno at the 113 Australian General Hospital Concord Sydney and ensured that a gravestone was erected on his grave. Dr Panico provided the photo at the left and details of Cesare’s death which was then sent to Cesare’s family via the Vatican.  The following photo shows his visit to the infirmary at Cowra Prisoner of War Camp.

Grave of Cesare Sottocorno (photo courtesy of Cesare Sottocorno)

L’Amico del Prigioniero was published by Dr Panico in May 1943, another example of his care and concern for the prisoners. In the preface he wrote, “L’intento del libro è già chiaramente delineato nel itiolo con ciuamammo chiarmarlo.” This liturgical work was taken home to Italy by many of the prisoners of war.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

Newspaper articles attest to Dr Panico’s farewell to the Italian prisoners of war.  In an unofficial capacity he was at a Sydney wharf to farewell Italian prisoners of war on the repatriation ship Moreton Bay in July 1946.  In November 1946, he was at a Fremantle wharf to say goodbye to those men boarding the SS Katoomba. The photograph records his conversation with one SS Katoomba prisoner of war.

A group photo of Dr Panico onboard an unnamed repatriation ship in 1946 reinforces his dedication to the welfare of the Italian prisoners of war.

From “Il Cardinale Panico e la sua terra”- Congedo editore – Galatina 1995.

Dr Panico’s work did not finish with the end of war or once Italian prisoners of war were repatriated. He set up the Relief Committee, the Relief to Italy from Australia, which arranged for 50 tons of clothing to be sent to Europe.

In October 1948, after 13 years’ service in Australia, Dr Panico was appointed papal nuncio to Peru.

A special thank you to Rocco Severino De Micheli who has shared the photos of Dr Panico included in this article. Rocco relates that one of Dr Panico’s important and lasting legacies is the Ospedale Cardinale Giovanni Panico de Tricase (Lecce).

Statue of Giovanni Panico in Tricase (Lecce) (photo courtesy of Rocco Severino de Micheli)

Can you help me?

It started with a message from Italy via Facebook on 2nd December 2017:

Hi! I found these documents about my grandfather in the Australian Archives, but I can’t understand too much of the document. Can you help me?

And it has ended with a reunion* of the Arici family in Ghedi Brescia Italy with the Maddock family in Mukinbudin Western Australia.

Antonio Arici was 29 years old when as an Italian prisoner of war in Australia, he was transferred to the farm of Norm and May Maddock at Hill View via Mukinbudin. The writer of the above message is Antonio’s grandson Davide Dander, also 29 years old. As a tribute to his grandfather, he is retracing his grandfather’s footsteps in Australia. Davide’s research has lead him to Mukinbudin and Bert Maddock, son of Norm Maddock, who has clear memories of Antonio working on the family farm.

Step by step, the Arici family is finding Antonio’s footprints. Arriving in Melbourne Victoria on 26th April 1944, Antonio was one of 4069 POWs in a convoy of three transport ships from India.  Antonio spent time at Murchison PW & I Camp Victoria before being transferred to Marrinup PW Camp WA on 4th June 1944 along with 1099 other Italian POWs.

These 1100 were destined for farm work in several Prisoner of War Control Centres. Allocated to W19 Prisoner of War Control Centre Koorda, Antonio’s first placement was with Mr S Goodchild Mukinbudin from 16th July 1944 to 8th November 1944.  He was then transferred to the farm of Mr Norman Maddock on 8th November 1944 until 15th January 1946.

Antonio Arici PW Identity Card

Identity Card for Antonio Arici

(NAA:K1174 ARICI, Antonio)

Norman’s son Bert Maddock was a teenager when Antonio stepped onto the family farm. Bert’s wife, Jocelyn provides the backdrop to Antonio’s journey:

 “The farm at Hill View had been taken up by Norm Maddock in 1929 and had to be developed by cutting down the bush.  He did a small amount of cropping but livestock mainly sheep were his chief source of income, so Antonio would have been involved helping with these activities… Norman also had a few cattle and of course a milking cow… Bert, my husband would have been about 15 when Antonio worked on the farm and he recalls going out into the bush with Antonio to cut timber railings to build horse yards.  Antonio had a comfortable hut – made from corrugated iron and containing his bed, a cupboard, a fireplace, a couple of chairs, a small table and a bath tub.  He had all his meals with the family.  The hut had originally been built for another worker who enlisted when the War began.”

Jocelyn relates that Bert and his sister Doreen, “both of them remember separately a Sunday when Antonio and another POW from a neighbouring farm cooked the evening meal for the family and it was pasta.  This was the first time any of them had tasted pasta as it was then not a usual dish in Australia…They remember Antonio as a ‘good bloke’ which is high praise indeed and means pleasant, friendly, trustworthy, a reliable helper on the farm and respected.  Indeed most people who employed Italian POWs speak of them in these terms.  Bert has a wooden box which Antonio left behind in his Camp – it was probably too heavy to take.  It is not a large box and was empty.”

Government records further confirm Bert’s memories of Antonio.  Notated on one of these forms are the words: A good worker with a cheery disposition.  Highly regarded by employers. 

Antonio took home to Italy a few mementos of his stay in Western Australia.  Two of them take pride of place, displayed on a wall in a daughter’s home: a felt hat and a whip.  Jocelyn mentions that “we find the picture of the hat and whip intriguing.  All the men on farms wore similar felt hats as a general item of clothing in all seasons so it may be the one he [Antonio] had on the farm. Whips were not general use on the farm … Bert surmises the whip in your [Davide’s] photo is a sulky whip used by his Grandfather George Maddock as George’s possession were brought to the farm after he died.”

Antonio Arici. Hat and Whip from WA 

Hat and Whip belonging to Antonio Arici

(photo courtesy of the Arici family)

After leaving the Maddock farm, Antonio arrived at the Northam PW Camp on 21st January 1946.  It wasn’t until 17th October 1946 that Antonio boarded the SS Katoomba for his repatriation to Naples.

Antonio’s daughter Franca continues retracing her father’s footsteps: “…[he] arrived in Naples on 23rd November 1946, from Naples, with the train reached northern Italy, his hometown, Brescia and the village of Ghedi.  He resumed the activities left before the war, working in the countryside as a farmer and herdsman, helping the family and his brothers.  In November 1954 he married my mother, Agnese, and the next year his first daughter was born. Immediately and almost constantly, my father asks my mother to move to Australia.”

An extract from a letter written by another Italian POW, Donato Caruso, working on Oscar Miell’s farm in the Mukinbudin district explains the impressions the Italians had of Australia and the reasons why Antonio wanted to move to Australia:

“Here one lives well.  There is everything to eat that one wants.  I hope I can return here at the end of the war.  There is enough land for all ITALY to be lodged here.  Here the farmers could live till they reached a hundred.  There are no hoes, the ground is worked with horses and tractors.  The climate is good (better than there). There are all conveniences, and nothing is missing.  The country is flat plain and a lot of wheat is lost on the ground. Wheat which we badly want.  Nothing is missing as regards enjoyment.  There is everything that one desires.”

Franca Arici says that, “the years spent in Australia had remained in the heart of my father, who always told of the past moments with great nostalgia; life as a prisoner of war should not have weighed too much in his memories, instead leaving the place to stories of boundless landscapes, meeting with people who respected him and considered him positively even if he were in a subordinate position… it is a beautiful, serene, nostalgic memory of my father’s and the desire to return to Australia has always remained alive in him, it certainly owes to the good treatment received on the farm that hosted him [Maddock farm] and we are very grateful to your family [Maddock family].”

The other mementoes Antonio kept from his time in Australia are a few librettos. Italian prisoners of war working on farms were provided with a copy of Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War published by the Department of Army. It contained a list of common words and phrases relevant to life on a farm as well as pronunciation guides.  The other book was written specifically for Italian migrants but by the end of 1945, the Department of Army allowed for its distribution to prisoners of war considering migration to Australia: Piccola Guida  per gli Italiani in Australia. This handbook gives descriptions of Australia’s climate and geography with practicalities such as opening a bank account. As well, it included comprehensive English language instruction.

Franca Arici talks about her father’s librettos and “His [Antonio’s] passion for the English… he had brought and kept with love from Australia his notebooks of English and during the winter evenings he would often read from them to us [his daughters].”

Antonio Arici Piccola Guida per gli Italiani in Australia 

Piccola Guida per gli Italiani in Australia belonging to Antonio Arici

(photo courtesy of the Arici family)

Like many Italian POWs who had a dream to return to Australia, circumstances prevented their migration.  “My mother’s seamstress work, family ties, bureaucratic and economic difficulties have prevented my father to fulfil his life dream to bring his family to Australia,” Franca relates.

Antonio was only 57 years old when he died on 19th July 1973, leaving behind his wife and family of four daughters.  But through the decades, his daughters have remembered their father’s dream to return to Australia and now are visiting Australia and Antonio’s life on a Western Australian farm through the memories of the Maddock family and the government records.

Antonio Arici and Family 1964.jpeg

Arici Family 1964

Back row: Agnese, Franca, Antonio and Elena

Front row: Maria Augusta and Luigina

(photo courtesy of the Arici family)

Franca reflects, “Now rediscovering you [Maddock family], allows us to ‘compensate’ our father for that desire which he had to give up and from heaven he will surely smile at us…”

Antonio Arici.jpeg

Antonio Arici

(photo courtesy of the Arici family)

And the last words to this journey belong to Davide, Antonio’s grandson who at the same age as his grandfather took a journey* to Australia to walk in his grandfather’s footsteps.

Davide had started with the question ‘Can you help me?’ On receiving the news that the Maddock family had been found and that Antonio was remembered, David wrote:

“oh my god!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! scusa non riesco a scrive in inglese dall’emozione, spero che google translate faccia un buon lavoro.

grazie grazie grazie davvero,!!!!! grazie ancora con tutto il cuore

Grandson Davide Dander.jpeg

Davide Dander, grandson of Antonio Arici

(photo courtesy of Davide Dander)

*Technology (Facebook, Google translate, email and internet searches) has enabled Davide and his family in Italy to ‘travel’ to Australia and retrace the footsteps of Antonio Arici: Italian Prisoner of War as well as ‘meet’ the Maddock family and be reunited with Antonio’s past.