Most returning POWs came from the South

I started adding to the 554 records of Italian POWs who returned to Australia some of the information contained in their Service and Casualty Form (the green forms of which you see an example in italianpow.info/2013/02/passengers-arrivals.html).

In particular, I’m adding the military rank (e.g. Cpl for Corporal), the date of capture (e.g., 1941-4-11), when they were captured (e.g., Amba Alagi), the place of birth (e.g., Palermo), the profession (e.g., Engineer driver tractor), the marital status at the time of capture (e.g., single), the service (e.g., Army), the ship boarded for repatriation (e.g. Otranto), the date of repatriation (e.g., 1947-01-10), and a flag to indicate whether they were “parked” in India before being sent to Australia.

So far, I have processed 116 records, and discovered that three of them were of internees. This is easily explained: with 18,550 records of POWs extracted from MP1103/1 and only 18,420 POWs counted in AWM54 780/1/6, I expect my list of POWs to contain at least 130 internees. Three of them must have travelled to Italy and I discovered them when they returned back to Australia.

After processing about 21% of the 554 records, I couldn’t resist the temptation to start making some statistics.

The first thing I did was counting how many of the 113 processed records referred to singles. It turns out that 63.7% were singles and 36.3% were married. These figures obviously can change once all 554 records will have been processed, but they already give a good indication of the final result.

Somehow, it doesn’t surprise that singles were more adventurous.

Next, I checked where they came from. For two of them, the place of birth was not clearly legible, but the remaining 111 provided an interesting result. First of all, here are the counts for all Italian regions (listed from North to South):

Valle d'Aosta

Trentino-Alto Adige

Friuli-Venezia Giulia





Here is a map of the regions downloaded from www.mapsofworld.com/italy/regions.html to help you visualise them.

Clearly, many more of the returnees were from southern regions. Without counting the two people from Lazio, which is the region used as a demarcation between North and South, 14.7% came from the North, and 85.3% from the South. A ratio of almost six Southerners for each Northerner.

Again, I will repeat the calculation once I will have processed all 554, but I see no reason for expecting much change.

The figures become even more dramatic when taking into account the fact that the population of Northern Italy was larger than that of the South. Using the results of the 1951 Italian national census (the closest date to the return of the POWs to Australia) as a correcting factor, I calculated that the POWs from the South were close to nine times more likely to return to Australia as migrants.

I see this as a clear indication of the fact that life in the South of Italy was much more difficult than in the North. The South had always been (and, to a certain extent, still is) less developed than the North. Therefore, it is no surprise that more Southerners were prepared to leave their country to seek fortune Down Under.

To confirm this conclusion, I will need to check the ratio of Northerners vs. Southerners among all 18,420 POWs. If it turned out to be heavily biased in favour of the Southerners, that could be a reason for the unbalance in the numbers of those who returned.

To avoid having to obtain the place of birth from 18,420 Service and Casualty Forms, I will select a number of them at random and only check those. I will estimate the statistical error of the resulting ratio, but I am confident that a comparatively small sample (perhaps 1%?) will be sufficient to check whether the Northerners/Southerners ratio of the POWs roughly reflected the ratio of the whole Italian population.

After all, the significant result is that many more Southerners returned, not the precise ratio with which they did so.


  1. Hi,

    my grandfather was a POW in australia and i'm trying to find more info about what happened and such after finding his POW tin container. He wasn't able to tell me any of his stories or I don't remember them since i was only 4 when he passed away. Any info or lead would be much appreciated.


  2. Why don't you send me your father's name via email? You will find my email address as an image near the top of http://zambon.com.au and at the bottom of http://giuliozambon.org (I should write my email address somewhere in this blog...). I've got some info on Giuseppe Scalia, born on 1912-06-02.

    And, obviously, you can write in Italian! :-)

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