The Australian War Memorial holds the document AWM 54, Written records [1939-1945], 780/1/6, Report on the Directorate of Prisoners of War and internees at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, 1939-1951.
Volume 1, part 2 is about Enemy prisoners of war, and pages 101 to 106
list all the arrivals in Australia of Italian POWs. On page 106, you
will find summary table of which I reproduce here below the part about
This figure of 18,432 is what everybody quotes, including
the most authoritative authors, like Gianfranco Cresciani in "Captivity
in Australia: The case of the Italian prisoners of war, 1940-1947". Studi Emigrazione / Etudes Migrations, 26(94),
1989, 195–220, on page 204, and Desmond O’Connor in "From Tobruk to
Clare : the experiences of the Italian prisoner of war Luigi Bortolotti
1941-1946". Fulgor, 1, 2003, 69–85.
, on page 69. Also Alan Fitzgerald, in his widely quoted book, The Italian farming soldiers: prisoners of war in Australia, 1941-1947, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, on page 191, reports the magic figure of 18,432.
The problem with that figure is that if you read the text of the
original document, rather than just looking at the total, you will see
that only 256 seamen were first interned and then held as POWs, not 268
as reported in the summary table. As a result, it is reasonable to
conclude that the Italian POWs were in fact 18,420.
My study of the list of 44,513 POWs and internees of all
nationalities made available by the Australian National Archives as
series MP1103-1 seems to confirm the lower number. I eliminated as
carefully as possible all entries of non-Italian POWs and all entries of
Italian internees and ended up with 18,415 names.
For a while I had in the list exactly 18,420 names!
This series MP1103-1 includes the Service and Casualty Forms of
all POWs and internees. The military authorities filled in those forms
when the POWs arrived in Australia. If it turned out that there are
indeed 18,420 forms for Italian POWs, the universally accepted figure of
18,432 might have to be reconsidered. In any case, it can no longer be
accepted at face value!
In case you are wondering, I'm still working on the PhD. But the focus
of the PhD has somewhat shifted from telling the stories of POWs to how
to tell those stories. I'll try to write more often. The huge void before this article is shameful...