About this blog

On 10 June 1940, Italy entered the Second World War at the side of Germany. During the course of the War, Great Britain and their allies captured in Ethiopia and North Africa approximately 400,000 Italian troops, who were sent to POW camps all over the world, including Australia.



Between 1941 and 1945, Australia received custody of 18,420 Italian POWs. Then, after Italy signed an armistice with the Allies in September 1943, the Australian authorities took between 13,000 and 15,000 Italian prisoners out of the POW camps and put them to work.

Farmers and other primary producers were required to provide food and keep, plus ₤1 a week for each POWs (significantly less than what Australian labourers were been paid). The prisoners only received about one shilling a day for their work, while the government retained almost two thirds of the weekly pound as compensation for providing medical services and clothing.

In 1945, when war in Europe was over and Italy had been on the side of the allies for over for one and a half years, the Australian government, instead of returning the Italian prisoners to their families, kept them working in Australia for another one to two years. In fact, requests were sent to British authorities in India to send more Italian POWs to Australia.

Finally, mostly in 1946 and 1947, the Italian POWs were repatriated to Italy. Then, during the following couple of years, perhaps 10% of them returned to Australia as migrants.

The father of a friend of mine, here in Canberra, was one of them. He had fallen in love with an Australian young woman (my friend’s mother) and came back to Australia to marry her.  Actually, after publishing this article, I discovered that my friend escaped to marry her love, after which he surrendered to the Australian authorities to be repatriated.  Then, as soon as he was back in Italy, he applied to migrate to Australia.

When I heard my friend’s story, as the incurable romantic I am, I searched the Internet to find out whether many former Italian POWs had returned to Australia for love.

I couldn’t find almost anything. It is not even clear how many came back as migrants. That’s when I had the crazy idea of taking a PhD to research and tell some of the stories of those men. Who were they? What motivated them to come back to Australia?

Perhaps my idea was not completely crazy after all, because the University of Canberra agreed with me.  Since December 2012, I’m a student again.

These stories need to be told. That part of our history has been badly neglected. The 15,000 Italian POWs who worked in Australian rural communities, with their hard work and moral values, made many Australian realise that the Italians were more than just bloody Dagoes only wishing to lazy in the sun.

The monograph I loved an Italian prisoner of war tells the story of Domenico Camarda, and the article From Tobruk to Clare: the experiences of the Italian prisoner of war Luigi Bortolotti 1941-1946 tells another one of those stories. But what about the other 18,418 Italian POWs? Are they going to disappear into oblivion? Not all of them, if I can help it.

The purpose of this blog is to let me describe some of the work I am doing for my PhD, but also to tell many snippets of information of which few people are probably aware.

The background image of this blog is a picture of the landscape around Cowra, the site of the largest POW camp in Australia.

2 comments:

  1. Hi - I am the grand-daughter of Domenico Camarda the man that you mentioned above and have grown up with the love story of my grandparents. I have spoken many times to my grandmother (who is still alive, my grandfather sadly died many years ago) about this time and what it meant back then for someone her age to run off to be married to someone most people feared and hated. I have always loved the romanticism of the story but the struggles many of these people faced just to be together - including my mother who was firstly separated from her father for several years when he was returned to Italy and then ridiculed as a child for being both Italian and Australian is a story that should be told. I am glad someone has shown interest in this and I wish you luck with your research and studies

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    Replies
    1. Dear Alison,
      Sorry for replying late. I was in Melbourne till this morning and... well... I had problems in reading my email...
      I'm so happy that you left a comment on my blog. Next year, after obtaining from the univerisity approval for conducting interviews, I will try to talk with some of the POWs who are still alive and with families and descedants. I would like to include in the story that will form part of my thesis testimonies that would otherwise be lost forever.
      Perhaps we could establish a direct contact via email (mine is giulio at giuliozambon.org).
      Others have contacted me, and it is always an emotional experience to be able to associate a name with a real person. It's the closest thing to travelling back in time!
      Ciao, Giulio.

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