The Story of Italians at the POW Camp
Italy became a Fascist state under Mussolini 1924 and its invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 sought to reclaim the territory it lost in 1896. Italy joined the German Axis and fought with Hitler's Africa Korps in North Africa. As a result of Allied victories large numbers of Italian soldiers were captured and the Allies had great difficulty in finding sufficient provisions for them. Many were shipped off to India however the conditions were not satisfactory. At Britain's request Australia agreed to take 18,000 Italian POW and the Cowra Camp (one of 28 in Australia) featured prominently by housing 2,000 of these at any one time. The overall numbers that went through Cowra may never be known but it is estimated at 4,000.
The Italians arrived in 1943 and onward and were housed in compounds A and C with approximately 1000 in each. It soon became apparent that many of these Italians were easy going and just wanted to work hard and see their time out. A number of them were trusted individuals who were able to drive vehicles and work on farms or do labouring work away from the camp. Many were allocated and stayed on surrounding farms. The property Mulyan had part of its area designated as the Cowra POW Farm.
Many residents in Cowra have spoken about their friendliness and kindness to children, their singing, their food and their love of life. There were a small number of Italian Fascist, Black Shirts, who were a security risk and they were housed in a separate compound. This Compound D had a smaller number of POW and was at different times split into smaller camps D1, D2 and D3 which housed Italian Fascists, Japanese Officers and Koreans and Chinese respectively. Some of the Italians died from natural causes and there was at least one suicide. They were initially buried in the Cowra Cemetery but their remains were later removed to Murchison in Victoria.
The Italians did not participate in the famous Cowra Breakout by the Japanese and saw their time out in Cowra with the last Italian not leaving until 1947. Under the Geneva Convention all POW had to be returned home before they could apply to come back to Australia. Only a few came back to this area when migration approval was finally given. The Italian people contributed significantly to the Cowra economy and in recent years memorials have been constructed to their presence in Cowra. After many years we have a much better understanding of the importance of the Italians role in our district and their subsequent post war contribution to Australia generally. For further reading on the Italians see, The Italian Farming Soldiers, by Alan Fitzgerald and Voyage from Shame by Harry Gordon.