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Italian Prisoners of War

Italian Prisoners of War, captured in 1941 during the North Africa campaign of the Second World War, were evacuated to India, Ceylon, South Africa and Australia due to Egypt's political instability. Faced with a shortage of rural labour, the Australian war cabinet decided to employ these men in rural industry. Costing £1 per week plus keep, prisoners were an attractive source of labour to many employers, and a limit of three per farm was imposed. The main staging post in Tasmania was Brighton, from which prisoners were allocated to regional centres at Launceston, Latrobe, Devonport, Burnie, Smithton and Redpa.

From September 1943, shortly after the allied invasion of Italy, 950 prisoners were allocated to Tasmania out of some 13,000 nationally. The scheme proved very successful and many close relationships developed between prisoners and their hosts, continued in some cases after the war. Owing to a shortage of transport ships, many prisoners were not repatriated back to Italy until early 1947. Some later returned to Tasmania.

Further reading: B Sargent, 'A change in perspectives', BA thesis, TSIT, 1990; B Bunbury, Rabbits & spaghetti, Perth, 1995; A Fitzgerald, The Italian farming soldiers, Melbourne, 1981.

Ian McFarlane