I was very young when my granduncle died. He bequeathed me a collection of very old and precious volumes about the French Revolution, but I remember really few things about him. My mother remembered that he had been far away from home for many years during wartime, but she didn't know where he was exactly. She could only remember that my granmother one day heard someone knocking at the door, she opened and there was a young but very thin man in front of her. She asked " Can I help you?" and the young man answered "It's me Lina. I'm your husband's brother Dario, back from Africa".
That's all what I knew untill some years ago. What did it mean? Nobody asked further, because he prefered to forget, and everyone in my family knew that. And everyone forgot....untill when I grew up enough to understand and ask.
Only three words.....BACK FROM AFRICA
So some years ago, after having helped visitors to find the places where their granfathers, fathers, brothers and uncles fought during the battles of Monte Cassino, I decided that also my family's story was important, and I wanted to know as much as possible about the adventures my oncle had, during the war.
It was noy easy to know what to do.
I'm a girl, no idea of how the army works, no idea of service record books. But one day, I was on facebook when I discovered a group called "Zonderwater" with its faboulous webpage, about the Italian prisoners that lived in a POW camp in South Africa. I wrote to the Association there and the Engineer Emilio Coccia answered me immediately : my granduncle was on the list of Zonderwater camp. So I asked the help of the Facebook group and Enzo and Elisa, the admins of the group helped me to understand what to do and where I could write and ask. I needed 1 year of researches to know the few things i know now, but everytime I received an email or a letter, it was for me a gread emotion.
I wrote and researched at the following organizations:
- International Red Cross of Geneva
- Vatican Secret Archives
- Nazional Italian Archives of Vercelli
- Zonderwater Museum and Archive in South Africa
All what I discover untill today:
My uncle was born in northern Italy in Trino on 23rd June 1910, and after finishing to study, he decided to reach the Seminary to become a priest. He finished seminary and became a military Chapelain. First of all he was sent to Libya on 1937, but he come back on 24th August 1938. After about one year, he was recalled to the active Military duty. This time he was assigned to the 204° RGT. Art. Div. " 3 Gennaio", and he boarded the steamer "Sicilia" to reach Derma in Libya again.
During Operation Compass he was captured in Sidi El Barrani on 10th Dicember. Here the war recors stop, no more news about what happened when he was a prisoner.
To help me to know something more, I needed the help of Vatican (because he was a Priest, so in Rome I was able to find some of his letters) and the Italian Red Cross (controlling POW camps at the time and recording the names of those that were there)
That's all what I discover:
He was in British hands in the POW Camp of Genaifa , then he was sent to an other camp under the Pyramids, then he was transfered to South Africa by boat from Suez in a Pow camp called Zonderwater. He was the prisoner number 31202. While he was in Soth Africa he was admitted to the Hospital Premier Camp for a bad gastritis.
Thanks to Engeneer Emilio Coccia, resercher in South Africa, I know that he arrived in Durban, but we don't know when, then he was transported by train to the transit camp called Clairwood, and only on 11th September 1941 we was in Zonderwar, where he remained untill 20th Jannuary 1946, when he was first transporteds to Petermaritzburg-Natal and then back to Durban. On the same day he left Africa on the motor ship "Maloja", and he reached Suez, and then, probably by train Port Said.
Then he embarched the Ship "Montecuccoli" in Port said to Naple on 19th Febbruary 1946 and he was finaly knocking at my granmother's door on 28th Febbruary 1946...
6 years later...
(photos are private, but the first one, showing the former Zonderwater camp was kindly granted by www.zonderwater,com)