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Umberto's War
Written by Pacifico Cofrancesco   
Thursday, 18 September 2008
Article Index
Umberto's War
And the story starts
The war of Ethiopia
The "Libbretta"
Umberto in Libya
The "starving life"
"Prisoner of War" in India
The correspondence with family
Back home
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The "starving life"

Umberto writes:
"From the day 4 until January 15 in Ponticello and Capuzzo.
Day 15. Embarked at the port of Solum. Ship directed to Alexandria, where we disembarked in the afternoon of 16 [January] 1941.
Day 19. Left from Alexandria by train, taken to the surroundings of Port Said, where we starved more than everywhere else.
Day 15-2-41. Left from Port Said, taken to Suez by train and the same day we embarked on Ship Varela Glasgow and waiting two days more at Suez.
Left from Suez, day 17-2-41 directed to India."

This is how Umberto’s captivity began, and it was the same for many other Italian soldiers taken prisoner in Bardia. Umberto reached Alexandria by ship and moved to Port Said by train. Other prisoners were less "lucky" than he and walked for days and days in the North African desert before reaching the ports of departure to their final destination, as prisoners of war.

Some of the Italians prisoners of Bardia recall how the Australian and Indian soldiers, fighting together with the British Army, were "beautiful". Guido Granello in his "life story" tells that: "All the Australians soldiers seemed officers; pleasant people, tall, so clean, with that big hat. They had an alcohol stove and they prepared some tea. They ate little biscuits while drinking tea. And we were there, hands up, full of lice, watching. (C. Pavan, “Al fronte e in prigionia”, "At the front and in captivity", p.27)

In the Journal of the English cadet Philip Dilworth, embarked on a ship of the British India Steam Navigation Company, Australian soldiers do not seem "beautiful". He writes of Italian prisoners carried by his ship from Egypt to India:
“They were in a sorry state, bedraggled, hungry, with ragged uniforms, and many of them were without any form of footwear. One day I got into conversation with a prisoner [...]. He could speak English quite well. He could have been a neighbour, back home - yet here he was with a uniform in tatters, having no shoes or boots, and obviously not all that well fed. I asked him why his uniform was in such a state and why he had no boots on. In his hesitant English, he told me he had been captured at Bardia by Australian troops who had recently arrived in North Africa and were keen on sending souvenirs back home. He said many of them were drunk on Italian wine they had captured at Bardia, and as a consequence many prisoners were badly treated. The Italian equipment was mostly poor compared to ours - however the Italian army boots, made of pigskin, were vastly superior, being more supple and comfortable, than those of the British or Australians. Apparently at Bardia, the Australians went round the prisoners measuring their feet against those of the prisoners and taking those boots which were of the right size.”  (
Our poor soldiers were defeated, humiliated, hungry and without shoes. And with this mood and in these miserable conditions prisoners of Bardia were moved to various parts of the world, some to India, others to Australia, and still others, like Guido Granello, to South Africa. India was Umberto Cofrancesco’s destination.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 September 2008 )
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