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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
Downloadable PDF text

"Prisoner of War" in India
The trip to India on the Ship Glasgow lasted several days, including time for taking coal.
"Day 23-2-41. We arrived at the port of Aden where we stopped for three or four hours to do supplies of coal.
Arrived at the port of Karachi 1st March in the first hours of the afternoon.
At the same time we were sent to a train and continued our long trip for five days.
Arrived in RAMGARH, day 6-3-41. Imprisoned in camp N.4-B."
The soldier prisoners were crowded into the below deck areas of cargo ships, in cramped spaces with the possibility to go out onto the open decks for only an hour each day. There were no toilets and the little food they received was of poor quality. Many of them became ill with dysentery. The officers, however, were treated with some respect. They were assigned to cabins and their meals were fairly adequate.

From Europe to Africa, and now to Asia, Umberto had already touched three continents. At that time, India was still an integral part of the great British Empire that was to dissolve at the end of the Second World War. Umberto became a "Prisoner of War" ("POW"). In a page of his notebook he writes those words in capital letters. They would be the first English words that Umberto has learned.

Service POW

As a POW, he was assigned the number "126777". Umberto had to learn that number very quickly. He had been registered as a prisoner of war before leaving Egypt, in a place called Geneifa, in Sinai, not far from Suez where there was a place of transit for POWs.

P.O.W. No. 126777

Living conditions in the POW camp of Ramgarh were particularly harsh. Umberto tells about his suffering and diseases:
"From March 41, closed in barbed wires we had to suffer not only because we were imprisoned, but also because of the great heat of India, almost unbearable. And when later, in the month of June 41, the rains began, we, the prisoners, we had to drink dirty water, with the same color as the earth. And this was the cause of serious diseases which made several soldiers die in the RAMGARH camps."
Even Umberto got sick. Pleurisy!
"I began the day 28-6-41 to be sick with low fever, stady pain at my back (shoulder). Medical diagnosis: Pleurisy."
And together with pleurisy, many other illnesses.
"Tonsillitis, headache, tiredness, rheumatism, bone pains. During the imprisonment I was tormented by diseases, which left serious injury for life."
The physical examinations occurred very often. Umberto notes carefully the dates and diagnoses.
"Physical examination
   7-7-41      pleurisy
   29-7-41    pleurisy
   30-7-41       "
   8-9-41         "
   16-9-41       "
The year 1942 did not start any better than the previous one. Umberto’s health condition had become worse and it was requested that he be given a "complete physical examination", in view of a possible repatriation.
"Day 7 February 1942. Passed a complete physical examination by the English at Ramgarh hospital S. P.te. Day towards the end of March 1942. Passed a complete physical examination by the International Commission at the Ramgarh hospital for Repatriation."
But obviously, it had nothing to do with the "Repatriation" (written with the first letter in capital, for its great importance. It was not just a word, but a dream, a mirage). The Commission must have decided that Umberto had not suffered enough and that his health allowed him to continue that very painful life of the POW camp.

The tension among prisoners themselves was always very high. Any little thing could be a pretext to heated discussions and quarrels. Umberto tells what happened once at the Ramgarh camp.
"Day 16 February 1942. At noon while we, “paesani”, were seating at the table in the refectory and talking about our business, namely we were saying that the soldiers of the first round had left the table dirty. Instantly the soldier Maldera stands up saying incorrect words: They did well. And all angry he approached our table, where as said we were talking. I told him: no one invited you to this conversation. At that moment I was standing and I sat on the bench near the table and at the same time the soldier Maldera took the table and he put it on my head producing two wounds on my forehead. Several soldiers were present and ran to help me. I was immediately medicated at the local infirmary of the field B.1. After a short time even the master the platoon intervened and took some measures against the soldier Maldera. At evening he was brought to jail.
Day on February 17. We were called to the command office and the soldier Maldera was punished with twenty-eight days of jail. Corporal Major Lavorgna Ernesto was my witness."
From this story we learn that, together with Umberto there were also some “paesani” at the Ramgarh camp. They were a small community of “laurentini” (originating from S. Lorenzello) or soldiers originating from the province of Benevento. Ernesto Lavorgna was one of them. He was born in Castelvenere, a neighboring town to S. Lorenzello, in 1918. His parents were Salvatore Lavorgna and Maria Antonietta Simone, and was married to Antonietta De Filippo. They lived in S. Salvatore Telesino (province of Benevento). Ernesto also returned from captivity in 1947.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 September 2008 )
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