Thursday, 21 April 2016

New Zealand Prisoners of War in Italy during the Second World War

Recently a customer called into the Central Auckland Research Centre looking for a photograph of his uncle published in the Auckland Weekly News in 1943.  He said the photograph was the first indication to his family that his uncle was no longer a prisoner of war. A search of the Heritage Images database produced no results, which is not uncommon as many of the images from the Auckland Weekly News have a caption but few of the people are named. There is, however, ongoing work to rectify this. 

When the Italian Armistice was announced on 8 September 1943, Colin Tayler was a prisoner of war at Campo PG 107, about 9 kilometres north of Schio in Northern Italy.  Over the next three weeks he and his travelling companions, Privates D R Muir, R Kendrick, I Penhall and E Barnett, travelled approximately 566 kilometres south: by train to Pescara on the Adriatic coast, before walking some distance and catching another train as far as they could go.  They met allied soldiers north of Foggia and were sent to the New Zealand base at Taranto, before crossing the Mediterranean to the New Zealand base at Maadi, Egypt. The evening post reported that Tayler, Kendrick and Barnett arrived in Wellington on the 6 January 1944, and Penhall on 10 February 1944.

We found an image of Private Colin L Tayler and his travelling companions, taken at Taranto on the National Library of New Zealand website:


A further search and browse of Heritage Images found the original photograph, published in the Auckland Weekly News on 29 December 1943:


In the Auckland Weekly News photograph the men are wearing what appear to be their travelling clothes, whereas in the photograph at Taranto they are in army issue clothing.  The published photograph is likely to be the earlier image, taken soon after they had crossed the allied lines.

This group of five men were part of the approximately 79,000 prisoners of war held in Italy at the time of the Armistice.  Thousands of men escaped from their camps in an attempt to reach allied lines, travelling either by train or by walking hundreds of kilometres, often in mountainous territory away from the dangers of urban areas.  The journeys of many of the New Zealand escaped prisoners of war in Italy were recorded by W Wynne Mason in his official history, Prisoners of War.

Auckland Libraries have published memoirs of men who were escaped prisoners of war in Italy and we also provide access to the Prisoner of War lists for the Second World War through the Find My Past and The Genealogist databases via the Digital Library.

Author: Maureen West, Central Auckland Research Centre

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