Italian Prisoners of War material
January’s Object of the Month comes from a recent collection of material acquired by the Museum. The material relates to the Great Western Railway and the Second World War, and within this are a large amount of accident reports. These include accidents to staff, as well as to passengers, general public and animals. But one unusual set of papers relates to Italian Prisoners of War (POWs).
Italian POWs first came to Britain in 1941. They were held in special camps situated all around the country. They were used to relieve labour shortages whilst the war was still raging. The Great Western Railway took on these POWs to help out in all aspects of railway work. Most of it was labour intensive work. Some POWs worked at Swindon Works as engine cleaners, others worked on the permanent way repairing the track.
Working on the railway was a dangerous profession, even for those fully trained employees. For a non-English speaking POW it would have been a challenging time. Sometimes being unable to understand instructions or read warning signs meant accidents were inevitable. The POW accident report below was issued to M Conte who was based at a camp in Lambourn in Berkshire. Signor Conte was based at Swindon Works as an engine cleaner. Unfamiliar with his surroundings he fell into an engine pit. The report does not mention his injuries, but he must have been badly bruised at the very least. He was taken to the GWR Medical Fund Hospital in Swindon and treated.
Sometimes the injuries were less serious. The report below was issued to Guiri Guiseppe. He was held at the Glandulas POW camp at Newtown, Wales, but his accident happened 30 miles away at Machynlleth. Signor Guiseppe was clearing trees alongside the tracks when he caught his hand on the bill hook he was using. He was sent back to Newtwon where the camp Doctor was able to take over his care.
In the worst cases some Italian POWs lost their lives. The memorandum below was issued by the Great Western Railway in relation to the death of Ulderico Mazzocchetti. Ulderico was at the time an Italian POW ‘co-operator’. Co-operators volunteered their time to work after the Italians surrendered in the war in 1943. As a result they were given some freedom and engaged with the local community. Ulderico was working as a cook to a party of other co-operators working on the line at Neath Junction. In order to obtain clean water Ulderico had to cross the lines and sidings. It was here that he was struck by a wagon as it was being shunted. Sadly Ulderico was killed, with the memorandum stating that he was to blame for his own death. It is likely that, although warned of the shunting, Ulderico did not fully understand the instructions that were given to him. Following the incident the coroner returned a verdict that no-one was to blame for Ulderico’s death.
Although some of these documents do not make for light reading they are a valuable record of the POWs that came over to Britain during the war, where they lived, their age and what work they undertook. After the war finished it took some time before the Italian POWs left the country so they continued to work until it was their time to leave. However, some POWs never left and built a new life in Britain.