Stolen Years: Australian prisoners of war - Campo 57
“A sadist and a beast”
Australians who were not officers were held in Campo 57, at Gruppignano near Udine in north-east Italy. The camp was commanded by Colonel Vittorio Calcaterra, described by one prisoner as “a sadist and a beast and an accessory to murder”.
Thanks to Calcaterra, conditions in Campo 57 were extremely harsh. Food was poor, and housing was crowded and insanitary. The prisoners had to improvise their own medical treatment, coping with the “57 twins”, pneumonia and kidney disease.
Calcaterra’s regime reduced the camp to “a mass of neurosis as no one knew when his turn would come” to be victimised. An Australian doctor recorded that ten Australians died in Campo 57. The number saved by Red Cross aid, he wrote, “is beyond computation”. Calcaterra died before he could be tried as a war criminal.
Bert Woolland’s drawing depicts significant aspects of life in Campo 57: the long journey from Australia, via India and Libya, that resulted in capture at Derna, and a captivity dominated by barbed wire, Red Cross parcels, and the seemingly endless wait for the day they would be free.
Fred Anderson’s drawing lists the names of one of the first groups of Australians to become prisoners, in April 1941. These men would wait four years for liberation. The motto “still on top” reflects the comradeship that sustained them.