Italians in Middleton

Italian prisoners of war were brought to Middleton early 1945 writes Gloria Martinicca. The majority of Prisoners were taken to Post Hill in Bramley, Leeds.  They couldn’t accommodate all of them at Post Hill so the remainder were billeted in Middleton Park.

There doesn’t seem to be any records of this; I have tried the Internet and the Leeds museum where only the Post Hill base is listed. However, I have some first hand knowledge of this as my Father was one of those prisoners. I was told my Dad was billeted in the Middleton Hall there where I also understand some of them were in huts. His name was Crocifisso Salvatori Martinicca. My father told people here he was called Enrico (as in Carouso) because people could say that but he became known as Eric!!! Every one called him Eric even one of his dearest friends Louigi Colletta, (Middleton’s Ice Cream man). 

The Prisoners for the most part were treated reasonably well as most of the guards knew they had not wanted to fight us in the first place; all they had wanted to do when our war started was to leave Africa, where they had been for the previous 4 years, and go home to their families but instead Mussolini signed them up to fight with Germany. They couldn’t understand why they were not on our side as they had been in the First War. After the Italian surrender they thought they would be able to swap sides and fight with us but they were taken prisoner and brought to England; first to London then Liverpool followed by Middleton. Dad said he had to learn English 3 times.

There was one sergeant who was a nasty piece of work and did all he could to make their lives a misery. My Mum couldn’t remember his name, just how horrible he was.The men’s uniforms were in a disgusting state by the time they got to Middleton and of course the people here had nothing either, things were in short supply for everyone, they were all busy trying to make do and mend.  However there was an abundance of army blankets, they were also able to get green dye so the two tailors in the camp set to work making uniforms out of them.  The evenings were spent making craft things like belts out of the cellophane from cig packets. I still have one, and an embroidered men’s handkerchief of St Antonio done by one of my father’s friends.

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After V.E. day the men were allowed out of the camp. They used to go for walks and went to the cinema. They couldn’t go to the Tivoli, the manager wouldn’t let them in, so they walked through the woods to the Rex. The Manager at the Rex welcomed them as he said his brother had been shot down in Italy, the Italian people had hidden him and helped him escape from the Germans. He got back home safe.

The Italians had to walk down to the Rex, and anywhere else they went, because they weren’t allowed on the trams; not bad in fine weather but after the south of Italy and North Africa they were glad of the blanket uniforms.

My mother was a Wren in the war she was stationed in Liverpool and was sent to guide the ships in with only a torch in the Blackout. After seeing her friend crushed to death between a ship and the dock Mum was allowed to work in the canteen. Mum was released in June 1945 due to problems with her feet (as she said endless ‘square bashing’ took its toll) and on her return to Middleton she was sent to the camp to work on food supplies. This is how she met my father.

The men were assigned a work detail; one of the jobs my Father did was working at Robin Hood filling coal sacks and generally moving it around on trucks or wherever. During the winter of 1946 in a particularly cold spell the family, along with most other people, couldn’t get coal. They had money to feed the gas meter so they were sat in the kitchen in the flat in Sissons Road with their coats on round the gas oven trying to get warm when my father arrived and saw the predicament they were in. He said “there is plenty of coal down there, they don’t need it all” and he borrowed my uncle’s bike and the next night he brought them a sack of coal. My gran was very worried he would get into trouble but he thought it was very wrong that a woman of 60 was left to freeze when in his opinion there was no need.  Food was still in short supply and rationed so when my Dad and a couple of his mates went to any of my family they made pasta and used what was available to make the sauce.  That was the first time any of the family had seen spaghetti.  My grandmother said it looked a bit odd when they were swinging the dough around, it looked like hanks of wool, but it was a lovely change from the food they were used to.

The Italians were sent home in the January of 1947.  My Father set off back to England on the 7th of December 1947. He made a suit case from a piece of wooden furniture – it weighs a lot when it’s empty.  Dad travelled by train from Lecce, in the heel part of the south of Italy, then he worked his passage on a ship called the Andes from Naples and then trains through England. It took him three weeks to get back here. When he arrived in Leeds Station he had no money left. A policeman loaned him 6 pence for his tram fare, he took it back to him the following day.  My Parents were married at St. Philips Church on the 7th of January 1948.DSCN1139

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