An Italian Prisoner of War, beachcombing, 75 years ago

Orkney had a substantial Italian Prisoner of War population in the Second World War. They were specially commandeered for building work to make causeways between the islands in the south of Orkney. That was controversial because their real purpose was to secure ships in the massive harbour of Scapa Flow from attack by German submarines. Prisoners were not supposed to do work which would help the War effort. Over 1,000 men spent four years working with stone and concrete to construct them. The causeways are known as the Churchill Barriers.

One Italian prisoner of war was Ugo Pizzi, a young man from Fontanelle near Parma. One day, while walking on the beach in Orkney he found a canvas bag. He picked it up and kept it and put his shaving kit in it. He kept it during his time in Orkney and took it home with him to Italy when the War ended. He kept it all his life. His son Alberto thought that it helped Ugo remember the privations of his time as a prisoner. The experience stayed with him, like the small bag, all his life.

In 2012, seventy years after Ugo Pizzi was first sent to Orkney, his son Alberto and Alberto’s wife Angelo made another of their trips to Orkney and donated the bag to the Italian Chapel. Here’s his emotional letter:

Alberto Pizzi letter - The Hall of Einar

And here’s Ugo’s shaving kit with the bag he found on the beach all those years ago:

Ugo Pizzi - The Hall of Einar

It was a beautiful thought by his family and a great object for us to treasure as a memory of some of the worst times our two countries have experienced.

Many thanks to John Muir for allowing me to photograph these items.

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