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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Italian Chapel Appeal for POW Artefacts

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An appeal for stories, letters and artefacts from Italian Chapel Prisoners of War (POWs) has been launched by the committee who look after the Lamb Holm place of worship, in the leadup to 80 years since the camps fell silent.

The Friends of the Italian Chapel is planning to display items brought forward by members of the public at a special exhibition with The Orkney Museum starting in May and running over the summer, coinciding with the 80th anniversary this August of the Italian POWs leaving Orkney.

Over 1,300 Italian prisoners of war, who had been captured in North Africa, were working on the construction of the Churchill Barriers for Balfour Beattie.

These prisoners were held at Camp 34, Burray, and Camp 60, Lamb Holm, where they famously created the beautiful Italian Chapel from two Nissen huts.

Friends’ Committee member, Morag Ewing, explains:

“The concrete causeways were constructed during World War Two by Balfour Beattie, with labour from around 1,300 Italian POWs who had been captured in North Africa.

“These prisoners were held at Camp 34, Burray and Camp 60, Lamb Holm, where they famously created the beautiful Italian Chapel from two Nissen huts.

“Prisoners would also spend their time making artefacts, such as toys, wooden carvings, jewellery from tin, inlaid boxes and many other objects and gifted to people they had struck up friendships with during their time in the islands.

“We, as a group, are aware that there are many objects and artefacts of interest relating to the Italian Chapel scattered throughout homes within the county and we thought it fitting to host an exhibition of these items around the time of the anniversary.”

Committee honorary president, John Muir, said it was important to document what may be out there before it is lost in time or discarded.

“It’s not the monetary value of the works but the cultural and historical importance that is key as many of the pieces were crafted by POW’s using ‘bully beef tins’ and scrap metals from the wrecks.

“They were very clever with their hands – give them a coin and they could make a ring, or string to make slippers.

“It is hoped to hear some of the stories behind the pieces as well.

“Sadly, as the years pass some of the stories and memories are lost.

“We are keen for the next generation to appreciate works created in harder times and fashioned from very little.”

Mr Muir, who has been involved with the preservation of the Italian Chapel for 30 years, has a lighter which was given to his father by a POW, several original paintings of Domenico Chiocchetti who led the chapel project, and a few wood carvings.

He says the exhibition will give a further opportunity to strengthen the links between Orkney and Italy:

“Gino Caprara, who passed away in 2020 aged 100, was one Italian P.O.W. who was held in Camp 34 in Burray.

“He had always stressed the importance of maintaining links and celebrating the friendships made during times of war.

“This exhibition will give another opportunity to strengthen these links.

“It also gives provides the opportunity for people to share their artefacts and the stories behind each of them, and a chance for another generation to learn about this period of Orkney’s history.”

The exhibition is planned to run from 11 May to 12 October 2024, in the Baikie Library of the Orkney Museum, Tankerness House in Kirkwall.

It will also include artwork by S2 pupils from the Kirkwall Grammar School, inspired by the Italian Chapel.

If anyone has any stories, letters or items made by the Italian P.O.W.s that they would be willing to lend for the display, the Orkney Museum would gladly include them.

All pieces will be safely stored by Orkney Islands Council’s Museums team and documented by Friends of the Italian Chapel before being returned to their owners.

Please contact exhibitions and engagement officer Tom Muir at The Orkney Museum to submit items, by e-mailing tom.muir@orkney.gov.uk or phone 01856 873535 ext 2525.

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