Orkney’s Italian Chapel Appeal For Memorabilia & Artefacts

News From Orkney Islands Council

An appeal for stories, letters and artefacts from the Italian Chapel Prisoners of War has been launched by the committee who look after the Lamb Holm place of worship.

Italian Chapel B Bell

The Italian Chapel Preservation Committee is running an exhibition within the Orkney Museum in the lead up to the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Churchill Barriers in May.

Committee member, Morag Ewing, said:

“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.

“On 12th May, 2020 it will be 75 years since the formal opening of the barriers by the first Lord of the Admiralty and longer still since the last Prisoners of War left Orkney.

“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.”

The Italian chapel

She explained that the prisoners would 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.”

Some memorabilia has been gifted to the people of Orkney by the families of POW’s but are currently not on display to the public.

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 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.

Mr Muir, who has been involved with the preservation of the Italian Chapel for 30 years, says the exhibition will give a further opportunity to strengthen the links between Orkney and Italy.

He is heading to Italy during February to help celebrate the 100th birthday of Gino Caprara – one of the two last surviving POW’s held at Camp 34 in Burray.

“Gino has been in Orkney many times and always tried to contact people he had visited in Burray all those years ago. He made friends with many different families there and speaks very passionately about the friends he made.”

Tom Muir at Orkney Museums was delighted to be able to help by offering a secure space for artefacts to be safely displayed to the public.

Tom Muir said any memorabilia lent for display would be documented and held securely before being returned to their owners.

Contact Tom Muir by email or by phone 01856873535 ext 2525.

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