Book Review: “No Regard for the Truth” by Darren Arnott (@EasternRegional)

No Regard for the Truth (Self published, September 2019) by Darren Arnott

During the course of the Second World War, Great Britain and their allies captured approximately 400,000 Italian troops in the Middle East and North Africa. These were sent to prisoner-of-war camps all over the world, including Australia. Between 1941 and 1945, Australia received custody of 18,420 Italian POWs.

In Victoria, one of such camps was in Rowville. We are fortunate that local author Darren Arnott devoted a considerable amount of time and efforts to researching the Italians and their daily life in the Rowville camp, which opened in December 1944 on the south-west corner of Stud Road and Wellington Road.

As the subtitle of Arnott’s book No Regard for the Truth suggests, his research reveals not just “friendship and kindness” but also “tragedy and injustice” in the Rowville camp. Specifically, Arnott’s investigation focuses on a man from Florence named Rodolfo Bartoli, who was shot and killed by Captain John Walker Waterston, the camp’s commander.

Like any storyteller, Arnott, who grew up in Rowville in the 1970s and 1980s, begins his investigation by asking who Bartoli was, what this young man was doing so far away from home, and why this Italian died at the hands of an Australian.

Having studied a huge amount of government and military correspondence, transcripts of court cases and inquiries, and camp documents including maps, diaries and letters by both Australian officials and Italian internees, Arnott is able to reconstruct what happened on that fateful day in March 1946.

Readers are presented with two stories. One is of a 26-year-old man “with dark curly hair and a beautiful smile” who was tall, hard-working, terribly homesick and madly in love with a local girl. The other is of a career soldier with a history of “drunkenness, prisoner assaults, theft of property, the reckless firing of weapons and a desire to brush away the facts”.

Large sections of transcripts of the police investigation, Military Court of Inquiry, Coroner’s Inquest, Government Inquiry and the subsequent court-martial hearings of the Bartoli case are included in No Regard for the Truth to illustrate how truth was disregarded and concealed. While the details may be dry and confusing, their presence is necessary in the author’s attempt to demonstrate the amount of bureaucracy and legal mumbo-jumbo in which all efforts to pursue and reveal justice were smothered at the time.

Meanwhile, the author’s use of media reports, personal accounts, photographs and especially the written correspondence between Bartoli’s parents and members of the Gearon Family – on whose farm the young Italian had worked and whose love and support he had earned – is touching. These materials help readers comprehend how tragic cases such as Bartoli’s have a long-lasting impact on individual lives then and now.

And, from our society’s perspective, investigations of historical cases such as Bartoli’s help us right the wrongs of the past and shape a path towards a future based on truth and facts. Books like No Regard for the Truth ensure that even one man’s voice can be heard.

Note: This book review was originally published under the title “A detailed account of post-war injustice” by Rangers Trader Star Mail, June 15, 2021, P.10.

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