Hugo Pratt, author of the comic book series “Corto Maltese”, is one of the celebrities registered in the archives of the Central Prisoners of War Agency.
At age 10, Hugo left Italy with his mother to join his father, Rolando Prat, in Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia). Rolando, a career soldier, had been stationed there following Benito Mussolini’s 1935 invasion. When the Second World War broke out, father and son joined the colonial police to put down the separatists. Just 13 years old when he enlisted, Hugo would later claim, “I was Mussolini’s youngest soldier.” In 1941, Rolando was captured by the British. He later fell ill, and died in detention in July 1942.
In 1942, Hugo Pratt and his mother were interned in the Dire Dawa camp while they awaited repatriation to Italy. Young Hugo bought comics from the guards and started doing his own sketches. He would later say, “I learned to draw in Ethiopia.”
In January 1942, the United Kingdom and Ethiopia signed a treaty in Addis Ababa that provided for the evacuation of all Italians from Ethiopia. The Italian government sent four Italian ships to Berbera, in British Somaliland. The Vulcania and the Saturnia arrived in Berbera on 5 May 1942 and the Giulio Cesare and the Diulio arrived on 15 May 1942.
Two ICRC delegates – Dr Descoeudres and Mr Thiébaud – were present and helped organize the repatriation of some 10,000 civilians.
Hugo Pratt and his mother were repatriated in May 1942 aboard one of these ships.