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18 June 2014
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Orkney's Italian Gift

The metalworkers had also been busy at work, Palumbo fashioning two iron candelabras, and Primavera making four more from brass. Palumbo then moved on to the rood screen, creating a work of art from the reinforcing rods of concrete blocks. The work on the screen took him four months as he beat the round rods square before assembling them into the fantastic design they now appear as.

The interior of the Italian Chapel
After creating such beauty in part of the hut, the prisoners now realised how bare the rest of the chapel was, so throughout the rest of the hut, more plasterboard was acquired and painted in a Trompe L'oeil style to resemble the churches of their native country, with bricks at the top of the wall and a dado along the base to resemble carved stone. The scale of this work was too much for one man and so a painter was transferred from another camp to assist.

There was little else with which to decorate the chapel, but the prisoners persevered, and, using the scraps they came across, gradually the chapel took shape. The brass candlesticks were made from the kickboards of ships. The lanterns were made from bully beef tins, and the wire used to suspend them from the ceiling was the wire rope from ships. Wood from a shipwreck was used for the tabernacle. In fact, the only items bought in for the chapel are a pair of gold curtains, situated on either side of the altar, purchased from a firm in Exeter with money from the prisoners' own welfare fund.

The front of the Italian Chapel
But then why have a chapel that looked like a church inside but still looked like an elongated Nissen hut outside? So with the help of the cement worker, Bruttapasta, an impressive facade with a colonnaded porch was erected and surmounted by a high belfry.

Windows of decorated glass added a light, authentic touch, and a final thick covering of cement over the whole of the exterior of the huts finished the transformation

The prisoners also turned their skills to less grandiose projects making such items as kaleidoscopes from broken glass bottles, cigarette lighters and fashioning cigarette boxes into the shape of cars, which were given to local children to play with. Some of these can articles can be seen today in the Orkney Wireless Museum

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