Former WWII PoW revisits Orkney chapel to express his thanks

Gino Caprara
Gino Caprara returns to the Italian chapel he helped build during his captivity in the Second World War. During his return, he expressed his thanks to the locals for the kindness they showed him and his fellow prisoners during their stay in Orkney.

Gino Caprara, now 93, was a former prisoner of war during the Second World War. Decades after one of the biggest conflicts in history, Caprara revisits Orkney were he used to work during his imprisonment.

On Lamb Holm, Orkney stands an Italian Chapel that Caprara helped build during his stay on the island. He arrived on the island in Scotland on 1942 and left on 1945.

Caprara made the visit to see the chapel and at the same time to offer his thanks to the local people of the island. He expressed that the residents were kind to him and his fellow prisoners during their stay their during the war.

“I am very thankful for the kindness during the war. I wanted to come again before it was too late, because I am 93,” Caprara said.

Caprara was one of the Italians who had been captured in North Africa during the Second World War and were transported to Orkney as part of the labor force for their captors.

The BBC News reports that there are about 1,200 Italian PoW were moved to the island in Orkney.

The Italian chapel was constructed by the hands and sweat of dozens of PoWs including Caprara. The chapel has since then become a symbol of hope and peace. The chapel was given the name the “Miracle of Camp 60”.

The Italian chapel was built from two small huts which housed the prisoners. The island was then uninhabited save for the prisoner. Today, visitors can only glimpse of the concrete foundations that serve as remnants of the former prison camp.

The construction of the chapel was under the leadership of the artist Domenico Chiocchetti. He gathered a team of his fellow prisoners to transform scraps into an ornate Italian chapel with the use of the simplest tools.

Originally, the prisoners were sent to the island to work on the Churchill Barriers to seal the eastern part of the Scapa Flow. The War Office saw the need of building a chapel for the Roman Catholic prisoners. With the approval, Chiocchetti went ahead to lead the building of the Italian Chapel.

The chapel was constructed mostly from left-over structures and concrete and iron works which were scraps from the Churchill barriers. The transformation of scrap to an ornate chapel was ambitious work and indeed a miracle.

The construction of the chapel was completed only after the end of the war. The construction resumed when Chiocchetti returned to Lamb Holm. The artist restored the abandoned chapel. In the 1990s, improvements were carried out as well.

The locals gave their contribution as well to ensure that the hard work of the prisoners do not go to waste. They formed a committee in 1958 to take charge of the preservation of the chapel.

Even until today, the chapel is held in reverence by the local people of the island. The chapel is also reported as one of the “biggest tourist attractions in Orkney with around 100,000 visitors a year.




Siegphyl is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE