Waiting to Go Home

With the war over, Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farms at the end of 1945 – beginning of 1946. With a sense of hope, they believed that they would be home in Italy within one or two months.  Many letters written to Queensland farmers from their ex POW workers talk of going home soon.

Reality was, that the majority of Italian prisoners of war were not repatriated until end of December 1946 – January 1947. Recalling 13,500 Italian prisoners of war into the POW and Interment camps came with logistical problems.  However, a number of Italian POWs were sent to army ordinance sites and training sites for a range of duties from ordinance maintenance, maintenance and improvements of camps, salvage work, vehicle maintenance.

N33 Hostel Nobby’s Road was one such site. Alan St John spoke with a number of Italians working there…

NOBBYS ITALIANS ARE NOT SO HAPPY

By Alan St. John

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW: 1876-1954), Saturday 28 September 1946, page 5

A TRUCKLOAD of red-uniformed Italians prisoners-of-war rolls westwards up Hunter Street.  They look interesting.  They smile, reveal flashing white teeth.  Their long, dark hair flicks with the wind and they seem carefree, even irresponsible.

To chat with the 36 Italians behind barb wire, I went to their camp at Nobbys this week.  They turned out to be interesting, but don’t let those happy smiles fool you.  They are not irresponsible.  These sallow-skinned Latins are worried men with a sterile past and a cloudy future.  About Christmas time they are due to go home.  They have to search for their people, to eat, to work and to seek stability in a country still heaving after the convulsions of war.

Corporal-major (an n.c.o. rank) Mario Dominelli has a thin face and steady, serious, dark eyes. He told me with emphasis: “We have nothing to be happy about.  We are penniless.  We have lost all our youth.  We will soon return to a strange home with 30 years and more on our shoulders to start with.”

Dominelli, 30, son of Milanese master carrier was impressed into the Italian Army three and a half years before the war.

There was no option about Dominelli’s becoming a soldier. Failure to attend the call-up would have resulted in a visit from a burly gendarme and possibly, in rough treatment.  The period of service was meant to be 18 months, but when war hove in sight, young men just were not released.

Dominelli served as a motor mechanic with tanks in Libya and was ‘caught’ by the Australian Desert Rats in 1941.  About two and a half years of his imprisonment he spent in India, but when Italy surrendered prisoners of war there were released on parole.  He had charge of 60 men.  When he came to Australia, he went behind barbed wire again.  He can not understand why, though it is all over now, he is still behind the wire.

“Australia is a fine country,” he said. “But I should be let out to see it.”

The serious Dominelli became graver at mention of his family. “My people – I have not heard of them for three years.”

ENGLISH LOOKING

A contrast to his fellows is Carlo Narboni, whose tall, straight figure, blonde hair, blue eyes and ruddy complexion could cause him to be taken for an Englishman.  A native of Tripoli, he was in the Italian army two years before the war, as an artilleryman.  He was one of thousands the Australians captured at Tobruk.

Narboni has seen something of Australia during his five years here, much of his time being spent on a farm at Coonabarabran.  Carlo is useful with his hands and, at Nobbys, has turned out an excellent carpenter.

Though his father and brother in Italy are trying to rehabilitate their big rope works in Padua, 27 – year-old Erminio Navarin, a Venetian who has been in uniform since 1938, wants to stay in Australia.  But arrangements to allow prisoners of war to remain here are still in the ‘talking’ stage, he has been told.  When he turned 18, Navarin failed to report for army service.  The breach cost his father a fine of about £7.

LITTLE MAN, BIG TRUCK

Another Nobbys prisoner attracted to Australian farming life is Gaetano Cavallaro, a 25-year-old native of Rovigo, near the ancient Italian city of Padua.  He has worked on farms at Murwillumbah and Tamworth.  Cavallaro, who was 18 when he joined the army, is only 5ft. 2 in tall and the camp dwarf.  He was driving a 35-ton Isooto Frashini army truck when he was cut off from his unit in Bardia.  He, too, was taken in charge by the Aussies.  He is keen to see his parents, four sisters and a brother, in  the town which he says is ‘something like Newcastle.’

At 46, Lorenzo Strambi, grey-haired and sombre, who entertains his Nobbys camp-mates with his guitar is a victim of circumstance.  Out of work, he left his native Genoa for Africa and became a quarry-worker in Addis Ababa.  War came; there was no transport to take him home so he was pushed into the army.  He has not seen his wife and 21 year old son for eight years, and this week he received a letter from his wife for the first time in four years.

GONDOLIER, TENOR

Nobbys other musical Italian is Crescenzio Catuogno who was a real Neapolitani gondolier.  His civilian job was to punt tourists around Naples Harbour in his gondola and, as an added attraction, entertain them with his fine tenor voice.

Nobbys Catuogno 3918936

Gondola Tenor: Crescenzio Catuogno standing at far right

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49305 E. Allunni; 46486 F. Palladino; 48249 G. Olivares; 46433 G. Polise; 49690 A. Rea; 45169 C. Catuogno. Front row: 49310 A. Argento; 49566 A. Di Pala; 49670 G. Joime; 45256 A. Ciancio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030148/10)

Marshalo (Warrant-Officer) Florentino left Nobbys recently with a nervous breakdown. [Domenico] Florentino was highly intellectual – a Bachelor of Economics, a chartered accountant, and holder of a first-class steamship master’s ticket.  The confinement of camp life got the better of his highly strung temperament, and he was sent south for special treatment.

Florentino failed to adapt himself to the life, as his comrades, who have worked out their own forms of expression. Some study trades, some read, and some make trinkets.  To finish off his cement garden ornaments, Angelo Fumagalli, even makes his own paint-oil mixed with soil, brick dust and pulverised Nobbys rock.  One of his creations is a model six-story building.

The prisoners go to Mass at Tighe Hill every Sunday.

Their food is good, and they make their own excellent macaroni.  In addition to a free ration of cigarettes (from a special fund), the Italians may buy six ounces of tobacco and three packets of papers a month.  They have their own currency: half pennies and pennies with their centres punched out, rated at 2/ and 5/. Pay for non-commissioned ranks is 1/3 a day.

But the prisoner of Nobbys are far from happy.  I don’t blame them. Carlo Narboni, the English-looking fellow, shrugs and explains: “Eat ees good here, and the capitani he is a gentleman.  But if you have been a soldier, you will understand: we have been away from home a too long time.”

Nobbys Florentino 3872124

Domenico Florentino: Happier Times at Liverpool Camp before he was transferred to Nobbys Camp

LIVERPOOL PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNMENT CAMP, NSW 1945-11-21. DOMINIC FLORENTINO (LEFT), THE CAMP LEADER, AND FORTUNATO PALLADINO, THE SECOND IN CHARGE OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR. LIVERPOOL PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNMENT CAMP, NSW 1945-11-21. DOMINIC FLORENTINO (LEFT), THE CAMP LEADER, AND FORTUNATO PALLADINO, THE SECOND IN CHARGE OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR.

(PHOTOGRAPHER L. CPL E. MCQUILLAN; AWM)

In their spare time…

What isn’t written into the records is how the Italian prisoners of war kept themselves occupied during their many hours of idleness.  It just wasn’t the hours spent on board the transport ships to India and Australia that needed filling, but also the Sundays on farms and the days and nights in Cowra, Hay and Murchison.

Snippets of information from newspapers, oral histories and letters, when combined with images from photos deliver an insight into the pastimes of our Italian POWs.

CARDS and BOARD GAMES My nonno taught me how to play card games.  I have always thought that this is how he wiled away his spare hours during the ‘slack’ in the cane cutting communities of north Queensland during the 1920s and 1930s.  Briscola and scopa are two Italian card games which no doubt the Italian POWs played while in Australia.  A newspaper photographer captured two Italians playing cards onboard the train taking them to Hay.  A pack of cards is portable and cheap.

Mention is made in a newspaper article of an ‘improvised draughts board’ carried by an Italian POW when he landed in Sydney. The draught pieces had been cut from broom handles. Official photos taken at Hay and Cowra, had Italian POWs playing chess and making chess sets (from lathes constructed by the POWs).

Italian POWs Playing Cards

(The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954) Thursday 16th October 1941, page 10)

EDUCATION and LANGUAGE CLASSES Costanzo Melino wrote that whilst in India, he attended Italian and English classes.  Having minimal formal education in Italy, he seized opportunities to undertake classes in Italian and English. It was considered imperative that POWs occupied their leisure time usefully and the policy was to provide opportunities for POWs to further their studies.  Libraries in the camps were established and canteen profits used to purchase additional text books relevant to courses undertaken. Books from overseas were allowed in the areas of banking and financial, medical, scientific, art, economics, music, agriculture, religion, trade and commerce as well as periodicals of a general literary nature.

METAL WORK CLASSES Rosemary Watt (Bury) is caretaker of a carved artefact made in Cowra by Angelo Capone.  Most like mass produced in a mould, the Italians then finished the carving with adornments of their choosing.  Interestingly, the Australia War Memorial has a similar arefact in their collection and one is left to ponder “how many other carved arefacts are their in homes in Australia and Italy?”

LEATHER WORK  Australian children recall the shoes and sandals made by their Italian POWs.  The leather would be produced from hides and crafted into practical items such as coin pouches, belts and footwear.  In POW group photos taken at Cowra, Hay and Murchison, many Italians can be seen wearing sandals, which were certainly not standard issue.

EMBROIDERY The origins of the elegant sewing prowess of Italian POWs is hard to locate.  Personal memories are that the Italian POWs had learnt the skill in India and embroideries completed by Italian POWs in India can be found from time to time on EBay. Two beautifully embroidered works are keepsakes of Colleen Lindley (a gift from Domenico Petruzzi to her mother Ruby Robinson of Gayndah) and Ian Harsant (a gift from Francesco Pintabona to the Harsant family of Boonah). An interesting interpretation of the word ’embroidery’ is offered by Alan Fitzgerald in his book ‘The Italian Farming Soldiers’. Used in letters written by Italian POWs,  the word ’embroidery’ was code  for ‘fascist propaganda’.

ART and MUSIC and PLAYS Musical performances and stage plays were performed in the camps.  The wigs of theatre as illustrated below were captured on film at Cowra.
V-P-HIST-01882-02.JPG

Cowra 12D 2 7.43 Wigs of Theatre V-P-HIST-01882-02

(International Committee for the Red Cross)

Instruments and art supplies were provided to Italian prisoners of war. The photo below shows a wall of the barracks at Hay which had been decorated as well as the musical instruments acquired for use by the Italians.  Furthermore, Queenslanders remember the mandolins, guitars and banjos that were played on the farms and Nino Cipolla has the music for songs his father Francesco notated while in Q6 Home Hill and Cowra PW & I Camp.

Hay.Art.Music

HAY, AUSTRALIA, 1943-09-09. GROUP OF ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR INTERNED AT NO.6. P.O.W. GROUP, WHO HAVE FORMED THEMSELVES INTO THE CAMP ORHESTRA.

(Australian War Memorial Image 030142/02)

Cowra Council have an interpretive display on a number of themes at various points around the precinct.  The Italians is once such display and under the title Members of the Family, the following is recorded: “Their great love of music, food and art endeared them to the community.  They formed bands and produced musical events which would attract local people to sit outside the camp and listen to their beautiful singing”.

FOOTBALL, TENNIS and BOXING

It is not surprising that just as football is a passion for Italians today, it was also a passion back in the 1940’s.  Group photos of Italian prisoners of war were taken in 1944, among them photos of the Football Teams.

Murchison.Football Team

MURCHISON, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA. 1944-05-20. SOCCER TEAM OF ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR OF NO. 13A COMPOUND, MURCHISON PRISONER OF WAR GROUP.

(Australian War Memorial: Image 066766)

Hay.Football

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Soccer teams from No. 15 Prisoner of War (POW) Camp lined up on the ground before commencement of play. All Italians, some have recently transferred from Hay. The match was played in temperatures over 109 degrees F.

(Australian War Memorial: Image 063921 Geoffrey McInnes)

Official photos in the Australian War Memorial collection also show the Italians playing tennis at Hay and boxing competitions at Cowra.

GARDENS and STATUES and FOUNTAINS  One would be hard put to find a piazza in Italy that doesn’t have a statue or fountain. Group photos taken at Cowra have the Italians seated in front of this prominent fountain.

V-P-HIST-01881-01.JPGo

Guerre 1939-1945 Nouvelle – Galls du Sud. Camp du Cowra Fontaine.

(International Red Cross V-P-HIST-01881-01)

Reflecting their history and culture, the Italians keenly constructed statues like the replica Colosseum  at Hay and just to the right of the photo is a tank atop a plinth. Italian POWs grew their own vegetables as is evident by the photo below. Between the barracks at Hay, gardens were dug and crops grown.   Ham Kelly told his grandson that the Italian POWs at Q6 Home Hill Hostel grew the most amazing vegetables outside their barracks.

Hay.Gardens.Statues

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. THE CRAFTSMANSHIP OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR IS ILLUSTRATED BY THIS GARDEN AT THE 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. NOTE THE MODEL OF THE COLISEUM IN THE FOREGROUND.

(Australian War Memorial Image 063365)

LETTER and JOURNAL WRITING

For the Italian POWs, there were two main regulations regarding the sending of mail:

Prisoners were not to send letters other than through official channels.

Prisoners were allowed to send two letters or two postcards or one letter and one postcard every week on approved Service of Prisoners of War Notelopes and postcards.

Unfortunately, postal services to and from Italy were unreliable. Italians became despondent at not receiving mail from family.  In a letter written by Giuliano Pecchioli, he writes on 12/1/45 that he was in receipt of his sister’s letter dated 3/6/1943.  Communication with family was difficult.  Before Christmas, POWs were given cards with Australian scenes to send home to Italy. Below is a page of a booklet of scenes produced for Christmas 1941.

Card 1941 Xmas

Di sotto la “cartolina” dell’YMCA distribuita per il Natale del 1941

(From the collection of Enrico Dalla Morra)

A number of journals survive, written by Italian soliders and prisoners of war.  For some Italians, it was a way of recording the events of the lives, over which they had little control.  From Tobruk to Clare  is the story of Luigi Bortolotti as recorded in his diary. The “Libbretta” of “Corporal Cofrancesco Umberto” is the basis for “Umberto’s War” . Recorded are details of his journey as a soldier and prisoner of war which took him to Australia.  Another journal “Diario di Guerra” by Francesco D’Urbano was found in  the sands of north Africa by an Australia soldier.  In time, the soldier asked the assistance of CO.AS.IT to trace D’Urbano.  Laura Mecca researched the Italian archives and found that he had spent time in India before returning to Italy.  A copy of the diary was presented to his wife.

CRAFT

While this photo is of Italian POWs in an Egyptian camp, it illustrates the type of craft work POWs engaged in and similar projects would have been undertaken in Australian camps.

NZ Italian Prisoners of War Craft Work

Italian prisoners of war with items of their carved handiwork at Helwan POW Camp, Egypt. One prisoner shown chiselling portrait features of a roundel. Taken 1940-1943 by an official photographer.

John Oxley Library from the collection of New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs Image DA-00736-F

Cowra 1941 – A Snapshot

Cowra is probably the most recognised Prisoner of War and Internment Camp due the memory and history of the  Japanese outbreak in 5th August 1944.

For many Italian families who find the word Cowra on the Service Card of their relative, it is also a name they remember from the stories their fathers and grandfathers told them.

A little of Cowra’s establishment and history….

The first prisoners of war to be accommodated at Cowra Prisoner of War and Internment Camp arrived in camp on 14th October 1941. While the camp has been established in June 1941, facilities had to be put in place before the first intake’s arrival.

On 11th and 12th November 1941, an independent international delegate visited the Cowra Camp to inspect the conditions and make his report.  This report offers a unique snapshot into Cowra Camp life and the Italian prisoners of war residing there.

Cowra Camp was divided into four groups: Camp A, Camp B, Camp C and Camp D.  Only Camp C and Camp D were in operation in November 1941.

The group of Italian prisoners of war consisted of 964 – Army, 367- Navy, 1 – Airforce, 453 Health Personnel (medics, doctors, orderlies), 3 – priests = 1788.

Daily routine

Cowra November 1941 Daily Routine

With the camp still in its construction phase, barracks with galvanised sheeting and windows had been constructed for the following purposes: dining room, detention block, ablutions, toilets, laundry, administration, kitchens, infirmary  and canteen.

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Cowra November 1941 Camp C: Ablutions

Until barracks were constructed for dormitories, the Italians lived in tents. The tents sat atop  a base of wooden planks with impermeable canvas separating the mattress and floor and also used for sides and roof. A mattress and three covers were provided for each man.  The tents slept six men and they were swept daily and three times a week cleaned with soap.

V-P-HIST-01879-25Tents Section D.JPG

Cowra November 1941 Camp D: Tents

Camp Leaders were assigned for Camp C and Camp D. Camp C: Sgt Major Ugo Porta (Medical), Sgt Major Alfonso Angeli (Combatant).  Camp D: Sgt Major Giovanni Fimiani (Combatant). The two camps were separated by a barbed wire fence and contact between camps was not allowed. Each tent had a tent leader and each group of 28 tents had a company leader assigned.

There were four refectories for each camp, with each refectory set up for 250 men.  They were furnished with long tables and bench seats.

V-P-HIST-01879-30B Section D Dining Hall.JPG

Cowra November 1941 Camp D: Dining Hall

The canteen was well provisioned with items available for purchase such as food, treats, chocolate, condensed milk, jams.  The men were issued with coupons to use at the canteen.

V-P-HIST-01880-04B.JPG

Cowra November 1941 Camp C: Canteen

The Italian prisoners of war were offered work outside the camp eg building roads, irrigation and collecting wood or inside the camp eg as butchers, barbers, tailors, cooks.

The men also kept busy building a chapel, altar and making musical instruments such as guitars, violins, tambourines and cymbals. A school barracks had been built but classes were yet to be set up, but would offer a range of courses.

V-P-HIST-01882-34 Section D Orchestra.JPG

Cowra November 1941 Camp D: Orchestra

Both camps had a sports ground where football and handball was played.  New sport and gym equipment consisted of footballs, basket balls, medicine balls.  Camp C established a marionette theatre while Camp D set up an orchestra with 12 musicians.

V-P-HIST-01882-26 Handball.JPG

Cowra November 1941: The Play of Handball

Rapport between the garrison soldiers and officers was reported to be cordial, treatment of the Italian prisoners of war excellent.  In general, the Italians did not know English, but Australian military interpreters are attached to each camp.  Each morning at inspection, Camp Leaders present their requests to the Commandant of each camp.

A number of requests made by the Italian POWs were noted: purchase of harmonium for church services, books to start a library, daily newspapers, gramophone and records eg lessons in Italian/English, purchase of indoor games eg cards, chess, checkers,  transfer of money relinquished in Egypt to Australian accounts.

Objections were made regarding the burgundy colour of their clothes.

Most importantly, the Italian prisoners of war expressed their concerns for their families as they wait anxiously for news from Italy. 

 

Treated Like Family

 

Russia Lutvey was the first Lutvey to go to Gayndah.  He and his wife Eva, had 10 children: six sons and four daughters.  The family owned businesses ranging from a general store, a hotel and dairy farms and several members held numerous public positions such as shire chairman.  As Lebanese migrants, they had a first hand understanding of being outsiders and the target of prejudice.

These experiences played a part in their easy acceptance of Italian prisoners of war as employees on their dairy farms during WW2.

Eva Lutvey was 9/10 years old at the time and remembers her Uncle Mick as a bit of a rebel.  Eva relates, “He treated Laurie and Carmello like sons.  The farmers were told by authorities ‘on no condition were they allowed to give the POWs butter and cream.’  These items were on rations. But Uncle Mick ignored this, and also the order that the Italians weren’t to eat with the family.  They were young men, a long way away from home and Uncle Mick made sure that they felt part of the family. They were not treated any different to his own family.  I remember it being said, that they didn’t know where Australia was, and that they were drafted and had no interest in war.  Uncle Mick’s wife Freda said that the men were going to keep in touch once they returned to Italy.  This was not the case and Aunty Freda never fully understood why she didn’t hear from them.   The Catholic priest at the time was Father Brosnan.  He had spent time in Italy and was fluent in Italian.  He would spend a lot of time visiting and talking to the Italians.  They appreciated this.  Uncle Mick would drive the POWs into town to Mass each Sunday.  I think people frowned upon this practice, as they thought the POWs were treated too generously. A clear memory is the burgundy coloured clothing they wore.”

“Carmello” was from Castri di Lecce and “Laurie”  was from Lizzanello Lecce.  They were 24 years old when they went to the Lutvey farm.  They had been sent from Libya to India before arriving in Australia onboard Mariposa 26.4.44.

Another two Italian POWs were sent to work for S Lutvey.  They were Antonio D’Amelio from Volturino Potenzo and Giuseppe Curiale from San Bartolomeo in Galdo Benevento.  Both were 33 years old in 1944. They had been sent from Libya to India before arriving in Australia onboard Ruys 28.2.44.

Curiale G.jpg

Nieces of Sam Lutvey remember how their “Uncle Sam Lutvey was reliant upon the two men assigned to him. The men wrote to Sam after they returned home to Italy.  These letters written in broken English thanked Sam for his assistance to them in legal matters and also expressed appreciation of the good treatment they had experienced in their time with him. Unfortunately, these letters have all been lost.

Our cousin Barry who was three years old at the time. He told us his mother used to tell him that he was the only three year old who knew more Italian than English.  Apparently, the men loved looking after Barry and he obviously loved their company too.”

Red Uniforms

Magenta Dyed Army Issue

Italian POW uniform Red

Dark red shoulder strap with a button hole at the end. The button hole and the edges of the strap have been reinforced with khaki cotton.

(Australian War Memorial: ID number REL32594)

A predominant memory, if little else is remembered, is that the Italian prisoners of war were dressed in red.  A number of hues are recalled: red, burgundy, maroon, claret, pink and orange but the official term was ‘magenta’.

The colour was conspicuous, to make POWs stand out in a crowd.  POWs and internees were dealt the same humiliation: army issue clothing which had been dyed magenta.

The Italian prisoners of war objected against the dyeing of their clothes ‘burgundy’ but authorities responded with a practical answer… it was the only colour that could dye khaki.

The above shoulder strap is a remnant of one such POW magenta-dyed army issue, held in the heraldry collection of the Australia War Memorial. Its description is as follows:

“This shoulder strap was part of a scrap book put together by Eastern Command Salvage and Recovery Section in the early 1940s. The strap is taken from a uniform jacket issued to enemy prisoners of war and civilian internees held in Australian camps during the Second World War. The Salvage and Recovery Section were responsible for collecting and repairing unserviceable Australian army khaki uniforms, repairing them, and dying them the distinctive maroon that was required uniform for enemy prisoners of war. It was found that the section could carry out the work for far less cost than a civilian contractor.

Until 1942 there were not enough surplus uniforms available for dying and issue to prisoners of war or internees. Internees were required to bring their own clothing into camp and prisoners wore the uniforms in which they had been captured supplemented by civilian issue clothing.

From 1942 both groups were required to wear the distinctive red issue clothing, which was produced in both uniform and civilian styles. Generally speaking, prisoners of war were allowed to retain their own national headdress until it wore out. The compulsory wearing of red clothing by civilian internees varied from camp to camp and seems to have been at the camp commandants’ discretion. Many commandants found that civilian internees worked better when allowed to wear their own clothes, but others insisted they wear red as the prisoners of war were required to do”.

Another reference and more personal reference to the clothing is from internee, Peter Dalseno who wrote the following in Sugar, Tears and Eyeties:

“The officer signalled him on to the next table where he was allotted one overcoat, two shirts and two pairs of trousers – dyed a rich burgundy hue not dissimilar to wine aging in casks.  The name tags affixed to the garments – the property of previous soldiers – had not been obliterated…. Then came the pair of singlets, longjohns and socks and army boots that carried no name tags but showed signs of considerable wear”.

From the Australia War Memorial also comes the photos below.  Italian internees at Loveday dyed their uniforms and Army staff working at 3rd Salvage Depot are photographed dyeing salvage uniforms which were possibly used for the Italian POWs.

Loveday Uniforms 4087605

Loveday, Australia. 11 March 1943. An Italian internee at No. 9 Camp, Loveday Internment Group, at work dyeing clothing for issue to internees. This clothing is discarded Australian uniforms, cleaned, repaired and now dyed a burgundy colour.

(AWM Image 030198/09 Halmarick, Colin Thomas)

Uniforms 3887249

FISHERMENS BEND, VIC. 1944-02-02. V290231 PRIVATE T. A. MCDERMOTT (1) AND V325800 CORPORAL T.B. CUMMINS (2) OF THE CLOTHING AND DYING SECTION, 3RD SALVAGE DEPOT REMOVING HATS FROM A TROUGH OF DYE.

(AWM Image 063720 Rogers, MB)

There, In Black and White

Jynette Brumpton of Banana Queensland was going through some paperwork of her parents and found old black and white negatives.  To her delight and amazement, two photos were of the Italian prisoners of war that had worked on her parents’ dairy farm at Ponde near Murray Bridge in South Australia.

Jynette’s mother Grace remembered that one fellow’s name was Paolo Bernardi but that Grace and her husband Ernest had difficulty pronouncing his name so asked if they could call him Bernard, which they did.  Also remembered is Giuseppe.  The Sneaths were going to sponsor Giuseppe to return to Australia but economic circumstances prevented this.  The third man was Giuseppe’s brother-in-law.

Sneath Murray Bridge

Giuseppe Pagano, Domenico La Torre and Paolo Bernardi at Sneath Farm Ponde SA 1944/45

(photo courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

And so began Jynette’s journey to discover the stories of her parents’ POWs.  A NAA request gave the name of the third man: Domenico La Torre. “My mum at 96 is a bit sketchy about things that long ago but still remembers some things clearly.  A clear memory is that Giuseppe always wore a tie. Mum says that when they received a letter from Giuseppe asking for sponsorship dad went to see the relevant authorities in Adelaide to see what was involved.  After much soul searching and shuffling the money around dad felt that he just wasn’t in a secure enough position financially to sponsor someone,” explains Jynette.

All three were captured at Bardia on 4th January 1941.  From Nocelleto (Napoli), brothers-in-law Giuseppe Pagano and Domenico La Torre stuck together as when they were processed at Geneifa in Egypt the Middle East Numbers issued were 70004 and 70006.  With 40,000 Italians surrendered/captured at Bardia, staying together was no easy task.  Paolo Bernardi came from Terracina Littoria.

An additional document which sheds light on farming life in 1944 is the farm ledger kept by Ernest Archibald Sneath.  This ledger offers a window in past farming practices.  It tells of the small crops grown through the seeds purchased, the income from milk production, the cost of screws, nails, steel wool, oil, petrol and diesel.  Before Jynette found the negatives and began her search about her family’s Italian POWs, the meaning of the notation PWCC would have eluded her.  Now Jynette knows that the 9 was paid to the prisoner of war control centre (PWCC) at Murray Bridge: S4 PWCC Murray Bridge.  The labour cost was £1/week per Italian indicating that the canteen truck would have visited the farm on a three-week cycle.

Sneath Murray Bridge Farm Ledger

Farm Ledger for Ernest Sneath’s Farm at Ponde SA

(courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

Jynette noticed that only £7 was paid in one cycle, but when cross-referenced with the Service and Casualty Forms, Domenico La Torre had left the farm to go to hospital between 17-11-44 and 30-11-44.  Jynette comments, “This history is like one big giant puzzle.  The photos are part of the puzzle, as are dad’s ledgers and the Italian Service Forms.”

Another piece of the puzzle emerges about a fruit and vegetable shop in Mannum. Jynette explains, “My parents ran a fruit and veg shop during part of the war years. I knew that and can remember going into it when I was small. It was in Mannum the local shopping centre. My maternal grandmother ran it for dad. But what I didn’t know until recently when mum and I were having one of our POW chats is that she said it was Giuseppe who made the suggestion to dad in the first place.  My father was a great veg gardener and Giuseppe noticing that, asked dad why he didn’t sell to the people in Mannum. So after some discussion that’s what they decided to do. The POWs would grow the vegetables, dad would go weekly to Murray Bridge to procure fruit and Nan would run the shop. My Nan kept the books and the shop paid £3/week for the POW wages [reimbursement to dad].  I should imagine that once the Italians left dad wouldn’t have been able to keep growing veg as well as maintain the irrigation and dairy etc. The list of veg is interesting as some of those varieties like Greenfeast peas are still being grown so it’s nice to think that some things stay the same,” explains Jynette.

Sneath Veg Shop Mannum

Mannum Shop Notebook

(courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

Another important find for Jynette are other farm records kept by her family, revealing a little more of Australia’s agricultural history.  The pages reveal what was planted and when the crops should be ready to harvest as well as the different varieties of vegetables grown seven decades ago.  Today, most people would not know the difference between a triamble and gramma pumpkin or Chatenay or Manchester Table carrots.

Sneath family

The Sneath Family May 1947.  Back: Dad’s mother Ina, Grace, Ernest with Carol Front:  Jynette, cat Sadie, Dennis with George Fletcher dad’s stepfather.

(photo courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

This is more than just the story of three prisoners of war on a South Australian farm.  These three Italians were part of a group of 13,500 Italian prisoners of war working on Australian farms from 1943-1946. This is also the story of farm diversity during war time; the hospitality of Australian farmers; the Italians who are remembered seven decades later and whose footsteps are found in black and white photos, on the pages of farm ledgers and in the memories of Australians. Jynette Brumpton’s black and white negatives have added ‘colour’ to this history.

PS Grace Sneath also remembered that there was another Italian POW who didn’t stay long.  After further research, a document reveals Silvio Pellacani was transferred from EA Sneath at Ponde to EB Brand at Ponde on 3rd May 1944.  He was sent to S4 PWCC Murray Bridge on 18th March 1944.  He was likely to have been replaced with Paolo Bernardi who arrived at S4 PWCC 2nd May 1944.

 

Musical Memories

The Music Book of Franco (Ciccio) Cipolla

The government documents give us the rules and regulations, transport movements, roles and responsibilities but it is the personal souvenirs that provide us with a grass roots understanding of life as a prisoner of war.

Nino Cipolla, Ciccio’s son remembers how his father told him he gifted his guitar to his ‘farming’ family. While Ciccio was attached to Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill, Ciccio along with 52 other POWs were sent to the Atherton Tablelands for the 1945 maize harvest. Ciccio was on the Atherton Tablelands when peace was declared after the dropping of the bombs on Japan.  Maybe, the maize farmer was the receiver of the guitar.

There are other stories of banjos, mandolins and gramophones being in the possession of the Italian prisoners of war and many stories about their beautiful singing voices.

Ciccio’s Music Book however offers a unique insight into the music of the day.

Meticulously notated are ‘Valtzer’ ‘Tango Fox Trot’ ‘Rumba’ ‘One Step’ ‘Mazurka’ ‘Valtzer Lento’ and ‘Tango Argentine’.  Unexpectedly Ciccio’s music features an interesting mix of Italian folk music, Italian popular music and American Big Band music.

It is easy to ‘dance’ back in time to Ciccio’s music. Fox trot to Violino Tzigano . Enjoy a waltz to The Missouri Waltz and Speranze Perdute. Try a tango to Play to Me Gipsy or rumba to La Paloma.  Be taken back to Italy with Non Me Ne Importa Niente and Tra Veglia e Sonno. Travel to America with Begin the Beguine and SouthAmerican Joe.

With thanks to Ciccio Cipolla we have an invaluable personal reference and insight into the life of a POW in Queensland.

On the cover of the music book, Ciccio wrote Home Hill.  Ciccio arrived at Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill in April 1944 and departed in November 1945.  He was one of 272 Italian prisoners of war who called the hostel on the banks of the Burdekin River home.  Farmer, Kent Fowler from up river Home Hill, remembers his father and uncle talking about the concerts they attended at the POW camp.

A special thank you to Ciccio’s son Nino and grandson Jack for sharing the music and songs of the Italian prisoners of war.

Music Book Cover Franco Cipolla Home Hill IMG_2243

(photo courtesy of Jack Cipolla)

Music has a healing power.  It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.

Elton John