Memories in Concrete

Memories in Concrete

When I started this project, I had a firm belief that there was concrete evidence of the presence of Italian POWs in Queensland. John Oxley Library holds three photos of Italian POWs at Bill Beattie’s farm at Calico Creek via Gympie.  I hoped to be able to add to this collection and my aim was to find the POWs ‘footprints’ and photos seemed the obvious records to survive seven decades.

So Pam Phillip’s photos of the concrete footings for a windmill on her father, Ron Niebling’s farm at Moorgoorah were ‘footprints’ I didn’t expect to see.  But there they are, footprints captured in concrete.

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Footprints of Giuseppe Miraglia Enna Sicilia 25.10.1945 Moogarah

In  the good times, plentiful rain keeps the Moogoorah Lake full but in drought, as was the case in 1995, the lake offers up its secrets and treasures.

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Footprints of Ron Niebling 24.10.45 Moogarah

Operatic Prisoners

This article, Operatic Prisoners was published and republished in Australian newspapers from 1943 to 1945. It describes a concert given by operatic Italian prisoners of war in North Africa.

It’s not every batch of prisoners that includes a great operatic singer! When does, he must be a great asset on the entertainment side, and is probably hotly compete for among rival camps.

A member of the BBC’s staff now in the R.A.F. and serving in North Africa has written home his impressions of opera, at first hand, in the desert. He and an R.A.F. colleague set off at eight o’clock one evening to try and contact a certain American unit.  When it proved difficult, they decided to seek assistance from their army counterparts.  At about 9 p.m. they went to call on them.  They halted involuntarily in the drive about 50 yards from the house, and listened spellbound to a superb tenor voice singing what seemed to be an Italian folk song to violin accompaniment.  They took it to be a star radio programme.  Then the applause ‘thundered out’ and they realised that the singer must be present in the flesh.  So they went in to find four Italians being shaken by the hand by British forces and joined in the congratulations.  This is how our correspondent describes the scene:- these four were part of an Italian party of thirty who were captured en bloc.  They were acknowledged to be the ‘finest collection of stars ever assembled for entertaining the Italian troops in the battle area.”  (a sort of ENSA counterpart).  And these four prisoners had volunteered to come along to this small ‘at home’.  The audience consisted of about fifty N.C.O.’s The singer was the principal tenor of La Scala, Milan, Scipa [Tito Schipa]: he looked as he stood there anything but one of the world’s great operatic stars.  His uniform – jacket and shorts – stained and patched, his legs sockless and in army boots. Yet, when he sang, … no one noticed his appearance; all one was aware of was the magnificent voice and the grand accompaniment on violin and piano.  He sang to us Gounod’s “Ave Maria”, “O’Paradisa” “Your Tiny Hand is Frozen” (from Boheme) and the famous aria from Tosca.  Right at the end he gave us Toselli’s Serenade.  Singing and accompaniment were equally amazing since none of them had any music – it had all been lost.  Both violinist and pianist were also from La Scala – their leading violinist, Vasco Passarella.  Just in case we should arrive in Milan before him, he gave us his address that we might call on his parents.”

1945 ‘Operatic Prisoners’, The Beverley Times (WA : 1905 – 1977), 13 April, p. 6. , viewed 11 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202750221

Listen to Ave Maria

 

Piccola Guida

Davide Dander is researching his grandfather’s footprints as an Italian prisoner of war in Australia. Grandfather Antonio Arici had kept a number of items from his time in Australia which had all but been forgotten about.  This cache includes several books and private librettos.
Antonio Arici Piccola Guida per gli Italiani in Australia

(Photo courtesy of Davide Dander)

Davide via his mother, sent me a photo of the cover and a page of one such book.  But this Piccola guida was a puzzle to me.
Here was a book telling the POWs about Australia: the climate, the major ports, information about the economy, banking and postal services. Surely the authorities did not want the POWs to know about how to set up a bank account in Australia, which is one section in the book.
The POWs were not allowed to have maps or Australian currency or post letters privately.   Yet this type of information would  assist if the POWs wanted to escape!
As is normal for my research journey, one thing leads to another.  With a bit more digging around I found the following information about this book.
Piccola Guida per Gli Italiani in Australia was written by Padre Ugo Modotti December 1944.  He worked closely with the Italian migrant community in Melbourne from 1938 to 1946.  He wrote this booklet for the Italian migrants.
On 9 March 1945, the Directorate of Prisoners of War was aware of this booklet  and on 31 March 1945 approval was granted to distribute Picolla Guidi per Gli Italiani to the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.
By 1945, there was a relaxation in how the Italian POWs were viewed.  While they were still POWs, they were not considered a high security risk.  It was also a time when the Italians were thinking about life in Australia after the war and requesting permission through their farmers to stay in Australia and not be repatriated.
A guide for Italian migrants to Australia, this book gave the Italian POWs information to prepare for the time when they would return to Australia as migrants and free men.

In India

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Clothing Inventory for Italian POWs in India

(NAA: A7919 C98988 Tripepi, Domenico)

Information about the prisoner of war camps in India is difficult to find.  The British oversaw the operations of these camp sites, many of which had been used during the Boer War.

Italian Prisoners of War in India is a guide for ordering a copy of the record relating to Italians who spent time in POW camps in India.

It is thanks to a number of Italian families that we can see and read about some of the experiences of Italian prisoners of war who were then transferred to Australia.

 

Adriano Zagonara, Andriano Zagonara and a group of Italian POWs in India

(photos courtesy of Paola Zagonara)

Paola Zagonara remembers the stories her father Adriano Zagonara told her about working and living in India:

Paola Zagonara wrote,  “Mio padre raccontava che erano nel campo di Bangalore,e che dovevano costruire I binari della ferrovia, che pativano la fame perche’il rancio era solo una scodella di riso integrale al giorno, e che era una festa quando riuscivano a catturare un serpente:lo arrostivano e se lo mangiavano sul posto, cosi’assumevano proteine della carne,e si mantenevano in salute.Me lo raccontava quando eravamo a tavola ed io non volevo mangiare, ma allora ero piccola e non capivo molto….un caro saluto!”

 

Ferdinando Pancisi and Reference from POW Doctor in India

(photos courtesy of  Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti)

Ferdinando Pancisi remembers:

[I was in India for ] 2 years. I was working in the camp hospital. The doctor there wrote a letter of reference for me, here is the paper…He (the doctor) said that when you go back to Italy and you want to work in a hospital, give this letter to the doctors and they’ll surely give you a job.

He (the doctor) said that when you go back to Italy and you want to work in a hospital, give this letter to the doctors and they’ll surely give you a job. I was fine, I didn’t want for anything. I was doing a lot, male nurse, pharmacist, I did most things, because the doctor would just visit and leave!

[The doctor was a prisoner] Yes, the whole camp was run by prisoners. We made a hospital there just for the prisoners…

The 2nd World War was over in Italy but Japan was still going. In fact, our ship which transferred us to Australia was escorted by British destroyer ships.

(Interview with Ferdinando Pancisi 21 October 2107: Interviewers: Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti)

 

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Salvatore Morello : Memories of India

(photos courtesy of Luigi Tommasi)

Salvatore Morello and Pietro Pepe were in India together and than transferred to work on a Boonah district farm.

They came to Australia on the Mariposa. Three ships came to Melbourne from India at that time. There were a total of 4056 Italians on the ships. Mariposa, SS Mount Vernon and Vernon Castle arrived in Melbourne 26.4.44. On board were 8 officers and 4048 ORs From Melbourne, the Italian POWs were put on trains and taken to Cowra for processing.

Sacred Heart of Maria was embroidered by Salvatore while in India.  The words 1942 and India are sewn into the banner held by the angels.

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Luigi Iacopini with a group of Italian prisoners of war in a camp in India

(photo courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

life was monotonous and over time many of the men felt they were forgotten and became more desperate.  Health was the most serious worry.  At the camp, at Ramgarh many succumbed to beriberi and typhoid fever, ‘at an alarming rate’. The camp turned into a sea of mud and was filled with mosquitoes when the rains started.  Several hundred Italians died while interned during the war in India, some from natural causes but the majority from illnesses caught while in confinement.  For prisoners of war of all different nationalities, the war was characterised by a long, testing time of waiting in camps, longing for letters and hoping that their own news was getting through.  (Khan, Yasmin, The Rah at War: A People’s History of India’s Second World War)

Vincenzo Piciaccia from Pescara del Tronto (Ascoli Piceno) was captured 4th January a914 at Bardia.  From Egypt he was transported to India. The photo below is of a young 23 year old Vincenzo at Bangalore 1943.  He was transported to Australia and arrived in Melbourne 26th April 1944 onboard Mariposa.

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Vincenzo Piciaccia Bangalore India 1943

(photo courtesy of Leo Piciaccia)

Filippo Granatelli from Sant’ Elpidio (Ascoli Piceno) was captured at Asmara 6th May 1941.  He did not arrive in Australia until 13th February 1945. The group of Italians  onboard the General William Mitchell departed from India and were the last group of Italian POWs to arrive in Australia. Despite searches, Filippo managed to keep hidden a relic from his time in India, a One Anna note from Prisoner of War Camp Bhopal.

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One Anna from Bhopal

(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)

Italian Soldiers at War

Researching Italian prisoners of war on farms in Queensland was my primary research focus.  With over 1500 Italians living and working in Queensland, it was difficult not to get kidnapped my peripheral topics.

But I soon realised I couldn’t research the Queensland Italians without knowing where they had been fighting and captured.  And with thanks to the families of Angelo Amante, Francesco Cipolla, Stefano Lucantoni, Ermanno Nicoletti, Adofo D’Addario, Luigi Iacopini, Antioco Pinna and Nicola Micala we have the  images below of the Italians as soldiers.

I was overwhelmed by the statistics for Italians captured  at Battle of Bardia so I spent some time reading newspaper articles for the Australian soldiers’ perspective, books in the James Cook University for detailed military and strategy information and personal memories of Italian prisoners of war.

 

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Delving into the battles of Beda Fomm,  Sidi el Barrani, Wolkefit,  Buq Buq,  Keren,  Tobruk,  Gialo Oasis and Giarabub Oasis happened as I  assisted Italian families with their research on their fathers and grandfathers. Appendix 2 in  Walking in their Boots   is a comprehensive list of places of capture for Queensland Italian prisoners of war.

Additionally, Libya.Egypt.Eritrea.Ethiopia is a photo story of a number of battles together with personal photos of Australia’s Italian prisoners of war.

 

Left photo: Vincenzo Piciaccia Right photo: Vincenzo Piciaccia on right

(photo courtesy of Leo Piciacci)

Vincenzo Piciaccia was 19 years old when these photos were taken in Libya.  The photo on the right shows the bravado of young men from Ascoli Piceno with Vincenzo holding his dagger in one hand and another man holding out his rifle. Side by side with weapons of war are the everyday items:  a  food container which Vincenzo holds in his left hand and the man on the left also holds a billy can. Vincenzo was 20 years old when he was captured at Bardia 4.1.41 and 26 years old when he returned to Italy: a youth stolen from him by war.

A report written by Major A.E. Reed C.C. No. 3 Reinforcement Group in June 1941, records a little information about the captured Italians soldiers:

“There is a large internment Camp for prisoners of war on the road from Gaza to Jeruselem and another near Ismailia.  I was informed that there was also one near Suez, but I was unable to get any reliable information regarding the capacity or other detials of these camps.  They are brilliantly illuminated at night and can be seen for from many miles away.  On one night, however, an unidentifited plane machine-gunned the camp at Suez, and since my return there has benn a report of the bombing of the camp on the road to Jeruselem. From enquiries I made, I was informed that large numbers of prisoners had been sent to India and some to South Africa.  … prisoners are also being sent to Ceylon, where, I was informed, a large number are alreay located.  The shortage of transport was stated to me to be  a reason for the delay in sending prisoners to Australia, and while I was at Suez two large ships which, it was understood, would be bringing prisoners here, [Australia] were diverted to South Africa, one of them taking women and children who were being evacuated.”  AWM2018.8.411

 

Legacy: Rabbit and Spaghetti

It is 70 years now since Italian Prisoners of War who worked and lived in Australia for up to six years, left Australia for their homes in Italy. Their legacy is lasting in many ways and a poignant tribute is “Rabbits & Spaghetti” as is highlighted by the label below.

“Rabbit & Spaghetti” is a wine label from the vineyards of South Australia. This wine pays tribute to the Italian Prisoners of War who worked in the grape growing industry in the state.

The label reads: “As WWII swept across Northern Africa, the idyllic landscape of Australia’s wine regions must have seemed a strange place of incarceration for a prisoner of war. And yet this is where scores of captured Italian soldiers found themselves labouring on farms and vineyards in place of a generation of young men far away at war.  Without this help many a grape grower could not have endured these times.  In return for their labour, the farmers shared their homes and tables with their ‘prisoners’. Rabbit and spaghetti was a staple and from those shared meals, traditions and friendships were born that have outlasted the war.” (Naked Wines Australia Limited, 2014)

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 Rabbit & Spaghetti Label

(Naked Wines Australia Limited, 2014)

 

Rabbit and spaghetti was a well remembered meal made by the Italian prisoners of war on farms.  Rabbit was also referred to as ‘underground mutton’.

Italian Families Need Local Help

 

Anna Eusebi and Raffaele Iacopini are researching their father’s and grandfather’s time as prisoners of war in the Gympie district from 1944-1945 and need the help of Gympie locals to fill in the missing details.

Anna’s nonno Fortunato Gobbi and Raffaele’s father Luigi Iacopini, together with Giovanni Meconi, all from the Ascoli Piceno province of Italy, began work on an Amamoor farm owned by J.J.Parr on 5th August 1944.

Anna says, “My nonno never talked much about this piece of his life after he returned to Italy and I would appreciate any help from people who can help me find out more.  If possible, I would like to contact someone from the Parr family at Amamoor to know if someone remembers my nonno.”

Anna has shared photos from Fortunato’s time at Amamoor in the hope that someone might remember something. “We always knew that these photos held special memories for my nonno.  But it wasn’t until I found the research project “Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland” that I began to understand some of nonno’s story.  The researcher, Joanne Tapiolas, told me the name of the farmer and where the farm was.  She also told me that the photos show the Land Army Girls and the Italian prisoners of war who worked together on many farms during the war. One of the photos shows a truck loaded up with sacks of potatoes.”

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Amamoor Farm Gympie 1944-1945

Luigi Iacopini on the left and Fortunato Gobbi centre front.

Raffaele Iacopini is hoping that Gympie residents might recognise the people in one of his father’s photos.  Raffaele believes that the photo was sent to his father Luigi after the war and must be from someone that he knew. Possibly it was sent to Raffaele after he left a Gympie farm but was still in Australia.

The sender wrote on the back of the photo, You know who this is? Miss …cia and me, horses and fruit. “I hope that someone recognises the people in this photo and can tell me something more about my father when he worked in Amamoor and the people he met,” says Raffaele.

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Pineapple Harvest Gympie District c. 1946-1947