Fletcher’s Prisoners of War

Fletcher Italian Prisoners of War

The orchards on the east side of the New England Highway at Fletcher are a distant memory.  During the 1940’s the Horan’s Gorge Road was bordered by prosperous orchards owned by William Laird, Sydney Dent, John Barker and Henry Stanton.  It was also a time when due to labour shortages, orchardists employed Italian prisoners of war.

Long gone, Shirley Stanton remembers clearly the crops grown by her father Henry Stanton.  Her dad had almond trees growing as the bees were attracted to the blooms.  These flowered first, attracting the bees which were needed to pollinate the fruit crops: quinces, nectarines, apples, apricots, plums and pears.

Shirley’s memories of those times are through the eyes of a four-year-old.  To her, the Italians didn’t appear to belong to any one farm as there was movement between farms.  Possibly during hectic harvests, the Fletcher workforce was fluid with Italians working on neighbours’ farms. The Stanton farm was the place for the POWs to congregate on a summer’s Saturday night to socialise and play cards.  There was no harm done breaking the army’s rule that POWs from one farm were not to congregate with POWs from other farms as this isolated corner of the Granite Belt was away from prying eyes.

“Barney and Sav are the two men I remember with fondness. But I don’t know what their proper names were.  Their accommodation was made with VJ walls. To keep the cold out, they lined the room with newspapers.  At eye level, there was a border of comic strips like Ginger Megs. This was memorable, as was the washing area they made down at the creek.  They dammed the creek with concrete to form a washing/swimming area.  They also grew vegetables on a plot down near the creek and they carted water from this pool to their garden.  I don’t remember any trouble.  They came to our farm to play cards and would walk home before midnight.  Mum must have told me this as I am sure I was fast asleep,” Shirley reminisces.

The Italians made an impact.  Children learn new languages easily and Shirley, her twin brother Alan and older brother Peter, took to the Italian language.  “My mother was horrified when Alan and I were reported for swearing.  Once we were overheard saying ‘Basto, basto’.  Basto means enough in Italian but a neighbour thought we were saying bastard, bastard.  The misunderstanding was soon sorted out.  Peter went to school speaking Italian, and the teacher made it clear to mum that he had to stop Italian and only use English.  Off the top of my head I can remember ‘cavalli’ for horses,” Shirley recalls.

Other memories of those days are of the three pence chocolate the Italians would buy for the children, the army captain who would come out, very serious looking with a black and red hat and a stick under his arm and the rollies.  Shirley says that the rollies were the best: pasta that were rolled into spirals filled with mince, fried and then served with a tomato sauce.

But the most poignant memory for Shirley is having to say goodbye to the Italians. “I was four years old and we took them to Applethorpe.  Mum told me to say goodbye because they weren’t coming back home. They were like family. Mum was crying, I was crying,” remembers Shirley.

Giannini.JPG

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 45603 V. Esposito; 45011 S. Amato; 57534 G. Quintiliano; 45953 G. Lo Russo; 45930 V. Landriscina; 57254 C. Giannini; 49877 L. Miele. Front row: 57521 A. Vezzola; 46282 A. Merante; 45155 M. Coppola; 46863 V. Termine; 49732 S. Piccolo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial, Image 030173/14, Photographer: Geoffrey McInnes)

Fletcher Italian Prisoners of War

Pietro Sorvillo from Striano Napoli (R Dent)

Luigi Gesualdi from Panne Foggia (SH Dent)

Giovanni Di Pasquale from Vietri di Potenza (SH Dent)

Riccardo Zingaro from San Ferdinando di Puglia (WHC Laird)

Cosimo Giannini from San Ferdinando di Puglia (WHC Laird)

Angelo De Rosa from Fagnano Castello Cosenza (JC Barker)

Cosimo La Rosa from Palme Reggio Calabria (JC Barker)

Salvatore Miceli from San Marco Argentano Cosenzo (JC Barker)

Mario Salerno from Torrano Castello Cosenza (JC Barker)

Domenico Venditti Frosinone (H Stanton)

NB This list is not necessarily complete

Memories Crafted in Wood

Two Italian prisoners of war were taken to the farm of JB Townsend (Jack) at Glen Alpin via Stanthorpe on the 14th March 1944. While the archiving of files relating to Italian prisoners of war is a little ad hoc, once you find the documents, one realises that the Army clerks did keep immaculate records.

Stanthorpe Glen Alpin

Movement of Prisoner of War

(NAA: BP242/1, Q43299)

Both Isidoro De Blasi and Rosario Morello (Marello) came to Australia onboard the first transport of Italian POWs, the Queen Mary* arriving in Sydney on the 27th May 1941.  They were in the first group of 2016 Italian POWs to take up residence at Hay PW & I Camp.

Isidoro De Blasi was a barber from Alcamo Trapani and Rosario Morelli was a baker from Militello in Val di Catania.

Esme Colley (nee Townsend) remembers the men and snippets of memories about their time living on their Glen Aplin farm.  She recalls the rings that were made from Australia coins, the fox that was skinned and left in the river for 3 days to soften (and was later made into a delicious stew), the Italian family behind them who befriended these Italian workers and Rosario who later returned to the Stanthorpe district with his family.

Rosario continues to be remembered by the Townsend family because he returned to the Stanthorpe district post war, but he also left the family with tangible mementos: three items crafted in wood. The turret of the tank rotates, and motifs of angels, lions and Australian wildlife adorn the wooden gifts. And carefully carved in timber are the words Camp 8 HAY, Morello R. P.O.W.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 Wooden Items carved by Rosario Morello

(Photos courtesy of Esme Colley (nee Townsend))

Rosario Morello’s story is part of Echoes of Italian Voices: Family Histories from Queensland’s Granite Belt written by Franco and Morwenna ArcidiaconoExtract from ‘The Morello Family’: When Rosario Morello was captured in Tobruk in north Africa he became a Prisoner of War (POW). He was subsequently sent to far off Australia and the course of his life changed forever.  In 1941, when Rosario arrived on these foreign shores he could not have imagined that Australia would become his home and the country where he would eventually raise his family.”  Sacrifices were made by Rosario, his wife Carmela and their children and in time hard work and saving of money had the family transition from labouring and renting to farm owners.  Within six years of Rosario’s return to Australia he owned his farm, cultivated scrub to increase farm yields and had built a new home for his family. In time, the farm became Red Rosella one of the Granite Belt’s large family vegetable growing enterprises.

 

De Blasi Isidoro in the photo

Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 46032 Raffaele Lomonaco; 46627 Giuseppe Restivo; 46007 Antonio Lumia; 45586 Isidoro De Blasi; 46206 Gaetano Mineo; 45360 Giuseppe Cannata; 45103 Leonardo Barbera; 45997 Pietro Lomonte; 46221 Antonio Rondi and 47999 Leonardo Ciaccio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030143/33 Photographer Lewecki)

Isidoro De Blasi is one of the men in the Hay photo.  At the time of the photo, he is 24 years old 5’ 6” and average build (150lbs at time of arrival in Australia). Like many of the Italian POWs, they are almost forgotten or their faces remain unidentified as is the case in this photo.  We know that the second man kneeling on the left is Antonino Lumia as his grandson Damiano Lumia has acknowledged him.  The list of names therefore bears no resemblance to placement of men.

Hopefully, one day, Isidoro’s family will find his face amongst this group of 10 men and find a context to their grandfather’s time as a prisoner of war in Australia. And the Townsend family can be introduced to Isidoro again.

*On the army register of Italian POWs onboard the Queen Mary Rosario Morello is number 661 and Isidoro De Blasi is number 1833. The list of the names of the first 2016 Italian prisoners of war is a reminder of the large numbers who were sent to Australiafor the duration of the war.  In total, some 18,000 Italian POWs worked and lived across the six states of Australia from 1941-1947.

Register of Queen Mary May 1941

(NAA:PP 482/1, 16)

 

 

coincidenze

Antonio Chiaradia, Domenico Rugiano and Lorenzo Mastrotta were soldiers with the 16th Fanteria Reggimento when captured at Sidi Omar, Libya on 22.11.41. They were from the same area of Cosenza: Antonio and Lorenzo were from San Lorenzo Bellizzi and Domenico was from Cerchiara Di Calabria.

They were together when processed at Geneifa Egypt with their Middle East Numbers being: 175100, 175247 and 175238. They were part of a group of 507 Italian POWs who left No. 12 POW Camp Bairagarh India for Australia, departing Bombay on 9th December 1943. They arrived in Melbourne, Australia onboard the Mooltan 29.2.43 and ‘marched in’ to Cowra Prisoner of War Camp 12 (a) on 30.12.43.

It is not surprising that Domenico, Lorenzo and Antonio are standing together in a Cowra photograph taken 6th February 1944. They are the three men standing on the right. Six days later, the three men were placed on a farm in the Canowindra district of New South Wales. 

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57063 A. Belsito; 57300 G. Lettera; 57314 A. Limongi; 57317 G. Lucente; 57478 D. Ruggiano; 57363 L. Mastrota; 57120 A. Chiaradia. Front row: 57473 G. Rocco; 45281 M. Coiro; 57386 V. Messuto; 48003 G. Di Fazio; 57208 G. Farina. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

Antonio’s grandson, Francesco is researching his grandfather’s time in Australia and discovered a newspaper article about Adriano Zagonara who worked on a Canowindra farm in 1945.

Swiping through the photographs in the article, Francesco found a photo titled “Jock Davidson at Mooroonbin with Antonio, Lorenzo and Domenic”.

Jock Davidson at Mooroonbin with Antonio, Lorenzo and Domenic

(photo from  Cowra Guardian April 17, 2018)

Was this a coincidence that the names of the trio of Italian prisoners of war matched that of Francesco’s grandfather and his two friends?  Lorenzo was not a common name and there was only one ‘Lorenzo’ who was assigned to a Canowindra farm in 1944.

Francesco contacted Paola Zagonara, daughter of Adriano and Paola put him in contact with  Robert DavidsonFrancesco has been able to confirm that the trio of Italians are Antonio Chiaradia and his two friends: “Buona sera, volevo ringraziarla e farle sapere che sono entrato in contatto con la famiglia Davidson, il signor Robert mi ha confermato che in ha confermato che in quella foto era mio nonno, mia ha anche detto che sua zia di 93 anni se lo ricorda, spero presto di condividere con loro ulteriori informazioni, vi rigrazio molto, a presto.”

This history is full of magic; when something extraordinary happens. Documenting this history; sharing stories, memories and photos; making this history easy to access via the project’s facebook group and website; all contribute to the most comprehensive and valuable history of Italian prisoners of war in Australia. 

Italian families from 14 countries have helped make this magic happen.

Mille grazie a tutti voi.

Searching for Vito

Noel Frankham from Dulcot has drawn together memories and photos to document the history of two Tasmanian Italian POWs.

Tony, George Hanslow, Vito (Photo courtesy of Hanslow family Tasmania)

Noel’s cousin sent him two photos of great uncle George Hanslow with the Italians. He took the photos to show his mother Molly Frankham (née Hanslow) and his aunt Mavis Fitzgerald (née Hanslow) and recorded their memories:

Both remember the two Italians in the pictures. The taller was Tony, assigned to the Blackburn’s ‘Lauderdale’ farm and the other was Vito, assigned to ‘Milnathort’, the Murdoch farm, also at Dulcot. Mum clearly recalls a sing-a-long session at the Hanslow family home (former Dulcot Schoolhouse, and now my home).

Apparently, Tony had a lovely voice and mum accompanied him to ‘O Sole Mio.’ She retold the story noting that she – then 15 – had the audacity to suggest that Tony should up the tempo a bit. She is still embarrassed more than 75 years later that she, as an accompanist, should suggest the singer might change the tempo – and more particularly embarrassed that she was suggesting how a national Italian song might be better sung.

Mum and my aunt remember the two men fondly – mentioning that they had hot chocolate with Vito at his house at Milnathort. Apparently, their cousin, Aileen, corresponded with the sister of either Tony or his successor at Lauderdale for some years.

This history is a bit of a giant jigsaw puzzle. While Tony (Antonio) is a common Italian name, Vito however is not so common, so begins a search to find Vito. There were 5 Vito’s assigned to T3.

T3PWCC (Prisoner of War Control Centre) was referenced on the cards of the Italian POWs as T3 Hobart.  Other documents reference the district as T3 Glenorchy.  The Drill Hall at Glenorchy was the administrative office for the Australian Military Forces staff who was in charge of the prisoners of war in the district. It was from this office that farmers applied for workers, Italians were assigned to farmers, Italians were detained in a lock up room on the premises, mail for the Italians was distributed and collected, the canteen truck took provisions to the Italians on the farms.

Lieut. A Coulthard was the commanding officer of the centre which placed Italian POW workers on farms in the following areas: Hobart, Glenorchy, Richmond, New Norfolk, Kingborough, Sorell, Huon, Brighton, Esperance, Clarence, Tasman, Cygnet, Spring Bay and Green Ponds.

Vito Di Tello only had 1 week in the T3 district. Vito Buragina spent from June 45 to Oct 45 on a T3 farm; he was 43 years old with a dark complexion. Vito Lombardo a bootmaker from Trapani worked on a T3 farm/s from May 44 to March 46; he was 30 years old with a ‘sallow’ complexion. Vito Rescinito worked on a T3 farm from Sept 45 to March 46; was 40 years old and had a ‘fresh’ complexion.

And then there is a young 24 year old Vito Monteleone a farmer with a dark complexion who spent February 44 to March 45 on T3 farm/s before spending some time in detention and being sent to T4 Smithton farm/s.

Unfortunately, few questions are answered. Maybe Vito Monteleone is the Vito in the Hanslow photo. A Vito Monteleone returned to Australia in 1949 and registered his address with immigration as Hobart.  This Vito can later be found working as a waterside worker and living in 12 Falconer Street Fitzroy North, Melbourne.

If only it was possible to give a a background and name to Tony the singer!

Vito Monteleone (NAA: P1184, Monteleone V)

Miracoli di Internet!

 

My research into Italian prisoners of war in Queensland has a number of public faces: the book Walking in their Boots, the website: italianprisonersofwar.com and the facebook page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia

It was through the facebook page that I received notification from Nino Amante in Italy. On 23rd March 2018, Nino wrote, “Sono il figlio di Angelo Amante, il più alto nella foto.”  Nino had not only found a photo of his father on the facebook page but he then found the website’s article, A Day in the life of …  and comments about his father’s time working on a farm ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian via Gympie 72 years ago.

This was an accident. Nino had been searching the internet for an article about his son, named for his grandfather, Angelo Amante, and instead found his father. Nino was overwhelmed.

I believe that things happen for a reason.  I do not know the chances of bringing together the son of an Italian prisoner of war and the son of a Goomboorian farmer. But a google search and a phone call* has brought together the two sides to this history.

Nino Amante’s words and contact has brought this story ‘full circle’. “E’ stata per me una grande emozione avere delle informazioni da aggiungere a quelle raccotle dall sua viva voce, quando mi parlava del period della sua prigionia,” Nino reflects.  Nino not only has knowledge about his father’s time on this farm, but he has a connection to Jim and John Buchanan who were young boys at the time and who have fond memories of Angelo.

More importantly, Angelo’s story before and after ‘Redslopes’ emerges.  At 19 years old, Angelo Amante began his military training, first in Turin and then in Bolzano.  He was a member of the 7th Reggimento Bersaglieri(marksmen).  He was then transferred to Taranto and in 1941, he left Italy by ship for Libya.  He was lucky to survive the journey to Libya, as many soldiers died after the fleet was bombed by the British.

Angelo Amante (1)

Angelo Amante: 19 years old

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

Angelo was captured at Gialo, a Libyan oasis town on 25th November 1941. Gialo was taken by British and Punjabi troops on 24th November 1941, but a small group of Italian soldiers continued fighting in the north east  El Libba sector.  After four hours of combat, two Italian had been killed and 27 Italian soldiers were taken prisoner.

Possibly the photo  below of a relaxed Angelo was taken at Benghasi, his first experience of Libya. Like many of his generation, Angelo spent ‘his youth’ in foreign and difficult circumstances. He returned home to Italy when he was 25 years old. Nino explains, “Sei dei suoi anni piubelli trascorsi fra guerra e prigionia.”

Angelo Amante (3)

Angelo Amante in Libya 1941

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

Angelo’s journey is like many of his peers.  Italy to the battle field to Egypt to India to Australia to Italy.  Angelo arrived in Melbourne Australia 29th December 1943. The next day he was in the Cowra PW & I Camp.  His time there is recorded in a group photo Cowra 6th February 1944. Ten days later, Angelo was sent to Gaythorne Queensland 16th February 1944.

A Amante standing first left

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57037 A. Amante; 57273 G. Guarnaccia; 57288 G. La Iacona; 57252 S. Giambusso; 57051 C. Avola; 46957 S. Vizzini; 57257 G. Giarratano. Front row: 57268 M. Gordini; 57070 L. Bloisi; 57046 R. Armentano; 57038 S. Amoroso; 57226 D. Foringo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/15)

Before Nino’s internet search, he had one photo and the stories about his father’s time in Australia, but he did not know dates or places.  Nino says, “Sapevo che mio padre era stato in Australia, ma in quale parte di Australia? Che era vissuto in una fattoria, ma quale fattoria?”  But his time in Australia was always remembered with fondness, a place to which Angelo wanted to return.  In 1956, Angelo made preparations to emigrate to Australia with his wife and family. During a medical visit, it was discovered he had a small heart problem and his dreams of going to Australia ended. But his family kept safe a small photo of three men and two boys, knowing that it was an important part of Angelo’s memories of Australia.

Angelo Amante (2)

Angelo Amante , Salvatore Scicchitani (Schichitano), Vincenzo Cannavo with John and Jim Buchanan at Redslopes Goomboorian via Gympie

(courtesy of Nino Amante)

For over seven decades, this photo  did not have a context.  Nino knew that the photo was from his father’s time on a farm, but he did not know where in Australia this farm was located. Angelo told his family a story about chilli plants he had grown on this farm and now he knows it was Jim, a little boy who tasted the chilli with severe repercussions.  Angelo told his family about a trip to the city, to undergo a medical visit at the hospital and the wonder of seeing so many kangaroos on the way.

Jim’s memories and Angelo’s stories to his family are being slotted together. Nino writes that his father arrived in Australia from POW camps in India with very poor health. Angelo had contracted malaria and Nino remembers the story of  an old lady on the farm who realised the seriousness of his condition and encouraged him to eat and the need for him to regain his strength.    Jim knows exactly who this lady was, his Aunty Mag [Margaret], who was the matron (supervisor) for the Land Army girls on the farm.  Angelo’s visit to the Gympie Hospital is recorded in the farm diary: August 21 1944 – Angelo going to hospital.   And the stories travel back and forth between Italy and Australia and across the decades.

Upon Angelo’s return to Italy, he made his way home to Fiumefreddo di Sicilia and his widowed mother.  Angelo married in 1953 and moved to Mascali, his wife’s home town.  He continued to work the land and raised his family: Nino and Giuseppina.  In 1984, Angelo passed away at the age of 63.

Angelo Amante (4)

Angelo Amante

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

The sharing of stories and memories, the answering of questions and the ‘Miracoli di Internet!’ is like finding those missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle and finally being able to put them in place.

*In September 2017, I telephoned Jim Buchanan in Gympie.  I had been told that he was the person to speak to about some of the Italian prisoners of war in the Gympie district.  Jim’s words to me were, “I think you will be surprised with what I have to tell you.  I don’t think you will have found another one like this.” And surprised I was!

Jim’s father Neil Buchanan had kept a farm diary for ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian. Peppered through the entries from 7th March 1944 to 1st January 1946 are references not only about farm life, but also to the Italian prisoners of war at ‘Redslopes’. This diary offers a very unique and firsthand account about the employment of Italian prisoners of war.

On 24th March 2018, I telephoned Jim again.  I told Jim that I had some extraordinary news for him. Angelo’s son had sent me an email.  It took a few minutes for the news to sink in. Jim is rarely lost for words. I said to Jim, I wonder if Angelo took any photos home to Italy with him.  Nonplussed, Jim felt that this is not probable as very few photos were taken in those days.   Like Nino Amante, this journey for the Buchanan family is emotional and remarkable.

A Day in the Life of…

 

Buchanan Brothers purchased land on Webster Road and established ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian outside of Gympie in 1937. The partnership consisted of Malcolm (Boy), Neil, Eric and Ivon but by 1944, Malcolm was a pilot with the RAAF based in England, Eric had joined the AIF and was serving in New Guinea, Ivon had moved to East Palmerston and Neil was responsible for keeping the farm going.

Gympie (10)

Redslopes 2017

A remarkable insight into farming during World War 2 is written in the hand of Neil Buchanan who wrote daily entries into the farm diary.  This diary offers up the details of a day in the life of: a war time farm, a farmer and his family, the Italian POWs and the Land Army girls (LAGS).  Each page reveals invaluable first hand information written of the time.

Gympie.Buchanan.1962.Margaret and Neil

Margaret Goodall (nee Buchanan) and Neil Buchanan 1962

Time fades the memory, but the Redslopes diary offers a window into the past.  It recounts daily life on a farm during war time: the list of jobs, rationing, the arrival and departure of Italian POWs and LAGS, the hardships, machinery breakdowns, the weather, important war time events.

The first two Italian prisoners of war to arrive at Redslopes were Angelo Amante and Vincenzo Cannavo on 7th March 1944.  Antonio Ruscio joined them on 5th April 1944.  The diary tells of trouble amongst the POWs and Antonio left and was replaced by Salvatore Scicchitani (Schichitano) on 26th September 1944. Vincenzo (Vince) became lead hand at catching the horses and ploughing as the diary mentions this many times.

 

Gympie.Buchanan.Redslopes.Irrigation

Irrigation at Redslopes 1944-1945

The POWs routine was guided by the seasons of farming life.  They attended to the jobs of chipping, hoeing, hilling, thinning, pruning and propping. They thrashed and graded seed, they planted seedlings and they made cases.  Papaws, beans and cucumbers were the main crops, but they also tended tomatoes, pineapples, a trial of bananas.  They shifted irrigation pipes and cleared fence lines.  They assisted with packing and loading crates and going to town to unload produce and get haircuts. Their home ‘Coogoolum’ looked out onto the red dirt slopes of Goomboorian in a quiet and idyllic setting.

The Italian POWs arrived at Redslopes on 7th March 1944 and departed on 1st January 1946. And because of Neil Buchanan’s daily entries during this time, a detailed picture emerges about ‘A Day in the Life of an Italian Prisoner of War on a Queensland Farm’.

March 7 1944

Spent half a day preparing Coogoolum for reception of POWs. Made trip to Gympie, taking in parts of tractor for repairs, & bringing out a load of empty case in addition to POWs.  The new men are causing great confusion so far and no headway has been made in grasping their language. Hot fine day.

Gympie (4)

 Redslopes looking out from the site of the POW Home Coogoolum 2017

March 8 1944

Boss & two new men chip most of new papaws near mangoes.  Two men make fair impression, but are obviously very soft after years off work.  Language difficulty partly overcome.  Fine & warm, clouds. Started up irrigation engine. Luc brought down cows  & took some home.

March 9 1944

Today broke rainy & activities had to be confined to case making & reassembly of tractor. Two POWs prove quite satisfactory on case making. Tractor now ready for service again.  Turned off irrigation engine when tanks were nearly full.  Perrys put in about 7 hours again doing can enclosed area and parts of six acre.  Measured 21 pts rain.

March 10 1944

Perrys put in another six hours ploughing but were paid off, thus finalising a very costly experiment £12-9 for practically nothing. One POW continues case making, 48 cases for the day. Other introduced to disc plough, proving fairly satisfactory.  Boss does some ploughing, puts tractor over proposed sec 1 beans, but a mishap real or imaginary caused returned to shed.  Fine, measured 11 pts.

March 11 1944

Further attempts to have ploughing done by POW prove his inability to use mouldboard so Boss used same half day.  POWs finish chipping mango, papaws make cases and use pole disc on site of possible section 3 beans.  Boss reassembles tractor, proving trouble imaginary.  Hosed out radiator tubes and did 2 acres of ploughed ground in, tractor not boiling and being greatly improved. Westerly wind.

March 12 1944

Sabbath. Spent hour or so conferring with POWs. Visit from Blackwoods occupied most of day.  Also visit from Rosslynites and from F Hinds to purchase circular saw. Still hot and dry, high drift presaging rain.

March 13 1944

Furrowed nearly an acre of ground for tomatoes and more than an acre for beans.  Fertilised much of same. POWs ploughing & case making. Visit from POW Control with interpreter.  Fine and very hot and dry.

March 14 1944

Finished fertilising 56 rows of beans to be planted in a week or so.  Dragged rolled and started to plant half an acre of carrots.  Vince does another half day on plough, Angelo on case making, two on chipping during evening.  Fine, dry & very hot.

The diary continues… work… allocation of jobs… coming and goings of casual staff and LAGs…visits to town… quantity of produce taken to town… trouble with the POWs… LAG demands and unrest… POWs requiring medical attention… crops grown…irrigation and machinery breakdowns…

Major events are also recorded

April 7 1944  Good Friday. Correctly observed by POWs

April 12 1944 … Men continue and finish chipping papaws.  Unloaded truck of case timber brought out yesterday.  Visit from POW control, men start to batch with some repercussions on their behaviour…

June 20 1944… Redslopes diary is being written by electric light at last.

July 21 1944 Signed up for a new 3 ton V 8 truck

Sept 1 1944… Had enjoyable half hour of cricket at POW headquarters.  Took delivery of new diesel engine.

Sept 11 1944 Reached 2000 cases of beans for season.

Sept 20 1944 had a lamentable row with a couple of girls (LAGS) following last night’s trouble.  After a shake up all around things seems to be okay.

Oct 9 1944… 90 cases papaws, 42 beans, 20 cucumbers, the biggest tonnage ever sent in produce

Nov 25 1944 … news of brother’s death

Dec 4 1944 Highest papaw price 50/- per case

Jan 14 1945 Eclipse of the sun…

Jan 17 1945 Shifted radio from Dwyers house to PWs…

Feb 16 1945 Bought shirts for prisoners

March 7 1944 PW Birthday today, second year…

March 16 1945 prisoners day in town marred by being left at barbers shop too long.

March 17 1945 Boss & one POW spent whole day assembling and erecting pump head at well.  Captured a porcupine for benefit of Ities.

May 8 1945 Day of great announcement of cessation of hostilities in Europe

May 9 1945 VE Day. Today we observed a holiday in honour of VE Day.

July 5 1945 News of PM John Curtin’s death this morning

Aug 7 1945 Dramatic news today of first ‘Atomic Bomb’ being dropped on Japan.

Aug 10 Made 2 trips today for first time in history

Aug 14 1945 Japan is still keeping the world guessing.

Aug 15 1945 The great day that has been waited for for years.  Japan announced acceptance of surrender terms early this morning and all Australia has gone wild today. 2 days holiday has been declared.

Sept 24 1945 … POWs in town today for monthly haircut, unpleasant experience of getting caught with them in restaurant…

Nov 26 1945 Took in load as usual, PW going as well.  Canteen day for latter, news of departure for Italy being made public.

Dec 25 1945 Xmas Day. Made presentation of watches to POWs

Dec 28 1945 Took Ities for last haircut.

Dec 31 1945 Last day of old year.  Four men for half a day.  POW then finish up, much to sorrow of Boss.  Had final talk with Ities at night.

Jan 1 1946 New Year’s Day but a sad day at Redslopes.  Took the three POW to town and said goodbye. Farm is now badly understaffed with no prospects of further employees.

Gympie.Buchanan.Salvatore.Vincenzo.Angelo

Goodbye to Redslopes

1st January 1946: Salvatore, Vincenzo and Angelo

Language Lessons

It is March 1944 and Jack Stewart of Rocky Glen Muradup employs two Italian prisoners of war: Gino and Giuseppe (Joe).  There is no doubt that language would be an obstacle for both farmer and worker.

It is interesting how authorities in Western Australia approached the language barrier.

Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War had been prepared and distributed by Department of Army across Australia, but HQ Western Command prepared a separate language booklet with specific industry related sentences. A great deal of effort had gone into this booklet with sections such as: rabbit extermination, shearing, cement work, work around the house.  It also contained vocabulary lists: English – Italian; Italian English.

W4 Prisoner of War Control Centre Kojonup issued a language booklet prepared by HQ Western Command.  (photos courtesy of Alessandra Garizzo)

It is obvious that this booklet was to assist the farmers to communicate instructions to the Italians. The phonetic pronunciation in Italian is provided.

Garizzo language 1 (3)

Instructions for Shearing including Marking and Dipping and Potato Growing

(photo courtesy of Alessandra Garizzo)

Giuseppe Garizzo (Joe) had an interest in learning English.  Using a dictionary, Joe would teach himself English by reading the newspapers.  In December 1944, Jack Stewart purchased a  Grammatica Encidlopedia for Joe. The receipt for the book was one Joe’s treasured possessions from that time.

Garizzo Language Book Receipt

Receipt from Foreign Library and Book Shop Melbourne

(photo courtesy of Alessandra Garizzo)

Possibly, Jack Stewart read an advertisement like the one below from a Perth newspaper, wrote a letter requesting a booklist for Italian and then purchased Grammatica Enciclopedia.

1944 Advertisement

1944 ‘Advertising’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 3 December, p. 7. , viewed 22 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59326615

 

Louie Made Me a Cap

Gordon Plowman remembers a cap made by an Italian POW for him. This one memory has helped tell the story of the Italian POWs at Flaxton.

Flaxton is a farming district between Mapleton and Montville on the Blackall Range in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Bananas, citrus fruit and later pineapples were the main crops of the district.  The other main industry was sawmilling.  Gordon’s father Ray in partnership with other locals set up a small mill making cases for the fruit and then later established a hardwood sawmill.  During the war, they also became charcoal producers, as charcoal was in demand for the charcoal burners to run vehicles. It was a small community, with a population of 155 in 1947.

Gordon relates, “I was born in 1940 and vaguely recollect ‘Louie’ who worked on a pineapple and citrus farm.  He made a little cap for me and I well remember the tassel which hung down the back.  He gave it to my mother and said, ‘For the Bambino’.  In later years I tried to find Louie through the National Archives but was told without his family name, this would be impossible.”

But this project Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland is about making the impossible, possible. And Gordon has now ‘found’ Louie.

Louie was Luigi Caputo a young farmer from Montagna di Basso Potenza. He is seated in the photo below, first on left.  His military record highlights he was married with a daughter.  Louie was sent to the farm of FW Potts and DB McHaffie Flaxton on 5th March 1944 together with Francesco Tozzi from Reino Benevento.

Q2 Nambour.Flaxton Caputo Luigi POW

AWM Image 30173/06 Geoffrey McInnes

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47904 M. Bello; 45091 C. Bono; 47434 F. De Venuto; 57496 G. Sinisi; 49432 S. Cristiano; 46264 N. Monteleone; 57291 M. Laricchia. Front row: 45349 L. Caputo; 57302 F. Liberto; 57414 A. A. Palladino; 57324 M. Macchia; 57210 A. Fato. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

“My brothers Harold (13) and David (16) would take these POWs swimming in Bon Accord.  They would come over of a Sunday afternoon, Mum would give them a drink and some cake and they would battle their way through the forest with my two brothers to cool off in Bon Accord rock pool.  In the 1940’s it was hidden away in thick scrub with no walking tracks,” Gordon adds.

Three other Flaxton farmers employed POWs and snippets of memories are remembered by Gordon and his brothers.  There is a memory of the wine made with pineapples by the Italians at Frank Mayne’s farm.  Quinto Bernacchi, Giuseppe Berrettini, Ippazio De Blasi and Carlo Maffei all worked on this farm.  Most likely Quinto and Giuseppe were the wine makers as they were on the farm for  seven months while Ippazio and Carlo had a one week placement.  Norm and Honour Mayne also welcomed the Italians onto their farm in Flaxton with Biagio Peluso and Pasquale Serafini spending eight months at Flaxton.

JR Perkins employed Guerrino Fregni, Giovanni Isopi and Guerino Lombardozzi.  Gordon adds another memory about Mr Perkins’s POWs: “I remember that a heavy hessian curtain at the end of his packing shed was out-of-bounds because this was the entrance to the POWs living quarters, which I imagine would have been very basic.  At that time we had no electricity, sewerage or reticulated water,” Gordon reminisces.

Another recollection of the Flaxton POWs is about church.  With no Catholic church at Flaxton, the Italians would be picked up by the authorities and taken to the Catholic church in Nambour.  Gordon mentions, “According to my brother, one of them was not a catholic and used to object most strongly at being taken to church.  The Italian POWs were respected and made generally welcome in the small Flaxton community and I recall by mother speaking highly of them.  I never forgot the little cap Louie made for me.”

 

Public Perceptions

History needs to be written with balance and perspective.  War is complicated.

The system which placed Italian prisoners of war to work and live on farms was a necessary strategy to keep ‘food on the Australian table and in the bellies of US and Australia military’.  As our young Australians joined the military services, farmers were left without a farm labour workforce.  The labour shortage situation was dire.  War Cabinet documents convey this view.  It was imperative to keep farms operational.  With 18,000 Italian sitting idle in camps,  allocating the Italians to farms, was a matter of supply and demand.

BUT more importantly,  placing the Italians on farms, was a major benefit to their physical, emotional and metal health. With no barbed wire, these men settled into a familiar routine in a family environment: there was work to be done, attention to keeping their accommodation clean and orderly, cooking of meals, growing of vegetables in small plots, new skills to be learnt and new farming techniques to be mastered.

The other side of this history is the resentment and prejudice of many Australians. Criticism ranged from Italians being treated favourably in local hospitals to resentment that the POWs could buy items from the canteen truck that were unavailable to the civilian populations eg. canned peaches, chocolate.

The following report highlights some of the complaints in Smithton, Tasmania.  This is an example of ‘name and shame’…

NAA P617, 519 3 151 PART 2 Page 116

(NAA P617, 519 3 151 PART 2)

The newspaper Smith’s Weekly was well known to headline anti-Italian and migrant sentiment from 1919 through to 1950. Its criticism was therefore not only aimed at Italian prisoners of war but Italians in general. The below article highlights one of Smith’s Weekly’s complaints.  The full article is available via the link below:

Petrol f or Luigi

1944 ‘PETROL TO DRIVE LUIGI TO CHURCH’, Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), 18 November, p. 1. , viewed 06 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article235761465

Prisoners Eat; Guards Starve relates to the Italian prisoners of war who travelled by train to Sydney December 1946. They were in transit to board the Alcantara for repatriation to Italy.  I think that the Italians POWs would have been able to see the humour in this situation.

1946 Dec 23 The Telegraph

1946 ‘Prisoners Eat; Guards Starve’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 23 December, p. 7. , viewed 06 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article187263650

Letters from the Past

Many letters written by Italian prisoners of war are held in private postal history collections and Queenslanders’ family history collections. I am grateful and honoured that these letters have been shared with me and have become a comprehensive dossier of prisoner of war letters.

Letters written by the Italian POWs after they left the farms, talk of the health of the family, the state of the harvest and farm work,  the POWs that they were still grouped with, news that they would be going home soon, or that they are still waiting to go home, reflections on the kind treatment given to them by the farming families and reflections on leaving Australia and returning home. Two cousins, wrote a thank you letter to their farmer apologising for some of their bad behaviour which was never aimed at the farmer, but more at their situation.  They closed with gratitude for the kindness the family had shown them and the gifts they were given.

If there had been children in the family, there is a request for the farmer to send a photograph of the children, words about how much they missed the children, questions about how the children were going or growing, and wishes of being back on the farm with playing with the children instead of being in camp.

Angelo Capone wrote to Mr Bury on 16th January 1946 from Gaythorne. Written with a beautiful hand, the sentiments are simply worded but heartfelt.

Letter to George & Gwen Bury, from Angelo Capone 1946 (1)

 

Letter Written to Mr Bury Beerwah from Angelo Capone 1946

(letter courtesy of Rosemary Watt)

Letters written by the Italians to their families are interesting.  While the men had to be careful of what they wrote (due to censorship), their words are always about concern for their families.  One Italian’s wife must have had a disagreement with her sister-in-law, which she had communicated to her husband, because his reply to her was that they would have to sort it out because he could do nothing about it.  There were always questions about sending news of the situation in their home towns, questions about who had died and comments as to the length of time it has taken for mail to reach them.  Other common messages were: longing to see the family again, the years of separation will be forgotten once they reach home, and  five years of separation might mean mums and children might not recognise them.

A lovely sentiment of the day is ‘I close with the pen, but not the heart’.

A summary of the relevant regulations regarding prisoner of war mail is as follows:

Four types of stationery were approved for the use of a prisoner of war in Australia.

  1. Notelopes which was a combined notepaper and envelope
  2. Postcards
  3. Parcel Acknowledgement cards
  4. Address Cards

Italian POWs were entitled to mail 2 letters or 2 postcards or 1 letter and 1 postcard per week.  Protected personnel could send 2 letters and 2 postcards per week.

From 1942 the YMCA provided  Christmas cards for the prisoners of war.

CArd 1944 natale

1944 Christmas Card

Post cards and letters could be sent airmail, at the expense of the POWs.

‘Express Messages’ could additionally be sent through the International Red Cross services.  This service was reserved for POWs who had had no communication from their next-of-kin in three months.

Monthly messages not exceeding 25 words could be sent via His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.

Address Cards (Capture Cards) were made available to POWs to send not later than one week after arrival at their camp an/d or in the case of sickness.

Censorship of POW mail ceased from 10th November 1945 but camp commandants had discretionary powers.