Eliseo Pieraccini and Carlo Vannucci are names on the lists of Italian prisoners of war sent to Australia during WW 2. Individually, they were just a number and a name; their details were recorded and notated on multiple Australian Military Forces forms.
But there are invisible threads that connect the two men. They were both from Viareggio (Lucca) a seaside town on the Tuscan coast. They arrived in Australia from India onboard the Mariposa. Their only placement in Australia was Cowra: 27.4.44 until repatriation onboard the Alcantara 23.12.46. They both left a lasting legacy.
Vannucci’s occupation is recorded as ‘decorator’ and Pieraccini’s occupation is ‘clerk’. They are names that remain forever connected to this history and Cowra, because during their time in Cowra, they painted ‘renaissance’ style Altar Panels for Cowra Camp 12 (C).
Cowra Altar Compound 12 (C) c. 1946 (photo courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)
The coloured photo of the chapel at Camp 12(C) was one of three photos Ippolito Moscatelli took home to Ospitaletto di Cormano (Milano) with him; souvenirs of life as a prisoner of war in Australia. At first glance, granddaughter Francesca Maffietti thought this was a chapel in Italy. Her grandparents made pilgrimages to many chapels in Italy, taking photos along the way. At first glance this chapel could be mistaken for an Italian chapel; the decorations are undoubtedly Italian in style. Eliseo and Carlo through their art, brought a little of Italy to Cowra.
The wooden floor, corrugated iron roof, exposed beams and gaps between walls and roof: this is the chapel in 1946. The altar is painted in a fashion to appear like marble. The details are beautiful: the motif of the Holy Ghost represented as a dove above the crucifix, the cross on the front of the altar, the paintings of Mary and Jesus, the backdrop painted in burgundy, whites and shades of black. In contrast is the November 1941 chapel for Cowra Camp 12 (C). It consisted of an outdoor altar. Quite possibly this original altar eventually found a home inside a hut and bit by bit, decorative paintings were added as were religious items.
Outside Altar Cowra Camp 12 C 12.11.41 (ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00217)
The Virgin Mary painted by Eliseo Pieraccini (left) and Jesus painted by Carlo Vannucci (right) (photos from The Cowra Guardian December 24 2019, Council Seeks Heritage Listing for Italian POW Art Works)
In addition to this little know history is the close connection between Sergeant Robert Dunlop Burge and Carlo Vannucci. Hugh Cullimore, Art Curator at the Australian War Memorial provides the following information:“Sergeant Robert Dunlop Burge (N386934) was in charge of the Engineering section at Cowra prisoner of war camp from 15 May 1942 to 29 April 1947. During his service as a guard, Sergeant Burge formed friendships with several of the prisoners, including Italian artist Carlo Vannucci. Vannucci had been captured in Libya and transported by the US Navy to Australia, where he was interned in Cowra. Sergeant Burge organised paints and canvas from old flour bags for Vannucci and other artists in the camp. Sergeant Burge’s wife, Jenny Catherine Burge, regularly travelled on the train to visit her husband serving at the camp. Vannucci painted [a] portrait of Jenny for Sergeant Burge, as a gift.” And the same initial descriptor with this quote: “Sometime later on a routine workshop inspection Vannucci took me bysurprise with a gift of a framed painting which he had signed” Burge said in 1975, in an article published in the local paper at the time, as reported by the ‘Cowra Guardian’, 5 June 2014. “It was an impression from memory of a sea view in his home town Viareggio, an Italian well known seaside resort…The painting was an expression of Vannucci’s thanks.”
“La vacca capitolina” di Carlo Vannucci (Carro di prima categoria)terzo premio al CarnevalediViareggio 1979
In the Relic Collection of the Australian War Memorial, there is a sculpture that is attributed to Eliseo Pieraccini. Hugh Cullimore Art Curator provides the following information: The two [photos] titled CR25408 are of the Pieraccini work we have, with scant details on its creation. I note its strong Art Deco appearance, a style that was sliding out of fashion by the time of the War.
Statue made by Eliseo Pieraccini (AWM CR25408)
What works of art did your father bring home from Italy?
Did they create an item in wood or metal?
Do you have a painting or sketch made by your nonno?
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” ― Pablo Picasso
A special thank you to Francesca Maffetti, granddaughter of Ippolito Moscatelli and Hugh Cullimore, Art Curator Australian War Memorial for their contributions to this article.
POST SCRIPT: The history of the Cowra Camp is complicated. It consisted of 4 compounds: A, B, C and D each capable of accommodating 1000 people. It housed prisoners of war: Italian, Japanese, Korea and Formosan; and internees: Italian, Indonesian and Javanese. Which group lived in which compound changed during the years of its operation : 1941-1946.
In 1942 Compound D was named: Special Camp 12 (D) for Italian prisoner of war Dysentery Carriers [amoebic and bacillary carriers].
Cowra Camp also housed children. Indonesian families were interned at Cowra in September 1943.
By 1944 Compound D housed Japanese Officers, Formosans and Koreans.
Such was the complexity of the prisoner of war and internment camps in Australia.
The inspiration for this article began with a photo of the Cowra Chapel. After some research, I realised that this topic was much more complex. Prayers, Priests and Chapels begins with the patron saints of villages and is a journey of the Italian soldier and prisoners of war through their faith.
There might have been exceptions but it was reported that all Italian prisoners of war were Catholic. Evidence of their religious faith starts with the prayer cards they were given of the patron saint of their village. These prayer cards were taken with them to the battlefields, to the prisoner of war camps, to Australia and then finally returned with the men to Italy.
Domenico Feruilli’s Prayer Card (photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)
In Libya Roman Catholic Churches were built by the Italians before the outbreak of war. Did the Italian soldiers get an opportunity to visit these churches and pray? Did they light a candle for their safety in battle? Or maybe they made the sign of the cross as they passed by these churches on the way to battle?
Biagio di Ferdinando wrote, “During my travels from Tobruck to Bengasi, after Derna and Barce there were many beautiful villas, towns, schools, churches, all new.” (Odyssey by Biagio di Ferdinando)
1st March 1941 BENGHAZI. EXTERIOR OF THE CATHEDRAL OF THE SACRED NAME OF JESUS. SMALL BOMBS HAVE FALLEN IN THE COURTYARD BEFORE THE CATHEDRAL AND THE BLAST FROM HEAVY GERMAN BOMBS HAS SHATTERED MOST OF THE WINDOWS. (AWM Image 006539, Photographer Hurley, James Francis (Frank)
In 1941, the Apostolic Delegate for Egypt and Palestine had ‘Libro di Preghiere’ published in Palestine, with the permission of G.H.Q. Middle East. It was a prayer book distributed to Italian prisoners of war.
It included Preghiera Del Prigioniero as well as part of a prayer for the prisoners by Pope Pius XII. For many, this would have been their only book but it was a book to give the men spiritual guidance and comfort.
Libro di Preghiere(photo courtesy of Daniel Reginato)
In India, the men were given materials to paint and sew with. The men drew inspiration from their faith. Filippo Granatelli’s ‘Last Supper’ is one example.
Filippo Granatelli 16.11.42 (photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)
Many of the embroideries are religious in nature: the patron saint of a village, Jesus, The Sacred Heart, Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Giuseppe Polito: Rappresenta la Madonna degli Angeli, protettrice di Sacco (SA) il suo paese. (photo courtesy of Silvio Masullo)
Carved Wooden Statue of Madonna made by Isidoro Del Piccolo in Yol Camp India (photo courtesy of Ermanno Scrazzolo)
The Italians brought a little of Italy to the chapels in the British camps in India with elaborate decorations: paintings, statues, frescos and altars.
Camp No 23 Bangalore Altar (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-16A)
Worthy of note are the details of Our Lady of the Prisoner. The hat, the shirt with a black diamond patch, the shorts with the black strip; items which identified the men as prisoners of war have been meticuoulsy represented.
Our Lady of the Prisoner Bangalore Group I 12.12.1941(ICRC V-P-HIST=03474-05A)
Bangalore Camp 2 View of the Altar in the Chapel (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-20A)
Australia: In the Camps
The first group of Italian prisoners of war arrived at Hay Camp New South Wales in May 1941. A 1943 report and a 1944 photo records information about how the spiritual needs of the Italians were catered for at Hay Camps 7 and 8:
The prisoners of war of these two camps are all Catholics. Camp 8 has a chapel adorned with a beautiful altar carved in wood and having a harmonium. The chapel of Camp 7 is located in one of the refectories; it also has a beautiful sculpted altar and a harmonium. Each camp has a prisoner of war priest who provides regular worship.
Camp priest, Virgilio Iacobelli featured below arrived in Australia on 27th May 1941 with the first group of Italian prisoners of war. He served at both Hay and Cowra camps.
HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. 45005 LIEUTENANT PADRE I. VIRGILIO IACOBELLI AN ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, AT THE ALTAR IN THE CHAPEL OF NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. ALL THE CRAFT WORK IN THE CHAPEL WAS DONE BY THE PRISONERS. PLAYING THE ORGAN IS 45192 SERGEANT MAJOR VINCENZO COMMARATA. (AWM Image 063360, Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)
To make way for new arrivals of Italian prisoners of war to Australia, Italians were transferred from the established camps at Hay to the tented camps of Cowra. Cowra Prisoner of War Camps for the Italians were under construction. In November 1941, photos and reports record the temporary chapel and arrangements for church services:
Each section has a large tent serving as a chapel, containing a pretty altar built for prisoners. The sacred candles, bread and wine are provided once a week by the local priest of Cowra. Religious duties are carried out by three prisoner of war priests. Recently, Cowra had a visit from the Archbishop of Sydney, representing the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.
Cowra Camp No 12 Section D Altar under Construction 12.11.41(ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00216)
Giuseppe Raimondi from Amaroni (Catanzaro) served as priest at Cowra Special Camp 12 D before being sent to Victoria: V28 Attwoods, Myrtleford Camp, Puckapunyal and V22 Rowville. Raimondi was called as a witness to an inquiry into Captain JM Waterson and the fatal shooting of Rodolfo Bartoli at V22 Rowville.
Cowra Camp No 12 Section D The Chapel 12.11.41(ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00215)
Cowra Camp A Altar in the Dining room 3.9.42 (ICRC V_P-HIST-E-00218)
Faustino Lenti from Milano had been a Missionary Father in India and served at Cowra Camps. Lenti was a charismatic and colourful character and by April 1944, it was reported: It is alleged that he controls a ‘basher gang’ composed of PoW… and that he employs a personal bodyguard for his protection. The latest information about him is that he fears an attempt will be made on his life. (NAA: SP196/2 443/1/5280)
Reports were conflicting.
Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Information Board(photo courtesy of David Ackers)
The Apostolic Delegate for Australia, Monseigneur Giovanni Panicio published ‘L’Amico del Prigioniero’ in1943. It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.
Having the book written in Italian and Latin is significant. Mass was said in Latin until the Second Vatican 1965. This book ensured that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian. This gesture was a significant show of concern for the spiritual welfare of the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.
Ermanno Nicoletti carved a piece of wood and turned it into a profile of his mother, while praying. Granddaughter Alessandra contemplates, “News of prisoners of war were scarce and at some point my grandmother almost lost faith that her son was still alive.” On the other side of the world in Australia, Ermanno ‘knew’ that his mother was praying for him and carved his thoughts in wood.
Wood Carving by Ermanno Nicoletti (photo courtesy of Alessandra Nicoletti)
Australia: Life on the farm
By the middle of 1943, the first Italian prisoners of war were sent to farm placements in the Hamilton district of Victoria and Coonabarabran district of New South Wales. This trial was successful and was implemented throughout Australia: Prisoner of War Control Centres: Without Guards [PWCC]. In the Notice to Employers of Prisoners-of-War given to the farmers as part of the employment contract there is this statement:
5. You will be required to see that the following rules are obeyed:-
(a) P.W. must not leave your property except-
(i) to attend religious services, for which special arrangements will be made by the Military Authorities; (NAA: D2380)
There are many memories of the Italians attending local churches. All manner of transport was used to get the men to church; bikes, horse and sulky, truck, car, on foot. It was remembered the Italians would go to church with the Catholic family on the neighbouring farm, as the host family were not Catholic. Children of the time remember the Italians walking to church in their ‘red pyjamas’ a reference to the burgundy coloured uniform the men wore. Some Australians remember with shame that the Italian POWs had to stand at the back or sides of the church and had to leave the mass before its conclusion. Others recall the beautiful singing voices of the Italians during mass.
Italians in the Boonah district of Queensland attended a Mission Church because they learned that the pastor, Dr Dwyer spoke Italian. The Italians would enjoy conversations with Dr Dwyer after service. Members of the congregation knew this was against the ‘rules’ and wondered if they would get arrested for their compassion. Father Steele from Beaudesert Queensland, assisted and nominated Paul Raffa with his application process to return to Australia. It was Father Steele who welcomed Raffa when he disembarked from the ‘Napoli’ at Brisbane in May 1949.
In June 1944, a special event was reported in the Gympie news: His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. John Panico, has recently been visiting prisoners of war employed in various centres on the North Coast of Queensland. At Gympie he met a large number of them at St. Patrick’s Church, where he celebrated Mass. At 10 o’clock his Excellency addressed the people, speaking in Italian to the prisoners of war and tendering them excellent advice. The services of these men are greatly valued by their employers because of their good habits and their knowledge of rural industries. (1944 ‘Of General Interest’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 7 June, p. 4. , viewed 12 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172213489)
However this event drew the ire of Smith’s Weekly whose headline was: Fascist “Guard of Honor” and made mention of ‘dago prisoners of war’.
Also criticized was a decision by Commonwealth Authorities to give a petrol allowance [petrol was rationed in Australia during WW 2] to farmers to take Italian prisoners to church. The question was asked as to ‘why such benevolent treatment was accorded “these dagoes”.’
A kindly gentleman, Cyril Blacket of Pinery South Australia met an Italian prisoner of war at his local church. With good intentions, Cyril tried to communicate with the Italian farm worker, via the Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of Warbooklet the Italian had, but with little success. Blacket applied to the Department of Army for a copy of the booklet, only to be warned: PW are not allowed to fraternise with members of the public, PW Camp Order No. 13 Sec 68 (c). (NAA: D2380)
1946 Cowra Camp
In 1946, the Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farm placements and brought into the camps to await repatriation. It was during this time that two altar panels for the chapel were painted by Cowra Italian POWs.
Cowra Chapel 1946(courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)
Back to Italy
Ippolito Moscatelli from Ospitaletto di Cormano (Milano) returned to Italy with photos of the Cowra Chapel. It is with special thanks to his granddaughter Francesca Maffietti that there is a record of the Cowra Chapel in 1946.
The altar panels survived. However they deserve a more detailed article.
How many other copies of this photo returned to Italy?
Have you seen this photo in your nonno’s collection?
Maybe you thought this photo was of a church in Italy?
Life as a soldier and as a prisoner of war was difficult. Some Italians were absent from their families for ten years. Those years saw the men always on the move. Life was a continual cycle of change.
One aspect of the men’s lives that did no change was their religious faith.
(ICRC V-P-HIST-01881-01 New South Wales, camp of Cowra. Fountain.Guerre 1939-1945. Nouvelle-Galles du sud, camp de Cowra. Fontaine. )
Two Cowra Italian POW fountains have been uncovered and partially reconstructed. The larger of the two was used as a backdrop to the group photos. These group photos were taken of the Italian prisoners of war in September 1943 and February 1944. Some Italian families are fortunate to have seen their father or grandfather, posing with other Italian prisoners of war for a photo, in front of this fountain.
An archaeological assessment of the Cowra Camp reports, “ In contrast, are the remains of formal gardens established by the Italian POW are extant within the area of the Italian Compound A. They illustrate the transfer of cultural actives by the Italian prisoners into their new enforced environment. The construction of fountains using methods, possibly ethnic origin, is of exceptional research interest and reflects the prisoner’s expressions of their homeland and culture.” : Archaeological Assessment for the site of Prisoner of War Camp 12 Cowra, NSW. October 2003, Dr JL Tracey and Dr MM Tracey.
During the excavations a panel with A XXI EF was discovered, this dates the fountain to the twenty first year (Anno XXI) of the Fascist Era (Era Fascista): October 29 1942 to October 28 1943.
Fountain Inscription XXI EF(Cowra Guardian September 17 2014, Cowra-Italy Friendship Association resolves to support museum push)
By 2014, archaeological work had uncovered the remnant of the fountains, and the smaller of the two fountains has been reconstructed. Two men responsible for the unearthing of the collapsed fountains and subsequent partial reconstructions were George Ridley and Dick Bell.
Dick Bell and George Ridley
(Cowra Guardian September 17 2014, Cowra-Italy Friendship Association resolves to support museum push)
Reconstruction of the smaller fountain(Lyn W April 2016 Tripadvisor)
Fragments of concrete are important reminders of a history which is relevant and important for thousands of Italian families. They link the past with the present; they give a context to photos or memories.
There are also almost invisible links to this history. The photo below are testament to this: Amante, Guarnaci, La Iacona were all sent to Gympie Queensland for farm work and they are all from Sicily; Vizzini and Giarratano are from Villarosa (Enna); Bloise, Armentano and Amoroso are from Mormanno (Cosenza); Foringo and Gordini are also from the province of Cosenza.
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. (AWM Image 030173/15 Photographer: McInnes, Geoffrey)
Notice also the the difference in the gardens between the first photo and the 1944 photos of the fountain. The shrubs have grown and are neatly trimmed. The 1944 photo below is taken at a slightly different angle, which highlights two gardens.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Shown here are: 49777 Father F. Lenti, Military Chaplian; 57147 A. Cerrutti; 49593 A. Poggi; 57534 G. Quintiliani; 49557 A. Mercurio; 49439 G. Carrari; 45953 G. Lo Russo; 57431 F. Pelliconi; 57122 N. Chiaranta; 57521 A. Vezzola; 57289 R. La Notte; 57136 P. D’Autilia; 48214 F. Mainardi; 57102 F. Caraccio; 45006 B. Arbasi; 57432 G. Pennacchio; 45739 M. Gatti; 57118 N. Cerreto; 46466 A. Piermattei; 57528 F. De Scisciolo; 49621 L. Piervirgili; 57196 P. Di Siena; 57227 F. Fornari; 57171 V. De Lucia; 57318 M. Lullo; 57278 C. Iacolari; 57339 G. Manda; 46264 N. Monteleone; 57355 S. Martella; 57293 C. La Rosa; 45169 C. Catuogno; 57435 T. Peruzzini; 57277 R. Iacobucci; 57402 G. Napolitano. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030175/04 Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)
In November 1945 Giuseppe Quarta from Arnesano Lecce Italy lived with Mr and Mrs Dixon on their farm in Golden Valley Tasmania.
In November 2020 Jan Dixon, daughter of Reg and Elsie shared 75 year old photos with Giuseppe’s children Antonio and Anna.
This is remarkable.
Giuseppe Quarta celebrated his 24th birthday, thirteen days before arriving in Melbourne from Bombay India. He was processed and photographed at Murchison PW Camp Victoria before travelling to Tasmania.
Giuseppe Quarta Murchison Victoria NAA: A376 T321
Giuseppe’s son Antonio had obtained a copy of his father’s extra file in the National Archives of Australia which contained the PWI58832 photos. This file also provided the name of Giuseppe’s farming family: RR Dixon Golden Valley. But the research stalled. A google map could provide Antonio with a geographic location for Golden Valley. But Antonio had a deep yearning to know something more about his father’s 17 months with the Dixon family.
On 30th November 2020, Antonio’s dreams came true. Jan Dixon had seen a Facebook post on Tasmanian History and knew immediately that this man: Giuseppe Quarta was the man from her family stories and in her family photos.
Giuseppe was known as JOSH and while Jan was born after Josh had left her family’s farm, her parents often talked about Josh and referred to a few photos with Josh and the Dixon family.
Jan recalls her mother Elsie telling her, “Josh always called me Elsa.” Just as the Dixons had given Giuseppe an Aussie name, Giuseppe gave Elsie an Italian name. There is no doubt that Giuseppe was well looked after by the Dixon family as the photos show a healthy young man as a result of the good hospitality of the Dixons. Antonio agrees, “…senza ombra di dubbio , mio padre in quei due anni che ha trascorso presso la famiglia Dixon , si e’ trovato benissimo lo si puo’ vedere anche dalle foto che gode di ottima salute. belle foto.”
Giuseppe Quarta with Grandpa Dixon Golden Vally Tasmania 1945-1946
(photo courtesy of Jan Dixon)
Jan Dixon remembers that the farm had dairy cows and small crops hinting that fresh milk and butter were on the table; there was an abundance of bread made by her mother; and fresh vegetables came straight from the farm. The photos also hint at the acceptance and inclusion of Giuseppe into the Dixon extended family.
Giuseppe Quarta with the Dixon Extended Family 1945-1946
(photo courtesy of Jan Dixon)
For Antonio and Anna Quarta from Lombardy Italy, these photos are a special early Christmas gift. Speaking from the heart, Antonio writes, “e’ un bellissimo regalo di Natale , proveniente dalla lontana Australia dalla cara Joanne ,e’ stata anche una grandissima sorpresa che mi ha fatto tanto piacere , aprendo lentamente il messaggio ho capito subito che si tratta di notizie importantissime… mi ha invaso la commozione e la felicita’ con gli occhi di lacrime.”
There is a remarkable series of events which has brought together the Dixon and Quarta family. Most importantly, this research project, Footprints of Italian prisoners of war in Australia, is a community project. From Antonio Quarta who entrusted me with his father’s story, to John Towers in Tasmania who pointed me in the right direction and gave me links to the Facebook group Tasmania History, to the administrator of the Facebook group who approved my post, to Jan Dixon for recognising Josh and sharing her family photos: this is a remarkable story.
Anna Quarta adds, “Voglio Ringraziare tanto la signora Joanne Tapiolas , la Famiglia Dixon in modo particolare Jan di aver messo a disposizione le sue foto di famiglia e tutte le altre persone che hanno collaborato alla ricercar.”
Welcome to Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War a comprehensive archive of documents, artefacts, testaments, photographs and research relating to this compelling chapter in Australian history. This is a community history involving Australian and Italian families from fourteen countries who have shared their stories so that this history is not forgotten.
Over 18000 Italian Prisoners of War came to Australia from 1941 – 1945. Captured in theatres of war in North Africa, East Africa and Europe, they were transported to Australia via staging camps in Egypt, Palestine and India.
There is much written about internment in Cowra, Murchison and Hay the main Prisoner of War and Internment Camps in New South Wales and Victoria, but only snippets of information are recorded about Italian prisoners of war in other states.
This research features Italian prisoners of war and their farming families in Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales. Articles cut across a range of topics: the battles in Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Greece; the movement of prisoners from the place of capture to prisoner of war camps in Egypt and Palestine; interment in the camps of India; transport to Australia; repatriation from Australia and arrival in Naples.
The stories and memories of Italian and Australian farming families gives this history a voice. The diversity of photos and relics shared personalises what would otherwise be a very black and white official report.
The articles featured on the project’s website brings colour and personality to this almost forgotten chapter in Australia’s history.
Today is a special day for our project: Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Australia WW2. I have been awarded the John Oxley Library Award which is part of the Queensland State Library Memory Awards.
My research into Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland (and Australia) has been recognised, but it is also recognition for the 150+ Italian and Australian families who have entrusted me with their memories. My virtual presentation begins at 3 minutes (link below)
Michelangelo Cutelle and Antonio Della Polla
(photos courtesy of Althea Kleidon)
Our community encompasses Italian and Australian families from 12 countries: Italy, Belgium, Poland, Scotland, England, USA, Canada, Denmark, The Netherlands, Argentina, France and Australia.
This award has been made possible because of the generosity of the people in our ‘Footprints’ Community. You are all: L’Amico del Prigioniero
There are many people who have been part of this project and I would like to publicly acknowledge those who have:
shared with me their story and entrusted me with their memories, photos, letters and mementos,
assisted me in promoting my research,
done a bit of local ‘digging’ on my behalf by searching local publications, sending out letters and emails, making telephone calls to ‘find’ locals who have a memory, making suggestions as to where to look next, providing me with my next lead,
answered my ‘cold call’ letters that I have sent to municipal councils, local historical societies and most importantly relatives of Italian POWs who returned to Australia.
Without your assistance, this project would have been a ‘black and white’ history of Italian POWs in Queensland as army and government records are by nature, factual.
Your stories and memories and mementos have added ‘colour’ to this history as you have told stories of the every day life of the Italian POWs but told these stories as emotional and personal memories.
Q1 Stanthorpe: Mary Puglisi, Tony Hassall, Paula Boatfield, Alec Harslett, Morwenna and Franco Arcidiancomo, Janette and Rod Ratcliffe, Angelo Valiante, Lina Scalora, Claudio Marino, Esme and Millie Townsend, Rodney Smith, Shirley Stanton, Dorothy Barraclough (Jones), Lisa Saggiomo (Antonio De Marco), Marco Abbona (Angelo Abbona), Colleen and Roger Willis, Loreen Long (Stanthorpe Museum and Historical Society), Tommaso Mobilia (Carmine Mobilia)
Q2 Nambour: Martin Schulz, Nev Townsend, Lorna Akers (Ivin), Rosemary Watts (Bury), Barbara Want (Nambour Museum), Audienne Blyth, Di Brown (Sunshine Coast Heritage Library Officer), Franceschina Tigani, Gordon Plowman (Flaxton) Maria Rosa Allan (Tigani), Nambour: Remember When! Facebook Site, Sunshine Coast Daily, Paul Cass, Yvonne Derrington (Fullerton), Maxina Williams, Les Farmer, Nonno Armando Evangelista, Katia and Martina Evangelista, Laurelle Murphy (Beamish family), Paolo Santoro (Paolo Santoro)
Q3 Gympie:Allan Blackman (Gympie District Historical Society), Ian McConachie, John Huth, Ian Bevege, Ernie Rider, Beth Wilson ( Gympie: Local History Officer), Mike Butler, Patrick Rodney, Gloria Rodney, Damiano Lumia, Rosa Melino, Dianne Woodstock, Mal Dodt, Dr Elaine Brown, Kathy Worth(Knowles), Peter Van Breemen, Gympie Times, Doug and Lynne Wilson, John Miguel, Alex Miles, Keith Buchanan, Leita Boswell (Beattie), Val Doyle (Cullen), Barry Mason, Jim Buchanan, Marco Vaccarini, Anna Eusebi, Raffaele Iacopini, Faye Kennedy (Stey), Daniel Reginato (Paolo Reginato),
Q4 Gayndah:Avis Hildreth (Robinson Family) Thea Beswick (Robinson), Adrian Azzari-Colley, Joe Devietti, Central and North Burnett Times, Colleen Lindley (Robinson Family) Colin Wenck (Sauer Family), Eva Lutvey, Samuele Micali, Mario Liscio, Katia Cioffi.
Q5 Texas: Zita Hutton (Rodighiero), Darryl Hutton, Frank Yeo, Barbara Ellis (Texas Historical Society). Heidi Dawson (MacIntyre Gazette)
Q6 Home Hill: Nino Cipolla, Christine Morriss, Doug Kelly, Tom Durkin, Rhonda Mann, Glenis Cislowski, Julie Chapman (Tapiolas), Isabel Stubbs (Fowler) Kelsie Iorio (The Burdekin Advocate), Jack Cipolla, Kent Fowler, Ross Di Mauro, Pina Vettovalli, Charlie Scuderi, Jo Gallagher (Tiberi),
Temporary PWCC Atherton:David Anthony (The Tablelander), Jack Duffy, Dick Daley
Q7 Kenilworth: John Ower, Lenore Meldrum (Kenilworth Historical Museum), Margaret and Tony White, Heather O’Connor (Moreland), Sharon Pearson (Brown), Anthony Brown, Rose Moir-Bussy (Mangini),
Q8 Kingaroy: Joyce Dickenson and Robyn Bowman, Althea Kleidon (Rackemann), Dudley Long and Lorraine Giollo, Tom McErlean, Shannon Newley (South Burnett Times)
Q10 Boonah: Christine Titmarsh (Historical Society and Templin Museum), Michael Joyce, Pam Phillips (Niebling), Eric Behrendorff, Ian Harsant, Laurie Dwyer, Carmel Peck (Dwyer), Murray Maudsley, Graham Neilsen, Carmelo Ierna, Joe Indomenico, Penny Wright, Antonio Ragusa, Judith Lane (Rackley), Billy Jack Harsant, John Gilbert, Tim Dwyer, Ferdinando Pancisi, Judith Lane (Rackley), Antonio Ragusa, Luigi Tommasi, Helen Mullen (Rackely), Dino De Propertis (Paolo De Propertis) Roberto D’Angelis (Paolo De Propertis), Carolyn Bazley and Edmund Behrendorff (Francesco De Luca, Antonio Di Renna and Vincenzo)
Other Australian States and Overseas: Miriam Stucchi, Peter Dunn @ http://www.ozatwar.com, Rebecca Donohoe (Queensland Farmers’ Federation), Seniors News, Paul Stumkat (re: Wallangarra German POWs), Gray Bolte (West Wylong), Fraser Coast Chronicle, The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), Australian War Memorial Facebook Site, Queensland History Network Facebook Site, Alex Chambers @ 630 AM ABC North Queensland, Sara Bavato at Il Globo and La Fiamma, Annie Gaffney @ 90.3 Fm ABC Sunshine Coast, Carlo Pintarelli, Reinhard Krieger, Torsten Weller, Liborio Mauro Bonadonna, Vitoronzo Pastore, Enrico Dalla Mora, Ann Megalla, Trudy Brown (Herbert River Express), Susan Mulligan (Oral History Queensland), Davide Dander, Jocelyn Maddock, Merle Heiner, Enoggera & District History Association Inc., Cris Dall ‘Osto, Sharon Rigano from Quick on the Click (Book Cover Design), Anne Scheu (State Library of Queensland), Bruno Van der Heide Burdekin Printers, Alex Mannea Burdekin Printers, Andy Toulson ABC Radio 630 North Queensland, Trudie Legio ABC Radio Wide Bay, Mikayla Mayoh Burdekin Advocate, Matteo Tettamanti, Veniero Granatelli, Paola Zagonara, Luigi Pinna, Home Hill Newsagency, Marco Lucantoni, Cristina Capitummino, Alessandra Nicoletti, Leo Piciacchia, Catherine Murdoch (Cardillo), Marie, John and Joan McInnes, Ute Schulenberg (Nambucca Guardian), Kay Ball (Murchison Historical Society), Australian War Memorial-Acquisitions Department, Jennifer Ellis (Another Del Bo), Paolo Zulli (Sebastiano Di Campli), Giuli Musini, Francesco Fracasso, Robert Perna, Vanda Hodder, Colleen Hammat, Craig Douglas (Regio Esercito History Group), Darren Arnott (Rodolfo Bartoli), Petrus De Savoie (Giovanni Trunfio), , Rossana Ferulli (Domenico Ferulli), Fabrizio Patriarca( Blasioli Fioravante), Francesca Elliot (Luigi Moltedo) Chris Senti (Yanco), Maria Schattiger (Nicola Romano), Silvio Masullo (Giuseppe Polito), Giuseppe Mestre (Bruno Mestre), Anna Paola Fico (Mario Paesano), Joanne Ciaglia (Alfredo Romeno), Alberta Nunziati (Mario Nunziati), Rossella Petta (Costantino D’Agostino), Antonio Quarta (Giuseppe Quarta), Ginetta Fino (Giosino Fino), Sonia Brutti (Tullio Brutti), Claudia Lucchitti (Rinaldo Rossini), Hugh Cullimore (Australian War Memorial), Rob Willis (National Library of Australia), Dominic Goduto (Alfredo Goduto), John Towers (Tasmania), Alessandra Garizzo (Giuseppe Garizzo), Miriam Stucchi (Alcide Stucchi), Fabrizio Turchi (Cemetery India), Nat Talarico (Martino D’Anniello), Francesco Rosignoli (Armando Rosignoli), Rocco Martino (Alcantara Rolls), Silvio Gernini (Mario Rossi), Afra Salami (Jormen Salami), Maria Pepe (Michele Pepe), Heather Jackson (Michele Pepe), Daniela Anselmi (Pasquale Roffo, Antonio Cedroni, Armando Di Bona, Luigi Cellucci),
Join the journey and follow the footprints of the Italian prisoners of war
Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War Project is a community project supported by Australians in six states and Italian families in fourteen countries.****
What started out as a personal journey to read about the Italian POW Camp outside of Home Hill has resulted in a comprehensive, diverse and rich collection of stories, letters, photographs, testimonies, artefacts, music, newspaper articles spanning 79 years: the battles on the Libyan/Egyptian border December 1940 to the present.
Over the past four years, I have heard these words many times over, “but you have it wrong, there were no Italian prisoners of war in Queensland”.
And this became a focal point for the research: to record this chapter in Queensland’s history before it was completely forgotten.
But like ripples in a pond, Queensland’s history of Italian POWs expanded across and was part of a greater history and so the project extended and expanded: to other Australia states and to Italian families in fourteen countries across the world.
What makes this research unique and diverse?
Contributions have come from far and wide: farmers, farmers’ wives, farming children, the town kids, families of Australian Army interpreters, children of Italians who were prisoners of war, Italians who were prisoners of war, the local nurse, the mother of an ex-POW, government policy.
What does the research encompass?
Facebook Page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia
Music Book: Notations for songs and dance music by Ciccio Cipolla.
Farm Diary: daily notations regarding farm life during war time including information on Italian POWs and Land Army Girls.
Discussion about our Queensland research at conference in Catania Sicily May 2019 on prisoner of war experiences.
Memories in Concrete: Giuseppe Miraglia from Enna Sicily and Adriano Zagonara from Bagnara di Romagna Ravenna.
Donations to the Australian War Memorial of two artefacts made by Gympie Italian prisoners of war
Two publications: Walking in their Boots and Costanzo Melino: Son of Anzano (in collaboration with Rosa Melino)
Journey of three Italian families from Italy to visit Queensland and ‘walk in the footsteps of their fathers’: Q1 Stanthorpe and Q6 Home Hill
POW Kit Bags: Adriano Zagonara and Sebastiano Di Campli
The Colour Magenta
Handbooks: L’Amico del Prigioniero, Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War, Piccolo Guido per gli Italiani in Australia
Voices from the Past: five testimonials from Italian soldiers who worked on Queensland farms.
Letterswritten by Italian prisoners of war to family in Italy, to their Queensland farmers and to the children of farmers, written by mother of an Italian POW to a Queensland nurse, written by the Italians to their interpreter, Queensland farmer to Italian.
Photographs of Italian soldiers in full dress uniform, Italian soldiers in Libya during training, Italians as POWs with their Queensland families, Italians on their Wedding Day and with their families, Italians in POW camps in India.
Contributions by ten Italian families whose fathers and family returned to Australia as ‘new Australians’.
Identification of five buildings used as prisoner of war accommodation.
Publicationof three guides for Italian families to assist in their search for information about their fathers and grandfathers.
Collaboration with numerous Italian and Australian families; local museums and family history associations; journalists; translators; collectors of historic postal items; local libraries.
Did you know?
The website operates as a ‘virtual’ museum and library.
The website has a wide reaching readership to 118 countries!
Over 185 articles have been written for the website.
My Wish List
In the beginning:
I had one wish, to find one Queensland family who remembered the Italians working and living on their farm. Thank you Althea Kleidon, you were the beginning with your photos and memories of Tony and Jimmy.
My adjusted wish list, to find three photographs of Italian POWs on Queensland farms. Then came Rosemary Watt and Pam Phillips with their collection of photos, a signature in concrete and a gift worked in metal.
To have the three Finding Nonno guides translated into Italian.
If I win Gold Lotto, to have Walking in their Boots translated into Italian.
****What does the future hold… After five and a half years of research, over 185 website articles, two publications, thousands of emails, visits, interviews, cataloguing etc …
I plan to go at a slightly slower pace. I will continue to work offline and in the background answering questions, assisting families and adding to this historical collection.
I have published articles in a chronological order starting with the soldiers and their battles. And I will slot in new articles and add new information along the way. Hopefully this will convey ‘the journey’ of the Italian soldiers from capture through to repatriation and for some Italians, a return to Australia.
Join the journey and follow the footprints of the Italian prisoners of war.
Why research Italian prisoners of war in Queensland?
Joanne Tapiolas – Accidental Historian
(photo courtesy of Michele Sinclair)
My research started with the Italian prisoners of war growing vegetables up river Home Hill. As a Burdekin local, I had heard stories about these Italians who had come from North Africa after being captured. Memories of the locals of the time are sketchy, ‘we knew about them’ ‘ we knew they were there but not much else’ ‘one didn’t talk about those things back then’. In my mind, there must have been a barbed wire enclosure housing 20 – 30 Italian POWs to grow vegetables.
A puzzle for my young 10 year old self was the image of the map in my school Atlas. North Africa was a long long way from Home Hill in northern Queensland. Questions beginning with WHY and HOW and WHAT stayed in my memory bank. Not too much of this made sense.
When I found the time to do some research, I consulted an excellent publication on the Burdekin history : Black Snow and Liquid Gold by John Kerr. A section covering the years of the war provided me with the background and details. I found the names of two Italian POWs who twice escaped the hostel BUT I became frustrated because in an editing error, the names of these men were printed incorrectly. They are named as Pietro Di Vincenzo and Landolfi Pasquale. Their names are Vincenzo DI PIETRO and Pasquale LANDOLFI. The other Italians mentioned have their names correctly ordered.
My dad was as amazed as myself at the records I began to uncover. The research told a story of 250 Italian POWs who lived in barracks and grew vegetables for the armed forces in North Queensland. Now Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill not only had a history but also a context. It was one of 10 prisoner of war control centres in Queensland and it operated as part of the Commonwealth Department of Commerce and Agriculture’s Vegetable Project : Home Hill and Ayr.
I became quite attached to MY Home Hill POWs especially when I could put a face to a name. I left a copy of my research with the local historical society hoping that one day, the children or grandchildren of a Home Hill POW would pass through Home Hill looking for some information. At least the list of POW names attached would verify that their father or grandfather had been at the hostel up river Home Hill.
I put aside other documents I found about the other nine centres in Queensland, just in case. I felt that if the Burdekin locals had little knowledge about the Home Hill POW hostel, then did people in the other nine districts know about their POW history.
Curiosity got the better of me and so I began digging for information. I found little bits of information BUT I was frustrated because the information in the public domain was scarce and incomplete. The only photographic evidence of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland is three photos taken at Calico Creek. They are housed in the John Oxley Library. Other records mention only six centres and there is no reference to the differences between a control centre: without guard and a hostel. Once such reference is: Prisoner-of-war control depots were established at Stanthorpe, Home Hill, Gympie, Nambour, Gayndah and Texas.(Fortress Queensland 1942-1945)
I believed that the history of Italian prisoner of war in Queensland needed to be more comprehensive, contain various perspectives, and include those who had a memory of the Italians an understanding of the context surrounding the placement of these men on the family farm.
It became obvious that this history was not found in the books of the libraries. This history is found in the memories of Queensland locals and Italian families. Letters to editors, newspaper articles, letters to historical societies, Facebook posts, cold call letters, website development, oral history interviews, face to face interviews and radio interviews.
Slowly but surely, Queenslanders and Italians have helped write this history.
And just as I had hoped, the son of a Home Hill POW did come looking for the footsteps of this father. Francesco (Ciccio) Cipolla was at the Q6 PWCH Home Hill from April 1944 to November 1945. His son, Nino, on previous trips to Australia had visited the PW & I Camps at Hay and Cowra but the notation Q6 Home Hill had remained a mystery. On a holiday to Melbourne in 2017, Nino searched yet again for some reference to this Q6 Home Hill. Nino found my research and Stepping Back in Time, Ciccio’s son was able to understand better his father’s time growing vegetables for supply to the armed forces in the north.
Nino Cipolla Home Hill Railway Station April 2017
(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)
And back to the answer to the question: Why research Italian prisoners of war in Queensland?
Because it hadn’t been done… because if it wasn’t done now, the stories would be lost to time…because it needed to be done…Because it is a valuable part of Queensland history and this history should have a voice.
The rest they say is “HISTORY” and on these pages is this history.
Alex Miles from Mooloo via Gympie visited me in Townsville in September 2018. He brought with him two special items associated with the Mooloo Italian prisoners of war. His childhood neighbour Noela White (nee Wyllie) had a cellophane belt made by one of the POWs and Alex had a coin which Francesco Ciaramita had started to shape into a ring. Both Noela and Alex felt that the items needed a ‘home’ where they could be appreciated as part of the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland. A decision was made to dontate them to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and I had the honour of beginning the process.
While the AWM had similar items in their collection, these items were made by Australian soldiers. An application was made to the AWM to see if members of the acquistion team were interested in the items, this is stage one of the donation process.
Stage 2 was the sending of the items with historical details to the acquistion team for further investigation and evaluation.
Stage 3 followed with the items being formally accepted into the AWM collection.
22nd November 2018
Thank you kindly for returning the Deed of Gift. I am glad to let you know that the items you have donated are now officially part of the National Collection.
Thank you for your generous support of the Australian War Memorial.