‘Escarp’ with Me

My husband Dudley and his twin brother Lesley George Dickenson took over their mother’s farm at Haly Creek. I was 21 years old and  Dudley and I were newly married when Les arranged for Italian Prisoners of War to come and work on the farm.

Kingaroy.dudley and joyce wedding 2 (3)

Dudley Dickenson and Joyce Vidler

1 December 1943

(from the collection of Joyce Dickenson (nee Vidler))

My husband Dudley and his twin brother Lesley George Dickenson took over their mother’s farm at Haly Creek. I was 21 years old and  Dudley and I were newly married when Les arranged for Italian Prisoners of War to come and work on the farm.

Our farm was a mixed farm: dairying, pigs, cash crops such as peanuts, maize, and sorghum.  We also kept barley and oats.

Giuseppe Lettera and Giovacchino  Luciente were driven the 20 mile out to the farm in an army truck and no doubt the driver briefed Les and Dud.  They arrived about 10am and I gave the Italians and the driver a cup of tea.  The Italians didn’t speak any English, but I suppose we took such things in our stride in those days.

Giuseppe and Giovacchino would help feed the pigs, bring in the cows from the lucerne (you couldn’t keep the cows on the lucerne for longer than 10 minutes) and other farm work.  They could ride horses and brought the cows in that way. Things were pretty easy going and I don’t think they were overworked and didn’t always work full days.  We had orange trees in our modest household orchard and the trees were never as well kept as when the Italians were there.  The two men pruned and tended to the orange trees.

My memories of the men are that they were young men, ordinary men with no will to fight or to be the enemy.  They were terribly homesick and would look forward to receiving letters which came on canteen day once a week on a Monday. The canteen truck also brought them cigarettes and replacement clothing.

Everything they wore was red. Red socks, red underpants, the lot. They did their own washing in the old boilers.  The red dye ran and by the time they left, their clothes were worse for wear and shabby looking.

We treated them as part of the family.  They slept in a room at the corner of two verandas of a Queenslander.  We ate together in the kitchen, there was no dining room in that house and they ate whatever was served.  I would cook spaghetti with tomato sauce as they did miss their own type of food.  At night, they would help wipe up the dishes and after tea we would talk.

Dudley and Les learnt how to count to ten in Italian.  It was a trick that Dud trotted out for the rest of his life.  Dud had quite a good accent and the kids who were born after the Italians left, knew about the counting but not about the source of knowledge.  Giuseppe had asked me to “escarp” with him and this was a good story we told with the accent “escarp” rather than escape.  The army took these things seriously and Giuseppe was moved to another  farm about 6 kms away.


Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card – Lettera, Guiseppe

(National Archives of Australia NAA: J 3118, 91)

Dud and I played tennis but the men weren’t interested in coming with us on a Sunday to our tennis games.  We left them at home, they were trustworthy.  One of the rules was that they weren’t supposed to have contact with other POWs but they did, from Bookless and Kearney farms.  The POWs were trusted.

They also weren’t allowed alcohol.  But they used the oranges to make liquor, making a still out of a 4 gallon kerosene tin.  I don’t think they had much success with the alcohol, so I don’t count the still as a breach in the rules, it was more giving the men something to do and I don’t think it tasted that good.

I remember that the Italians were scared of frogs.  The veranda where they slept was unsealed and so the frogs would get in.  The men would stuff rags into the corrugations of the roof to try to keep the frogs out.  They would catch the frogs and take them away but two days later they would be back.

Other memories of those days is that on a Sunday, they would walk 1 – 2 miles to church.  Dud set up a ping pong table for them, I suppose to give them something to do as they weren’t interested in tennis.  They were very particular with their shaving, Giuseppe had a moustache and then grew a small beard.

Giuseppe and Giovacchino weren’t with us long, but it seemed like a long time.  It was long enough for them to become part of our family and for me to have fond memories of those times.

Joyce Dickenson (Haly Creek)

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