We lived about three mile out of town and my dad operated the Monto Aerodrome on our property. During the war, the VDC (Volunteer Defence Corps) gave dad a 303 and told him that if the Japanese landed on the airfield, he had to shoot them. I think we kids, used up the box of bullets that came with the 303. Lucky the invasion never happened because dad wouldn’t have had the bullets to defend the airfield.
View of Monto Aerodrome October 1951
(John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Negative number: 204178)
There were ten children in my family, so dad had us to help him on the farm, so he didn’t apply for Italian POWs. But our neighbour Rupert Dowling had Italian POWs. I thought about them the other day, and their names came to me straight away: Pace and Morelli. Farming was hard work in those days as you had to use horses and a three furrow plough to get the land tilled.
Warren Dowling, Vincenzo Pace and Doug Groundwater Monto 1944
(from the Collection of Judith Minto (nee Dowling))
I was about ten years old at the time but I remember the reddish orange uniforms that Pace and Morelli had to wear. We kids called them ‘Itydykes’. You would see them being taken to Mass in town on a Sunday, four of them in the back of Dowling’s ute. He must have picked up two others from another farm.
My brothers and I would go out shooting ducks, dad was a World War 1 Veteran and made sure that we all knew how to handle a rifle. Pace and Morelli came out shooting with us once. We were shooting tin cans. All a bit of fun. Dad was none too pleased when he found out that we had given the rifles to the POWs. I supposed we didn’t see any problems with it. It was just something to do.
Neighbours, the Anderson’s also had POWs. A young fellow from their farm would sneak over to our house at night. My brother Bill played the banjo and mandolin and so did this fellow so that had many jam sessions together. Probably, we younger kids were supposed to be asleep. Wouldn’t have been right to have us go to school the next day and talk about the POWs over at our place.
I remember Mrs Dowling going crook about having to cook for the POWs. I think it was more that she had to cook up meals of spaghetti for them, and it wasn’t something that she was used to doing. They didn’t eat in the house, but there was a table set up outside under loquat tree where they would eat their meals. If two Italians went to a farm, then the farmer fed them. If there were three at a farm, the third one was the cook.
The van used to come to the farms with items for the Italians. It upset a lot of people that they could buy items that we couldn’t get in the shops. I remember sardines, cigarettes, tomato sauce and spaghetti.
I think there was mention of Rupert Dowling sponsoring Morelli after the war. But I think by then, Rupert had retired or had leased out his farm to share-croppers.
One day, going home from school, I saw what seemed like hundreds of the ‘Itydykes’ in the showgrounds. It was the end of the war and the POWs were there waiting to board the train to Brisbane. Pace and Morelli must have seen us and came over to the fence to ask us something or tell us something. I remember all this spaghetti that was being cooked up there.
Pratola Peligna home of Vincenzo Pace and Cansano home of Nicola Morelli
12 June 2017