A portrait painted with house paint, hangs pride of place in the foyer of Janette Ratcliffe’s home at Thorndale. The portrait is special because it tells the story of the time, Riccardo Del Bo captured the image of a young Janette on canvas.
The year was 1943, and Janette and Dorothy’s father Herbert Markham Jones from Rural Retreat Severnlea had employed Italian prisoners of war to help work his fruit orchards. Janette remembers, “Riccardo Del-Bo was a sergeant and a painter. He did three paintings of our family: a pastel of my father in the orchards with a young relative; one of me and one of my sister.”
Janette Ratcliffe (nee Jones) with her portrait painted by Riccardo Del Bo
(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)
Dorothy Barraclough (nee Jones) remembers, “Mum didn’t like the painting that Del Bo did of me. She said that it made me look like an Italian girl. But I had dark hair and I suppose that is how I looked. Interesting the things you remember. I also recall an incident regarding Bread and Butter Pudding. One day, Mum and I came around the back of their accommodation and we saw a pile of Bread and Butter Pudding thrown into the bush. I suppose they were too polite to complain that they didn’t like the dessert. Mum stopped cooking for them after that.”
Sisters Dorothy and Janette both remember the rabbits trapped by the POWs and the beautiful rabbit stew they cooked. “They trained a pet cat Mena to catch rabbits. It was a black and white cat and they loved that cat dearly, one would carry it around giving it cuddles. Every morning it would go out and catch a rabbit. The rabbits had a burrow under a tree.
When the Italians left, the cat would still go and catch a rabbit each day. My sister and I would cuddle the rabbit and play with it, until we were tired of doing so and would let it go. The next day, Mena would catch another rabbit,” Janette recalls.
Janette and Dorothy Jones in front of Prisoner of War Accommodation
at Rural Retreat Severnlea 2018
(Photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)
The POWs lived in a separate accommodation to the family home. It was a room which was adjacent to the packing shed. It was lined and had floorboards, a stove, table, chairs and a row of beds. They cooked for themselves and Mr Jones had a substantial vegetable plot with seasonal crops such as asparagus, cabbage, potatoes. Dorothy recalls, “A striking memory of those times is that Orlando played with me. Janette was at school and boarded in town during the week, so I suppose this is why I remember Orlando. When I read his POW Service Card, I realised that during that time he was probably missing his children. His card states that he had two daughters and one son. The men liked the draught horses, they are very calm animals. Dad said that they were good workers and just happy to be out of the war.”
Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47841 A. Albertin; 48923 C. Dell Antonio; 48340 G. Tadini; 48210 P. Marcon; 48234 G. Noal; 48199 M. Mancini. Front row: 48251 G. Oldani; 48055 C. Fossati; 48106 R. Del Bo; Unidentified (name cut off list). Note: The number is an assigned POW number
(Australian War Memorial, Image 030149/22, Photographer: Lewecki)
Dorothy and Janette remember some of the many rules the farmer and POWs had to abide by. The Italians had to wear maroon coloured clothes, could not go to dances and were able to buy items from the canteen truck. But one regulation, stood out as a little harsh and that was the instruction that the farming families were not allowed to give the Italians presents. “The officials said that anyone who was found with presents, would have them taken away and burnt. Dad after the war though, sent them a suit each. He felt that a civilian suit would help them in life once they returned home,” Janette recollects.