Trouble in the Tropics

I keep being drawn back to Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill.  It is after all my starting point; a personal interest in finding the history to this site.

By the time some of the Home Hill Italian prisoners of war arrived at Q6, they had been in captivity for three years and had experienced life in camps at Hay, Cowra and Yanco.  One could say, they were ‘camp savvy’ regarding their rights under the terms of the Geneva Convention. 

Three Italians who wanted their views on record were Mario De Nigris, Ottorino Palermo and Alfonso Lopez. A letter was penned to Captain Burke outlining their objections to their treatment at Q6 Home Hill; all three signed the letter.

There are two sides to every story.

A note in one of the military files records a statement from a Commandant about this letter and one of the writers:

‘An insolent truculent trouble maker. Author of a most insolent and threatening letter sent to his Camp Commandant and useless as a worker, or for any other constructive purpose. He is an extremely bad influence among other P.W.s and good for nothing at all.’

The letter is strongly worded, critical and angry:

14-11-44

Captain,

This letter forwarded to you is the fourth of the things we draw to your notice t0 – in the first three we have not been given no exit.  This signifys being laxidaisical or either you don’t take offence at the words written to you, or either the Interpreter who translates the letters hides the significance of the words, and this signifys cowardice.

First of all we will bring to your knowledge that the faithful Interpreter not only does not understand Italian, but also does not understand English correctly, therefore he can never and never be an Interpreter.  We have asked for an improvement in Rations, we have begged to now the Canteen Profits, a major cleanliness of the camp, of having fixed Barbers who can keep us clean.  There are no disinfectants for the Barracks, and for a month there has been no hygiene paper in the Latrines.  You have put the pigs almost in the Barracks, dogs that go into the Camp, horses, cows etc., etc., This is incivility, cowardice, brutality, created only by yourself and your crawlers.

A few days back you itemised rules, addressing the name of the ‘Adjutant of the POW Camp, and you and your faithful Interpreter think that we believe the dirty words spoken to the POW. If so, you are in complete error.  These instructions written by you and read by your faithful, is nothing but abuses, because there is no one to control you, and therefore to refill your wallet through the POW vital interest.  We, the POW have been in Australia for four (4) years, and always worked conscientiously without Guards.  We have never permitted ourselves to escape, either from Camp or from work. Can you explain why? No – you do not know.  It is because, both in COWRA and HAY Camps, there were honest and human Officers commanding, and not those who try to rob the POW because they have no one to defend them.

Its not enough that from our Rations and from the PW Canteen, you keep all your men, and bank your money, but also appropriated the Canteen Profits which you had the barbarious courage to say that in six months they £1.6.6. this is open face robbery.  The cigarettes taken from the punished PW, are seen smoked by your dependents.  This is what you do.  Therefore we say that in the COWRA-HAY Camps we never escaped, and instead here we will never and never cease to escape, until the cleanliness and the Superior Command won’t make provisions for everything.  Regards the armed guards you send out with every gang, by which you think to dominate us POW, you are wrong.  On the contrary, if sometime you do not wish to observe that the POW are capable of tying hand and foot and disarming the Guard and Sgt, do away with the Guard.   

(NAA:A7919, C100387)

For their ‘honesty’ the three men were awarded 28 days detention and transferred to Murchison.  It was however around this time that Captain Burke was replaced with Captain Pollock as Commandant of Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill. 

IMG_7294.JPG

 View from site of Q6 PWCH Home Hill looking across the Burdekin River

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

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