A common memory that Queenslanders have about their Italian prisoners of war focuses on food: a dislike for pumpkin, considered in Italy to be livestock food; a love of watermelon; dislike for bread and butter pudding; relishing bacon and eggs; a yearning for spaghetti; learning how to twirl spaghetti with a fork and spoon; the copper full of spaghetti; hand made spaghetti; rabbit stew. Doug Wilson, once the Italians left his parents’ farm at Lagoon Pocket, refused to eat spaghetti and to this day does not eat pasta. He ate ‘far too much spaghetti’ during those war years.
Fullerton Pumpkin Crop 1947 Glasshouse Mountains
(photo courtesy of Yvonne Derrington[Fullerton])
Jim Fullerton from Glasshouse Mountains sent this photo to Paolo Santoro in 1947. It explains a little about the Italians’ views on what was put on the Aussie dinner plate. Paolo replied in his letter of 25th December 1947, “I told them some good story you know, about the pumpkins, you had a good crop, but you know I don’t like to [too] much to eat them.”
The diet of the Italian was very different from the good old Aussie meat and 3 veg. Theirs was a diet of little meat, pulses, pasta, rice and vegetables of the season.
This difference is explained in an extract from We Never Forgot Domenico. Thea Beswick [Robinson] recalls:
“There was one young man, Domenico, who understood a little English so he became the spokesperson for the men. The first hurdle was the food. Copious
amounts of meat, eggs and milk, potatoes and pumpkin were served.
Domenico approached Dad and said the men were sick, ‘Too much meat.
We need pasta.” Of course pasta and rice were not available during war
time so Mum had to come up with a more varied meal plan. I think a
few of the chooks may have ended up in a pot and an effort was made to
catch fish from the river.”
The menu below is from November 1941 for Cowra Prisoner of War Camp. The camp appears to have been provisioned according to those for Australia armed forces as the diet is overloaded with meat and mashed potatoes. The daily ration for 100 men for Tuesday was 150 lbs beef, 95 lbs potatoes, 40 lbs cabbage…
The camp cooks were Italians and I am sure they would have been scratching their heads as to how to use the daily rations. The cooks would have been grateful for such generous supplies and so set to, to utilise all produce provided. With five meals on offer a day, the POWs would have felt that they spent most of their day eating. After meagre rations as soldiers in Libya, the abundance of food must have seemed like ‘food heaven’. No longer were they eating one month old bread scraps and tinned bully beef.
This menu also makes sense of something Nino Cipolla said about his dad Ciccio Cipolla who spent time in both Hay and Cowra Camps. Nino said, “When I saw the photo of my father which was taken at Cowra Camp, this was the heaviest he weighed in his life!” And no wonder, after having to eat 1 lb of potatoes a day.
A newspaper report from November 1942, supports Nino’s observation, “Italian prisoners-of-war in camps in south NSW have gained on an average nearly a stone in weight since they reached Australia.” (Western Mail, 12 November 1942 page 8). Another reason for the weight gain would have been the sedentary life and idleness associated with life in a POW camp.
However by July 1943, weekly provisions for 100 men show a considerable change away from meat, potatoes and cabbage as it now included rice, spaghetti, split peas, prunes, puree tomatoes, vinegar, oil, an increase in bread rations, a decrease in meat rations. By this time, Italian prisoners of war at Cowra Camp had 140 acres under cultivation, growing primarily crops for their own use.
Menu for Cowra Camp 10th November to 16th November 1941