And a journey of discovery begins…
I received an email from Giulia Musini recently. Giulia wrote,
“Today I found this fabric napkin embroidered from a soldier prisoner in India. This little historical treasure was in an op shop in Western Australia. I was hoping to find the family of Antonio Fracasso, the soldier that embroidered this. Maybe through your page I can reach some experts or people related to Bangalore prisoners.”
Embroidery by Antonio Fracasso
(Photo courtesy of Giulia Musini)
Giulia had visited a second-hand charity shop in Witchcliffe Western Australia. “I was digging in the op shop and I saw the Savoia flag and the Italian writing … it was so touching I couldn’t leave it there forgotten in a pile of other stuff,” Giulia wrote.
After a little digging and emails to and fro, Antonio’s story emerges.
There were two Italian prisoners of war named Antonio Fracasso. Both were from Lecce region in Italy and both had spent time in prisoner of war camps in India. One Antonio worked on farms in New South Wales while Giulia’s Antonio worked on farms in Western Australia. The first piece of the puzzle emerged.
The next part of the puzzle was how did Antonio’s embroidery end up in an op shop at Witchcliffe!
Captured at Bardia on 6th January 1941, 24 year old Antonio Fracasso was sent to India until his arrival in Melbourne onboard Mount Vernon 27th April 1944. The date on the embroidery, June 1941, indicates that his time in prisoner of war camps in Egypt was brief.
From Melbourne, Antonio was sent to Murchison Victoria for processing before being sent to Marrinup Western Australia on 14th June 1944.
Antonio Fracasso’s Service and Casualty Form highlights that he worked on farms in the district of W11 Prisoner of War Control Centre (PWCC) Kellerberrin (29th July 1944 to 8th December 1944) and W8 Margaret River (21st January 1945 to 14th November 1945).
And here is another piece of the puzzle, the proximity of Witchcliffe to Margaret River: 7 – 8 kms. We know from other farming families, that the Italians gifted hand-crafted objects to members of the farming families as a gesture of gratitude. Probably, 73 years ago, Antonio gave this napkin/handkerchief to his W8 Margaret River farming family. Subsequent generations of the family did not realise the historical importance of the embroidery and its connection to the family and along with other linen, donated it to charity.
The significance of Giulia’s chance find is more poignant as Antonio Fracasso was never to return home to Italy. Antonio died on 20th December 1945 while swimming in a dam on a farm at Corrigin.
“DROWNED IN DAM.” The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) 26 December 1945: 7. Web. 1 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44836696>.
Giulia is now trying to locate a family member of Antonio. A stumbling block is the places recorded as his residence in Italy: Canaleuco Lecce and Casalano Lecce. Unable to find either places on a map, Casarano Lecce might be the town. Giulia has already made contact with the shire office of Casarano and surprisingly her email reached a gentleman named… Antonio Fracasso.
Giulia is hopeful she will find her Antonio’s family as she says, “I wish to bring this piece of Antonio home. We are moving there soon in Puglia, so close to where he was born. I feel he can finally, some how, go back home.”
Antonio’s embroidery was meant to be ‘rescued’ by Giulia. Her passion for history, Antonio’s story and Giulia’s return to Italy and the region of Antonio’s birth means that this chance find couldn’t be in safer hands.
- A missing piece in the puzzle is what was Antonio doing on a farm at Corrigin, when his record has his last known whereabouts as Marrinup POW Camp. While there was no prisoner of war control centre at Corrigin, there were centres at W17 Kondinin and W15 Yearlering. It is likely that the farm of Mr WJ Keays was in one of these centres, where Antonio was transferred to work but he died before his record card could be updated.
- The newspaper article has Antonio’s surname as Saldato. Soldato = soldier. Someone only had half the story or was misinformed.
- Antonio Fracasso rests in The Ossario at Murchison Victoria.
- Givgno 1941 A XIX EF = Anno 29 Era Fascista. The Fascist Calendar began on 29 October 1922 and is written with Roman numerals.
- eta piu bella; giorni piu tristi = most beautiful age; most sad days