Marco Lucantoni from Napoli has a special collection of items belonging to his father Stefano Lucantoni. As a prisoner of war in Australia, Stefano kept himself occupied in several ways.
He had a lot on his mind: his family. His wife Egle was pregnant when he had last seen her in 1939. His son was seven years old before father and son met.
A special thank you to Marco and his brothers for sharing Stefano’s treasured keepsakes. Relics like these give credence to the historical accounts. They tell the personal history of Italian prisoners of war in Australia.
Stefano took home with him a beautiful chess set made in Cowra. Featuring the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the image was a reminder of Stefano’s arrival in and departure from Sydney: 1941 and 1946.
In Cowra on the 28th June 1946, a group of Italians staged L’Antenato a Commedia in 3 Alli. Stefano played the part of Egidio.
The carefully designed and produced programme highlights the efforts the men made for their production. The play was written by Guerrino Mazzoni, the sets created by Eliseo Pieraccini and Carlo Vannucci. Montaggio by Stefano Lucantoni, Renato bianchi, Felice di Sabatino, Luigi Proietti, Armano Mazzoni and Cesare Di Domenico. Performers were Bruno Pantani, Guerrino Mazzoni, Carlo Vannucci, Tarcisio Silva, Bruno Dell Amico, Guigi Giambelli, Renato Bazzani, Marcello Falfotti, Alvise Faggiotto, Stefano Lucantoni. Suggestore was Giuseppe Carrari.
They were men from all walks of life: electrical engineer, butcher, clerk, mechanic, plumber, butcher, decorator, policeman, farmer, blacksmith, carpenter.
EDUCATION and LANGUAGE CLASSES
It was considered imperative that POWs occupied their leisure time usefully and the policy was to provide opportunities for POWs to further their studies. Libraries in the camps were established and canteen profits used to purchase additional text books relevant to courses undertaken. Books from overseas were allowed in the areas of banking and financial, medical, scientific, art, economics, music, agriculture, religion, trade and commerce as well as periodicals of a general literary nature. Grammatica – Italiana – Inglese is Stefano’s exercise book from these language classes and shows his meticulous notes.
The book, Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War was specifically published and given to Italian POWs being allocated to farm work under the Prisoner of War Control Centre: Without Guard scheme. Some of the sections were: Tools, Machinery, Farm Produce, Animals, Hygiene and Medical, Family, House and Conjugation of Verbs.
Stefano’s third book, Piccola Guida per Gli Italiani in Australia was written by Padre Ugo Modotti December 1944. He worked closely with the Italian migrant community in Melbourne from 1938 to 1946. He wrote this booklet for the Italian migrants.
On 9 March 1945, the Directorate of Prisoners of War was aware of this booklet and on 31 March 1945 approval was granted to distribute Picolla Guidi per Gli Italiani to the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.
By 1945, there was a relaxation in how the Italian POWs were viewed. While they were still POWs, they were not considered a high security risk. It was also a time when the Italians were thinking about life in Australia after the war and requesting permission through their farmers to stay in Australia and not be repatriated.
A guide for Italian migrants to Australia, this book gave the Italian POWs information to prepare for the time when they would return to Australia as migrants and free men.
A story of love and a story of imprisonment.
The ring shows the intials E and S entwined and signifies the love of Stefano and his wife Egle. Made in silver and another metal, the silver was obtained from Australian coins eg florins and shillings. Although it was forbidden for POWs to have Australian currency in their possession, necessity and ingenuity always find a way around the rules.
The emblem is carefully crafted with the words: Ricordo Campo 12 A Cowra and entwined initials POW. It was the badge for the chess set.
This card was printed and distributed for Natale 1944. A bucolic Australia landscape of sheep, gum trees and space. Despite processes in place for prisoners of war to send postcards for Notification of Capture and Transfer of Prisoner, Stefano’s wife believed him dead and asked the Red Cross to try to locate some information about him.
In September 1941, Egle received a letter from the Red Cross telling her that her husband was a prisoner of war in Australia. Instructions were given to send mail to: Posta per prigionieri di Guerra, Australia.
Any wonder why mail was lost and months and sometimes years passed before mail was received. The image on this postcard was very foreign to Stefano’s family, but its arrival conveyed love and hope.
Stefano and Egle: Happier Times
A special thank you to Marco Lucantoni for the photographs used in this article.