Fletcher Italian Prisoners of War
The orchards on the east side of the New England Highway at Fletcher are a distant memory. During the 1940’s the Horan’s Gorge Road was bordered by prosperous orchards owned by William Laird, Sydney Dent, John Barker and Henry Stanton. It was also a time when due to labour shortages, orchardists employed Italian prisoners of war.
Long gone, Shirley Stanton remembers clearly the crops grown by her father Henry Stanton. Her dad had almond trees growing as the bees were attracted to the blooms. These flowered first, attracting the bees which were needed to pollinate the fruit crops: quinces, nectarines, apples, apricots, plums and pears.
Shirley’s memories of those times are through the eyes of a four-year-old. To her, the Italians didn’t appear to belong to any one farm as there was movement between farms. Possibly during hectic harvests, the Fletcher workforce was fluid with Italians working on neighbours’ farms. The Stanton farm was the place for the POWs to congregate on a summer’s Saturday night to socialise and play cards. There was no harm done breaking the army’s rule that POWs from one farm were not to congregate with POWs from other farms as this isolated corner of the Granite Belt was away from prying eyes.
“Barney and Sav are the two men I remember with fondness. But I don’t know what their proper names were. Their accommodation was made with VJ walls. To keep the cold out, they lined the room with newspapers. At eye level, there was a border of comic strips like Ginger Megs. This was memorable, as was the washing area they made down at the creek. They dammed the creek with concrete to form a washing/swimming area. They also grew vegetables on a plot down near the creek and they carted water from this pool to their garden. I don’t remember any trouble. They came to our farm to play cards and would walk home before midnight. Mum must have told me this as I am sure I was fast asleep,” Shirley reminisces.
The Italians made an impact. Children learn new languages easily and Shirley, her twin brother Alan and older brother Peter, took to the Italian language. “My mother was horrified when Alan and I were reported for swearing. Once we were overheard saying ‘Basto, basto’. Basto means enough in Italian but a neighbour thought we were saying bastard, bastard. The misunderstanding was soon sorted out. Peter went to school speaking Italian, and the teacher made it clear to mum that he had to stop Italian and only use English. Off the top of my head I can remember ‘cavalli’ for horses,” Shirley recalls.
Other memories of those days are of the three pence chocolate the Italians would buy for the children, the army captain who would come out, very serious looking with a black and red hat and a stick under his arm and the rollies. Shirley says that the rollies were the best: pasta that were rolled into spirals filled with mince, fried and then served with a tomato sauce.
But the most poignant memory for Shirley is having to say goodbye to the Italians. “I was four years old and we took them to Applethorpe. Mum told me to say goodbye because they weren’t coming back home. They were like family. Mum was crying, I was crying,” remembers Shirley.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 45603 V. Esposito; 45011 S. Amato; 57534 G. Quintiliano; 45953 G. Lo Russo; 45930 V. Landriscina; 57254 C. Giannini; 49877 L. Miele. Front row: 57521 A. Vezzola; 46282 A. Merante; 45155 M. Coppola; 46863 V. Termine; 49732 S. Piccolo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial, Image 030173/14, Photographer: Geoffrey McInnes)
Fletcher Italian Prisoners of War
Pietro Sorvillo from Striano Napoli (R Dent)
Luigi Gesualdi from Panne Foggia (SH Dent)
Giovanni Di Pasquale from Vietri di Potenza (SH Dent)
Riccardo Zingaro from San Ferdinando di Puglia (WHC Laird)
Cosimo Giannini from San Ferdinando di Puglia (WHC Laird)
Angelo De Rosa from Fagnano Castello Cosenza (JC Barker)
Cosimo La Rosa from Palme Reggio Calabria (JC Barker)
Salvatore Miceli from San Marco Argentano Cosenzo (JC Barker)
Mario Salerno from Torrano Castello Cosenza (JC Barker)
Domenico Venditti Frosinone (H Stanton)
NB This list is not necessarily complete