Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Twenty two of the original thirty Italian prisoners of war (POWs) who arrived at No. 15 POW Camp on 19 March 1942.
(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInness Image 063919)
I hadn’t meant to delve into places outside of Queensland, because nine PWCC, one PWC Hostel and one PW&I Camp is more than I can handle. But here I am, delving into the history of Yanco Camp 15.
Many Queensland Italian POWs had worked at Yanco, so this is justification enough. A little more research and I realised the similarities between the work being done at Yanco and the work being undertaken at Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill. Another Queensland connection.
But in truth, my motivation is much less complicated: a gentleman from Rome, Alessdandro Di Sabatino contacted me. He is visiting Australia in 2018 and he would like to walk in the footsteps of his father, Antonio Di Sabatino. And so my quest to understand the operations of Yanco began.
Yanco, Australia. 23 January 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 15 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 45593 Antonio De Sabatino;49625 Oreste Piermattei; 49876 Goffredo Mangiasciutto; 46515 Andrea Pesaola; 45240 Cesare Nobilia; 48641 Luigi Salvati; 45417 Paolo Di Massimo. Front row: 49902 Giuseppe Ricci; 45732 Armando Guaazi; 46354 Mario Palma; 49489 Antonio Galea; 45730 Nicola Clemenzi. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.
(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 030171/01)
I have combined photos from Australian War Memorial and interspersed them through the following newspaper article, accessible from Trove.com to assist other children and grandchildren of Italian POWs to walk in their father or grandfather’s footsteps.
Yanco Camp 15 is now the Yanco Agricultural Institute (YAI). The site has been repurposed many times during its history and the YAI celebrated its 100 anniversary in 2008. Staff of the YAI welcome visits from families of the Italian POWs and are more than happy to provide you with an historical perspective of the property.
Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) at No. 15 POW Camp enjoying a shower after a hard day’s work on the farm. This shower block can accommodate twenty four men at a time, and was originally a Riverina Welfare Farm building.
(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063917)
Yanco Prisoner of War Camp (NSW) was a compound housing 700 – 800 prisoners of war who worked producing vegetables for supply to the allied forces. The site is in the Riverina district WNW of Canberra, between Wagga Wagga and Hay. It is 290 km from Cowra Prisoner of War and Internment Camp and 170 km from Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.
YANCO, NSW. 1944-01-22. VIEW FROM THE WATER TOWER SHOWING THE MESS BUILDING AND THE ITALIAN PRISONER OF WAR (POW) TENTS OF NO. 15 POW CAMP. IN THE BACKGROUND CAN BE SEEN SOME 250 ACRES OF BEANS AND TOMATOES.
(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063594)
Yanco operated differently to the other POW camps and this included the baking of bread. A request was lodged for the procurement of 100 bread tins: “that probable reason for demand for 100 Tins, bread for No. 15 P.W. Camp Yanco is that P.W. there make their own bread which procedure is not followed in other P.W. Camps. P.W. held at this camp total 550 and in view of foregoing, supply is recommended.” (AWM War Diary 18 Oct 43)
Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoner of war (POWs) bakers at No. 15 POW of War Camp removing bread from the oven. In the foreground can be seen tins of dough ready to be baked. (AWM Photo 063916 Geoffrey McInnes)
The article below from Farmer and Settler (Sydney, NSW: 1906 – 1955), Friday 14 April 1944, page 6 explains the operations and importance of the work done by Italian prisoners of war at Yanco.
Riverina Farm Now Biggest Vegetable Garden Project in Australia
Swarthy Italians have replaced students, soldiers have taken over from teachers, and fields where games were played are now flourishing vegetable gardens at Riverina Welfare Farm, Yanco.
Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-29. An Italian prisoner of war (POW) from No. 15 POW Camp operating a horse drawn insecticide duster on a crop of tomatoes on one of the unit’s farms.
Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063822
In two years the farm has become Australia’s greatest vegetable growing project- the biggest producer on the food front.
New methods of growing and harvesting have been introduced as well as new methods of seed production. At present more than 300 acres have been devoted to vegetables for seed purposes only.
The farm was taken over from the Education Department in March, 1942, by the Department of Agriculture in cooperation with the Department of Commerce to step up vegetable growing.
In the first year, using only prisoners of war labour more than 500 tons of tomatoes, silver beet, sweet corn, beans, cabbages, cauliflowers and sweet peppers (an American delicacy) were delivered to Leeton cannery. The area under vegetables was 320 acres.
Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-29. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from No. 15 POW Camp grading and packing tomatoes at the packing shed before sending them to the Leeton Co-operative Cannery for processing.
(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063793)
With the importation of lend-lease machinery, several units were sent to the farm to speed up production and last October the area given to vegetables was increased to 640 acres.
Shortage of vegetable seed and the difficulty of importing it caused a change of plans. Instead of bulk vegetable production, the farm set out to grow seed.
Two areas of 320 acres and 150 acres were laid out under spray irrigation, the remainder being furrow irrigation. With the spray equipment, about 40 acres are given water at the rate of one inch of rain a day.
Largest crops sown are beans, 160 acres; tomatoes 75 acres; silver beet 37 acres, carrots 30 acres and sweet corn 25 acres. The carrots will be transplanted in the winter to 100 acres for seed production.
Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-29. Italian prisoners of war (POW) from No. 15 POW Camp using a Farmall tractor and a furrowing out machine to prepare a paddock for silver beet irrigation.
(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063820)
Next month 38 acres will be sown to onion and in June, 150 acres of peas will be sown. Some peas will be sent to the cannery and the remainder retained for seed.
Beside the vegetable project, the farm which is 2045 acres in extent has 225 acres under pasture, paspalum and clover, 40 acres under Lucerne, 50 acres under orchard and 30 acres under sorghum to make 200 tons of silage.
In addition, it has a stud Jersey herd of 115 head of cattle, a Berkshire pig stud of 130 as well as 300 sheep and 60 horses. All products go to the Services.
Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) tending stud Berkshire pigs on the farm at No. 15 POW Camp.
Australia War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063884)
The Farm Manager (Mr John L Green) yesterday described the new method of harvesting and preparing tomato seed.
Varieties being grown include 16 acres of Bonnie Best, 15 Marglobe, 12 Break of Day, 14 Pearson, 9 Earliana, 8 Tatura Dwarf Globe and one of Bonnie Marr, a new type.
Picked into kerosene tins, they are emptied into lug boxes in the field and these are carted on drays to the grading shed erected in the field adjacent to the crop. An average day’s picking is 500 to 600 lug boxes, weighing 10 to 12 tons.
The tomatoes are then place on sorting tables 30 ft long, 3 ft wide and made of rubber and this revolves.
Those retained for seed extraction pass through an electrically driver pulper and juice extractor, and the pulp thus obtained, together with that returned from the cannery is placed in barrels and treated with hydrochloric acid for the purpose of making seed extraction more rapid and easy.
Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from No. 15 POW Camp pulping tomatoes in order to recover the seed. The crushed tomato is then treated with weak hydrochloric acid to free the seed from the pulp. Seeds are then washed and dried.
(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063885)
The system was developed by Mr EM Hutton, of the C.S. and I.R. AT Canberra two years ago and makes it possible to pre-treat pulp in 30 minutes compared with two days required under the old system of natural fermentation.
The pulp is poured on to a 600 ft wooden flume with a slight gradual decline. The flume is 15 inch wide and 12 inch deep and every 5 ft is a baffle board 6 inch high.
Water is run in at a rate sufficient to give a flow of ½ to 1 inch over the baffles.
The result is the seed, being heavier than the pulp, sinks and is caught in the baffles, while the pulp flows over and is eventually lost at the lower end in an open drain.
Two barrels of pulp, representing 100 bushells of tomatoes can be washed in this manner in 50 minutes. The washing, however, does not remove every small particle of pulp, it being necessary to take this in a screen of meshes.
After this treatment, the seed is placed for 24 hours in a solution of ascetic acid with the object of controlling bacterial canker disease.
It is then spread on tarpaulins on a drying green for six to 10 hours, collected and bagged.
Mr Green said that already 1500 lb of seed has been produced and it was expected that 3000 lb more seed would be harvested before the end of May. The amount of tomatoes involved would be 400 tons.
My grandfather Major Harold Newman Snodgrass was the officer in command of Yanco Prison. Would like to communicate with anyone who might have known him. Thanks.
Thank you Thomas for your comment. I enjoyed researching Yanco and the work being done there by the POWs. It was similar to the work undertaken at the Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill (Qld) and a number of Q6 Home Hill POWs had been assigned to Yanco. I will pass on any leads.
Thomas I have found someone who knows something and is compiling a book about the Yano site. His name is Christopher Senti. Do you have Facebook ? If so, search Facebook for Trove Yanco. It was. 2016 post but follow the thread of conversation between Christopher and myself. Otherwise let me know your email address and I will pass it on.
Leeton Family & Local History Society Inc is interested in any information regarding the Yanco POW as Yanco is part of our area. We do have a member compiling information and would be pleased to communicate with anyone who is interested.
I am part of a small group of volunteers researching WW I soldiers from the Yungaburra Rifle Club. One of these was George Lancelot Bott who re-enlisted in WW II and who was posted to the camp. George farmed near Yungaburra and then went to Cooktown and died in Townsville. I will be happy to share information on George Lancelot Bott.
Hi Ros, I would be interested to know about his time at Yanco PW Camp. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org Joanne Tapiolas
My Dad was a guard who watched over the prisoners he was stationed there, after he returned from fighting the Japanese in Papua New Guinea. However as we lived On Farm 115 Leeton, he used to ride his bike to & from our home to fulfill his service, in the Australia Army. NX1204050 Cooper William Gordon. He often brought home water or rock melons that the prisoners gave to him. We loved them. My Dad died 19th September 1980 at Muswellbrook on his way back to his home on the northern Gold Coast.
Thank you Gus for this information. Little bits of information help build a more complete picture of this history. That sharing of melons and the memory it created for you is a personal aspect of this history. Not sure if the Italians were allowed to give the melons away or if you dad was allowed to take them home, but there was no harm in bending rules… a little.