Author Archives: JoanneinTownsville

Why send us back to Italy?

On 20th June 1946, The Western Australian Premier’s Department forwarded to The Prime Minister’s Department a letter penned by an Italian prisoner of war.

To His excellence Governor General of W.A. Perth

Immigation Department Perth

West Australian Redactor Perth

League of the returned soldiers Perth

Clarification.

I am writing on behalf of the Italian P.O.W. whom think of having done their duty working on farms.

When the Italian Government became co-belligerent (we were in the time in India) a number of I.P.O.W. had been sent to Australia for agricultural work in order to collaborate with their work to warlike effort of the United Nations.

Before our departure from India, the English Government formally promised us that after the cessation of hostility we would be allowed to settle in Australia.  Now after about 30 months during which the Commonwealth of Australia have been employing us in useful way, and just now hen he should take some interest in us, it abandons us.

From letters previously published in the papers we must believe that we have been useful on the farms and plus nearly all hte farmers remained quite satisfied and many of them express wish to employ the I.P.O.W. again as ex P.O.W.

We make appeal to the well known rectitude and honest of the Australian people and we ask their co-operation in our case.

As we have done our duty was P.O.W. we are ready to do it as civil.

It is obvious that not all the I.P.O.W. intend to remain in Australia.  Well, why don’t give a chance to those who wish to stay.

We know that Australia is in need of population then, why is the Commonwealth of Australia going to send us back to Italy against our will?  The Australian Government says that according to the Geneva conventions we should be sent back.  What is a convention when millions of people are starving.

We have kept our promise doing our best.

Can the English Government say the same.

(signed) I/P.O.W.

Sir, Knowing your kind heart and rectitude of mind, we hope in your help.

Yours truly

I.P.O.W.

(NAA: A434, 1950/3/15531)

But I want to stay….

escape 1947 16

The Italian prisoners of war were removed from farms at the end of 1945 into the beginning of 1946. They were told that they would be going home soon… but as the months dragged by, the number of escapes increased.  The above extract from a Victoria  Police Special Circular No. 7 shows some of the men who wanted to stay in Australia.

Interestingly, one proactive Italian POW in New South Wales on 19th November 1946, had submitted his ‘Application for Permit to Enter Australia’ together with his ‘Medical Examination Report’ which had been completed by an Army Medical Officer. There is no doubt that this man wanted to stay in Australia.

For the question: present occupation, he has written P.O.W.

With no faith in the system, he escaped on 24th November 1946.  He remained ‘at large’ until September 1952 by which time he was well established, well respected and allowed to remain in Australia.

Finding Nonno

The history behind nonno’s stories

Robert Perna from Detroit Michigan writes, “Many years ago my grandfather told me about his time as a POW from Italy. He surrendered in North Africa and was first shipped to Iraq. Then he was shipped to Australia and worked on a cattle farm. He told me it would take weeks to walk the fence and repair it. He said the owner owned a territory. 

I’m looking for any way to find out who he lived with. He passed many years ago, but his memory of his time there was always very clear. He did end up going back to Italy because that’s where his family was.”

And so the journey begins for a grandson to meld a grandfather’s stories with historical fact.

Using the guide Finding Nonno, Robert found with ease his grandfather’s Australian records which confirmed a few details: his nonno Arcangelo was captured in North Africa: Amba Alagi on 5.5.1941; he was sent to India (not Iraq); he was shipped to Australia: onboard the SS Uruguay in 1943 which docked at Sydney; and he was assigned to farm work: in the N11 Prisoner of War Control Centre Glen Innes.

Robert recounts the details of Arcangelo’s conscription and war service, “My grandfather went to Rome to go pay the taxes on his property. While there, they recruited him off the streets* and sent him to Africa. He could not say goodbye to his family.

From there he was sent to Northern Africa where he was in charge of a platoon. They found out they were being attacked at dawn. So they hunkered into a hill waiting for the African army to attack. Once they ran out of bullets, everyone surrendered, so no one would get killed.” 

The piecing of history continues giving credence to Arcangelo’s memories of the day he was captured 5th May 1941:

1 May 1941 Viceroy of Italian East Africa Duke of Aosta and 7,000 troops were trapped at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia by Indian 5th Indivision to the north and South African 1st Brigade in the south.

3 May 1941 Allied and Italian troops engaged in heavy fighting at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia.

4 May 1941 29th Brigade of the Indian 5th Division launched another attack at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia, capturing 3 hills between 0415 and 0730 hours.

5 May 1941 3/2nd Punjab Battalion advanced toward the Italian stronghold at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia at 0415 hours. They were pinned down by 12 Italian machine guns for the most of the day. The attack was called off at dusk.

British Pathe footage captured the Italians after the surrender of Amba Alagi. Another detail from this battle comes from Craig Douglas at Regio Esercito History Group in Brisbane: “When the Italian troops surrendered at Amba Alagi, the British commander allowed them to surrender with the full honours of war. In tribute to their tenacious defence right to the end.”

The battle for Amba Alagi, the last Italian stronghold in Eritrea. Italians who surrendered Fort Toselli seen marching down the road from the fort. c. June 1941

(AWM Image 007945, Photographer: Unknown British Official Photographer)

From Amba Alagi, Arcangelo would have been sent to POW camps in Egypt to be processed and assigned a M/E number: 289564 [Middle East].  From Suez he would have been transported to India.

Critical Past footage gives a window into the past; the arrival of Italian prisoners of war in Bombay India.

The next stage of Arcangelo’s journey is his arrival in Australia which was reported in the newspapers.  Two ships from India arrived together in Sydney 4th October 1943 with 507 Italian POWs on each ship (one medical officer, 5 medical other ranks and 501 other ranks: MV Brazil and SS Uruguay.

ITALIANS FOR FARMS” Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954) 10 October 1943: 5. Web. 22 Jun 2019 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59187793

1000 Italian War Prisoners Arrive” Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) 7 October 1943: 4. Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95630892&gt;

 

Arcangelo Perna’s arrival is documented on the Nominal Rolls Cowra 12 (c) POW Camp arrival from overseas 5th October 1943. He is assigned his Australian POW number : PWI 55833. Notice that his rank is Corporal though his other documents have his rank as Italian and Private; somethings are lost in translation.

Nominal Rolls of Italian Prisoners of War to Cowra

(NAA: SP196/1, 12 PART 2, 1943-1944 Sydney)

Within two months of his arrival in Australia, Arcangelo is assigned to farm work N11 C.C. Glen Innes.

Robert has a clear memory of his nonno’s recollections of Australia, “ He told me he worked on a cattle farm there. First thing he had to do was mend the fence with the owner. So they packed up the cart and took off. It took over 3 weeks to walk the fence. After that he worked there for a few years. Once it was time to go, the owner begged him to come back and live there. My grandfather said no, he had a farm in Italy. He never said anything bad about being there in Australia. He said they were a nice family who treated him wonderfully.”

Arcangelo’s Service and Casualty Form provides the details of his time between leaving the Glen Innes farm and his repatriation.  A documented four day stay in the Glen Innes hospital and his transfer from the farm to Murchison suggests ongoing medical concerns.  Those Italian who were medically unfit were sent to Murchison. And it is while Arcangelo was at Murchison, official group photos of the Italians were taken. 

A search of the Australian War Memorial collection did not turn up a match for Arcangelo. And Arcangelo’s photo could have been missed because, not all photographs taken of the POWs include the names of the men in the photos.

With this information and a chance at finding his nonno, Robert set to looking through all the group photos taken at Murchison March 1945. And there he was: seated second from the right.

A special moment for Robert: he had found Nonno in Australia.

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 No. 13 POW Group.

(AWM Image 030229/13, Photographer: Stewart, Ronald Leslie)

Arcangelo was repatriated on Chitral  from Sydney on 24th September 1946. These early repatriations were for special consideration, medical or compassionate reasons. This was one of the early repatriation ships which boarded 300 POWs in Sydney and another 2900 in Fremantle Western Australia. The majority of Italian POWs held at Northam Camp WA were repatriated on Chitral.

 Robert continues, “When he came home, my grandmother wasn’t even home when he got there! One of my aunts were born while he was away. Plus, my dad was born about 9 months after he came home.”

These memories [of my nonno] have been a part of my life since he’s told me the story. It has been told hundreds of times. Now I have proof, pictures and info to back up my story,” Robert reflects.

No title” The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954) 24 September 1946: 3 (LATE FINAL EXTRA). Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231583722&gt;

*This is not the first time I have heard about this method of recruitment. A group of young men from the Lecce region, told a similar story to their Queensland family in Gayndah.

Sailing Home

Ormonde 3

The Ormonde departed from Sydney on 31st December 1946.  The official army records record that 2231 Italian prisoners of war were on the boat: 52 officers and 2179 ordinary ranks.  A group of 1992 Italian POWs came from the Liverpool Prisoner of War & Internment Camp in Sydney, as the above form highlights.

If your father or grandfather was repatriated to Italy on the Ormonde then you will find this file very interesting as it contains a list of the Italians on this ship:

[Repatriation of Italian Prisoners of War per Ormonde 24.12.1946] [0.5cm; box 9] Series numberSP196/1 Control Symbol 10 PART 16

The file can be found at the National Archives of Australia   Find : Search the Collection and click on Go to Record Search. Enter the words repatriation Ormonde and you will be taken to the file.

I will explain a little about these National Archives files.  The two personal files for every Italian prisoner of war in Australia, are available, free of charge.  Other files like the file for the Ormonde is free to view because someone has paid for a copy.  When this happens, the file is then available free to everyone.  There are files for other repatriation ships eg Alcantara, Otranto, Chitral.  You can view them if you visit the National Archives of Australia in Sydney.  Or you can pay for a copy of the file and help other Italian families.

The newspaper photo below holds a clue to the journey of the Italian prisoners of war.  The men boarded at Pyrmont Wharf in Sydney. Captain Morgan mentions Di Biasi, a former Fiat mechanic in the article below.  The man mentioned is Benvenuto De Biasi, born in Belluno and resident of Genoa.  Is the man’s surname Di Biasi or De Biasi?  The newspaper article states Di Biasi and his record has De Biasi.

 

Farewell Ormonde

Ormonde. - Copy

1946 ‘Australian Guards Farewell Italians’, The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 24 December, p. 2. (LATE FINAL EXTRA), viewed 17 Jan 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229545602

The Ormonde docked at Fremantle in Western Australia and boarded 20 more Italians. Worthy of note was that there were Italian Lieutenants onboard.

These newspaper articles are available from Australia’s archived newspaper website: Trove .  This is another excellent resource.  There are ways to ‘refine’ your search eg decade, years.  If you search Italian prisoners of war, this title is too general.  It would be difficult to navigate if you do not know English.  I know I would have difficulty searching databases in Italian.

Ormonde

1946 ‘Road Back’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 31 December, p. 6. (HOME EDITION), viewed 17 Jan 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article78214705

My research has been about finding the pieces of the puzzle and putting them all together. Documents, photos, newspaper articles, stories and memories are very important in recording this history in a context:  footprints of Italian prisoner of war from the battlefields of Africa to Palestine to Egypt to India to Australia and return to Italy.

And another clue emerges: what pier did the Italians leave Melbourne from: Station Pier. Quite possibly it was also the place where the Italians arrived into Melbourne Australia in 1943 – 1945.

Ormonde Kissing Flag

1946 ‘ITALIAN KISSES OUR FLAG’, Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), 28 December, p. 1. , viewed 17 Jan 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article171343636

Arrival in Naples 1946

Col. A.W. Sandford, the son of Sir Wallace Sandford wrote an article Naples – when Italian Prisoners Return Home  which was published in November 1946.  While on his way to Hamburg to re-joining the British Army of occupation, he travelled in a ship transporting returning Italian POW.

The repatriation ship was most likely Chitral which had left Australia in September 1946 with over 2700 Italian prisoners on board.

Chitral.httppassengersinhistory.sa.gov.aunode922876

Chitral

(passengersinhistory.sa.gov.aunode922876)

From Advertiser (Adelaide, SA: 1931-1954), Thursday 21 November 1946, page 6.

...From the decks below a constant murmur of hushed excited voices could be heard – over three thousand prisoners, straining their eyes to catch their first glimpse through the grey mists of the docks where they hope to find parents, wives, children, friends, lovers or at worst the attentions of the Italian Red Cross and a rail warrant to freedom.

The light grew slowly more intense as we approached the entrance to the harbor, and one could discern dimly the shaped of buildings in the distance and shipping nearer at hand.  Quite suddenly as the pilot clambered aboard from this ramshackle launch, the first rays of morning struck a cluster of white and pink villas on the headland, away to port – Posilippo, the ‘garden suburb’ of the town.  The city itself shielded by Vesuvius was still plunged in grew gloom, but these scattered villas and palaces on their romantic terraced cliff glittered fiercely in the sun.

By this time more passengers had begun to appear and were standing in tows and threes on the boat deck leaning over the rail.  They watched the sun strike the ancient castle on Capodimonte as we slipped into the harbour mouth and stared in surprise at the city which began to appear, like a stage effect through the dissipating mist.

Battered Harbour

The harbour was impressive.  The carved stone arms of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies still stand on the western mole, as they stood in Nelson’s day and between the pillars could be seen among the trees towards Posilippo, the glittering white cube of the Villa Emma, where Lady Hamilton held court.

The massive Castel Nuovo still dominates the docks but the splendid new quays built of reinforced concrete by the Fascists have stood far less well than solid Bourbon stone masonry the effect of high explosive bombs.

Naples Castell.jpg

The Fort of Castell Dell’ Ovo 1944 Naples

(Photo from Imperial War Memorial)

The murmur of the returning prisoners of war had grown to a loud babble as they saw the Italian warships huddled ingloriously against the naval mole and two large liners burned out and rusted lying on the bottom of the city Side.  Another liner had capsized just beneath the eastern mole, and in the centre of the docks, an American troopship was discharging across the hull of another capsized and rusting casualty.  This they observed in a second and then all eyes were turned to the nearest quay which was clearly made ready to receive us.  Stevedores were busy trundling gangways, there were lines of trucks drawn up, lines of carabinieri and here and there the scarlet caps of British military policemen.

Then all at once the prisoners seemed to see in the shadow of the damaged gallery rows and rows of dark-clothed men and women, and a good many children too.  These struggled and shouted and gesticulated from beyond the police cordon in the shadows striving to make themselves heard above the yelling of soldiers and stevedores and the raucous braying of a brass band which struggled on to the quay without a conductor and burst at once into a rendering more vigorous than accurate of “Funiculi, Funicula”.

The complete story is available here: Naples – when Italian Prisoners Return Home

Following are two video links: Italian Prisoners of War Return to Naples  and  View of buildings near Naples 1946

Chitral 2

1946 ‘No title’, The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 10 October, p. 24. , viewed 19 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75342761

Escaped to Queensland

In May 1947 there were 100 escaped prisoners of war in Australia: 4 German and 96 Italian. Interestingly 92 had escaped in 1946 (and 8 in 1947).

The background history is that the Italians were taken off farms late 1945/early 1946 and told that they would be going home ‘soon’.  It wasn’t until December 1946/January 1947 that the majority of POWs were repatriated.

For young men who had already given 8 years to military service and as a POW, thoughts of delaying a ‘start of a new life’ back in Italy versus starting a new life in Australia would have been debated. Some would have wanted to start their new life in Australia sooner than later and thought repatriation would be a waste of another two valuable years of their working life.

Four escaped prisoners of war ‘hid out’ in Queensland: Harry Lugsch (Innisfail), Alberto Bandiera (Ingham), Giovanni Brisotto (Poziers) and Giuseppe Volpato (Poziers).  The authorities advertised the escapes in government and police gazettes.

Lugsch Harry 1947

Victorian Police Gazette Special Circular No. 7

NAA:A373, 11638D, 1946-1952

The journey of Harry Lugsch is an interesting one.  He was one of the sailors onboard the German raider Kormoran which sank the HMAS Sydney on 19th November 1941.  The 318 Germans who survived were captured off the coast at Carnarvon WA. Harry was captured 23rd November 1941. Once interrogated at Harvey WA, they were sent to Murchison and then a satellite camp at Graytown.  On 14th November 1946, a group of 300 German POWs were detached to V20 Wallangarra Hostel on the Queensland – New South Wales border, to undertake: preventative maintenance on dead storage Army Vehicles, 8,00 ‘B’ Army vehicles held by Ordnance Service. Included in this group were motor mechanics, paint sprayers, electricians, oxywelders, engineers, steam power cleaners and power greasers from the Kormoran.  Harry Lugsch escaped from PWCH Wallangarra on 25th December 1946 and was recaptured 5th January 1948 at Innisfail.

Lugsch Harry

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

Another prisoner of war to escape to Queensland was Alberto Bandiera. He escaped from N31 Hostel Glenfield: Army Ordnance Depots and Workshops, Ordnance installation at Moorebank. He was one of 455 Italian POWs sent to this hostel in January 1946. Joe Devietti from Ingham explains:

“Ingham has another link to Italian prisoners of war because an escaped POW cut cane in Ingham. His name was Alberto Bandiera and he had escaped in September 1946 and surrendered in Brisbane February 1950. The police questioned dad [Giovanni Devietti] about this but he denied any knowledge.  Bandiera was repatriated on the ship which brought out my cousins to Brisbane Surriento. They arrived 23rd February 1950 and Alberto Bandiera was repatriated onboard on the 24th February 1950.   In time, he returned to Australia and worked at Peacock Siding. Bandiera wasn’t the only escaped POW the police were looking for.”  Alberto Bandiera returned to Ingham in February 1951 and eventually took up farming and settled at Birkdale Queensland.

Bandiera Alberto

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

On 8th January 1946, Giovanni Brisotto and Giuseppe Volpato escaped together from N31 Hostel Glenfield.  They made their way to Angelo Vedelago’s farm at Poziers (via Stanthorpe).  Giuseppe Volpato surrendered in Brisbane on 8th May 1950, in time to be repatriated to Italy on SS Surriento on 11th May 1950.

Volpato Giuseppe

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

Giovanni Brisotto on the other hand remained ‘at large’ until 22rd March 1951 and surrendered in Brisbane.  He was granted an Aliens Registration Certificate which allowed him to stay in Australia.  Giovanni Brisotto’s story can be read in Echoes of Italian Voices.  He made Poziers his home.

Brisotto Giovanni

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

By 1952, 13 Italian prisoners of war had escaped repatriation.  Department of Army referred the men to Department of Immigration and once surrendered they were issued with Alien Certificates of Registration.  Among this group were two Italian POWs who had worked on Queensland farms: Pietro Daidone (Q10 Boonah) who escaped from Middle Head Hostel and Ottavio Brancatella (Q1 Stanthorpe) who escaped from Applethorpe while the Stanthorpe POWs were awaiting transport to Gaythorne.

Papaws and Prisoners of War?

PAPAW…PAWPAW… PAPAYA

Papaw eggs

1942 ‘TO-DAY’S RECIPE.’, Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 17 December, p. 3. , viewed 19 Jan 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42371778

I have been reading the details of a Gympie farm diary for Redslopes at Goomboorian. Farmer Neil Buchanan makes detailed notes of the cases of produce picked and packed: beans, citrus, tomatoes, bananas, papaws, carrots, pineapples and cucumbers. He employed three Italian prisoners of war on his farm.  Angelo, Vince and Salvatore were valued workers.

What has intrigued me are the numbers of cases of papaws being sent to the markets from Redslopes: 25 bags of green papaws, 90 cases, 44 cases, 100 cases, 50 cases, 70 cases. Papaw is a delicate fruit requiring careful handling and has a short shelf life.

Redslopes 1944: “October 9th. Continue preparing today’s load, making a total of 90 cases papaws, 42 cases beans, 20 cases cucumbers, the biggest tonnage every sent in produce.  More beans picked and packed cucumbers likewise as well as papaws being finished.”  

SO the question on my mind is where were all these papaws going?  How were they being used? Was papaw a popular fruit in the 1940’s?

I have been told that ‘ in the old days’  Golden Circle Fruit Salad (canned) used to contain pieces of papaw.  I asked my mother-in-law, a child of the 1940s, about papaws and she told me that her mother peeled and cut into pieces green papaw, boiled, drained and then added salt and pepper.

My way of thinking is that papaw is best served as a fruit on its own.  In recent times it is used green in Thai inspired salads. It is high in Vitamin C and Vitamin A and is used in a popular ointment:Lucas’ Papaw Ointment. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s we always had papaw trees in the backyard; a much loved fruit of my mother.  Today, it is difficult to buy a good quality papaw in the supermarkets and the best papaws are found at weekend markets.  Papaw is also used in making chutneys.

So what of the 1940s diet and housewives’ use of papaws… a little research and  I found that papaws were a very versatile fruit.  It could be used for all three courses of a meal.  As a vegetable, diced cooked papaw was a perfect accompaniment with grills or light chicken dishes.  It could be served as a vegetable in a white sauce or baked. Papaw juice was being used in the production of unshrinkable wool clothing. And it was reported in February 1945 that:

“MRS. J. SEWELL, of Caloundra, via Landsborough, wins this week’s £1 prize for her directions for making a papaw roll.”
nla.news-page000027303903-nla.news-article248025041-L3-6909dabdb992f42e60cd907f05c50392-0001

Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), Sunday 14 October 1945, page 34

If the Italian prisoners of war were wary of mashed pumpkin (as they considered pumpkin to be animal fodder), then I am not sure  how they would have reacted to grilled papaw  or diced papaw served in a lettuce cup with passionfruit, orange, mint, pineapple and flaked fish.

Yes, this history is not just about farmers, army guards and  Italian prisoners of war.

It is about historical farming practices, food on tables; an insight into daily life; recipes; music and much more.

PS Do you know the difference between a mouldboard plough and a disc plough? How much do you know about charcoal burners to fuel trucks? Do you know how charcoal was made during those war years? Did you know that sugar cane farmers in North Queensland had to relinquish their tractors which were then used to build airstrips? Did you know that the American appetite for sweet corn, introduced Australians to this variety of corn? (maize or corn was primarily for animal fodder before the Americans)

Papaw 1945

1945 ‘A Page for the Housewife’, Worker (Brisbane, Qld. : 1890 – 1955), 24 September, p. 14. , viewed 19 Jan 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71454103

 

Waiting to Go Home

With the war over, Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farms at the end of 1945 – beginning of 1946. With a sense of hope, they believed that they would be home in Italy within one or two months.  Many letters written to Queensland farmers from their ex POW workers talk of going home soon.

Reality was, that the majority of Italian prisoners of war were not repatriated until end of December 1946 – January 1947. Recalling 13,500 Italian prisoners of war into the POW and Interment camps came with logistical problems.  However, a number of Italian POWs were sent to army ordinance sites and training sites for a range of duties from ordinance maintenance, maintenance and improvements of camps, salvage work, vehicle maintenance.

N33 Hostel Nobby’s Road was one such site. Alan St John spoke with a number of Italians working there…

NOBBYS ITALIANS ARE NOT SO HAPPY

By Alan St. John

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW: 1876-1954), Saturday 28 September 1946, page 5

A TRUCKLOAD of red-uniformed Italians prisoners-of-war rolls westwards up Hunter Street.  They look interesting.  They smile, reveal flashing white teeth.  Their long, dark hair flicks with the wind and they seem carefree, even irresponsible.

To chat with the 36 Italians behind barb wire, I went to their camp at Nobbys this week.  They turned out to be interesting, but don’t let those happy smiles fool you.  They are not irresponsible.  These sallow-skinned Latins are worried men with a sterile past and a cloudy future.  About Christmas time they are due to go home.  They have to search for their people, to eat, to work and to seek stability in a country still heaving after the convulsions of war.

Corporal-major (an n.c.o. rank) Mario Dominelli has a thin face and steady, serious, dark eyes. He told me with emphasis: “We have nothing to be happy about.  We are penniless.  We have lost all our youth.  We will soon return to a strange home with 30 years and more on our shoulders to start with.”

Dominelli, 30, son of Milanese master carrier was impressed into the Italian Army three and a half years before the war.

There was no option about Dominelli’s becoming a soldier. Failure to attend the call-up would have resulted in a visit from a burly gendarme and possibly, in rough treatment.  The period of service was meant to be 18 months, but when war hove in sight, young men just were not released.

Dominelli served as a motor mechanic with tanks in Libya and was ‘caught’ by the Australian Desert Rats in 1941.  About two and a half years of his imprisonment he spent in India, but when Italy surrendered prisoners of war there were released on parole.  He had charge of 60 men.  When he came to Australia, he went behind barbed wire again.  He can not understand why, though it is all over now, he is still behind the wire.

“Australia is a fine country,” he said. “But I should be let out to see it.”

The serious Dominelli became graver at mention of his family. “My people – I have not heard of them for three years.”

ENGLISH LOOKING

A contrast to his fellows is Carlo Narboni, whose tall, straight figure, blonde hair, blue eyes and ruddy complexion could cause him to be taken for an Englishman.  A native of Tripoli, he was in the Italian army two years before the war, as an artilleryman.  He was one of thousands the Australians captured at Tobruk.

Narboni has seen something of Australia during his five years here, much of his time being spent on a farm at Coonabarabran.  Carlo is useful with his hands and, at Nobbys, has turned out an excellent carpenter.

Though his father and brother in Italy are trying to rehabilitate their big rope works in Padua, 27 – year-old Erminio Navarin, a Venetian who has been in uniform since 1938, wants to stay in Australia.  But arrangements to allow prisoners of war to remain here are still in the ‘talking’ stage, he has been told.  When he turned 18, Navarin failed to report for army service.  The breach cost his father a fine of about £7.

LITTLE MAN, BIG TRUCK

Another Nobbys prisoner attracted to Australian farming life is Gaetano Cavallaro, a 25-year-old native of Rovigo, near the ancient Italian city of Padua.  He has worked on farms at Murwillumbah and Tamworth.  Cavallaro, who was 18 when he joined the army, is only 5ft. 2 in tall and the camp dwarf.  He was driving a 35-ton Isooto Frashini army truck when he was cut off from his unit in Bardia.  He, too, was taken in charge by the Aussies.  He is keen to see his parents, four sisters and a brother, in  the town which he says is ‘something like Newcastle.’

At 46, Lorenzo Strambi, grey-haired and sombre, who entertains his Nobbys camp-mates with his guitar is a victim of circumstance.  Out of work, he left his native Genoa for Africa and became a quarry-worker in Addis Ababa.  War came; there was no transport to take him home so he was pushed into the army.  He has not seen his wife and 21 year old son for eight years, and this week he received a letter from his wife for the first time in four years.

GONDOLIER, TENOR

Nobbys other musical Italian is Crescenzio Catuogno who was a real Neapolitani gondolier.  His civilian job was to punt tourists around Naples Harbour in his gondola and, as an added attraction, entertain them with his fine tenor voice.

Nobbys Catuogno 3918936

Gondola Tenor: Crescenzio Catuogno standing at far right

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49305 E. Allunni; 46486 F. Palladino; 48249 G. Olivares; 46433 G. Polise; 49690 A. Rea; 45169 C. Catuogno. Front row: 49310 A. Argento; 49566 A. Di Pala; 49670 G. Joime; 45256 A. Ciancio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030148/10)

Marshalo (Warrant-Officer) Florentino left Nobbys recently with a nervous breakdown. [Domenico] Florentino was highly intellectual – a Bachelor of Economics, a chartered accountant, and holder of a first-class steamship master’s ticket.  The confinement of camp life got the better of his highly strung temperament, and he was sent south for special treatment.

Florentino failed to adapt himself to the life, as his comrades, who have worked out their own forms of expression. Some study trades, some read, and some make trinkets.  To finish off his cement garden ornaments, Angelo Fumagalli, even makes his own paint-oil mixed with soil, brick dust and pulverised Nobbys rock.  One of his creations is a model six-story building.

The prisoners go to Mass at Tighe Hill every Sunday.

Their food is good, and they make their own excellent macaroni.  In addition to a free ration of cigarettes (from a special fund), the Italians may buy six ounces of tobacco and three packets of papers a month.  They have their own currency: half pennies and pennies with their centres punched out, rated at 2/ and 5/. Pay for non-commissioned ranks is 1/3 a day.

But the prisoner of Nobbys are far from happy.  I don’t blame them. Carlo Narboni, the English-looking fellow, shrugs and explains: “Eat ees good here, and the capitani he is a gentleman.  But if you have been a soldier, you will understand: we have been away from home a too long time.”

Nobbys Florentino 3872124

Domenico Florentino: Happier Times at Liverpool Camp before he was transferred to Nobbys Camp

LIVERPOOL PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNMENT CAMP, NSW 1945-11-21. DOMINIC FLORENTINO (LEFT), THE CAMP LEADER, AND FORTUNATO PALLADINO, THE SECOND IN CHARGE OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR. LIVERPOOL PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNMENT CAMP, NSW 1945-11-21. DOMINIC FLORENTINO (LEFT), THE CAMP LEADER, AND FORTUNATO PALLADINO, THE SECOND IN CHARGE OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR.

(PHOTOGRAPHER L. CPL E. MCQUILLAN; AWM)