Author Archives: JoanneinTownsville

So far from home and family…

Geographic dislocation was tolerable and bearable as a prisoner of war in Australia, but the physical separation from wives and children must have been at times, almost unbearable.

Nicola Micali was 27 years old when he arrived in Gayndah*. As a soldier in an artillery unit, he had been captured on the first day of the Battle of Bardia 3rd January 1941.  The deserts of North Africa were replaced with the tropical climate of India where he spent up to four years. He had a brief two month stay at Cowra NSW before  a two week stay at Gaythorne PW & I Camp, Queensland.

Geographic dislocation was part of the life of the Italian soldier and prisoner of war. Nicola’s home was San Pietro Vernotico which is close to the Adriatic Sea and is known for olive and grape growing.  His new home in Gayndah however is situated 2 hours from the coast specialising in citrus production.

Swapping artillery and desert sand for farm tools and citrus scented breezes was idyllic in a physical sense, however the separation of Nicola from his wife and daughter was far from a perfect existence.

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Nicola Micali and friends: Libya (Nicola seated right)

(Photo courtesy of Samuele Micali)

Nicola’s grandson Samuele recently discovered a letter written by his grandfather to his grandmother Giovanna. Dated 4-6-1940 et XVIII, Nicola wrote about his movements in Libya but also these endearing words:  “La nostra bambina come se la passa, voglio sapere tutto.” Nicola’s daughter would be 7 years old when he returned.  War fractures family life with children growing up without knowing their father and wives having to survive economic hardship without the families’ breadwinner.

Micali, Nicola 1940.jpeg

Letter from Nicola Micali 4-6-1940

(Photo courtesy of Samuele Micali)

*Gayndah Queensland is the centre of the state’s citrus orchards and it was on orchards owned by Frank Charles Robinson and Frank William Robinson that five young Italian prisoners of war lived and worked from July 1944 to the end of 1945.

On 8th July 1944, from an office at Gayndah, an army truck would have taken the five young men to the property of Mr Frank Robinson and his son Frank Robinson.

The young men who made their home at Glen Ellen were Domenico Petruzzi from Lizzanello, Lecce; Nicola Micali from San Pietro Vernodi (Vernotico) Brindisi and Giuseppe Vergine from Castrignano Dei Greci, Lecce.

Antonio Colomba from Nardo, Lecce and Antonio Alfarno from Supersano, Lecce and worked on Glen Olive.

Italian Army ID Tags

an important relic of war

 piastrina di riconoscimento

Craig Douglas from Regio Esercito History Group has a specific interest in the history of the WW2 Italian armed forces.  Craig is my go-to-man when I need clarification about a particular battle in North Africa or unit in the Italian armed forces.

An item that found its way to the Regio Esercito’s collection is an  ID Tag. Interesting is the information on this tag: Number, Name, Name of Parents including maiden name of mother, Year of Birth, Home Town and Province.

The ID tag also brought up a number of questions.  Did the Italian POWs wear their tags in Australia or did they keep them in their kit?  Do Italian families still have their father’s or grandfather’s ID tags? I wonder if any farming children in Australia, who had Italian POWs on their farms, have memories of an ID tag?

Army Tags Luigi Moltedo

Italian ID Tag for Luigi Moltedo

(photo courtesy of Regio Esercito History Group)

Belonging to Luigi Moltedo, the details regarding how the ID Tag came to Australia emerge.  A major in the Italian army and a lawyer in Italy, Luigi Moltedo was taken prisoner of war in Libya.  He was sent to India as a POW in November 1940. He married a British national in India and in March 1951 together with their two children arrived in South Australia.  You can read more of Luigi’s story at Immigration Place 

Moltedo

Luigi Moltedo

(NAA:D4878)

The Regio Esercito History Group is based in Brisbane and is an historical research group which attempts to bring alive the Italian forces of 1940-45. The group will have a display at Festitalia! Brisbane Italian Festival 14th October 2018.

Del-Bo the painter

A portrait painted with house paint, hangs pride of place in the foyer of Janette Ratcliffe’s home at Thorndale.  The portrait is special because it tells the story of the time, Riccardo Del Bo captured the image of a young Janette on canvas.

The year was 1943, and Janette and Dorothy’s father Herbert Markham Jones from Rural Retreat Severnlea had employed Italian prisoners of war to help work his fruit orchards.  Janette remembers, “Riccardo Del-Bo was a sergeant and a painter.  He did three paintings of our family: a pastel of my father in the orchards with a young relative; one of me and one of my sister.”

Jones.Janette.Painting.

Janette Ratcliffe (nee Jones) with her portrait painted by Riccardo Del Bo

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Dorothy Barraclough (nee Jones) remembers, “Mum didn’t like the painting that Del Bo did of me.  She said that it made me look like an Italian girl.  But I had dark hair and I suppose that is how I looked.  Interesting the things you remember.  I also recall an incident regarding Bread and Butter Pudding.  One day, Mum and I came around the back of their accommodation and we saw a pile of Bread and Butter Pudding thrown into the bush. I suppose they were too polite to complain that they didn’t like the dessert. Mum stopped cooking for them after that.”

Sisters Dorothy and Janette both remember the rabbits trapped by the POWs and the beautiful rabbit stew they cooked. “They trained a pet cat Mena to catch rabbits.  It was a black and white cat and they loved that cat dearly, one would carry it around giving it cuddles.  Every morning it would go out and catch a rabbit.  The rabbits had a burrow under a tree.

When the Italians left, the cat would still go and catch a rabbit each day.  My sister and I would cuddle the rabbit and play with it, until we were tired of doing so and would let it go.  The next day, Mena would catch another rabbit,” Janette recalls.

Jones.Janette.Dorothy

Janette and Dorothy Jones in front of Prisoner of War Accommodation

at Rural Retreat Severnlea 2018

(Photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

The POWs lived in a separate accommodation to the family home.  It was a room which was adjacent to the packing shed. It was lined and had floorboards, a stove, table, chairs and a row of beds. They cooked for themselves and Mr Jones had a substantial vegetable plot with seasonal crops such as asparagus, cabbage, potatoes. Dorothy recalls, “A striking memory of those times is that Orlando played with me.  Janette was at school and boarded in town during the week, so I suppose this is why I remember Orlando.  When I read his POW Service Card, I realised that during that time he was probably missing his children.  His card states that he had two daughters and one son.  The men liked the draught horses, they are very calm animals.  Dad said that they were good workers and just happy to be out of the war.”

Del Bo 3933648Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47841 A. Albertin; 48923 C. Dell Antonio; 48340 G. Tadini; 48210 P. Marcon; 48234 G. Noal; 48199 M. Mancini. Front row: 48251 G. Oldani; 48055 C. Fossati; 48106 R. Del Bo; Unidentified (name cut off list). Note: The number is an assigned POW number

(Australian War Memorial, Image 030149/22, Photographer: Lewecki)

Dorothy and Janette remember some of the many rules the farmer and POWs had to abide by. The Italians had to wear maroon coloured clothes, could not go to dances and were able to buy items from the canteen truck.  But one regulation, stood out as a little harsh and that was the instruction that the farming families were not allowed to give the Italians presents.  “The officials said that anyone who was found with presents, would have them taken away and burnt. Dad after the war though, sent them a suit each.  He felt that a civilian suit would help them in life once they returned home,” Janette recollects.

eBook Walking in their Boots

Walking in their Boots in now an eBook.

Published through kobo.com  copies are now available for purchase.

Prices are: €9.49 and AUD $14.99

At present Walking in their Boots is only available in English.

Read more about the book: Walking in their Boots

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A Beautiful Lesson of Life

Vale: Ian Roderick HARSANT

15.7.42 to 9.7.18

It was on Ian’s Warrill View farm that I felt closest to this history.  Ian walked me back to 1944 and introduced me to his playmates: Francesco Pintabona, Salvatore Mensile,  Vincenzo Nocca, Domenico Masciulli.

Through Ian, I could see Ian as a toddler sitting on Frankie’s shoulder, I could hear the Italians singing to the strumming of a mandolin, I caught a glimpse of Domenico walking through the paddocks from Cyril Rackley’s farm  and I could feel the emotion and nostalgia of those days.

I met Ian in July 2017 after many phone calls and discussions about this history. We continued our conversations, as Ian honestly understood my passion for this history and the importance of recording it. With his dry sense of humour and gravely voice, Ian taught me much about life and family.

Ian was taken too soon from his family. 

My sincere condolences to Carmel and family. 

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Ian Harsant and Joanne Tapiolas : Warrill View 13th July 2017

*** I have reposted this story, in memory of Ian Harsant***

The emotionally moving story of Frank and Ian is a special story of a friendship between an Italian POW and an Aussie toddler that spans over seven decades.

1940s Francesco Ian Salvatore.jpeg

 Francesco Pintabona, Ian Harsant and Salvatore Mensile or Vincenzo Nocca

(from the collection of Ian Harsant)

Ian Harsant’s life-long friendship with Francesco Pintabona, an Italian POW stationed at Boonah is a beautiful story of a little boy’s memory of his Italian friend and his search to find him in the post war chaos. Letters were exchanged but rarely received and contact was lost. By the time Harsant found any news of Pintabona, he had passed away 20 years previous.

Francesco Pintabona of Taviano, Lecce was captured in Bardia.  He came to the Harsant farm, Warrill View Boonah 4th August 1944. Records indicate that he was evacuated to 67 ACH 8th December 1945 and then moved to Gaythorne 27 December 1945, which is probably the reason why Harsant has no memory of saying ‘goodbye’ to his friend.

Ian Harsant as a toddler called him Hank, short for Frank and many childhood photos are of Frank and Ian. Photos taken by Ian’s mother capture  memories of a day’s work on a farm and a lifelong bond.  Frank and Ian’s friendship was special as Di Morris wrote: “Little careful acts were noticed, like putting his (Frank) own handkerchief over the boy’s face when the flies were bad.  Once he even rushed him back to the farmhouse for a nappy change when it became obvious he had soiled his pants…There was another language they shared; the language of lollies, cordial and biscuits which Frank obtained with his little friend in mind when he patronised the visiting truck from Boonah with his small POW wage”. (Morris, 2015) 

Ian reflects that the Italians were non-Fascist, fit and healthy. Not one to wax lyrically, Ian recalls an incident between his dad and Santo Murano, who had been transferred from Frank Sweeney’s farm to Warrill View. Roderick Harsant was a firmer boss than Sweeney.  The incident involved a lot of shouting and a threatening lifting of a shovel toward the farmer.  Mr Collins, the officer in charge of the Boonah centre was called. On Santo’s record in June 1945, is the awarding of 28 days detention: conduct prejudicial to good order, no doubt for this incident.  There were other Italians who worked on the farm but they were a good mob. Domenico Masciulli was billeted with Ian’s uncle Cecil Rackley but then went to Warril View when Rackley died toward the end of 1945. Salvatore Mensile and Vincenzo Nocca worked for Wallace Roderick another relative who lived a couple of mile away and either visited Frank or also worked on the Harsant farm.

Memories of music are paired with this time in Ian’s life. The Italians were musical.  Domenico had a mandolin and Sundays, their day of rest, was the time you would hear them singing and the mandolin being played. Sunday was the day the Italians from the farms around would get together.

Ian Harsant’s journey to find Frank, culminated in being in contact with Fausto Pintabona, a relative of Frank.  Fausto summed up Ian and Frank’s friendship as ‘a beautiful lesson in life’.

Watch the video to hear more about Ian and Frank.

 

 

 

Written and produced by Billy Jack Harsant

Exceptionally Good

Luigi Pinna from Cagliari  Sardinia is on a mission.  Luigi wrote “Buongiorno, scrivo dalla Sardegna. Mio padre nato il 19 aprile 1915 San Giovanni Suergiu prov. Cagliari. io non ho molte notizie, so che era prigioniero in India poi trasferito in Australia, mi piacerebbe sapere della sua vita di prigionierro militare.” With a handful of photos, Luigi wanted to trace his father’s journey as a prisoner of war in Australia.*

Pinna Africa

Antioco Pinna : Distaccamento Autonomo Autocentro in Gondar

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

Luigi explains a little about his father’s military service: “In 1935 he was a soldier until his discharge in 1937. In 1939, he was recalled to arms, embarked and left for East Africa and assigned to the Autonomous Detachment Autocentro in Gondar. This picture [below] is dated October 23, 1940, my father is the first on the left.”

Pinna Africa 1940

Antioco Pinna [first left] in Ethiopia October 23 1940

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

Antioco’s Australian Service and Casualty Form, fills in some of the missing details.  He was captured at Uolchefit 22nd September 1941 which is to the north east of Gondar. Before his arrival in Australia, Antioco was a prisoner of war in India from 1941 – 1944.

Luigi now knows his father better, with thanks to the army officials who kept these records.

Antioco was allocated on paper to S13 Mt Gambier-Penola-Mt Burr.  His assignment was to the Mt Burr forestry sub-camp and hostel.  He had been part of the first group to set up this hostel and Vincent Healy, a forestry worker at Mt Burr said, “… and anyhow the army had a  whole heap of Italian Prisoners of War from the Middle East who had been in India and they’d, when the Japs looked like taking over India, they stuck them all on a boat and sent them out to Australian and landed… landed them, so we got landed with a camp full of those.  But er … they  didn’t cut any wood at all, oh they’d cut a few hundredweight that’s all they’d cut a few hundredweight a day and then knock off, it was too hot.  It was run by the army, I had no authority over that, that was an army camp.  It was our camp and we were to get the wood but er… we got very little wood out of them.  See the first week they were there, they put them in this camp and I went out to see the bloke in charge of the camp and I said, “When are we going to get some wood?” he said, “When we get the camp ready,” He had these blokes all painting white stones to make nice pathways round the camp and all this sort of business.” from Vincent M. (Vin) Healy J.D. Somerville Oral History Collection State Library of South Australia

But this memory does not apply to Antioco.  Basil Buttery, Captain of S13 Hostel wrote: “An excellent worker and a steadying influence and leader of other P.W…  This P.W. is needed again in this hostel on completion of [dental] treatment.  His return is requested… Excellent type. Desirous of remaining in Australia.”

Luigi says, “I never heard my father say he wanted to go back to Australia.  He was too many years away from his family and had great nostalgia for his land and his friends.” But Antioco’s photos of local residents indicates that the hospitality of locals and the respect he gained from Aussie workers left an impression on him. While Luigi understands more about his father’s time in Australia, he would like to know something more about the people in these photos.

 

 

To Jimmy Man from John

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

Another record in the National Archives highlights that Antioco had an exceptionally good character, was an excellent worker who was industrious and ‘by far the best type in S13 hostel’.  Possibly AE Warren from Millicent worked with Antioco in forestry or Antioco worked on the Warren’s farm.  With every question answered, there is another question left unanswered.

 

 

To Jimmie from AE Warren Millicent

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

My father returned to Italy and he has always been a farmer.  He worked the vineyard and made wine and also produced tomatoes, aubergines, watermelons and melons.  On 25th April 1950 he married my mother GiacominaTrincas,” reflects Luigi.  Antioco died of a heart attack in 1976.  He was 61 years of age.

Click on the link to read more: Journey of Antioco Pinna

Pinna Family 1956

Pinna Family Photo 1956: Antonio, Antioco, Luigi, Giacomina and Lucia

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

 

*All prisoners of war have two files available for viewing online at the National Archives of Australia.  The documents contain valuable information about movement, places and basic personal details.

Some states of Australia eg Western Australia and South Australia have additional archived documents.  The stumbling block for Italians doing research is the process of obtaining copies.  It is easy if you read English, but extremely difficult and confusing if Italian is your only language.  Following the guides linked in Finding Nonno: Finding Nonno and How to Order NAA Luigi has unlocked a file containing information about his father.

 

Fletcher’s Prisoners of War

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.

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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