Category Archives: Italian POWs and family

We Blame Uncle Berto…

Benedetto Ierna or better known as Uncle Berto, was 23 years old when he was captured at Alan Tumar on 9th December 1940.  A barber from Floridia, Siracusa he was a soldier in the Engineers Corps when captured and was sent to India until April 1944.

Within 10 weeks of his arrival in Melbourne on board the Mariposa, he was being taken by army truck to the farm of Kelly Bros. at Silverdale, Harrisville together with Giuseppe Venturelli. The policy of the day was for the placement of Italian prisoners of war in groups of two or three.

Berto had journeyed from  Melbourne through Cowra then Gaythorne and then to the Q10 PWCC at Boonah. More than likely, the barber mentioned in this article below from the Queensland Times, 13th July 1944, was Berto. While a barber by trade, he had learnt a number of skills as a soldier in the Engineers Corps.  Berto arrived at Bill Kelly’s farm on the 10th July 1944.

P.O.W. Worker “A Barber Too!”

Italian prisoners-of-war now are arriving in the Fassifern district and are being placed on the farms.  The Lieutenant-in-Charge reports some amusing incidents.  Two Ps.O.W. were placed on the farm, one of whom could speak fairly good English.  He was a carpenter, had some knowledge of machinery &c., and appeared to be a good man, although only a handful (English words).  When handing the men over, the Lieutenant said, “Mr -! You should have a good man here. He is very handy with the tools.” The P.O.W. heard him and coming to attention saluting said, “I am a barber, too, Sir.” The farmer in question had been busy for the past fortnight and had not taken time off for a shave.

Berto was a strong short man who was a hard worker.  He was known for being able to run a distance with a sack of potatoes on his back and continue to do this until the truck was loaded. He was grateful for the hospitality of Bill Kelly and his sister Kate and never saw any reason to escape.  Working on the farm returned to Berto a sense of dignity and self-worth.
There are stories of Bill Kelly loaning a bike to Berto so he could go to the movies in Kalbar and most probably also civvies as these types of activities was against the regulations .  The Kelly’s treated Berto like a son and arranged to sponsor Berto to return to Australia. In a show of good faith in Berto, the Kelly’s offered sponsorship also for Berto’s brother Antonino.

Such was Berto’s personality, locals like Laurie Dwyer remembered Berto as ‘the young fellow who returned after the war and would say, I not work as a POW, I work as a free man now’.  

The Boonah district continued to hold a special place in Berto’s life.  While he owned a barber shop on St Paul’s Terrace, he also was reported to own, in partnership with Dudley Surawski, a house in Clumber, Kalbar when it burnt down in December 1953.  It might have been here that Berto grew a crop of tobacco which was destroyed by floods.

Uncle Berto continued to touch base with the Kellys and the Boonah district. Joe Indomenico, nephew of Berto remembers the visits to Silverdale.  The family would take a day trip out to Kelly’s, with Uncle Berto shooting for quails and the children riding ponies.  And Bill Kelly would come and visit Berto in the Valley.  He would come in for the Ekka, park his car at the house and walk to the Ekka grounds.

Those early days as a migrant was a time when sacrifices had to be made.  Berto rented his barber shop, but would sleep on a layer of newspapers in the back room.  Finances did not stretch to the rent of a shop and rent for a residence.  In time, he bought the shop and then the row of shops and today, his son Carmelo is planning to develop the site.

With an ability to turn his hand to different ventures , Berto would buy up houses in the Valley which were part of land resumption for the building of the freeway.  He would buy the houses, have them cut in half and then remove them to blocks of land out Kilcoy, Helidon and Esk way.

While Berto might have been far away from Italy and ‘home’, he made his Brisbane residence a family hub. The house on the corner of St Paul’s Terrace and Julia Street was home to Berto, his wife and son, but it also became a home to others.  At one stage for about 18 months, 12 – 14 members of the Ierna extended family lived there.  Berto lined up a job for brother-in-law Salvatore at the Nanda pasta factory at Norgate. A job was found at the Jubilee Hotel on St Paul’s Terrace for brother Antonino.  St. Paul’s Terrace was an Italian community hub as well.  Mama Luigi’s was a Valley institution serving up generous servings of pasta.  There was a saying in those days, that if the men didn’t like the meal which had been prepared, then the wife would say, “if you don’t like it, then go to Mama Luigi’s.”

As an Italian prisoner of war and migrant, Berto’s life is linked to the Boonah district.  It was as a prisoner of war in the district that Berto realised the opportunities that Australia could offer. As a migrant, he turned his dreams into reality.  He started a barber shop, he bought commercial property, he had a house painting business and he turned his hand to a house removal and relocation business.  He was industrious and entrepreneurial. On a visit to Kalbar in 1976, Berto suffered a stroke.  Rushed to Brisbane, he died aged 59 years.

A man with a big personality who was not afraid of taking risks and making sacrifices, Berto Ierna left a legacy centring on the importance of family and seizing opportunities.

Benedetto Ierna’s extended family blame their Uncle Berto… for being captured… for being sent to Australia as a POW…. But most importantly, for their own life in Australia.

Ogni cosa ha cagione

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Mama Luigi’s on St Pauls Terrace Spring Hill

(photo courtesty of Your Brisbane: Past and Present)

Angelo Valiante

Happy Birthday Angelo

Angelo Valiante is well known in the Granite Belt  of south-east Queensland for his contribution to the region.

He is so well respected  that a mural by Guido van Helten was commissioned by the Stanthorpe Art Gallery in 2016 to celebrate his 73 year involvement in the community and his 100 year milestone.

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Mural in Stanthorpe: Angelo Valiante

(from the collection for Joanne Tapiolas)

Soon to turn 101, Angelo has also been captured on canvas for Jacques van der Merwe’s exhibition “New Arrivals” and his story is part of  Franco and Morwenna Arcidiacono “Echoes of the Granite Belt” which details the history of Italians and their contribution to the area.

Life goes a little more quietly now for Angelo but a morning spent with him showed that he is a keen and animated story teller and willing to talk about some of his experiences as an Italian soldier in Libya, his treatment as a prisoner of war and his memories of incidents in Cowra and Q1 PWCC Stanthorpe.

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What  I learnt from Angelo was not only details of his journey as a prisoner of war.  With a wily wisdom and experience that comes with being 100 years old, Angelo gave me  much more than facts.  I found out about determination, endurance and perspective. A youth stolen from him by war. Starvation and deprivation as a Mussolini soldier. Prejudice experienced as a migrant family in the 1950s. Success with hard work. Strong family connections. A proud legacy.

Carmel Peck (Dywer) from Boonah told me that her family’s Italian POWs enriched their lives. This reflection holds true on so many levels and for so many Queensland families who welcomed the Italian POWs.

After interviewing Angelo in September 2017, I can honestly and humbly say that Angelo Valiante has enriched my life.

Walking in his Boots: Angelo’s Prisoner of War Journey

 

Stepping back in time

It was almost 73 years to the day, when Nino Cippola stepped back in time to retrace his father’s journey in Queensland. Nino’s father, Francesco (Ciccio) Cippola was an Italian prisoner of war captured in Libya on 4th January 1941.  While in Melbourne on holiday from Taormina in Sicily,  Nino thought he would try to find details about the “Q6 Home Hill” written into his father’s POW Service and Casualty Form.

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Francesco Cippola: Roma 10.4.1939

(photographic collection of Nino Cippola)

A flurry of messagess via Messenger and emails, a flight to Townsville and Nino found himself on the railway platform of Home Hill. Francesco Cippola would have stepped onto the same platform. Not much changes in small country towns in Queensland.

Home Hill Railway Station: 1944 and 2017

Nino Cippola tracing his father’s footsteps

(NAA: M1415, 434, photographic collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

With only 1 three ton truck available the 115 Italian prisoners of war would have walked a short distance to the Home Hill Showgrounds.  Many of the buildings there had been leased by the Army and it would have taken more than one trip to transport the Italians over a muddy dirt track 22 miles up river Home Hill.

It was the 30th April 1944 and the Q6 PWC Hostel, to accommodate 255 Italian POWs and A.M.F. staff, had not been completed.  Wet weather, a tropical cyclone and delays with the septic tank, meant that the Italians ‘roughed it’ in temporary tents, without floor boards. The POWs were there to grow vegetables to supply to the Allied forces in North Queensland.

Little remains of the hostel buildings and the farming sheds. The concrete foundations were dug up years ago and the buildings sold off to Main Roads.  What does remain are the traces of ‘settlement’ found on the banks of the Burdekin: a lone banana tree, a cluster of custard apple and lemon trees. Using a hand drawn plan of the hostel complex, Nino could envisage the extent of what was Ciccio’s  home for 15 months.

 

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Layout Plan POW Camp Homehill

(NAA: J153, T1542B, 1944)

As he stood  at the Q6 Hostel site, Nino could also make sense of the many stories his father had told him. He could also make sense of Francesco’s (Ciccio’s) obsession with growing vegetables.  Ciccio was not a farmer. He did not come from a farming background. Ciccio was a ‘carabinieri’. But time spent on the Home Hill farms had made an impression on Ciccio. His family said, he was fanatical about seeds and tomatoes. Nino explains that:

“my father’s interest in growing crops was substantial and almost at an industrial scale – he would return home from the farm with 150 kg of tomatoes in the back of the car, or grow wheat and have it ground for flour, bags and bags of it, he would have 100s of kilos of eggplants, capsicums or pumpkins. He was always asking his family about which fruit or vegetables tasted best and he would dry and save seeds of the best tasting.  He often had seeds in his pockets. He would give away his excessive volumes of fruit and vegetables to neighbours, family and friends. I never fully understood my father’s passion in this area until I visited the POW site on the Burdekin River and learnt about the work my father and other POW were doing.  My father did not come from a farming background.  Most people have a small vegetable plot, but my father grew crops on a grand scale.  I believe his time on the Commonwealth Farm at Q6, gave him this lifelong interest”.

The backdrop to this story is the purpose and operations of the Commonwealth Vegetable Project Farms: to grow vegetables for service requirements, to develop means and ways to select and grow crops suited to good yields and the tropical climate, to run seed trials and soil testing to improve productivity. Regarding tomatoes,  barrels on the Commonwealth farms were filled with tomatoes, to decompose and then be treated to extract the seeds and so began a lifelong passion of Ciccio’s centring around tomato growing and seed selection.

Ciccio’s dislike for bananas also seems to have stemmed from his time at Q6.  His children heard the recurring comment ‘I don’t eat bananas’ from their father.  If bananas were in the fruit bowl, he would reiterate his disdain for bananas.  The Home Hill Italian POWs were responsible for the cultivation of nine acres of bananas and used ground safes to ripen the hands.  Likely, the best bananas went to the armed forces and the overripe bananas, in abundance, became part of the POW daily menu.

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Nino Cippola and Christine Morriss at Q6 Site

(photographic collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

The landscape of the Burdekin is in contrast to that of Taormina.  A mountain range rises high in the background at the end of Kirknie Road as opposed to an active Mount Etna viewed through the archways of the Ancient Greek Amphitheatre.

Contrasting Landscapes of Taormina Sicily and up river Home Hill Queensland

(Trip Advisor: Taormina, photographic collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

Up river Home Hill is a long way from Taormina and the contrasts are striking. But Nino’s step back in time, to the time his father Ciccio grew vegetables on a Commonwealth Vegetable Farm up river Home Hill, offered up an understanding of his father’s years as a prisoner of war in Australia.

For the Family

Life in the small villages of Calabria was one of hard work with limited opportunities. Vincenzo Tigani was a farmer, who faced with limited opportunities in an economically depressed 1930’s Italy, made decisions in the interest of his family. These decisions would see him journey from Italy to Eritrea, India and Australia.

Q2 Tigani Family Maria Rosa, Domenico, Domenica, Vincenzo Brisbane

The Tigani Family: Maria Rosa, Domenico, Domenica and Vincenzo

(from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan(nee Tigani))

Farmers from Vazzano and Santo Onorfrio had been part of the first wave of migrants away from Italy. This Push-Pull migration resulted from farmers experiencing difficulty in making a reasonable living from small plots of land which were mainly rented.  Sons worked with fathers on these plots without a wage. A roof to sleep under and food to eat was the currency.  This offered little opportunity for families to grow their wealth, build their own homes and increase the acreage under cultivation.  Combined with disease, underemployment, high taxes and the degradation and erosion of the soil, men looked for opportunities offered through a system termed chain migration.

Labour agents in USA assisted the Italians to find employment and accommodation and the period from 1870’s to 1910’s saw an influx of young Italians arrive to seize opportunities.  Bruno Tigani from Vazzano (Vincenzo’s father) found his way to Braddock Pennsylvania, likely working in the steel industry and like many made the journey back and forth across the Atlantic. Domenico Lipari (Vincenzo’s future father-in-law) found his way to the “Little Italy” of New York living on Hester Street and working at N.Y. Steam Company. He would also travel between Italy and New York before becoming naturalised in 1937.

Against this background, Vincenzo Tigani enlisted in the Italian Army. In 1936, Mussolini combined Italian Eritrea, Italian Somaliland and Ethipoia into the Italian territory of Africa Orientale Italiana. Government employees, workers and soldiers were needed and Vincenzo became a soldier in the 1st Battalion Speciale Genio dell Eritrea. It would have been a difficult decision to leave behind his wife Domenica and two young sons: Bruno aged 3 and Domenico an infant with this decision resulting in a 10 year separation from his family.

Captured in Massaua, Eritrea 8 April 1941, Vincenzo as a prisoner of war was sent to Australia via India. In less than three years, he was working on a banana plantation owned by Mr AJ Schulz at Poona/Palmwoods in the Nambour district. His time there offered him an insight into the opportunities that Australia offered and the seed would have been sown as to the future direction of his and his family’s life. His hard work earned the respect of the Schulz family, with family members over 70 years later, speaking kindly and fondly of Vince.  Vince told his family how he climbed the middle Glass House Mountain and carved his initials on a rock and how they, the POWs would walk everywhere including Nambour to Brisbane.

The return journey from Australia to Italy was long and protracted for Italian prisoners of war. But while waiting at N33 Prisoner of War Camp at South Head Sydney, Vince was allowed to visit family and/or Calabrian Italians in Liverpool.  He would have weekend release from Friday night to Sunday evening and during this time he would have made the acquaintance of Salvatore Raffaele from Dee Why. Much discussion would have transpired over immigration to Australia, work opportunities in Sydney and the process of returning to Australia.

Vincenzo returned to Italy and to a stagnant and economically depressed Vazzano.  Little had changed during his ten year absence.  It was a village that was not directly impacted upon by the war, although planes often flew over the village and black outs and curfews were imposed. Only 100 kilometres away, Reggio Calabria was bombed heavily by the Allies.  It was however a time of uncertainty and hardship.

The Tigani family survived with the support of Domenica’s family. Domenica’s father sent money from USA to fund the building of a home.  With two sons to provide for, Domenica worked hard in the fields.  Her fortitude ensured she survived the ten year separation from her husband. Vincenzo returned somewhat as a stranger to his family. His wife Domenica had, out of necessity, lived an independent life. His sons had grown up without the presence of a father and his youngest son Domenico had difficulty in accepting this stranger as his father. Their reunion was bitter sweet.

The Tigani family welcomed a daughter and sister, Maria Rosa in 1948. Little had changed in the region, and like his parents and parents-in-law, Vincenzo planned for a brighter future for his family.

The family was separated again when Vincenzo returned to Sydney in 1950. Within two months he was working as a labourer at Crown Crystal Glass Company in Bourke Street Waterloo and living at 72 Riley Street Surry Hills. In all likelihood, living in a city and working in a factory might not have been the ideal situation. Another complication was that the employees were strongly unionised and union action was being reported in the newspapers during May to June 1950.

Vincenzo returned to a familiar life and to the employment of his former POW employer, Mr Schulz.  Within three months, he moved to Brisbane.  Alexander Filia, also from Vazzano was an ice cream manufacturer and offered Vincenzo a place to stay at 10 Ernest Street South Brisbane. Vincenzo worked as  an Ice Cream Vendor selling Filia’s Popular Ice Cream. His daughter Maria Rosa remembers a story from her father about those days:  “He had a line-up of customers, when a cockroach raised its feelers above the metal frame of the cart.  Children began to scream and Dad, nonchalantly, rang his bell repeatedly and called out loudly, ‘Ice-creams for Sale’.”

Within 18 months of his arrival in Australia, Vincenzo was reunited with his son Domenico who arrived as a 15 year old in November 1951.  Priority became saving the passage for Domenica and Maria Rosa to travel to Australia and a new home in Brisbane.  Domenico’s actions of hiding saved money under the stump caps of the house, reflected his intention to bring his mother and sister out to Australia and set them up with a new life.  His sister, Maria Rosa reflects that Domenico took on a quasi-role of protector and provider for his mother and sister.  He had spent more years with them, than his father had, and so he felt an obligation and responsibility for them.

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1951-1952: Domenico and Vincenzo Tigani in Brisbane

(from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan (nee Tigani))

Domenica and Maria Rosa arrived in Fremantle in July 1957.  Domenico had made the journey to Fremantle to greet them and to assist them on the last stage of their journey to Brisbane.  The voyage to Australia had seen Domenica in bed with sea sickness for a month while Maria Rosa wandered the ship freely, exploring this ‘new’ world. It was an adventure and the staff continually reminded the nine year old to go back to her room as her mother needed her.  Upon arrival Domenico asked his sister if she spoke any English, and her curt reply was, “Shut up!  Money.”

In time, Stafford Street East Brisbane became the family’s new home. Vincenzo worked in the building industry, with a gas company and as a night watchman with Evans Deakin at Henry Point.  Those were difficult times for migrant families: the impact of war, years of separation and social isolation. As a family man, Vincenzo made decisions in the best interest of his family.  At times, these decisions had a negative impact upon the unity of the family.  Maria Rosa remembers that after her father died, she found two photos he had kept.  One was of her as a 9 month old and another as an 18 month old.  Her reflections were tinged with sadness as she thought of her father in Brisbane with his memories and photos of his family, while his wife and daughter were in Italy.  It was a case of doing something to make life better- enlistment in the Italian army and migration to Australia and at the same time, these actions caused much hardship for the family.

Daughter Maria Rosa is grateful to her father for many things.  “He gave us many opportunities which would have been unattainable in Vazzano.  Opportunities such as a good education, owning our own businesses, owning our homes, can be attributed to the difficult decisions made by my parents,” says Maria Rosa. “My father’s story is no different from that of my grandparents who had emigrated to USA.  Long periods of separation between family members, financial uncertainty, the dream being hard to find, social isolation and all those things associated with being a foreigner in a strange land.”

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 Vincenzo Tigani – Icecream Vendor

(from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan (nee Tigani))

A family man, Vincenzo’s legacy is the close family ties between members of the Tigani extended family in Australia. There are relatives who have loaned money to those struggling financially, there are those who have assisted ‘new comers’ by finding them jobs and accommodation and there are those who continue to support others through health problems.  Maria Rosa believes that at one stage her father seemed to have ‘lost faith’.  “It is hard to define what I mean. It might have been a sense of insecurity about the decisions he made and how other people interpreted them. It might have been that he didn’t realise his dreams. It might have been his sadness over the ‘lost family years’,” reflects Maria Rosa. But life is what it is. Doors open, decisions are made and legacies forged.

And Maria Rosa  now takes on the role of the head of the extended Tigani family in Brisbane. In 2017, to celebrate the feast day of the Patron Saint of Vazzano,  Maria Rosa approached her parish priest to honour Saint Francesco Di Paolo.  This special gathering of family ensues that traditions and stories from Vazzano are not forgotten: a tribute ‘for the family’.

St Francesco Di Paola Vazzano

Celebration of Saint Francesco Di Paolo in Brisbane 27th August 2017

(photo from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan)

Captured…On the Move

NorthAfrica.India.Australia

Once captured, Italian prisoners of war were impounded in temporary caged compounds in the deserts of North Africa.  They were then taken to Egypt and processed.  Each prisoner of war was given a M/E number (Middle East) and a card was sent to the families notifying them that their son or husband or father was a prisoner of war. From Egypt they were sent around the world: South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada and USA.

Costanzo Melino’s journey took him to India and then to Australia.  He worked on a farm in the Gympie district before being repatriated to Italy.  He returned to Australia post-war, sponsored by his Gympie employer,  his family joined him  and eventually they settled in northern NSW.

Costanzo Melino was captured at Bardia on 4th January 1941.

Costanzo Melino remembers:

Forty-seven thousand Italians were taken prisoner of war by the 8th Battalion of English under General Wavell. Our General at that time was Annibale Bergonzoli. My captain was Alberto Agostinelli.  We were taken to internment camps by foot.  We were given little to eat or drink.

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Italian prisoners Mersa Matruh getting their water tank filled. They were allowed half a gallon per man per day.” Image from a large album of 86 pages containing 1858 photographs associated with the service of Lieutenant Robert Otto Boese

(Australian War Memorial, Image P05182.012)

In Febraury 1941, we were sent to Port Said in the Suez Canal and the following month to Bombay where the heat was unbearable and many Italians died of heat exhaustion.

These camps were well run by the English.  We were given baths and we had Indian cooks.  There were toilets and we were fed well although we all got sick as we were not used to the English diet.  After this the English asked us to cook our own meals which we did gladly, making our own tagliatelle and gnocchi from the flour.  There were at least three thousand prisoners divided ingroups of one hundred. We were counted twice a day. We were fenced in and surrounded by armed guards so that we could not escape.

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Original tent camp 1941 Bangalore Italian Prisoners of War

(Maddy’s Ramblings maddy06.blogspot.com.au )

Having nothing else to do, a lot of prisoners devoted their time to study.  I studied Italian and English.  We didn’t stay in the one place for long in India.  We were constantly moved and constantly guarded by Indian soldiers.  The German prisoners were kept separate to us.  When the Italians surrendered to General Dwight David Eisenhower we were sent to Australia to work on farms. It appeared that the two million U.S. servicemen in Australia needed food.  The U.S. headquarters was in Brisbane commanded by General Douglas MacArthur.  It was the U.S. who commanded us in Australian as they had civil and military control.

The English in India said to us: “Now you’ve surrendered we are allies so now you’ll have to go to work to feed yourselves.  You’ll be free in Australia and they’ll even pay you for your work”. Of course we were all happy, leaving the camps singing.  However, as soon as we boarded the train we found the Indian soldiers hidden in the train and at the next stop we got off in our usual manner as prisoners of war.  We were really only free when we got to Naples in 1947.

The Hand of Friendship

Monto Nonno soldier (3)

Adolfo D’Addario

(from the collection of Assunta Austin)

Adolfo D’Addario was a resourceful man.  Life decisions were always made in the interest of his family and his work ethic ensured his children and family learnt the importance of respect and seizing opportunities. Upon his death, Roy Theodore from Saturday News Mail wrote that Adolfo D’Addario was “a distinguished, courteous and industrious man.”

Born in Salle Pescara, Adolfo worked as a barber and married Assunta Lattanzio. With a family of three children in an economically unstable pre-war Italy, Adolfo took the opportunity to go to Abyssinia.  Italy needed a presence there after Abyssinia’s occupation by fascist Italy in 1935 and employment  in this colonial outpost offered a good wage and a promise of adventure.

Escalation of war saw Adolfo fighting in Eritrea and being captured in Asmara, its capital, on 29 April 1941.  Adolfo’s memory of that time is that the Italian soldiers were afraid of the unrelenting fighting and they thought it was a wise move to surrender to the ‘obliging’ British.

As a prisoner of war, Adolfo spent time in Sudan, contracted malaria and was imprisoned in India for almost four years.  He was one of 2076 Italian prisoners of war who made their way to Melbourne on the General William Mitchell. Arriving in February 1945 this was to be the last transport of POWs to Australia. From Melbourne, Adolfo was transferred to Cowra for processing and onward movement. Within a month of his arrival in Australia, Adolfo was sent to Gaythorne in Queensland, spent time in hospital and volunteered for farm work. He had to wait five months before he was sent to Q9 Monto in August 1945 for allocation to Tecoma, the property of Geoffrey Pownall.

Ring barking on the cattle property was hard but friendships were formed with farm workers, Les and Pat. Together they worked at an outpost camp.  As well, a special connection was made with Peter Pownall the only child in this isolated part of Queensland. Most likely, Peter reminded Adolfo of his own children back home in Italy. Peter Pownall’s memories of that time are clear, “I was called ‘Pietro’ and received birthday cards and Christmas cards once they (the POWs) left the district.  Letters from Adolfo D’Addario to my parents were always signed off with “a great kiss to my little friend Peter” or “a big hug to Peter”.  From Hay, 12.8.1946 Adolfo wrote, “Dear Peter, I express you my best wishes for your birthday. Sincerely Yours Adolfo.” I was looked after and carried around by the Italians.  Adolfo cut my hair. They made trinkets and little toys for me and I have a memory of sweets they gave me, like a boiled lolly in the shape of fruit. The Italians became my ‘playmates’ especially as they were such great family men and had had to leave their children when war started.” 

Adolfo had learnt English in India, so communication with the Pownalls was easier than other farmers would have experienced. A story about language is remembered well by Peter Pownall,”There  was the time that we left the property to go on holidays for a week.  The Italians and our Aussie workers were left to care take.  There were pigs to attend to, cows to be milked and they would ride the horses to check on the windmills.  Dad and Mum returned to a note from Adolfo, “Pig is death. Possible eat snake.”

The Pownalls treated him as one of the family and included him at the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Repatriation to Italy on board Alcantara, returned Adolfo to an Italy devastated by the war.  There were no jobs, little food and little hope for the future for him or his family.

Hard work earned Adolfo not only the respect of the Pownall family, but also an offer of sponsorship to return to Australia in 1951. Jan Joyce (nee Pownall) remembers when Adolfo returned to Uncle Geoffrey’s property:  “My sister Barbara remembers that Adolfo had a spaghetti maker. Adolfo would teach us how to pick up spaghetti to eat it the Italian way.  The spaghetti and sauce was in a dessert or porridge plate and using a fork and a soup spoon he would roll the spaghetti on the fork, using the soup spoon to hold it safely and then we could get it to our mouths without losing everything! I clearly remember my younger cousin Suzanne, Peter Pownall’s sister, helping Adolfo with English pronunciation.  She would say, “spoon Dolfo, similar moon” obviously copying the way her parents helped him. She would have been 4 or 5.”

Within two years, Adolfo had saved enough money to pay for his sons, Mario and Attilio, to join him in the Monto district.  Work opportunities at the Fairymead Sugar Cane Mill took the D’Addarios to Bundaberg.

By 1956, his wife Assunta and daughter Aminta had arrived in Australia and the family was finally reunited. Home became a well known property at Targo Street Bundaberg, with a street front adorned by a breath-taking Poinciana.

Adolfo’s road to success was rocky and unpredictable due to economic hardship, war, imprisonment, separation from his family and malaria. He had negotiated many obstacles on the road to own his home and a 130 ha cane farm at Hollands Road Meadowvale, opportunities and a future he could only have dreamed of.  But dreams do come true. Adolfo believed in his dream that  Australia would provide wonderful opportunities.

Assunta Austin, granddaughter of Adolfo, explains that her nonno spoke of Geoffrey Pownall as a very respected person in their lives and remembers with great fondness the family trips to Monto to visit the Pownalls. Reflecting on her family’s story, Assunta relates, “It is thanks to the hand of friendship that he (Geoffrey Pownall) extended to my grandfather, Adolfo, that changed the course of my father’s life and gave his future family the opportunities he could never have dreamed possible back in post-war Italy.”

Monto Nonno soldier (1)

Adolfo D’Addario

(from the collection of Assunta Austin)

A Father’s Love

Liborio Bonadonna was a private in the Italian Army, serving with the 231 Legion Militia when he was captured at Buq Buq on 11th December 1940. The Battle of Sidi Barrani was the opening battle of Operation Compass and 38,300 Italians were captured at Sidi Barrani and Buq Buq from 10 – 11 December 1940.

Bonadonna, Liborio

Liborio Bonadonna

(NAA: A7919 C101539 Buonadonna, Librio)

A young farmer from Gela Caltanissetta, Liborio was living in Tripoli along with his wife and his parents when he joined Mussolini’s war.  His father, desperate for his son’s safety, fell prey to unscrupulous agents who, for a sum of money, promised the repatriation of their family members who were prisoners of war.

In a letter sent to Liborio, his father Carmelo Bonadonna wrote on 21st December 1943:

Dear son, here it was said that prisoners who are sons of farmers, were to be repatriated on the payment of six thousand lire, and I, for the great affection I bear you, was one of the first to pay; in fact they asked us for one of your letters in order to have your address.  Up to the present, we have seen nothing.  Imagine, dear son, how happy we all in the family were for just then I did not know what I could do for the love of you.

Liborio had spent almost three years in camps in India and would not arrive in Italy for another three years. The actions of his father however highlight how anxious the family were to ensure a safe and early return of Liborio.

From Cowra, Liborio was assigned to work on farms at N8 PWCC Orange and N24 PWCC Lismore. Suffering on-going health issues, he was sent to local and military hospitals and was eventually transferred to Murchison for consideration for early repatriation on the basis of medical grounds.

Such was his health,  he was on the list to embark on the Andes which left Australia on 3rd August 1945. Unfortunately, on 16th July 1945 he was sent to 28 Australian Camp Hospital at Tatura which was part of the Murchison POW complex.  He missed early repatriation and was to stay in hospital for two and a half months.

Liborio 28 ACH

28th Australian Camp Hospital Tatura

(AWM Image 052452)

The irony of his situation was that while he was approved for early medical repatriation he was too unwell to travel.  His medical condition had deemed him ‘medically’ unfit to work and gave him priority for repatriation on medical grounds. During 1946, several transports for special circumstance cases, left Australia for Naples but Liborio was overlooked.

While he considered himself to be well enough to travel, he was identified as having need for specialist medical attention during the voyage to Italy. He could only be repatriated once as specially fitted out ship became available.

On 10th September 1946, in a letter to the Camp C.O. he presented his case:

Just at the time when the repatriation of the sick was to take place I was in the Waranga military hospital whence I was discharged early in September…

The present repatriation lists from which I have been exclude because repatriation is to be effect by ordinary means (i.e. in ships not especially adapted for transport of the sick) include nearly all the sick who, like me, were then considered as needing attention during the voyage.

Today I will to inform you that, notwithstanding a year’s stay in camp without any special treatment, my condition is such as to enable me to stand the possible discomforts of the trip home; I therefore request to be reinscribed on the above mentioned list, taking upon myself the full and complete responsibility in the event of any possible deterioration of my health.

My family live in Tripolitania and it is my urgent wish to rejoin it in the shortest possible time.  To the above I can only add the prayer that you will kindly consider my request.

The Empire Clyde* returned Liborio to Italy. It was a Royal Navy Hospital Ship which departed Sydney for Naples on 12th December 1946. There were 226 Italian prisoners of war on board who had embarked at Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle.

But Liborio’s return to his family in Tripoli was further delayed. Once he arrived in Naples, he required an operation.  Fighting bureaucracy, he tried to gain permission several times to reach Libya and his wife and parents.

Liborio’s grandson, Liborio Mauro says that “He told her [my grandmother] if I’m not able to join you, I would like to go back in Australia. After 3 times, he finally joined my grandmother in Libya where my father Carmelo was born in Tripoli in 1949.

Tracing Liborio’s journey as a prisoner of war has not been an easy on. His grandson  explains that his records have his name spelt incorrectly: BUONADONNA instead of BONADONNA, LIBRIO instead of LIBORIO.

But passion and determination on the part of grandson Liborio has ensured that Liborio Bonadonna’s story is told and his records and photographs of his time as a prisoner of war in Australia are with the family.

Liborio Mauro says, “All my family are happy and my father is crying for happiness. My grandfather was the most important person in my family.  He was a true gentleman, well-educated and everyone fell in love with him.  He was a strong and simple man.”

*The Empire Clyde was a British Navy war prize from the Abyssinian campaign. It was formerly an Italian passenger liner Leonardo da Vinci.

 

Leonardo Da Vinci-07

 

Liborio and Liborio - Copy

Liborio Bonadonna with his family c 1979, grandson Liborio Mauro on his grandfather’s lap

(photograph from the collection of Liborio Mauro)