Walking in their Boots in now an eBook.
Published through kobo.com copies are now available for purchase.
At present Walking in their Boots is only available in English.
Read more about the book: Walking in their Boots
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.*
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.”
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.
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.
“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
*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.
I am reposting this article in memory of Angelo Valiante. Interviewing Angelo in 2017 was truly an honour. My sincere condolences to Angelo’s family. One of life’s true gentleman.
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.
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.
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
Maxina Williams from the Buderim Garden Club has brought to light information about Italian prisoners of war in Buderim during World War 2. While undertaking research for a book for the Buderim Garden Club, Maxina has linked a “well known landscape designer, author, artist, photographer and conservationist, Edna Walling” to “a little house in Buderim which once housed Italian POWs”.
Maxina writes, “Edna purchased the cottage, known as “Bendles”, which she considered ideal for her requirements. Bendles has an interesting history, having originally been built during the Second World War by the Beamish family as a hut to house three Italian prisoners of war who were working on their farm. After the war it was moved to its present location on the corner of Quiet Valley Crescent and Lindsay Road and renovated”.
According to the records, HE Beamish from Buderim had three Italian POWs work for him. Sebastiano Fresilli, Tommaso Mallozzi and Nicola Evangelista arrived on the Beamish farm on 3.3.44.
Additionally, another story emerges from the past. Nicola Evangelista was 28 years old when he died at Q2 Nambour Centre, Sydney Street on 30 April 1945. His burial took place at Nambour Cemetery 1 May 1945, attended by Captain Ryan and Evangelista’s employer Mr HE Beamish.
A farmer from Cassino Frosinone, Evangelista died from lobar pneumonia and acute pancreatitis. He had spent four years as a prisoner of war since his capture on 27 March 1941 at Keren (Cheren) when he was a private with a guard unit: II Reggimento Granatieri di Savoia. He arrived in Melbourne on Mooltan 29 December 1943 before transfer to Cowra No 12 (A) 30 December 1943 and then movement to Gaythorne. His time in Buderim was fourteen months.
Upon quiet reflection, a POW hut which was the final home for Evangelista became Edna Walling’s home until her death in 1973, and is now situated amongst quiet and reflective gardens of Bendles Cottages.
Anna Eusebi from Ancona Italy is the granddaughter of Fortunato Gobbi. In her quest to find out more information about her Nonno Ernesto (as he was known), she found this project’s research and website.
Anna mentioned that she had some photos of her grandfather when he was on a farm in Australia and that her family only had a few stories about Ernesto’s time in Australia. Ernesto told his family that in Australia there were many snakes and that he cultivated potatoes. He also told of the frustration of the Italian POWs who were taken off the farms but then had to wait almost a year before boarding a ship for Italy. Together, we pieced together Ernesto’s journey as an Italian soldier and prisoner of war.
Every photo that is shared with me is special: photos of the Italians posing on horse back, family photos which include the Italian prisoners of war. Each is special because every photo has a story to tell.
His photos are a first for this Queensland research. While there is written documentary evidence confirming that the Italian prisoners of war worked side by side with the Land Army Girls, this practice was a rather contentious issue: Itye POWs fraternising with our Aussie girls! A newspaper headline: DAGOES PESTER LAND ARMY GIRLS sums up a commonplace viewpoint.
Ernesto’s photo talks to us about the workforce on JJ Parr’s Amamoor farm during WW2. These photos are a unique snapshot of the combined POW and LAGS workforce at Amamoor via Gympie. While the prisoner of war workforce was employed on a permanent basis on most Queensland farms, the Australian Women’s Land Army (LAGS) workforce tended to be used for short periods during the hectic harvest seasons.
The Fourth Service by Mary Macklin is an excellent resource chronicling the services of the Land Army in Queensland during World War 2. There are two mentions of the LAGS picking potatoes, “It was hard work picking up potatoes, filling the bags, sewing them up, then tow of us loading them onto the trucks…” and “May Higgins picked and bagged sixty five bags of potatoes in one day, three bushel bags each, an amazing worker…”
In the photo below, the truck is loaded with bagged potatoes. Nonno Ernesto is sitting third from the right, and Luigi Iacopini, a friend from the same village as Ernesto is sitting first on the left.
Mention of Land Army girls working at Amamoor is made in Mary Macklin’s book: “A group of four girls went to work on pineapple harvesting and later will be harvesting beans. The number is now six. LAGS of this group are B Cedergreen, A Cedergreen, G [Gloria] Pattison, C [Clarice] Keyworth, C Burroughs, E Bonning and Mrs Cedergreen does the cooking for the girls.”
From the archives, we know that J.J. Parr employed POWs and LAGS on two properties: The Golden Mile Orchard near Gayndah/Mundubbera (Q4 PWCC) and Amamoor (Q3 PWCC). One LAG, Cecily Gourley (nee Brennan) wrote about her memories of these times. Cecily worked on both properties of J.J. Parr.
The next property was the Golden Orange [The Golden Mile Orchard] at Mundubbera. It was Christmas time, rockmelon harvest for the southern market and potato crop. Wages were two pounds, four shillings weekly and keep. When the season finished we left for Amamoor, Kadanga – same owners [J.J. Parr] as above property.
Contract potato pickers machine dug up to surface, with us picking up along rows with two kerosene tins. These tins were four gallons and square in which was commercial dispensed kerosene, for lighting and various needs. In one tin we collected small potatoes for the domestic market and in another, larger potatoes for Defence Forces. At the end of the rows, bags were filled and sewed across the top, but forming left and right “EARS” for grip handling.
Lunch time was taken at the nearby creek, in a beautiful atmosphere listening to the magnificent bell birds call and sounds of other birds, tranquillity so long ago…
On this property also six to eight Italian P.O.W.’s working as directed by Overseer [Manager]. Due to circumstances, the Overseer was absent, personal reasons and arrangements. A car arrived on the property with four male officials and no Overseer. The four men returned to Gympie. An hour later, Army M.P.’s arrived in a military truck and took the POW’s away.
The AWLA members were given instructions by phone to pack up and return by train to H.Q. Brisbane… (From The Fourth Service)
The authorities did not abide by a situation where the POWs and the LAGS worked together without appropriate supervision.
It is unlikely that Cecily and Ernesto’s paths crossed. Cecily appears to have been at the Amamoor property early 1944 and Ernesto did not arrive at Amamoor until July 1944. But Cecily’s memories and Ernesto’s photos sit side by side to tell us a story of the Amamoor workforce.
Ernesto also told his family that he “regretted not being able to stay in Australia because he said he was well looked after and that there was so much work”. Other poignant memories were: living in tents, making gnocchi when he took care of the kitchen, a terrible journey from India to Australia when Italians died from dysentery and were thrown into the sea and Italians committing suicide in the camps because they could not cope with the emotional stress of waiting and waiting to return home to Italy.
I thank Ernesto and his family for keeping these photos safe for over seventy years.
They are extraordinary because of the history they reflect. They tell us about a war time workforce, a potato harvest, Italian prisoners of war, Australian Women’s Land Army girls, life on the farm during World War 2, farming life at Amamoor via Gympie:
My research into Italian prisoners of war in Queensland has a number of public faces: the book Walking in their Boots, the website: italianprisonersofwar.com and the facebook page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia
It was through the facebook page that I received notification from Nino Amante in Italy. On 23rd March 2018, Nino wrote, “Sono il figlio di Angelo Amante, il più alto nella foto.” Nino had not only found a photo of his father on the facebook page but he then found the website’s article, A Day in the life of … and comments about his father’s time working on a farm ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian via Gympie 72 years ago.
This was an accident. Nino had been searching the internet for an article about his son, named for his grandfather, Angelo Amante, and instead found his father. Nino was overwhelmed.
I believe that things happen for a reason. I do not know the chances of bringing together the son of an Italian prisoner of war and the son of a Goomboorian farmer. But a google search and a phone call* has brought together the two sides to this history.
Nino Amante’s words and contact has brought this story ‘full circle’. “E’ stata per me una grande emozione avere delle informazioni da aggiungere a quelle raccotle dall sua viva voce, quando mi parlava del period della sua prigionia,” Nino reflects. Nino not only has knowledge about his father’s time on this farm, but he has a connection to Jim and John Buchanan who were young boys at the time and who have fond memories of Angelo.
More importantly, Angelo’s story before and after ‘Redslopes’ emerges. At 19 years old, Angelo Amante began his military training, first in Turin and then in Bolzano. He was a member of the 7th Reggimento Bersaglieri(marksmen). He was then transferred to Taranto and in 1941, he left Italy by ship for Libya. He was lucky to survive the journey to Libya, as many soldiers died after the fleet was bombed by the British.
Angelo was captured at Gialo, a Libyan oasis town on 25th November 1941. Gialo was taken by British and Punjabi troops on 24th November 1941, but a small group of Italian soldiers continued fighting in the north east El Libba sector. After four hours of combat, two Italian had been killed and 27 Italian soldiers were taken prisoner.
Possibly the photo below of a relaxed Angelo was taken at Benghasi, his first experience of Libya. Like many of his generation, Angelo spent ‘his youth’ in foreign and difficult circumstances. He returned home to Italy when he was 25 years old. Nino explains, “Sei dei suoi anni piubelli trascorsi fra guerra e prigionia.”
Angelo’s journey is like many of his peers. Italy to the battle field to Egypt to India to Australia to Italy. Angelo arrived in Melbourne Australia 29th December 1943. The next day he was in the Cowra PW & I Camp. His time there is recorded in a group photo Cowra 6th February 1944. Ten days later, Angelo was sent to Gaythorne Queensland 16th February 1944.
Before Nino’s internet search, he had one photo and the stories about his father’s time in Australia, but he did not know dates or places. Nino says, “Sapevo che mio padre era stato in Australia, ma in quale parte di Australia? Che era vissuto in una fattoria, ma quale fattoria?” But his time in Australia was always remembered with fondness, a place to which Angelo wanted to return. In 1956, Angelo made preparations to emigrate to Australia with his wife and family. During a medical visit, it was discovered he had a small heart problem and his dreams of going to Australia ended. But his family kept safe a small photo of three men and two boys, knowing that it was an important part of Angelo’s memories of Australia.
For over seven decades, this photo did not have a context. Nino knew that the photo was from his father’s time on a farm, but he did not know where in Australia this farm was located. Angelo told his family a story about chilli plants he had grown on this farm and now he knows it was Jim, a little boy who tasted the chilli with severe repercussions. Angelo told his family about a trip to the city, to undergo a medical visit at the hospital and the wonder of seeing so many kangaroos on the way.
Jim’s memories and Angelo’s stories to his family are being slotted together. Nino writes that his father arrived in Australia from POW camps in India with very poor health. Angelo had contracted malaria and Nino remembers the story of an old lady on the farm who realised the seriousness of his condition and encouraged him to eat and the need for him to regain his strength. Jim knows exactly who this lady was, his Aunty Mag [Margaret], who was the matron (supervisor) for the Land Army girls on the farm. Angelo’s visit to the Gympie Hospital is recorded in the farm diary: August 21 1944 – Angelo going to hospital. And the stories travel back and forth between Italy and Australia and across the decades.
Upon Angelo’s return to Italy, he made his way home to Fiumefreddo di Sicilia and his widowed mother. Angelo married in 1953 and moved to Mascali, his wife’s home town. He continued to work the land and raised his family: Nino and Giuseppina. In 1984, Angelo passed away at the age of 63.
The sharing of stories and memories, the answering of questions and the ‘Miracoli di Internet!’ is like finding those missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle and finally being able to put them in place.
*In September 2017, I telephoned Jim Buchanan in Gympie. I had been told that he was the person to speak to about some of the Italian prisoners of war in the Gympie district. Jim’s words to me were, “I think you will be surprised with what I have to tell you. I don’t think you will have found another one like this.” And surprised I was!
Jim’s father Neil Buchanan had kept a farm diary for ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian. Peppered through the entries from 7th March 1944 to 1st January 1946 are references not only about farm life, but also to the Italian prisoners of war at ‘Redslopes’. This diary offers a very unique and firsthand account about the employment of Italian prisoners of war.
On 24th March 2018, I telephoned Jim again. I told Jim that I had some extraordinary news for him. Angelo’s son had sent me an email. It took a few minutes for the news to sink in. Jim is rarely lost for words. I said to Jim, I wonder if Angelo took any photos home to Italy with him. Nonplussed, Jim felt that this is not probable as very few photos were taken in those days. Like Nino Amante, this journey for the Buchanan family is emotional and remarkable.
From the time the Italians were captured in North Africa to the time they were repatriated and handed over to authorities in Naples, the footprints of the Italian POWs can be traced through a dossier of documents. Each document provides a glimpse into the journey of a prisoner of war.
Collectors of military records and military postal correspondence have preserved important documentation regarding prisoners of war. Together with official documents in national archives, items in private collections assist researchers to piece together a more complete picture.
A special sincere grazie to Vitoronzo Pastore for his permission to reproduce the documents relating to Donato Lorusso and Lorenzo Illuzzi. Members of the Associazione Italiana Colleczionisti Posta Militare have been most helpful in my quest to find prisoner of war letters for Italians who were in Australia and Queensland in particular.
Once the Italian prisoners of war were processed in Egypt, they were given a Notification of Capture card to send to their next-of-kin. Information included place of imprisonment: Italian POW Camp N. 19, Egypt.
2. Letter to Italy – from Prisoner of War Cage in Middle East
Mail from Egypt. When you read the address: Camp 321 POW Cage 5, Chief POW Postal Centre Middle East, one understands why letters when missing and were never received.
2. Notification of Transfer to India
Every time an Italian prisoner of war was transferred, they were given a card to send to their next-of-kin regarding the transfer: Transfed to India.
3. Italian Prisoner of War in India
A number of documents have survived relating to POWs in India. On the Australian Service and Casualty Record, there is a M/E number. This is the number given to the Italian prisoners of war once they were processed in Egypt. This number stayed with the men in India, and then is recorded on their Australian card as well.
India: Prisoner’s of War and Civil Internee’s History Sheet – of particular interest is the record of vaccinations and inoculations.
India: Envelope containing POW photos for prisoners of war – Bangalore
India: ID photograph
India: Financial Record for No 16 Prisoner of War Camp, Bairagarh
Procedures ensured that financial accountability for all income and expenses was recorded.
India: Booklet – Clothing and Supplies
Italian prisoners of war in India were issued with a Clothing and Supply Booklet which accounted for the dispersal of items to the men.
4. Notification of Transfer to Australia
Once the Italians arrived in Australia, they were given a card to notify next-of-kin of their transfer: Transfrd to Australia. To comply with Article 36 of the Geneva Convention, these cards were to be sent within a week of arrival at their camp. Lorenzo Illuzzi was scheduled to be transferred to South Africa, but was sent to Australia instead.
5. Italian Prisoner of War in Australia
Australia: Service and Casualty Form for Prisoner of War
This form contains valuable information about the movement of the Italian prisoner of war. Finding Nonno is a HOW TO interpret the information on this form.
Australia: Property Statement
Financial accountability required a Property Statement to be issued for each prisoner of war regarding the amount of money relinquished to authorities upon arrival in Australia.
Australia: Medical History Sheet
Each Italian prisoner of war was medically examined upon arrival in Australia.
Australia: Agreement to work on farms
Italian prisoners of war volunteering for farm work, completed the form below.
Australia: Identity Cards Issued for POWs allocated to PWCC and PWC Hostels
For Queensland, Italian prisoners of war sent to work on farms, their Identity Cards were issued at Gaythorne PW & I Camp.
This is a copy of an Identity Card for Italian prisoners of war who worked in Victoria.
Australia: Army Issue Post Card
written to Filippo Modica (father) from Gaetano Modica (son) who was in New South Wales (Cowra and Liverpool Camps and N20 PWCC Murwilimbah)
Australia: Army Issue Notelope
You will notice a signature: Blunt above the addressee’s name. This was the captain of the Q8 Prisoner of War and Control Centre. All mail for Queensland Italian POWs went via POW Camp at Gaythorne, which was the parent camp for the men.
Australia: Christmas Card: Natale 1943
Christmas Cards were provided to the prisoners of war by the YMCA. They were provided in German and Italian.
Australia: Mixed Medical Commission Assessment
To comply with Article 68 of the Geneva Convention, A Mixed Medical Commission was formed to assess cases for early medical repatriation. The men had to be in a fit condition to travel. Seriously wounded or seriously ill prisoners of war could ask to appear before the Commission. There were 1400 Italian prisoners of war examined in Australia, with 242 being recommended for early repatriation. The form below was part of this process. Orzaio Baris was repatriated on Empire Clyde, a Royal Navy hospital ship.
Australia: Financial Statement of Account
Upon repatriation, a Statement of Account was presented to the prisoners of war. Exactly how this money was paid to the POWs is unknown. The financial settlement as below was settled the day before repatriation.
6. Back in Italy
Once in Naples, the Italian prisoners of war were accompanied by their Australia guards onshore. The POWs were delivered to Army Headquarters and necessary paperwork including medical records were handed over. The Australians were given a receipt for their prisoners.
Vito Pastore writes in reference to LoRusso’s return to Naples… “He introduced himself to the Accommodation Center of S. Martino in Naples where group drew up a questionnaire and sent in return license. Placed on leave on 6 \ 2 \ 47″.
Important for Italian families to know, is that families can obtain a copy of Service Records for their fathers/grandfathers, from the Office of State Archives in their region.
At the Military Housing Centre in Naples, the POWs were registered and given two weeks leave together with a payment of 10,000 lire. Technically, they were still soldiers in the Italian Armed Services.
The men would then have to report to their local Military District Offices. There, more paperwork was completed regarding military service and time spent as a prisoner of war. This was important documentation, which was needed to determine when one could receive a pension. I have been told that, “For every year you [Italian soldier] served in the army, you were given a 2 year reduction in your pension age.”
The declaration below from Giovanni Riboldi, also provides detailed information about his time as a prisoner of war. He was captured on 7.2.41 at Agedabia, was liberated by the Italians on 5.4.41 and was captured again at Sidi Oma [Sidi Omar] on 22.11.41.