Category Archives: Italian Prisoners of War North Africa

Voices from the Past

The Unexpected

At the beginning of this project, I had a wish list.  It was a simple list: to find one Queenslander who remembered the Italian prisoners of war and to double the number of photos of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland.  The only three photos in the public domain which feature our Queensland POWs  are housed in the John Oxley Library.

My wish list  for one story and three photos has been exceeded many times over.

BUT  I had never expected to find the testimonies of Italians about their time as prisoners of war. This project is honoured to have these testimonies as part of its collection.

 Antonino Lumia’s  story is told in more depth in A Voice from the Past, Fighting in North Africa and Capture.Surrender.Imprisonment .  His grandson Damiano Lumia recorded his grandfather’s memories over 40 years ago ensuring that the voice of the Italian soldier can be heard and that his experiences are not forgotten.

Lumia.JPG

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR HAVING A MEAL IN THEIR MESS AT NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. PICTURED ARE: 46007 ANTONIO LUMIA (1); 45824 BRUNO GALLIZZI (2); 46734 ALMO STAGNARO (3); 48355 GIUSEPPE ARRIGONI; (4); 45087 ANTONIO BACCIGALUPO (5); 46620 MICHELE RIZZO (6); 46626 EMILIO RUOCCO (7); 46635 FRANCO RONDELLI (8); 45900 ALESSANDRO IANNOTTA (9).

(AWM, Image 063371 McInnes, Geoffrey)

Costanzo Melino’sstory is part of a book written and published by his daughter Rosa Melino “Anzaro: The Home of My Ancestors”.  Captured… On the Move and Captured at Bardia share the everyday details of life as a young Italian soldier.  Costanzo returned to Australia after the war with his family following later. Life as a soldier was difficult but life as a ‘new’ Australian presented many challenges for the Melino family.

Q3 Gympie Italian prisoner of war Melino Costanzo

Costanzo Melino c 1940

(photo courtesy of Rosa Melino)

Ferdinando Pancisi is 100 years old and living and working in a tiny village Civorio in Alta Romagna.  Tim Dwyer (ex Boonah) arranged for Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti to visit Ferdinando (Ferdy) in October 2017.  His memories were recorded on 21st October 2017. They offer a stoic perspective on life, war, death and imprisonment.  Ferdy had worked on the farm of Pat Dwyer Fassifern via Boonah and for over 70 years the Dwyer family have corresponded with Ferdy.  At first it was Pat Dwyer, then his wife Joie and recently son Tim.  This is a special family connection and legacy.  Against all odds, Tim arranged for Ferdy to be interviewed so that his ‘voice’ will never be silenced.

Ferdy.Anna.Tim.Ferdy

Anna Pancisi, Tim Dwyer and Ferdinando Pancisi

(photo courtesy of Cathy Dwyer)

Angelo Valianteis a well known and much respected resident of the Stanthorpe district.  His story is recorded in a book, newspapers and a mural painting.  Seizing an opportunity and an offer to have an interview filmed, I travelled with Ann Megalla to Stanthorpe in October 2017 to talk with Angelo about his time as a prisoner of war.

Stanthorpe.Valiante

Angelo Valiante – Mural by Guido van Helten : Stanthorpe

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Journey Through Photos

Luigi Iacopini’s journey as a soldier and prisoner of war is told through the photos he kept.  His photos are like a diary recording major events in his early adult life.

Born 24.5.16  in Ponzano Di Fermo Ascoli Piceno, Luigi’s occupation was a barber.

In Italy

A reminder of his military service in the infantry is a photo of a young Luigi in full dress uniform.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__003 (1)

Luigi Iacopini

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

Craig Douglas from Regio Esercito History Group Australia  recognised the uniform and writes, “it looks like he belonged to the 115 Infantry Regiment, 62nd Infantry Division Marmarica. Destroyed 5 January 1941 at Bardia.”  And yes, Luigi was captured at Bardia on 3rd January 1941.

In Libya

Luigi and other young soldiers in Derna Libya. Derna is on the coast between Benghazi and Tobruk.  It was taken on 25.?.38. Luigi was 22 years old.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 (3) - Copy

Italian Soliders in Derna 1938

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

In India

The rattan matting, the socks and sandals, the shorts and trousers with a distinctive stripe down the sides are common to photos in the POW Camps in India. Luigi was 25-27 years old.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 (2) - Copy

A group of Italian prisoners of war in a POW Camp in India

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

In Australia

A group of Italian prisoners of war at a Gympie farm.  The photo was possibly on a Amamoor farm and taken on the day of departure from the farms in the first week of January 1946. Luigi was 29 years old.

Luigi Iacopini, Giovanni Meconi and Fortunato Gobbi went to the farm of JJ Parr at Amamoor on 5th August 1944.

Other Italian POWs who worked on the farm of JJ Parr were Vincenzo Licocci, Francesco Bevilacqua. Alessandro Di Placido, Costanzo Melino and Pasquale Di Donato.

Foto Luigi Iacopini

Italian Prisoners of War at a Gympie Farm

Alessandro Di Placido (?) first on left, Fortunato Gobbi second on left, Luigi Iacopini centre

(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)

 

Luigi was repatriated on the Alcantara on 23rd  December 1946.

1946 Dec Daily Advertiser

1946 ‘BACK TO ITALY’, Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW : 1911 – 1954), 25 December, p. 1. , viewed 07 Aug 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article145125911

Processing at Geneifa

I found it!

One piece of paper that had alluded me, was a document which proved that the processing camp for Italian prisoners of war was Geneifa, Egypt:  the official start of the many documents which made up a prisoner’s of war dossier.

On my  many trolling missions through random documents in the National Archives of Australia, I found it!

I am still to understand an army/government filing system which appears to have more records for one Italian POW and less for the majority.

For every Italian POWs who was held captive in Australia, there are two files available to view online: MP1103/1 and MP1103/2.

Yet, for a number of others, their records from the POW Camps in India, their Identity Cards for Australia  and Australian medical records have been kept.

There seems to be no rhyme or reason for this.  And for Italian families looking for information on their POW relatives, this is frustrating.

Maybe these records are lying deep in the archives, yet to be catalogued.

But excitingly, one Army Form W.3000 (Italian) Prisoner of War has survived.

Genefia Form

NAA: A367, C86896 P.W.62533, Rinaldini, Argo

I think, this is the first of many forms that accompanied the Italian POW.  A printed document with sequential M.E. numbers is the first official record.  A feint stamp in the top right hand corner : Prisoner of War Camp Geneifa, is where the paperwork trail begins.  Received into a POW Camp in India, 7th August 1941, Argo Rinaldini had  a further transfer to Murchison Australia 27th April 1944, as is stamped on the reverse side of the form.

Interestingly, he received a TAB. VACC 6th July 1941.  Quite possibly, all prisoners of war, as a matter of course, received this vaccination.

TAB. VACC = combined vaccine used to produce immunity against the diseases typhoid, paratyphoid A, and paratyphoid B

In the POW Camps in India,  Italian POWs received further inoculations and vaccinations.

Possibly, this was one of the forms transferred to Italian officials at the time of arrival in Italy. Who knows?

Unfortunately, this random ‘find’ will only encourage me to continue my random searches of POW records.

I wonder what I will find next!

Genefia 2 Form

NAA: A367, C86896 P.W.62533, Rinaldini, Argo

Further reading:

Suez Canal Zone POW Camps

Battle of Bardia

Bardia had been taken.  The Italians lost 40,000 men (killed, wounded and captured), 400 guns, 13 medium tanks, 115 light tanks and 706 trucks.

Battle of Bardia

3rd to 5th January 1941

Questions often asked on the topic of Italian prisoners of war begin with WHY?  Why were Italian prisoners of war  working on Queensland farms? Why were there so many Italian prisoners of war in Australia?  Why did they so readily surrender? Why were they content to be prisoners of war in Australia? Why didn’t they escape and/or cause havoc?

An understanding of the battles they fought in North and East Africa# and the war they fought on Mussolini’s behalf gives a context to the situation of the Italian prisoners of war.

Australia’s first group of Italian POWs arrived in May 1941, four months after the Battle of Bardia and five months after the Battle of Sidi el Barrani. Place of Capture for many of the first POWs is recorded as Libya, but the date of capture pinpoints the place… 4th January 1941… Bardia.

Bardia was a military outpost in Libya, developed by Italy during its colonial rule of the country.  Situated on the coast, it encompassed a small town and harbour and roads leading east to the Egyptian border and west to Tobruk.  It was fortified by what the Italians believed was an impenetrable 18 mile arc of modern defences.  These defences incorporated a steep anti-tank ditch – 4 feet deep by 12 feet wide, dense barbed-wire entanglements and minefields with two lines of steel and concrete bunkers 800 yards apart.

Map Bardia

Map of Battle of Bardia, Position at Dusk on 3rd January 1941, from Battle of Bardia Wikipedia

Il Duce had given instructions to General Bergozoli, commander of Bardia, “the task of defending Bardia to the last”* to which Bergozoli replied, “In Bardia we are, and here we stay.”*  Bergozoli had 45,000 men and 400 guns to hold Bardia. (*The Desert Generals by Correlli Barnett)

3884090

General Annibale Bergozoli is pictured centre.

He was known as “barba elettrica” [Electric Whiskers]

Capture of Bardia – Three of the captured Italian Generals and their staff were brought from the Western Desert by air, and here they are arriving at an aerodrome in Cairo. (Photo by unknown British Official photographer)

The allies on the other hand were poorly equipped, equipment had suffered due to the poor condition of roads and the assault force was one third of the garrison’s strength.  This battle was part of Operation Compass and was the first battle of war in which an Australian Army formation took part: Bardia.Aust Division.

(from 3RAR Museum Display: Lavarack Barracks Townsville)

The allies had taken Sidi el Barrani 9th – 10th December 1940, which was the first battle of Operation Compass and continued to push westward into Italian held territory. This meant that Italian forces not taken prisoner at Sidi el Barrani, retreated westward and engaged in combat at Buq Buq, Sollum, Fort Capuzzo, Halfaya Pass on their out of Egyptian territory.  Many were taken prisoner at these battles between Sidi el Barrani and Bardia. This British Pathe film discusses Operation Compass.

Western Desert Campaign

Western Desert Campaign

(from https://worldwariipodcast.net/2014/12/)

In preparation for a land assault, Bardia was attacked by air support.  Between 31st December 1940 and 2nd January 1941 100 bombing sorties took place.  This was followed by heavy air raids on the night of 2/3 January 1941.  As well, tanks with exhaust baffles removed roared up and down the perimeter defences through the night and early morning. Images of the Battle Bardia are captured in this British Pathe film.

3rd January 1941:At 5.30 am, the ground assault began when every gun available opened the battle.  The objective was to breech the western defences using Bangalore torpedoes and captured Italian wire cutters.  The Australians had 120 guns and 23 ‘I’ tanks.  By the last hours of darkness, the first Italians emerged from their bunkers.  By 6.30am, the Aussies had cleared two corridors and 6 “I” tanks attacked toward Bardia. Dog fights ensued between the Italians and the Aussies. By 8am with the first objective taken, 8000 prisoners had been taken. A pause in the ground attack, was followed by the second phase of assault at 11.30am when the fleet laid a barrage and the airforce bombed Italian airfields.  Heavy naval bombardment consisted of  244 x 15 inch shells, 270 x 6 inch shells and 240 x 4.5 inch shells which rained down on Bardia.

Ferdinando Pancisi was captured on this day, he remembers:

“I was a male nurse for the Red Cross, I had to care for and help the sick, injured and look after the people. I was on the Front where all the soldiers were and where everything was happening. I saved myself. We were 40,000 [captured at Bardia]. All the countries of the world were fighting against Italy, Germany and Japan.

[After capture] we hadn’t eaten for days. Food wasn’t arriving. We tried our best to survive. We were trying to make do looking for food on one side or the other of the Front, looking everywhere that we could and we survived. Well those who managed, survived, many others didn’t make it. I went for 7 days and 7 nights without food or water because the English were not giving us anything.  I tried asking a British guard for some food or water and he’d always reply “tomorrow, tomorrow”.

4th January 1941: By midday, the Fortress of Bardia had fallen and the harbour was taken without damage.  Sporadic fighting continued in the north and south throughout the day.

Costanzo Melino  was captured on 4th January 1941 and recounts his experiences as a soldier in this battle: Captured at Bardia.

Libya Italian prisoners of war Bardia

Two captured Italian Carro Veloce CV33 Tankettes on the road overlooking Bardia Harbour. Bardia can be seen on the far hill. (Negative by B.M.I., photographer Unknown British Official photographer)

5th January 1941 : The battle was over by lunch time. It was said that the Australians ‘lunched on Italian champagne’.   Bardia had been taken.  The Italians lost 40,000 men (killed, wounded and captured), 400 guns, 13 medium tanks, 115 light tanks and 706 trucks.

Angelo Valiante was captured on 5th January 1941, he remembers:  “After one month, at the front, 23 kms walk, and no bottom of shoe, none left, nothing. Stopped one month there.  Night time, they say, all soldiers have to go back. English people chase us, to go back. At night time.  We go back.[to Bardia]  In the night time, the cold, the body, the arms, can’t walk, too tired, no food, no water.”

aaerial view italian pow

Bardia, Cyrenaica, Libya. 6 January 1941. Aerial view taken on the day that Bardia fell shows a long line of prisoners stretching down the road being rounded up by the Allied land forces and transported in the back of trucks.

ca[ptured guns

Near Bardia. 6.5 MM Breda Model 1924 and 6.5MM Fiat Revelli Model 35 Machine Guns Captured from the “Ities” (Italians) lined up by the roadside (Negative by F. Hurley)

Below are the recollections of an Italian soldier who was captured at Bardia. Giovanni Palermo was imprisoned at Zonderwater, South Africa:

Barida Palermo Givoanni.jpg

From  Noi! Prigionieri Africa 1941-47 P.O.W.104702 by Giovanni Palermo

Noi! Prigionieri Africa 1941-47 P.O.W.104702 by Giovanni Palermo in English

# Further and more detailed information about the war in North Africa can be found in the books : Bardia by Craig Stockings and The Sidi Rezeg Battles 1941 by Agar-Hamilton and Turner. Acknowledgement to these books for the details provided in this article.

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.

Micali, Nicola Libya Seated Right.jpeg

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.

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.

 

Miracoli di Internet!

 

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 Amante (1)

Angelo Amante: 19 years old

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

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 Amante (3)

Angelo Amante in Libya 1941

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

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.

A Amante standing first left

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57037 A. Amante; 57273 G. Guarnaccia; 57288 G. La Iacona; 57252 S. Giambusso; 57051 C. Avola; 46957 S. Vizzini; 57257 G. Giarratano. Front row: 57268 M. Gordini; 57070 L. Bloisi; 57046 R. Armentano; 57038 S. Amoroso; 57226 D. Foringo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/15)

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.

Angelo Amante (2)

Angelo Amante , Salvatore Scicchitani (Schichitano), Vincenzo Cannavo with John and Jim Buchanan at Redslopes Goomboorian via Gympie

(courtesy of Nino Amante)

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.

Angelo Amante (4)

Angelo Amante

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

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.