Category Archives: New South Wales Italian POWS

Memories of My Father

Paola Zagonara has shared with me, two items relating to her father Adriano Zagonara.

With the assistance of the Cowra-Italy Friendship Association, Paola is now in contact with John and Robert Davidson from the farming family where Adriano lived and worked near Canowindra.  A water tank constructed by Adriano still bears the plaque he made to ensure his time as a POW was not forgotten.  Read more about Adriano’s POW journey here

Water Tank at Davidson Farm

(photo courtesy of Paola Zagonara)

Adriano Zagonara was captured during the Battle of Bardia on 5th January 1941.  From Egypt he was sent to a prisoner of war camp in India.  In April 1944, he travelled by ship ‘Mariposa’ to Melbourne. He arrived in Melbourne on 26th April 1944.

On 27th April 1944 he arrived at Cowra Prisoner of War Camp.  He stayed in Cowra until 20th April 1945.  He was transferred to Liverpool Camp.

He was then sent to work on a farm in the   N5 Prisoner of War Control Centre: Canowindra in New South Wales.

He returned to Cowra Camp on 4th December 1945.

On 23rd December 1946, Adriano boarded the ship ‘Alcantara’ which took the Italians to Naples.

Adriano’s kit bag went home with him and the lettering is a reminder of his POW number and his time as a POW in Australia.

Wonderful keepsakes for his family.

Zagonara Kit Bag

Kit Bag for Adriano Zagonara

(Photo courtesy of Paola Zagonara)

V-P-HIST-00993-04.JPG

Italian POWs boarding Moreton Bay 4th August 1946

(ICRC Archives)

 

Wide Variety of Uniforms

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Photos are from the Australian War Memorial Collection taken at Cowra and Murchison 1944-1945

On 16th August 1941, the second transport of Italian prisoners of war arrived in Sydney on board the Queen Mary.  What caught the attention of the press was the odd assortment of clothing that the Italians wore.  There were 817 Italian prisoners of war consisting of 405 officers and 412 ordinary ranks.  German prisoners of war also arrived into Australia on this transport.

Italians Down Under is a newsreel film taken in 1941. Watch this clip as Italian prisoners of war alight from a Sydney ferry onto the wharf and then step onto trains.

Italian POW Rossi Pith Helmet

Italo Rossi M/E 68057 Photo taken in India

 

BIG BATCH OF ITALIAN WAR PRISONERS HERE

WIDE VARIETY OF UNIFORMS

from Sun (Sydney, NSW: 1910-1954), Saturday 16 August 1941, page 3

Clad in an amazing variety of uniforms and headgear, a big batch of Italian prisoners of war – officers, N.C.O.’s and other ranks – has arrived in Sydney.

The party presented a remarkable contrast to that which arrived a few months ago.

Many to-day were in high spirits, and their demeanour indicated that they were not at all reluctant to ‘take up residence’ on Australian soil.

Several laughed and joked as they boarded the train that was to take them to their internment camp. Two defiantly gave the Fascist salute.

All of the first party to land were officers and among them were several airmen and one wearing dark blue naval uniform.

Sartorial honours went to a tall Italian who walked nonchalantly along the wharf clad in a sweeping dark blue cloak with scarlet lining and frogs.

An Alpini wore a slouch Tyrolean hat with a long feather and a grey well-cut uniform with thick woollen socks.

QM August 1941 Italian POWs

Headgear ranged from orthodox military caps to pith helmets and from blue woollen berets to improvised black felt skull caps.  Some retained traces of smartness in high-fronted peak caps of the Nazi types.

Taste in knee boots inclined towards the exotic in some instances. One officer wore gaiter-like coverings on his legs of a beige tint.

Knickers and Sandshoes

At the other end of the scale was an Italian in plain grey knickerbockers with white sandshoes.  Two wore dark eyeshades.

Mufflers ran the gamut of the colour range contrasting strangely with battered pith helmets and war-stained uniforms.

Many of the prisoners grinned cheerfully at cameramen but one was camera-shy.

He walked the full distance from the disembarkation point to the waiting train with a cardboard carton draped around his head and shoulders.

On the wharf was a high pile of luggage.  The Italians had come well prepared for their stay in Australia.  Several portmanteau and tarpaulin sheets covering them were camouflaged.

The rangers carried blankets and tin panikins.  A number were only youngsters.

QM August 1941 Italian POW

Several carried improvised draught boards and two started a game with pieces cut from a broom handle.

Medical Precautions

Exhaustive precautions to guard against the prisoners bringing dysentery to Australia were taken before the ship arrived.  Medical officers went aboard and carefully examined the medical history of every prisoner.

Elaborate arrangements had been made to have the men quarantined if this had been found necessary.

The Army Director-General of Hygiene made a special trip to Sydney to study the health situation before the prisoners landed.  Arrangements were made for the prisoners to be given meals on the train and they were accompanied by their own medical officers, as well as by Australian army medical men.

Panniers of medical stores were taken on the train to guard against illness on the journey.

Half a dozen of the prisoners who were ill were taken direct from the wharf to an ambulance and then to hospital.

Italian POW Hospital Queen Mary 1941

The photo below was taken in summer at Cowra. It shows the men some two and half years later and the odd assortment of clothing they wore.  Footwear consisted of sandals (possibly hand made), boots and high boots.  Clothing varied with tee shirts, buttoned shirts and safari suit tops of various colours being part of the Italians’ wardrobes.

Ippolito 3917517

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49115 C. Trentino; 49354 G. Ippolito; 49592 A. Poggi; 49107 G. Zunino; 48833 R. Bartoli; 49212 R. Papini; 48863 S. De Micco. Front row: 48939 A. Leto; 49172 A. Mandrini; 57531 B. Protano; 49923 F. Carlone; 45196 A. Ciofani. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(Australia War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes, Image 030173/11)

POW Paperwork Trail

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.

  1. Notification of Capture- Prisoner of War – Comite International de la Croix Rouge

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.

Notification Egypt Prisoner of War

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

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.

Mike White Worldwide Postal History

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.

India

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

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.

Torrese India Pink

(NAA: A 7919, C99078 Isaia Torrese)

India: Envelope containing POW photos for prisoners of war – Bangalore

Santolini Bangalore envelope

(NAA: A7919, C104104 Gino Santolini)

India: ID photograph

Italian POW Rossi Pith Helmet

(NAA: A7919, C100451 Italo Rossi)

India: Postcard

Postcard from India

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

India: Financial Record for No 16 Prisoner of War Camp, Bairagarh

Procedures ensured that financial accountability for all income and expenses was recorded.

Migliori Canteen India

(NAA: A7919, C101033 Giorgio Migliore)

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.

Trunono India Clothing Card

(NAA: A7919, C98805 Michele Truono)

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.

Italian POW Transfer to Australia lluzzi

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

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.

Service and Casulty Form Italian POW Pietro Romano

(NAA: MP1103/1 PWI60929 Romano, Pietro)

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.

Brancato Salvatore Record of Property

(NAA: MP1103/2 Brancato, Salvatore PWIX66245)

Australia: Medical History Sheet

Each Italian prisoner of war was medically examined upon arrival in Australia.

Medical History

from the collection of Vitoronzo Pastore

Australia: Agreement to work on farms

Italian prisoners of war volunteering for farm work, completed the form below.

Costa F agreement to work

(NAA: A7919, C101443 Costa, Francesco PWIM12105)

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.

(NAA: J3118, 65 Fresilli, Sebastiano)

This is a copy of an Identity Card for Italian prisoners of war who worked in Victoria.

(NAA: A7919, C102791 Di Pietro, Camillo)

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)

Letter 13

from the collection of Carlo Pintarelli AICPM

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.

Letter 2

from the collection of Carlo Pintarelli AICPM

Australia: Christmas Card: Natale 1943

Christmas Cards were provided to the prisoners of war by the YMCA.  They were provided in German and Italian.

CArd 1943 Natale

from the collection of MARIAMAR AICPM

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.

Baris Orazio Medical Committe form

(NAA:A7919, C101259 Baris, Orazio)

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.

Statement of Accounts

 Statement of Account: Umberto Confrancesco

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.

Discharge Giovanni Riboldi.jpg

Declaration of Leave from Naples Military Command Centre

(From “Guerra e Prigionia di Giovanni Riboldi”)

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.

 

Riboldi Declaration

Declaration: Distretto Militare di Tortona

(From “Guerra e Prigionia di Giovanni Riboldi”)

Breach of Discipline

Service and Casualty Forms for the Italian Prisoners of War make great reading.  I have given up counting how many forms I have read since I started this research in August 2015 but there is so much information that can be gleaned from these forms.

And several thousand forms later I can give you an insight into the nature of the breaches in discipline and the punishments meted out.

Some make sense eg fine 1/- for fastening ground sheet to bed, while others seem harsh eg. 28 days detention for stealing a bunch of grapes.

And some, make me laugh eg stealing lettuce plants… maybe this Italian  just wanted a few plants to add to his private garden outside his barracks;  and what about the bravado of the Italian who was smoking on parade.

But military discipline was essential and indiscretions punished.

Ferrante

(NAA: MP1103/1 for DF)

For some Italian POWs, their breach in discipline resulted in formal investigations. The three incidents below are from Western Australia.  Queensland POWs were much more meek and mild!

The following statement is made by a POW placed at the same farm as a Raffaele.  The farmer also ran a boarding house:  This family have always treated us with great courtesy and consideration but this rascal [Raffaele] for a long time has done nothing else but to annoy all the women who have stayed in this place… On another occasion [name redacted] and I were near our room when [ name redacted] came to us and asked the whereabouts of Raffaele. We told her we did not know as we never see him at night time as he goes away and returns after midnight. [ Name redacted] not taking any notice of us then stepped into [Raffaele’s] room and sat down and wrote a letter and left it on the table after leaving.  On [Raffaele’s] return from his walk he read the letter did not even stop to finish meal went away and did not return until after midnight.  If I had to tell all that [Raffaele] has done it would make a romantic novel. 11 October 1944.

An incident in the Northam area of Western Australia saw the award of 28 days detention: Conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline in that he behaved in an unsolicited manner by endeavouring to show Mrs C obscene magazine photos and by giving her a box upon which obscene drawings had been made.

Another incident reports reads as follows: At 17.30 hours the prisoner came to me and asked if he would feed the calf, to which I answered yes.  He then asked me in his Pidgeon English if I would ? him the milk, I went through the house to the backdoor whist the Prisoner went around the side.  When I arrived and opened the door he approached me with both his arms open and said “Oh, Missus.” plus other Italian phases which I did not understand.  I could see the man was very excited and I slamed the door in his face… My husband had been away all day …During the lunch hour the Prisoner remained what I considered an unnecessary time in the kitchen after having had his meal, during which time he kept muttering to me in Italian, none of which i could understand. It appeared strange to me that this man should remain behind whilst the other Prisoner after having his meal went straight to his camp.  No charges were laid on this matter and the POW was transferred to another farm.

Without a doubt, prisoner of war files make great and interesting reading.

Following are some of the ‘run of the mill’ type breaches in discipline and subsequent punishments:

14 days: stealing

2 days: stealing lettuce plants

5/- fine: failure to appear on parade

1/- fine: late to work

168 hours detention: wilful damage to CWG property

14 days detention: possession of prohibited article

21 days detention: taking employer’s car without permission

14 days detention – 3 days No 1 diet: refusing to work, inciting other POWs to slow up work

7 days detention: boots worn beyond repair

6 days fatigues: conduct to the prejudice of good order and disciplien

3/- fine – offence against good order and discipline

14 days detention: making unfound complaints about working

7 days detention: attempting to steal 1/2 lbs butter

14 days detention: removed 1 dz bananas from supply depot

1/- fine: failure to appear at inspection parade

28 days detention: communicating by signs with a person outside the complex, making a threatening gesture to officials.

72 hours detention: proceeding beyond boundary of place of employment

1/- fine: wasting water

3 days detention: pretending sickness to avoid work

7 days detention: attempting to evade censorship

168 hours detention: smoking on parade

7 days detention: failed to stand by kit during inspection

5/- fine: being in possession of government property

Admonished: carrying letters between compounds

28 days detention: failed to answer Roll Call

28 days detention: escaped from Hostel

28 days detention: unduly familiar with a female

3 days detention: breach of National Security Regulations

14 days detention: disobedience, violence

5 days detention: offensive behaviour

14 days detention: did adopt threatening attitude

The first 2000 Italian POWs

The first 2006 Italian prisoners of war arrived in Australia on the Queen Mary 25th May 1941.  The Queen Mary had been the jewel in Cunard White Star Line between wars making voyages across the Atlantic. Catering for 2332 passengers, the Queen Mary was berthed in New York at the start of hostilities.  The Queen Elizabeth joined her in New York before both ships were sent to Australia for use as troop transport ships.  On the return journey to Australia, Italian and German prisoners of war were embarked in the Middle East. The Queen Mary brought Italian POWs to Australia on three occasions during 1941, as did the Queen Elizabeth.  Military record cards use the reference “Q.M.” and “Q.E.”

With the entry of the USA into the war at the end of 1941, the Magnificent Queens: the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth were re-routed as  transports for American troops. They would transport between 12,000 to 15,000 armed personnel on these voyages.

The newspaper article below describes the arrival of Australia’s first 2006 Italian prisoners of war and the circumstances of their arrival.

Queen Mary Bunks

Queen Mary: The Swimming pool is now a troops sector, with tiers of bunks for men

(from the Imperial War Museum: Coote, RGG (Lt) Image A25931)

ITALIAN PRISONERS

2000 Arrive in Sydney

INLAND INTERNMENT CAMP

first

(photo from Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 – 1954), Thursday 29 May 1941, page 1)

Sydney, May 26,- A large shipment of 2000 Italian prisoners of war captured in Libya has arrived in Sydney and the first trainload of about 500 have been sent off to an inland internment camp in New South Wales.

Unimpressive physically, wearing a nondescript mixture of  garments in which the greenish-grey Italian field uniform predominated, the prisoners were brought ashore by ferry and immediately issued with A.I.F. greatcoats, relics of the war of 1914-1918, which have been dyed a burgundy colour. At the prison camp they will be dressed completely in wool uniforms of this colour, which is so conspicuous that it should act as a strong deterrent against attempts to escape.

There was no sign yesterday, however of any wish among the prisoners to cause trouble.  Overshadowed by their Australian guards, they trooped ashore quietly with few smiles and only a little quiet talk among themselves.  Some scowled as press photographs were taken.  The ship guards described their behaviour on the voyage was docile.

first 2

(photo from The Courier Mail (Brisbane, Qld.: 1933-1954) Wednesday 28 May 1941, page 3)

Before they were disembarked, a number of them sought the senior officer and asked if they could not be allowed to stay and work until the end of the war on the ship, which has been engaged as a transport carrying Australian troops overseas.  Their offer was not accepted. On the voyage out, much of the scullery work was done by the prisoners, who also waited on the members of the A.I.F. who were returning after being wounded.

The only officers among the prisoners ware five medical officers and a priest.  one of the doctors was a distinguished surgeon in Italy, a professor of surgery at the University of Turin.  A doctor who came ashore yesterday was wearing black field boots, green-grey breeches and a khaki drill tunic with the gold braid insignia of a captain’s rank on his shoulder straps, three stars below a larger star, the device giving a general effect more like the shoulder badges worn by a brigadier in the British forces.  His batman followed him ashore laden with the baggage of both and wearing Red Cross arm and cap badges.

None of the prisoners speak English, but the medical officers almost all speak some French.  Corporal Craig, of the Eastern Command Records Staff, who speaks Italian, French and Greek, acted as the military interpreter.  After serving in the first A.I.F., he lived for nearly 20 years in Alexandria and spent a period in Italy in the service of an American motor firm, who established tractor assembly works there.

The medical captain, who came from Piedmont, explained through the interpreter that he was a civilian who had been called up from the reserve for service.  he had been in Libya eight months before he was taken prisoner.  When asked by an Australian officer what he thought of Australia, he replied briefly: “No opinion”. Then he smiled wryly and added, “Very nice, but I am a prisoner.” He said that the average age of the prisoners would be 24 or 25. They looked younger.  Most of them came from Southern Italy, though a few were taller men who looked though they might have come from the north.

Half a dozen wore sailors’ uniforms, but it was explained that they were not necessarily naval men as they used any clothes they could get hold of.  A number were in shorts.  There were several tropical helmets, one with Tobruk and Bardia painted on it.

As they filed ashore from the ferry in a double line between military police guards with fixed bayonets, they were handed their burgundy coloured coasts and a tin mug each.  A packet meal supplied by the railway refreshment service was given to them on the train.

first 4

(photo from Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.: 1872-1947), Tuesday 27 May 1941, page 9)

An assortment of moustaches and many beards, including one black spade Balbo model, adorned the swarthy faces, many of which looked as though their owners might have come from Alexandria or Port Said, rather than from Italy.  They carried untidy packs containing their belongings.  One man, when offered a burgundy coloured greatcoat, proudly gestured towards his pack to show that he already had a coat, an Italian model.  he looked puzzled as he walked on carrying his distinctive Australian garment.

All the prisoners were medically examined with great care before being sent ashore.  The official instruction is that anyone with any sign of infectious disease is to be quarantined rigorously to guard against the introduction of epidemic diseased from the Middle East.

(Kalgoorlie Mine (WA: 1895-1950), Wednesday 28 May 1941, page 1)

first 3

(photo from Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.: 1872-1947), Friday 30 May 1941, page 7)

Escaped P.O.W. at Bowen

I have intentionally left the stories of the Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill to last.  The Q6 Home Hill centre was a purpose built hostel/camp to accommodate 255 Italian prisoners of war making it a very different situation to the Italian prisoners of war on farms in south-east Queensland.  The Burdekin: Ayr, Home Hill, Brandon, Jarvisfield, Rita Island, Clare, Millaroo, Dalberg is my backyard and it was the first prisoner of war centre I researched and my original motivation for this research.

I have known from an early age that Italian prisoners of war were brought to Home Hill  to grow vegetables. These POWs had been captured in North Africa and some of them tried to escape.  I also knew about the Italian Queensland residents who were arrested when Italy declared war and sent to Loveday South Australia.  My Aunty Dora’s father, we knew him as Nonno Jim, was one of those internees. So from my childhood I knew about these two historical events.  Funny the stories you remember.

Alan Fitzgerald, who wrote the first comprehensive book about Italian prisoners of war in Australia, explains that his book,  The Italian Farming Soldiers was inspired by his childhood memory of an Italian POW :  ‘As a child, I saw my first Italian prisoner of war at Coonabarabran, New South Wales, in 1944.  He stood out in his magenta-dyed uniform as he walked down a road in this small town of 2000 people.’

This project’s book Walking in their Boots has also been inspired by childhood memories, as told to me by my father Brunie Tapiolas.

I would like to introduce you to Vincenzo and Pasquale.  Their story provides an insight into the men who were encamped on the banks of the Burdekin River.  Their story gives a face to this Q6 Home Hill history.

Landolfi 1 Murchison

Pasquale Landolfi seated centre with accordian 2nd March 1945 Murchison

(from Australian War Memorial, Image 030230/04)

Vincenzo di Pietro and Pasquale Landolfi did not want to be at the Home Hill POW Hostel.  They really didn’t want to be in captivity.  Twice escaped from Q6 Home Hill Hostel, they were sent south to Murchison in Victoria.  Both escaped Murchison PW Camp. But that is another story.

During my research into this history I have become acquainted with several men in these photos:  Riccardo del Bo, Liborio  Bonadonna, Guglielmo De Vita,  Pietro Rizelli, Sabato Russo and Bartolomea Fiorentino.  Each man has a story. Liborio’s story is featured in A Father’s Love

Di Pietro Murchison

Vincenzo di Pietro standing second from the right  2nd March 1945 Murchison

(Australian War Memorial, Image 030229/02)

Enjoy this newspaper article from Bowen Independent(Qld: 1911-1954), Friday 6 October 1944, page 2 which is available to view online at trove.gov.au

Notice the vague reference to ‘a Northern camp’. Very little was known by the general public in the Burdekin about the POW camp which was deemed a military zone.

Escaped P.O.W. at Bowen

Re-Capture Effected

The intelligence of a local resident was responsible for the re-capture of two escaped Italian prisoners of war from a Northern camp, on Thursday.

Noticing two strangers, obviously foreigners, at the new railway station, he recalled press and radio announcements on the subject of the escape of two prisoners he took more than ordinary notice of them.

But the fact that they were mixing freely with troops [Australian] from a train in the station, most of whom wore Africa Star ribbons and were therefore familiar with the Italian soldier, made him hesitate to voice his suspicions.

Later he again noticed them on the road near the Salt Works, resting under a pandamus tree.  They wore no hats, and the circumstances were very suspicious.

They later headed towards the Don [River] and passed under the small railway bridge, whereupon the observer decided to give the local Police a chance to investigate, which they did and rounded up the pair who turned out to be the wanted men.

The local resident is to be commended for his part in the re-capture.

Walking in his footsteps…Yanco

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Twenty two of the original thirty Italian prisoners of war (POWs) who arrived at No. 15 POW Camp on 19 March 1942.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInness Image 063919)

I hadn’t meant to delve into places outside of Queensland, because nine PWCC, one PWC Hostel and one PW&I Camp is more than I can handle. But here I am, delving into the history of Yanco Camp 15.

Many Queensland Italian POWs had worked at Yanco, so this is justification enough.  A little more research and I realised the similarities between the work being done at Yanco and the work being undertaken at Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill. Another Queensland connection.

But in truth, my motivation is much less complicated: a gentleman from Rome, Alessdandro Di Sabatino contacted me.  He is visiting Australia in 2018 and he would like to walk in the footsteps of his father, Antonio Di Sabatino.  And so my quest to understand the operations of Yanco began.

Di Sabatino, Antonio first left standing

Yanco, Australia. 23 January 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 15 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 45593 Antonio De Sabatino;49625 Oreste Piermattei; 49876 Goffredo Mangiasciutto; 46515 Andrea Pesaola; 45240 Cesare Nobilia; 48641 Luigi Salvati; 45417 Paolo Di Massimo. Front row: 49902 Giuseppe Ricci; 45732 Armando Guaazi; 46354 Mario Palma; 49489 Antonio Galea; 45730 Nicola Clemenzi. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 030171/01)

I have combined photos from Australian War Memorial and interspersed them through the following newspaper article, accessible from Trove.com to assist other children and grandchildren of Italian POWs to walk in their father or grandfather’s footsteps.

Yanco Camp 15 is now the Yanco Agricultural Institute (YAI).  The site has been repurposed many times during its history and the YAI celebrated its 100 anniversary in 2008. Staff of the YAI welcome visits from families of the Italian POWs and are more than happy to provide you with an historical perspective of the property.

Yanco 063917.JPG

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) at No. 15 POW Camp enjoying a shower after a hard day’s work on the farm. This shower block can accommodate twenty four men at a time, and was originally a Riverina Welfare Farm building.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063917)

Yanco Prisoner of War Camp (NSW) was a compound housing 700 – 800  prisoners of war who worked producing vegetables for supply to the allied forces. The site is in the Riverina district WNW of Canberra, between Wagga Wagga and Hay.  It is 290 km from Cowra Prisoner of War and Internment Camp and 170 km from Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.

Yanco 063594

YANCO, NSW. 1944-01-22. VIEW FROM THE WATER TOWER SHOWING THE MESS BUILDING AND THE ITALIAN PRISONER OF WAR (POW) TENTS OF NO. 15 POW CAMP. IN THE BACKGROUND CAN BE SEEN SOME 250 ACRES OF BEANS AND TOMATOES.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063594)

Yanco operated differently to the other POW camps and this included the baking of bread. A request was lodged for the procurement of 100 bread tins: “that probable reason for demand for 100 Tins, bread for No. 15 P.W. Camp Yanco is that P.W. there make their own bread which procedure is not followed in other P.W. Camps. P.W. held at this camp total 550 and in view of foregoing, supply is recommended.” (AWM War Diary 18 Oct 43)

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Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoner of war (POWs) bakers at No. 15 POW of War Camp removing bread from the oven. In the foreground can be seen tins of dough ready to be baked. (AWM Photo 063916 Geoffrey McInnes)

The article below from Farmer and Settler (Sydney, NSW: 1906 – 1955), Friday 14 April 1944, page 6 explains the operations and importance of the work done by Italian prisoners of war at Yanco.

Riverina Farm Now Biggest Vegetable Garden Project in Australia

Swarthy Italians have replaced students, soldiers have taken over from teachers, and fields where games were played are now flourishing vegetable gardens at Riverina Welfare Farm, Yanco.

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Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-29. An Italian prisoner of war (POW) from No. 15 POW Camp operating a horse drawn insecticide duster on a crop of tomatoes on one of the unit’s farms.

Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063822

In two years the farm has become Australia’s greatest vegetable growing project- the biggest producer on the food front.

New methods of growing and harvesting have been introduced as well as new methods of seed production.  At present more than 300 acres have been devoted to vegetables for seed purposes only.

The farm was taken over from the Education Department in March, 1942, by the Department of Agriculture in cooperation with the Department of Commerce to step up vegetable growing.

In the first year, using only prisoners of war labour more than 500 tons of tomatoes, silver beet, sweet corn, beans, cabbages, cauliflowers and sweet peppers (an American delicacy) were delivered to Leeton cannery.  The area under vegetables was 320 acres.

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Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-29. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from No. 15 POW Camp grading and packing tomatoes at the packing shed before sending them to the Leeton Co-operative Cannery for processing.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063793)

With the importation of lend-lease machinery, several units were sent to the farm to speed up production and last October the area given to vegetables was increased to 640 acres.

Shortage of vegetable seed and the difficulty of importing it caused a change of plans.  Instead of bulk vegetable production, the farm set out to grow seed.

Two areas of 320 acres and 150 acres were laid out under spray irrigation, the remainder being furrow irrigation.  With the spray equipment, about 40 acres are given water at the rate of one inch of rain a day.

Largest crops sown are beans, 160 acres; tomatoes 75 acres; silver beet 37 acres, carrots 30 acres and sweet corn 25 acres.  The carrots will be transplanted in the winter to 100 acres for seed production.

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Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-29. Italian prisoners of war (POW) from No. 15 POW Camp using a Farmall tractor and a furrowing out machine to prepare a paddock for silver beet irrigation.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063820)

Next month 38 acres will be sown to onion and in June, 150 acres of peas will be sown.  Some peas will be sent to the cannery and the remainder retained for seed.

Beside the vegetable project, the farm which is 2045 acres in extent has 225 acres under pasture, paspalum and clover, 40 acres under Lucerne, 50 acres under orchard and 30 acres under sorghum to make 200 tons of silage.

In addition, it has a stud Jersey herd of 115 head of cattle, a Berkshire pig stud of 130 as well as 300 sheep and 60 horses.  All products go to the Services.

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Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) tending stud Berkshire pigs on the farm at No. 15 POW Camp.

Australia War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063884)

The Farm Manager (Mr John L Green) yesterday described the new method of harvesting and preparing tomato seed.

Varieties being grown include 16 acres of Bonnie Best, 15 Marglobe, 12 Break of Day, 14 Pearson, 9 Earliana, 8 Tatura Dwarf Globe and one of Bonnie Marr, a new type.

Picked into kerosene tins, they are emptied into lug boxes in the field and these are carted on drays to the grading shed erected in the field adjacent to the crop.  An average day’s picking is 500 to 600 lug boxes, weighing 10 to 12 tons.

The tomatoes are then place on sorting tables 30 ft long, 3 ft wide and made of rubber and this revolves.

Those retained for seed extraction pass through an electrically driver pulper and juice extractor, and the pulp thus obtained, together with that returned from the cannery is placed in barrels and treated with hydrochloric acid for the purpose of making seed extraction more rapid and easy.

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Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from No. 15 POW Camp pulping tomatoes in order to recover the seed. The crushed tomato is then treated with weak hydrochloric acid to free the seed from the pulp. Seeds are then washed and dried.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063885)

The system was developed by Mr EM Hutton, of the C.S. and I.R. AT Canberra two years ago and makes it possible to pre-treat pulp in 30 minutes compared with two days required under the old system of natural fermentation.

The pulp is poured on to a 600 ft wooden flume with a slight gradual decline.  The flume is 15 inch wide and 12 inch deep and every 5 ft is a baffle board 6 inch high.

Water is run in at a rate sufficient to give a flow of ½ to 1 inch over the baffles.

The result is the seed, being heavier than the pulp, sinks and is caught in the baffles, while the pulp flows over and is eventually lost at the lower end in an open drain.

Two barrels of pulp, representing 100 bushells of tomatoes can be washed in this manner in 50 minutes. The washing, however, does not remove every small particle of pulp, it being necessary to take this in a screen of meshes.

After this treatment, the seed is placed for 24 hours in a solution of ascetic acid with the object of controlling bacterial canker disease.

It is then spread on tarpaulins on a drying green for six to 10 hours, collected and bagged.

Mr Green said that already 1500 lb of seed has been produced and it was expected that 3000 lb more seed would be harvested before the end of May.  The amount of tomatoes involved would be 400 tons.

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Yanco, NSW. 1944-02-01. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from No. 15 POW Camp picking Tatura Dwarf Globe tomatoes which they have grown for seed on the unit’s vegetable farm.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063934)