Category Archives: New South Wales Italian POWS

Permission to Marry

While there are number of documented cases of Italian prisoners of war marrying Australian women, the official stance was framed around the British Government’s policy, that being : REFUSAL FOR PERMISSION FOR CO-OPERATORS TO MARRY BRITISH WOMEN.

Buried deep in the National Archives is the story of one family who sought permission for an Italian POW to marry a young Australian woman.  EJ was a Land Army Girl and AM was a POW. They met at Goolagong while EJ was picking tomatoes with the Land Army.

An honourable man, AM wanted to marry EJ and support her and their son. As the extracts from letters highlight:  AM had sought and obtained permission from his family in Italy, the catholic priest at Cowra had baptised the baby and HA, EJ’s mother had arranged work for AM.

“My darling, after so much waiting I got a letter from you. It gave me so much happiness. My dearest, you said that mum rang up the officer at Cowra, well they did not yet call me to ask me anything about it however when they want me, I’m always ready to tell them the truth and I’ll tell them that I want to be free and marry you straight away.  I’m glad that you will send your photo to my mother, she will be happy to get it.” AM 15 May 1945

“I have had his baby baptised at the Catholic Church here in Cowra and told Father the priest all about my trouble and he is preparing me for our marriage… at the Church here I would keep it secret” EJ 7 June 1945

“My daughter is very anxious to marry an Italian prisoner of war… he [the baby] is very sick now has a very bad chest and took convulsions last night… the prisoner is also anxious to marry my daughter he is a good man and we can get him work in the back country trapping with my son  who has all the outfit and is willing to do something to help them when they get married.” HA (mother of EJ) 20 June 1945

Unfortunately, the government response was : “Although there appears to be no law in existence which would affect the validity of such marriages if performed it was decided that they would not be permitted.” So while the government would not sanction marriages or give couples permission to marry, there was little authorities could do, should an Australian woman and an Italian POW marry. Unfortunately, EJ and AM did not see this ‘loophole’.

AM and EJ did however seem to have spent 4 to 6 weeks together in early 1946 after AM escaped from custody.  He returned willingly to camp and surrendered himself to the guards. On 10th January 1947, AM was repatriated to Italy and there is no record of his return to Australia.

EJ and AM made one mistake, and that was to ask permission to marry from the authorities.  Had they married, their story might have had a happier ending.

The relationship between Italian POW FN and  HM, was dealt with the full force of the law.  On 20th April 1945, FN was sent to Detention Barracks at Hay (NSW) for 12 months by order of a Military Court.  FN was charged with “conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline among PW (Between Dec 43 and Feb 44 having sexual intercourse with a female).”  A harsh penalty considering other similar cases were dealt with differently and with more compassion. FN wanted to marry HM and HM said that she was prepared to marry him. Their liaison had resulted in the birth of a son.  FN served his 12 months detention but never returned to the state of his placement nor to Australia after the war.

A softening of the official directive regarding marriage of Australian women to Italian prisoners of war, is however highlighted by this notation from 18 December 1946:

Approval by the Minister has been given in principle to marriages between Italian prisoners of war and Australian Women. ( War Diary AWM52 1/1/14/15 July to December 1946)

One wonders if Italian POWs AM and FN were notified of this change in policy regarding marriages between Italian POWs and Australian women and given the opportunity to marry EJ and HM and be reunited with their sons.

Two stories with happier endings can be found at: Colleen and Mick and Francesco and June 

Records reveal the following statement on POW marriages:

It became apparent that 2 PW had been married to Australian women whilst escapees in Australia, and 4 others, 3 of whom had been escapees, desired to contract marriages; the remaining PW had been for a long period in rural employment.  The bona fides of the applications of these latter 4 PW were given full consideration and approval was finally given for their marriages, and where necessary leave was granted to them to enable marriages to be effected. (NAA: A7711)

And another happy ending is that of Mr and Mrs Auciello.  Nicola Auciello was photographed before he boarded the Alcantara to return to Italy. The attached report states: “Nicola Auciello, Italian sailor, became a prisoner in the Mediterranean Sea when the Sydney sank his cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni, said he was engaged to an Australian girl who lived at Orange and wanted to get back Australia to marry her.  Asked if any other Italians had become engaged Auciello smiled and said, “Plenty.”

Nicola

1946, The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 23 December, p. 3. (LATE FINAL EXTRA), viewed 13 Apr 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page24562456

He was repatriated to Italy and then his fiancee made the journey to Italy to marry before returning to Australia.

POW Marry 1

The Sun (Sydney, NSW: 1910-1954) Friday 3 December 1948

Italian-Australian Family Reunion

Dall’ Australia a Bagnatica per riabbracciare l’ex prigioniero

Il giovane australiano non ha dimenticato il bergamasco che lavoro alle dipendenze della sua familiglia – Cordiale incontro con un altro ex prigioniero di Vigano S. Martino

Below is a translated copy of a 6th September 1960 newspaper article from “Eco di Bergamo”.  

 west wylong

Family Feast

Graydon Bolte (left) shares a meal with Angelo Airoldi and family

(from the collection of Graydon Bolte)

It tells the story of a Bergamose POW, Angelo Airoldi,  from the time he was captured in 1940 in Buk Buk, North Africa to the time a young Australian visited him on his farm in the commune of Bagnatica.

Today, the country men of “Portico” farm in commune of Bagnatica have suspended their work almost completely to stop in the large courtyard and keep company with an exceptional guest, from Australia. It is a question of a strong young mean bieng 23 years old, Mr. Graydon Bolte, from West Wyalong, New South Wales.

He arrived here three days ago and will stay here for some weeks, as a guest of Mr Angelo Airoldi who is the sole person not only at “Portico” but at Bagnatica able to understand and chat with young Graydon, who speaks in English language only.

Mr Airoldi went to the Bolte family in 1944 in Australia, where he was moved after being taken prisoner by the English soldiers in May 1940 in Africa.

Before reaching the fifth continent he had had a long ordeal from one concentration camp to another – from Africa to Bombay and Bangalore.

It was about the Easter day in 1944 when the American ship Mariposa discharged him in the Australian port of Melbourne, from where he was sent to Cowra camp.  Almost soon after his arrival the time of imprisonment had practically ended.  he was in fact … along with another Bergamose prisoner, Mr Ernesto Armati of Vigano San Martino, as agricultural workers by a rich Australian farmer, Mr Bolte senior.

The untiring work and the honesty of the two Italian men gained the Bolte’s sympathy, who began to treat them as members of the same family.  So as to entrust them with the direct custody of the farm, the breedings, the house, with an unlimited confidence, when the family who gave hospitality to them moved to town for the weekend.

Naturally the prisoners of war Airoldi and Armati took a seat at the same table as Mr Bolte and family.

They were very much friends with the children, amongst whom was Graydon, who was then 7 years old only and became attached deeply to Airoldi and Armati.

The ties of the friendship with the Bolte family did not discontinue when the two Italian men returned to their country after the war.  The frequent correspondence through which the respective families communicated one another, merry or sorrowful news was never interrupted.

The father before giving consent for the long trip, made Graydon promise he would visit the Airoldi family.  But it was not necessary for him to promise, because in place of stopping in Rome in order to see the Olympic Games, Graydon came direct to “Portico” farm of Bagnatica, where Angelo Airoldi the prisoner of war took him on his knees.

In these days he is happy to be able to make the same friendship with the little daughter of his friend.  it appears to him to give back a piece of affection and fondness which he received when he was still a little boy, and of which he conserved a deeply very congenial remembrance.

 

 

 

Gift to Farmer

Angelo Capone’s gift to his employer and friend George Bury was an ornament he carved while in Cowra Prisoner of War & Internment Camp. It is a treasured Bury family memento from the time Italian prisoners of war lived on their Beerwah farm 1944-1945.

Rosemary Watt, daughter of George Bury has always wanted to know more about her dad’s eagle and the ringed insignia at the bottom. Angelo said that the ornament had been carved with a six inch nail as were the words: Cowra 21-4-42 Australia.

It wasn’t until Rosemary found a similar object in the Australian War Memorial that a more complete history of such objects was revealed.  The AWM relic is more expertly crafted as the pictures below attest, but the description reveals, ” The eagle is made from thin sheet lead or alloy taken from used toothpaste tubes.”

The Italian prisoners of war were resourceful and were known to repurpose and recyle items in the most unusual ways.  The cellophane belts made from the cellophane wraps from cigarette packets is another example of their resourceful abilities.

Fascist Eagle Desk Ornament

(Australian War Memorial Relic 33406)

Click on the link to read the description of the above Eagle from the Australian War Memorial

The Italian POWs left a number of reminders and/or political statements in the camps in Australia.  Italians made many statues at Hay PW Camp which included  the Colosseum, the she wolf with twins Romulus and Remus, an army tank and a fascist eagle sitting atop a plinth.

V-P-HIST-01881-16B.JPG

Statue of Fascist Eagle at Hay Prisoner of War Camp

Escaped to Queensland

In May 1947 there were 100 escaped prisoners of war in Australia: 4 German and 96 Italian. Interestingly 92 had escaped in 1946 (and 8 in 1947).

The background history is that the Italians were taken off farms late 1945/early 1946 and told that they would be going home ‘soon’.  It wasn’t until December 1946/January 1947 that the majority of POWs were repatriated.

For young men who had already given 8 years to military service and as a POW, thoughts of delaying a ‘start of a new life’ back in Italy versus starting a new life in Australia would have been debated. Some would have wanted to start their new life in Australia sooner than later and thought repatriation would be a waste of another two valuable years of their working life.

Four escaped prisoners of war ‘hid out’ in Queensland: Harry Lugsch (Innisfail), Alberto Bandiera (Ingham), Giovanni Brisotto (Poziers) and Giuseppe Volpato (Poziers).  The authorities advertised the escapes in government and police gazettes.

Lugsch Harry 1947

Victorian Police Gazette Special Circular No. 7

NAA:A373, 11638D, 1946-1952

The journey of Harry Lugsch is an interesting one.  He was one of the sailors onboard the German raider Kormoran which sank the HMAS Sydney on 19th November 1941.  The 318 Germans who survived were captured off the coast at Carnarvon WA. Harry was captured 23rd November 1941. Once interrogated at Harvey WA, they were sent to Murchison and then a satellite camp at Graytown.  On 14th November 1946, a group of 300 German POWs were detached to V20 Wallangarra Hostel on the Queensland – New South Wales border, to undertake: preventative maintenance on dead storage Army Vehicles, 8,00 ‘B’ Army vehicles held by Ordnance Service. Included in this group were motor mechanics, paint sprayers, electricians, oxywelders, engineers, steam power cleaners and power greasers from the Kormoran.  Harry Lugsch escaped from PWCH Wallangarra on 25th December 1946 and was recaptured 5th January 1948 at Innisfail.

Lugsch Harry

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

Another prisoner of war to escape to Queensland was Alberto Bandiera. He escaped from N31 Hostel Glenfield: Army Ordnance Depots and Workshops, Ordnance installation at Moorebank. He was one of 455 Italian POWs sent to this hostel in January 1946. Joe Devietti from Ingham explains:

“Ingham has another link to Italian prisoners of war because an escaped POW cut cane in Ingham. His name was Alberto Bandiera and he had escaped in September 1946 and surrendered in Brisbane February 1950. The police questioned dad [Giovanni Devietti] about this but he denied any knowledge.  Bandiera was repatriated on the ship which brought out my cousins to Brisbane Surriento. They arrived 23rd February 1950 and Alberto Bandiera was repatriated onboard on the 24th February 1950.   In time, he returned to Australia and worked at Peacock Siding. Bandiera wasn’t the only escaped POW the police were looking for.”  Alberto Bandiera returned to Ingham in February 1951 and eventually took up farming and settled at Birkdale Queensland.

Bandiera Alberto

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

On 8th January 1946, Giovanni Brisotto and Giuseppe Volpato escaped together from N31 Hostel Glenfield.  They made their way to Angelo Vedelago’s farm at Poziers (via Stanthorpe).  Giuseppe Volpato surrendered in Brisbane on 8th May 1950, in time to be repatriated to Italy on SS Surriento on 11th May 1950.

Volpato Giuseppe

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

Giovanni Brisotto on the other hand remained ‘at large’ until 22rd March 1951 and surrendered in Brisbane.  He was granted an Aliens Registration Certificate which allowed him to stay in Australia.  Giovanni Brisotto’s story can be read in Echoes of Italian Voices.  He made Poziers his home.

Brisotto Giovanni

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

By 1952, 13 Italian prisoners of war had escaped repatriation.  Department of Army referred the men to Department of Immigration and once surrendered they were issued with Alien Certificates of Registration.  Among this group were two Italian POWs who had worked on Queensland farms: Pietro Daidone (Q10 Boonah) who escaped from Middle Head Hostel and Ottavio Brancatella (Q1 Stanthorpe) who escaped from Applethorpe while the Stanthorpe POWs were awaiting transport to Gaythorne.

A Travesty…

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One of the questions often asked, is ‘why were the Italian POWs taken off farms to then sit idle in Prisoner of War and Internment Camps for over 12 months?’

Another often asked question is ‘how valuable was the contribution of the Italian POWs to agricultural production?’

The following ‘Letter to the Editor’ addresses both of these questions…

Italian P.O.W.

To the Editor

Sir- some of us can raise a lot of sympathy for those of the Indonesians who have co-operated with the Japanese but what of that poor underdog, the Italian POW? Six months ago two POW (Sicilians) assisted by an old man harvested, without tractor, 140 tons of hay, besides routine jobs of milking, tending sheep &c. One of these men was so outstanding that I left him in charge of my farm and took an extended rest in Melbourne.  On my return everything was in order – house painted, winter’s wood supply split and stacked, &c. On March 13 most POW were again barbed in, a precaution recognised as necessary before repatriation: but the call-up was because of AWU pressure.  Many are married and my two have families not seen for over six years.  Their greatest worry is the dreariness of the dragging days of enforced idleness after the free busy life on a farm.  War against Italy ceased 18 months ago, so maintenance of torture to men’s souls at this stage is a travesty of British justice. In spite of the AWU attitude, farm labor in the Naracoorte district is unavailable, through either the RSL and stock firms, and I am being forced off the land.  My neighbor has been without help since his POW was taken away, and was so run down that his doctor insisted on his going to the seaside with his wife and three children, leaving over 1,000 ewes uncared for in the midst of lambing.

I am, Sir, &c.

H.S. Naylor

Kybybolite S.E.

from Advertiser (Adelaide, SA: 1931-1954), Thursday 27 June 1946, page 8

For Queensland farmers, withdrawing Italian POWs from farms resulted in an acute shortage of workers for the summer harvest….

Disbandment Queensland

 

“FARMS HIT BY P.O.W. TRANSFER” The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954) 12 November 1945: 3. Web. 21 Oct 2018 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50269952&gt;.

Waiting to Go Home

With the war over, Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farms at the end of 1945 – beginning of 1946. With a sense of hope, they believed that they would be home in Italy within one or two months.  Many letters written to Queensland farmers from their ex POW workers talk of going home soon.

Reality was, that the majority of Italian prisoners of war were not repatriated until end of December 1946 – January 1947. Recalling 13,500 Italian prisoners of war into the POW and Interment camps came with logistical problems.  However, a number of Italian POWs were sent to army ordinance sites and training sites for a range of duties from ordinance maintenance, maintenance and improvements of camps, salvage work, vehicle maintenance.

N33 Hostel Nobby’s Road was one such site. Alan St John spoke with a number of Italians working there…

NOBBYS ITALIANS ARE NOT SO HAPPY

By Alan St. John

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW: 1876-1954), Saturday 28 September 1946, page 5

A TRUCKLOAD of red-uniformed Italians prisoners-of-war rolls westwards up Hunter Street.  They look interesting.  They smile, reveal flashing white teeth.  Their long, dark hair flicks with the wind and they seem carefree, even irresponsible.

To chat with the 36 Italians behind barb wire, I went to their camp at Nobbys this week.  They turned out to be interesting, but don’t let those happy smiles fool you.  They are not irresponsible.  These sallow-skinned Latins are worried men with a sterile past and a cloudy future.  About Christmas time they are due to go home.  They have to search for their people, to eat, to work and to seek stability in a country still heaving after the convulsions of war.

Corporal-major (an n.c.o. rank) Mario Dominelli has a thin face and steady, serious, dark eyes. He told me with emphasis: “We have nothing to be happy about.  We are penniless.  We have lost all our youth.  We will soon return to a strange home with 30 years and more on our shoulders to start with.”

Dominelli, 30, son of Milanese master carrier was impressed into the Italian Army three and a half years before the war.

There was no option about Dominelli’s becoming a soldier. Failure to attend the call-up would have resulted in a visit from a burly gendarme and possibly, in rough treatment.  The period of service was meant to be 18 months, but when war hove in sight, young men just were not released.

Dominelli served as a motor mechanic with tanks in Libya and was ‘caught’ by the Australian Desert Rats in 1941.  About two and a half years of his imprisonment he spent in India, but when Italy surrendered prisoners of war there were released on parole.  He had charge of 60 men.  When he came to Australia, he went behind barbed wire again.  He can not understand why, though it is all over now, he is still behind the wire.

“Australia is a fine country,” he said. “But I should be let out to see it.”

The serious Dominelli became graver at mention of his family. “My people – I have not heard of them for three years.”

ENGLISH LOOKING

A contrast to his fellows is Carlo Narboni, whose tall, straight figure, blonde hair, blue eyes and ruddy complexion could cause him to be taken for an Englishman.  A native of Tripoli, he was in the Italian army two years before the war, as an artilleryman.  He was one of thousands the Australians captured at Tobruk.

Narboni has seen something of Australia during his five years here, much of his time being spent on a farm at Coonabarabran.  Carlo is useful with his hands and, at Nobbys, has turned out an excellent carpenter.

Though his father and brother in Italy are trying to rehabilitate their big rope works in Padua, 27 – year-old Erminio Navarin, a Venetian who has been in uniform since 1938, wants to stay in Australia.  But arrangements to allow prisoners of war to remain here are still in the ‘talking’ stage, he has been told.  When he turned 18, Navarin failed to report for army service.  The breach cost his father a fine of about £7.

LITTLE MAN, BIG TRUCK

Another Nobbys prisoner attracted to Australian farming life is Gaetano Cavallaro, a 25-year-old native of Rovigo, near the ancient Italian city of Padua.  He has worked on farms at Murwillumbah and Tamworth.  Cavallaro, who was 18 when he joined the army, is only 5ft. 2 in tall and the camp dwarf.  He was driving a 35-ton Isooto Frashini army truck when he was cut off from his unit in Bardia.  He, too, was taken in charge by the Aussies.  He is keen to see his parents, four sisters and a brother, in  the town which he says is ‘something like Newcastle.’

At 46, Lorenzo Strambi, grey-haired and sombre, who entertains his Nobbys camp-mates with his guitar is a victim of circumstance.  Out of work, he left his native Genoa for Africa and became a quarry-worker in Addis Ababa.  War came; there was no transport to take him home so he was pushed into the army.  He has not seen his wife and 21 year old son for eight years, and this week he received a letter from his wife for the first time in four years.

GONDOLIER, TENOR

Nobbys other musical Italian is Crescenzio Catuogno who was a real Neapolitani gondolier.  His civilian job was to punt tourists around Naples Harbour in his gondola and, as an added attraction, entertain them with his fine tenor voice.

Nobbys Catuogno 3918936

Gondola Tenor: Crescenzio Catuogno standing at far right

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49305 E. Allunni; 46486 F. Palladino; 48249 G. Olivares; 46433 G. Polise; 49690 A. Rea; 45169 C. Catuogno. Front row: 49310 A. Argento; 49566 A. Di Pala; 49670 G. Joime; 45256 A. Ciancio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030148/10)

Marshalo (Warrant-Officer) Florentino left Nobbys recently with a nervous breakdown. [Domenico] Florentino was highly intellectual – a Bachelor of Economics, a chartered accountant, and holder of a first-class steamship master’s ticket.  The confinement of camp life got the better of his highly strung temperament, and he was sent south for special treatment.

Florentino failed to adapt himself to the life, as his comrades, who have worked out their own forms of expression. Some study trades, some read, and some make trinkets.  To finish off his cement garden ornaments, Angelo Fumagalli, even makes his own paint-oil mixed with soil, brick dust and pulverised Nobbys rock.  One of his creations is a model six-story building.

The prisoners go to Mass at Tighe Hill every Sunday.

Their food is good, and they make their own excellent macaroni.  In addition to a free ration of cigarettes (from a special fund), the Italians may buy six ounces of tobacco and three packets of papers a month.  They have their own currency: half pennies and pennies with their centres punched out, rated at 2/ and 5/. Pay for non-commissioned ranks is 1/3 a day.

But the prisoner of Nobbys are far from happy.  I don’t blame them. Carlo Narboni, the English-looking fellow, shrugs and explains: “Eat ees good here, and the capitani he is a gentleman.  But if you have been a soldier, you will understand: we have been away from home a too long time.”

Nobbys Florentino 3872124

Domenico Florentino: Happier Times at Liverpool Camp before he was transferred to Nobbys Camp

LIVERPOOL PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNMENT CAMP, NSW 1945-11-21. DOMINIC FLORENTINO (LEFT), THE CAMP LEADER, AND FORTUNATO PALLADINO, THE SECOND IN CHARGE OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR. LIVERPOOL PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNMENT CAMP, NSW 1945-11-21. DOMINIC FLORENTINO (LEFT), THE CAMP LEADER, AND FORTUNATO PALLADINO, THE SECOND IN CHARGE OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR.

(PHOTOGRAPHER L. CPL E. MCQUILLAN; AWM)

In their spare time…

What isn’t written into the records is how the Italian prisoners of war kept themselves occupied during their many hours of idleness.  It just wasn’t the hours spent on board the transport ships to India and Australia that needed filling, but also the Sundays on farms and the days and nights in Cowra, Hay and Murchison.

Snippets of information from newspapers, oral histories and letters, when combined with images from photos deliver an insight into the pastimes of our Italian POWs.

CARDS and BOARD GAMES My nonno taught me how to play card games.  I have always thought that this is how he wiled away his spare hours during the ‘slack’ in the cane cutting communities of north Queensland during the 1920s and 1930s.  Briscola and scopa are two Italian card games which no doubt the Italian POWs played while in Australia.  A newspaper photographer captured two Italians playing cards onboard the train taking them to Hay.  A pack of cards is portable and cheap.

Mention is made in a newspaper article of an ‘improvised draughts board’ carried by an Italian POW when he landed in Sydney. The draught pieces had been cut from broom handles. Official photos taken at Hay and Cowra, had Italian POWs playing chess and making chess sets (from lathes constructed by the POWs).

Italian POWs Playing Cards

(The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954) Thursday 16th October 1941, page 10)

EDUCATION and LANGUAGE CLASSES Costanzo Melino wrote that whilst in India, he attended Italian and English classes.  Having minimal formal education in Italy, he seized opportunities to undertake classes in Italian and English. It was considered imperative that POWs occupied their leisure time usefully and the policy was to provide opportunities for POWs to further their studies.  Libraries in the camps were established and canteen profits used to purchase additional text books relevant to courses undertaken. Books from overseas were allowed in the areas of banking and financial, medical, scientific, art, economics, music, agriculture, religion, trade and commerce as well as periodicals of a general literary nature.

METAL WORK CLASSES Rosemary Watt (Bury) is caretaker of a carved artefact made in Cowra by Angelo Capone.  Most like mass produced in a mould, the Italians then finished the carving with adornments of their choosing.  Interestingly, the Australia War Memorial has a similar arefact in their collection and one is left to ponder “how many other carved arefacts are their in homes in Australia and Italy?”

LEATHER WORK  Australian children recall the shoes and sandals made by their Italian POWs.  The leather would be produced from hides and crafted into practical items such as coin pouches, belts and footwear.  In POW group photos taken at Cowra, Hay and Murchison, many Italians can be seen wearing sandals, which were certainly not standard issue.

EMBROIDERY The origins of the elegant sewing prowess of Italian POWs is hard to locate.  Personal memories are that the Italian POWs had learnt the skill in India and embroideries completed by Italian POWs in India can be found from time to time on EBay. Two beautifully embroidered works are keepsakes of Colleen Lindley (a gift from Domenico Petruzzi to her mother Ruby Robinson of Gayndah) and Ian Harsant (a gift from Francesco Pintabona to the Harsant family of Boonah). An interesting interpretation of the word ’embroidery’ is offered by Alan Fitzgerald in his book ‘The Italian Farming Soldiers’. Used in letters written by Italian POWs,  the word ’embroidery’ was code  for ‘fascist propaganda’.

ART and MUSIC and PLAYS Musical performances and stage plays were performed in the camps.  The wigs of theatre as illustrated below were captured on film at Cowra.
V-P-HIST-01882-02.JPG

Cowra 12D 2 7.43 Wigs of Theatre V-P-HIST-01882-02

(International Committee for the Red Cross)

Instruments and art supplies were provided to Italian prisoners of war. The photo below shows a wall of the barracks at Hay which had been decorated as well as the musical instruments acquired for use by the Italians.  Furthermore, Queenslanders remember the mandolins, guitars and banjos that were played on the farms and Nino Cipolla has the music for songs his father Francesco notated while in Q6 Home Hill and Cowra PW & I Camp.

Hay.Art.Music

HAY, AUSTRALIA, 1943-09-09. GROUP OF ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR INTERNED AT NO.6. P.O.W. GROUP, WHO HAVE FORMED THEMSELVES INTO THE CAMP ORHESTRA.

(Australian War Memorial Image 030142/02)

Cowra Council have an interpretive display on a number of themes at various points around the precinct.  The Italians is once such display and under the title Members of the Family, the following is recorded: “Their great love of music, food and art endeared them to the community.  They formed bands and produced musical events which would attract local people to sit outside the camp and listen to their beautiful singing”.

FOOTBALL, TENNIS and BOXING

It is not surprising that just as football is a passion for Italians today, it was also a passion back in the 1940’s.  Group photos of Italian prisoners of war were taken in 1944, among them photos of the Football Teams.

Murchison.Football Team

MURCHISON, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA. 1944-05-20. SOCCER TEAM OF ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR OF NO. 13A COMPOUND, MURCHISON PRISONER OF WAR GROUP.

(Australian War Memorial: Image 066766)

Hay.Football

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Soccer teams from No. 15 Prisoner of War (POW) Camp lined up on the ground before commencement of play. All Italians, some have recently transferred from Hay. The match was played in temperatures over 109 degrees F.

(Australian War Memorial: Image 063921 Geoffrey McInnes)

Official photos in the Australian War Memorial collection also show the Italians playing tennis at Hay and boxing competitions at Cowra.

GARDENS and STATUES and FOUNTAINS  One would be hard put to find a piazza in Italy that doesn’t have a statue or fountain. Group photos taken at Cowra have the Italians seated in front of this prominent fountain.

V-P-HIST-01881-01.JPGo

Guerre 1939-1945 Nouvelle – Galls du Sud. Camp du Cowra Fontaine.

(International Red Cross V-P-HIST-01881-01)

Reflecting their history and culture, the Italians keenly constructed statues like the replica Colosseum  at Hay and just to the right of the photo is a tank atop a plinth. Italian POWs grew their own vegetables as is evident by the photo below. Between the barracks at Hay, gardens were dug and crops grown.   Ham Kelly told his grandson that the Italian POWs at Q6 Home Hill Hostel grew the most amazing vegetables outside their barracks.

Hay.Gardens.Statues

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. THE CRAFTSMANSHIP OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR IS ILLUSTRATED BY THIS GARDEN AT THE 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. NOTE THE MODEL OF THE COLISEUM IN THE FOREGROUND.

(Australian War Memorial Image 063365)

LETTER and JOURNAL WRITING

For the Italian POWs, there were two main regulations regarding the sending of mail:

Prisoners were not to send letters other than through official channels.

Prisoners were allowed to send two letters or two postcards or one letter and one postcard every week on approved Service of Prisoners of War Notelopes and postcards.

Unfortunately, postal services to and from Italy were unreliable. Italians became despondent at not receiving mail from family.  In a letter written by Giuliano Pecchioli, he writes on 12/1/45 that he was in receipt of his sister’s letter dated 3/6/1943.  Communication with family was difficult.  Before Christmas, POWs were given cards with Australian scenes to send home to Italy. Below is a page of a booklet of scenes produced for Christmas 1941.

Card 1941 Xmas

Di sotto la “cartolina” dell’YMCA distribuita per il Natale del 1941

(From the collection of Enrico Dalla Morra)

A number of journals survive, written by Italian soliders and prisoners of war.  For some Italians, it was a way of recording the events of the lives, over which they had little control.  From Tobruk to Clare  is the story of Luigi Bortolotti as recorded in his diary. The “Libbretta” of “Corporal Cofrancesco Umberto” is the basis for “Umberto’s War” . Recorded are details of his journey as a soldier and prisoner of war which took him to Australia.  Another journal “Diario di Guerra” by Francesco D’Urbano was found in  the sands of north Africa by an Australia soldier.  In time, the soldier asked the assistance of CO.AS.IT to trace D’Urbano.  Laura Mecca researched the Italian archives and found that he had spent time in India before returning to Italy.  A copy of the diary was presented to his wife.

CRAFT

While this photo is of Italian POWs in an Egyptian camp, it illustrates the type of craft work POWs engaged in and similar projects would have been undertaken in Australian camps.

NZ Italian Prisoners of War Craft Work

Italian prisoners of war with items of their carved handiwork at Helwan POW Camp, Egypt. One prisoner shown chiselling portrait features of a roundel. Taken 1940-1943 by an official photographer.

John Oxley Library from the collection of New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs Image DA-00736-F