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Fletcher Italian Prisoners of War
The orchards on the east side of the New England Highway at Fletcher are a distant memory. During the 1940’s the Horan’s Gorge Road was bordered by prosperous orchards owned by William Laird, Sydney Dent, John Barker and Henry Stanton. It was also a time when due to labour shortages, orchardists employed Italian prisoners of war.
Long gone, Shirley Stanton remembers clearly the crops grown by her father Henry Stanton. Her dad had almond trees growing as the bees were attracted to the blooms. These flowered first, attracting the bees which were needed to pollinate the fruit crops: quinces, nectarines, apples, apricots, plums and pears.
Shirley’s memories of those times are through the eyes of a four-year-old. To her, the Italians didn’t appear to belong to any one farm as there was movement between farms. Possibly during hectic harvests, the Fletcher workforce was fluid with Italians working on neighbours’ farms. The Stanton farm was the place for the POWs to congregate on a summer’s Saturday night to socialise and play cards. There was no harm done breaking the army’s rule that POWs from one farm were not to congregate with POWs from other farms as this isolated corner of the Granite Belt was away from prying eyes.
“Barney and Sav are the two men I remember with fondness. But I don’t know what their proper names were. Their accommodation was made with VJ walls. To keep the cold out, they lined the room with newspapers. At eye level, there was a border of comic strips like Ginger Megs. This was memorable, as was the washing area they made down at the creek. They dammed the creek with concrete to form a washing/swimming area. They also grew vegetables on a plot down near the creek and they carted water from this pool to their garden. I don’t remember any trouble. They came to our farm to play cards and would walk home before midnight. Mum must have told me this as I am sure I was fast asleep,” Shirley reminisces.
The Italians made an impact. Children learn new languages easily and Shirley, her twin brother Alan and older brother Peter, took to the Italian language. “My mother was horrified when Alan and I were reported for swearing. Once we were overheard saying ‘Basto, basto’. Basto means enough in Italian but a neighbour thought we were saying bastard, bastard. The misunderstanding was soon sorted out. Peter went to school speaking Italian, and the teacher made it clear to mum that he had to stop Italian and only use English. Off the top of my head I can remember ‘cavalli’ for horses,” Shirley recalls.
Other memories of those days are of the three pence chocolate the Italians would buy for the children, the army captain who would come out, very serious looking with a black and red hat and a stick under his arm and the rollies. Shirley says that the rollies were the best: pasta that were rolled into spirals filled with mince, fried and then served with a tomato sauce.
But the most poignant memory for Shirley is having to say goodbye to the Italians. “I was four years old and we took them to Applethorpe. Mum told me to say goodbye because they weren’t coming back home. They were like family. Mum was crying, I was crying,” remembers Shirley.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 45603 V. Esposito; 45011 S. Amato; 57534 G. Quintiliano; 45953 G. Lo Russo; 45930 V. Landriscina; 57254 C. Giannini; 49877 L. Miele. Front row: 57521 A. Vezzola; 46282 A. Merante; 45155 M. Coppola; 46863 V. Termine; 49732 S. Piccolo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial, Image 030173/14, Photographer: Geoffrey McInnes)
Fletcher Italian Prisoners of War
Pietro Sorvillo from Striano Napoli (R Dent)
Luigi Gesualdi from Panne Foggia (SH Dent)
Giovanni Di Pasquale from Vietri di Potenza (SH Dent)
Riccardo Zingaro from San Ferdinando di Puglia (WHC Laird)
Cosimo Giannini from San Ferdinando di Puglia (WHC Laird)
Angelo De Rosa from Fagnano Castello Cosenza (JC Barker)
Cosimo La Rosa from Palme Reggio Calabria (JC Barker)
Salvatore Miceli from San Marco Argentano Cosenzo (JC Barker)
Mario Salerno from Torrano Castello Cosenza (JC Barker)
Domenico Venditti Frosinone (H Stanton)
NB This list is not necessarily complete
I am reposting this article in memory of Angelo Valiante. Interviewing Angelo in 2017 was truly an honour. My sincere condolences to Angelo’s family. One of life’s true gentleman.
Angelo Valiante is well known in the Granite Belt of south-east Queensland for his contribution to the region.
He is so well respected that a mural by Guido van Helten was commissioned by the Stanthorpe Art Gallery in 2016 to celebrate his 73 year involvement in the community and his 100 year milestone.
Soon to turn 101, Angelo has also been captured on canvas for Jacques van der Merwe’s exhibition “New Arrivals” and his story is part of Franco and Morwenna Arcidiacono “Echoes of the Granite Belt” which details the history of Italians and their contribution to the area.
Life goes a little more quietly now for Angelo but a morning spent with him showed that he is a keen and animated story teller and willing to talk about some of his experiences as an Italian soldier in Libya, his treatment as a prisoner of war and his memories of incidents in Cowra and Q1 PWCC Stanthorpe.
What I learnt from Angelo was not only details of his journey as a prisoner of war. With a wily wisdom and experience that comes with being 100 years old, Angelo gave me much more than facts. I found out about determination, endurance and perspective. A youth stolen from him by war. Starvation and deprivation as a Mussolini soldier. Prejudice experienced as a migrant family in the 1950s. Success with hard work. Strong family connections. A proud legacy.
Carmel Peck (Dywer) from Boonah told me that her family’s Italian POWs enriched their lives. This reflection holds true on so many levels and for so many Queensland families who welcomed the Italian POWs.
After interviewing Angelo in September 2017, I can honestly and humbly say that Angelo Valiante has enriched my life.
Walking in his Boots: Angelo’s Prisoner of War Journey
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.
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.
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
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.
North Queenslander, Joanne Tapiolas, has been delving into the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland and slowly the stories and memories of this chapter in Queensland history have emerged.
Walking in their Boots incorporates the facts and the personal narratives from the ten districts where the POWs worked and lived. Queenslanders and Italians sharing their memories, artefacts, photos and letters have added a richness and diversity to this chronicle.
Walking in their Boots is a record of this history and a valuable reference to the background and context of Italian POWs in Australia.
Book now available
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Precis of Walking in their Boots
Over 1500 Italian prisoners of war, captured in the battlefields of North Africa, came to Queensland during World War 2. The Italians provided a much-needed workforce for farmers throughout nine south-east Queensland districts. Additionally, 250 Italians worked at the Commonwealth Vegetable Farm on the Burdekin River, to supply fresh produce to the north’s military forces.
Queensland farming families welcomed the Italians onto their farms and into their homes. A temporary refrain from life behind barbwire fences, friendships were forged, and lasting memories remain clear over seven decades later.
The Italian prisoners of war left their footprints in the landscape and in the memories of Queenslanders. Walking in their Boots traces the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland and tells the stories of a time when POWs worked on our Queensland farms.
Resourceful is an apt description of Mario Marino. A stone mason from Pentone Catanzaro, as a prisoner of war in Australia, he nominated his occupation as ‘bricklayer’, a more versatile job. Throughout his life, he continued to work with concrete, stone and bricks in the construction industry in Morwell Victoria owning his own business and operating as Marino Bros.
Among the first 2000 Italian POWs to be shipped directly from Libya to Sydney onboard Queen Mary, from Sydney he was trained to Hay. He travelled with two compatriots also from Pentone, Salvatore Tarantino and Graziano Mustari.
As a ‘skilled’ POW, Mario was put to work in construction at Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp. Put to work making clay bricks, Mario spent over two and a half years at Hay before being sent to Cowra. He also had experience in surveying and did surveying for clearing and road building while at Hay. Salvatore was sent to Murchison and then V4 Leongatha while Mario and Graziano stayed together in Cowra then Gaythorne. Their Queensland farm allocations had them sent in different directions: with Mario going to the farm of R Brown at Bapaume in Q1 Stanthorpe area and Graziano to Q3 Gympie area.
It appears that Mario’s resourcefulness had him reallocated to a Victorian farm in the V4 Leongatha area. Interestingly, Salvatore also was at V4 Leongatha at the time and they both spent time together at V22 Rowville.
Repatriated to Italy in January 1947, it wasn’t long before he married Marietta and made plans to return to Australia. He left Italy onboard the Toscano in June 1949 and his first son Antonio was born in July 1949. It would be three years before he would meet his first born child, when his wife and child arrived in Melbourne in 1953.
The Carmody family of Leongatha had been Mario’s POW employer and sponsored his return to Australia. Settling in Leongatha, Mario was joined by his brothers Giuseppe and Angelo. All three brothers worked at the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine in the latter part of 1951. Giuseppe drove the horse and cart which took coal out of the mine on railway lines, Mario was a seamer, lying on his stomach in cramped confines shovelling out the coal and Angelo would stack the coal tightly in the kibbles. Vince Moranti was a family friend who also worked with the Marino brothers in the coal mine.
Built between 1953 and 1954, the Traralgon Hospital construction site became Mario’s new workplace. Continuing working in construction and concrete, he then established himself as a concrete contractor and won council contracts such as footpath building. By 1954, Mario applied for naturalization and in 1955 his naturalization was reported in the newspaper.
Not forgetting his POW compatriots, Mario sponsored Salvatore Tarantino in 1955 and in 1956 Graziano Mustari also migrated to Morwell. Graziano however returned to Italy in 1964.
A growing migrant community in the district opened an opportunity for Mario to branch out into a food emporium in Church Street Morwell, selling salamis, coffee, cheeses and other continental goods. He diversified further by taking his shop to the farmers of the district and his children remember the box of juicy fruit chewing gum kept in the truck.
Returning to construction, Mario continued to work in the industry until his retirement. A supporter of the local football club, the Morwell community held him in high regard and he would always be asked to join the trainer and coach at home games.
And of those days as a prisoner of war, Mario told his family that as soldiers in the sands of Libya, Mussolini gave them little hope and only a pistol with one shot and a rifle with another. The soldiers were half starved and they didn’t have a chance. But his time as a prisoner of war in Australia opened the door to a new start in life for his family.
Resourcefulness and optimism were trademarks to Mario’s life.
Letters written by Italian prisoners of war are precious keepsakes for their Queensland families. Written after the Italians left the farms and before their repatriation, they ask about the children and the crops, the weather and news, and they talk of their time of departure from Australia. There are humble words of gratitude to the farming Queensland families and hints as the special friendships formed.
Claude Colley was an army interpreter at Q1 Stanthorpe and Q4 Gayndah. As an interpreter, he was a go between for the army and the Italians but his fair treatment was appreciated by the Italians as this letter, penned by Aldo Cerdini attests.
A special thank you to Adrian Azzari-Colley for sharing Cerdini’s letter and his father’s story.
Cerdini’s departure from Australia was just ten days after he wrote this letter to Claude Colley.
Dicembre 13th 1946
Being proxcimate to sail for Italy I wish to drop you a few lines to let you know that both I and Lewis are in the very best of health and trust this note will find you and your family the same. Yes, Claude, the time we have been longing for so many years has come and telling you the truth I am looking forward more than any word could express to see again the land of my birth and those whom I love.
I am fully aware of leaving a country where everything concerning the standard of life is by far easier than that I shall find in a country like Italy where a stressing poverty is continuing to increase after the outrages of so devastating a war. Anyhow this is my lot and I have to follow it whatever thing it may have in store for me. Have you been getting any mail from Gayndah of late? I heard from Mrs Quinn and her son a couple of weeks ago telling me they was all well and that Mr Quinn and his son are working out on the farm owing to the fact that they sold their shop just a few days before we left, you knew that, didn’t you? How are you getting on? And how is the weather like out there? Down here it is very trying and irksome, dusty and windy days as it was the Sahara desert. I am still with Lewis, Liscio, Caradonna, Carlucci and many others whom you knew while you were acting as interpreter and all of them wish you to be remembered for the very kind and human way you were use to deal with us. I hope you will drop me a few lines from time to time, even when I shall be in Italy. I think we shall set out on the 13th of next month but I couldn’t tell you the truth, anyhow we shall wait and see. I conclude my letter sending you on behalf of my friends and on my own our very best regards and the best of everything to you and your family from your fond friend
Aldo (Cerdini), Creatura Luigi, Liscio Marco