Walking in their Boots in now an eBook.
Published through kobo.com copies are now available for purchase.
At present Walking in their Boots is only available in English.
Read more about the book: Walking in their Boots
15.7.42 to 9.7.18
It was on Ian’s Warrill View farm that I felt closest to this history. Ian walked me back to 1944 and introduced me to his playmates: Francesco Pintabona, Salvatore Mensile, Vincenzo Nocca, Domenico Masciulli.
Through Ian, I could see Ian as a toddler sitting on Frankie’s shoulder, I could hear the Italians singing to the strumming of a mandolin, I caught a glimpse of Domenico walking through the paddocks from Cyril Rackley’s farm and I could feel the emotion and nostalgia of those days.
I met Ian in July 2017 after many phone calls and discussions about this history. We continued our conversations, as Ian honestly understood my passion for this history and the importance of recording it. With his dry sense of humour and gravely voice, Ian taught me much about life and family.
Ian was taken too soon from his family.
My sincere condolences to Carmel and family.
*** I have reposted this story, in memory of Ian Harsant***
The emotionally moving story of Frank and Ian is a special story of a friendship between an Italian POW and an Aussie toddler that spans over seven decades.
Ian Harsant’s life-long friendship with Francesco Pintabona, an Italian POW stationed at Boonah is a beautiful story of a little boy’s memory of his Italian friend and his search to find him in the post war chaos. Letters were exchanged but rarely received and contact was lost. By the time Harsant found any news of Pintabona, he had passed away 20 years previous.
Francesco Pintabona of Taviano, Lecce was captured in Bardia. He came to the Harsant farm, Warrill View Boonah 4th August 1944. Records indicate that he was evacuated to 67 ACH 8th December 1945 and then moved to Gaythorne 27 December 1945, which is probably the reason why Harsant has no memory of saying ‘goodbye’ to his friend.
Ian Harsant as a toddler called him Hank, short for Frank and many childhood photos are of Frank and Ian. Photos taken by Ian’s mother capture memories of a day’s work on a farm and a lifelong bond. Frank and Ian’s friendship was special as Di Morris wrote: “Little careful acts were noticed, like putting his (Frank) own handkerchief over the boy’s face when the flies were bad. Once he even rushed him back to the farmhouse for a nappy change when it became obvious he had soiled his pants…There was another language they shared; the language of lollies, cordial and biscuits which Frank obtained with his little friend in mind when he patronised the visiting truck from Boonah with his small POW wage”. (Morris, 2015)
Ian reflects that the Italians were non-Fascist, fit and healthy. Not one to wax lyrically, Ian recalls an incident between his dad and Santo Murano, who had been transferred from Frank Sweeney’s farm to Warrill View. Roderick Harsant was a firmer boss than Sweeney. The incident involved a lot of shouting and a threatening lifting of a shovel toward the farmer. Mr Collins, the officer in charge of the Boonah centre was called. On Santo’s record in June 1945, is the awarding of 28 days detention: conduct prejudicial to good order, no doubt for this incident. There were other Italians who worked on the farm but they were a good mob. Domenico Masciulli was billeted with Ian’s uncle Cecil Rackley but then went to Warril View when Rackley died toward the end of 1945. Salvatore Mensile and Vincenzo Nocca worked for Wallace Roderick another relative who lived a couple of mile away and either visited Frank or also worked on the Harsant farm.
Memories of music are paired with this time in Ian’s life. The Italians were musical. Domenico had a mandolin and Sundays, their day of rest, was the time you would hear them singing and the mandolin being played. Sunday was the day the Italians from the farms around would get together.
Ian Harsant’s journey to find Frank, culminated in being in contact with Fausto Pintabona, a relative of Frank. Fausto summed up Ian and Frank’s friendship as ‘a beautiful lesson in life’.
Watch the video to hear more about Ian and Frank.
Written and produced by Billy Jack Harsant
Tim Dwyer had heard his father’s stories about the Italian prisoners of war on their property at Aratula during WW2. He knew their names and a little bit about them, but it wasn’t until he took over from his mum, as letter writer to one of the POWs, that he appreciated the bonds of friendship formed over 65 years before.
Tim continued to write to Ferdinando Pancisi (known as Ferdy) from 2010 but the ceasation of replies from Italy in recent years signalled the end of a era.
In a tribute to his parents and Ferdy, Tim while on holiday in Italy in 2017, decided to visit Ferdy’s village Civitella di Romagna. With an envelope in his hand and very basic Italian, Tim asked a lady in the street for directions to the address written on the paper.
With much gesticulation and explanation, Tim’s village guide understood he was “The Australian” and knocked on a door and roused 100 year old Ferdy.
Finding Ferdy was like finding treasure and Tim left Civitella di Romagna with a heavy heart. There was much he wanted to say and questions he wanted to ask but his holiday schedule and language were against him.
Realising the importance of capturing the memories and stories of Ferdy, not only of his time with the Dwyer family, but also his time as a soldier and prisoner of war, Tim engaged the services of Tammy Morris, a Kiwi living in Tavarnelle, Chianti.
The legacy of friendship between an Italian POW and the Dwyer family, is the capturing and recording of this vital first hand account of the life of an Italian soldier and POW. Read the full story: PANCISI Ferdinando.
Tammy and her husband Nicola Cianti arranged to visit Ferdinando, tape his memories, transcribe them then translate them. Tammy said, “Ferdinando has an extremely fresh memory and is an energetic and jovial person!”
Ferdy walked back in time and explained about his time as a soldier and medic in Libya, his capture, working in the hospital in a POW camp in India, his first impressions of his farm boss (Tim’s father), his return home and almost emigrating to USA and Ferdy sang SOTTO IL CIEL DI BANGALORE.
Ferdy reflected about his return to Italy in 1947,
“They prepared my bed, heated it up for me. I had a warm welcome, felt cozy, happy to be home. The only problem was that when I woke up in the morning, I felt kind of out of place! I was used to moving around and seeing the World. How was I going to make it here? I was feeling a bit like a fish out of water! This little village was too small for me!”
Even as a young man, Ferdy had a gift for wise words and in a letter he wrote to Pat Dwyer in 1946, he sends a message: ‘A cheer up to Pauline! Tell her she should be glad because youthness passes away like a wind and nobody can’t stop it’.
When talking about Tim and Cathy’s unannounced visit, Ferdy’s philosophy on life is revealed: “You see, this is the joy of living life -when you don’t know what kind of surprise is coming your way, making each day a pleasure”.
And quite possibly Ferdinando Pancisi’s philosophy and positivity guided him through those difficult war years.
I congratulate Tim on his efforts to co-ordinate a remarkable mission to capture Ferdy’s memories. I thank also Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti for realising the importance of Ferdy’s journey as a soldier and prisoner of war and their willingness to record this history.
Luigi Tommasi is researching his grandfather’s journey as an Italian soldier and prisoner of war during WW2 and his search has brought him to Boonah.
Luigi’s grandfather Salvatore Morello together with Pietro Pepe, both from Castri di Lecce were captured in the Battle of Bardia: 3 – 5th January 1941. Together on 29th July 1944, they were sent to the Q10 Prisoner of War Control Centre for allocation to farm work.
Their first placement was on the farm of G. Bartholomew. In the first week of September 1944, both men were sent to the Boonah Hospital. It is possible that Salvatore and Pietro were reassigned to another farmer after their release from hospital.
Luigi remembers, “My grandfather said he had worked at a large farm in Boonah, which used the tractor to reap the hay and a horse to gather the cattle. If I remember correctly the horse was white, to which he was very fond of. His work also included milking dairy cows and raising cattle, sheep and pigs. He also told us that the owner of the farm was lame.”
Salvatore’s time on Boonah farms was barely eight months as due to ongoing medical issues and chronic appendicitis he returned to Hay Prisoner of War Camp and further hospitalisation. “My grandfather spoke with fondness about his time working on Australian farms, I always thought that he was on farms for much longer. I think he was well treated because he had good memories. We had no idea where in Australia he was sent, but with thanks to Joanne Tapiolas, we now know this place was Boonah,” Luigi said.
Salvatore and Pietro spent three years in POW Camps in India and the only photos of Salvatore and Pietro during their time as prisoners of war were taken in India. Possibly the photo above combined with Salvatore’s memories of farm life, might jog the memories of a few Boonah locals.
Luigi has contacted researcher Joanne Tapiolas, to assist him with his quest. “This journey is an emotional one for Salvatore’s daughter, Antonia. Her father left home in 1939 and did not return until 1947. Eight years, is a very long time for a little girl. Helping Luigi and Antonia is an extension of the research project into the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland. There is an increase in the number of people in Australia who are tracing their family history, so it comes as no surprise that Italian families are also interested in the history of their family members,” explains Tapiolas.
If Boonah locals can assist Luigi Tommasi in any way, Joanne Tapiolas can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org Further information on the research project can be found at italianprisonersofwar.com
I was five years old at the time, but I have clear memories of the time when Domenico Masciulli lived and worked on our farm at Radford via Harrisville. I was the chatterbox in the family; my eldest sister Judith was at school and my youngest sister Diana was a baby, so I think I had more time around and with Domenico than my sisters.
Christmas 1944: we went to Rosewood to be with my grandparents. With my dad having cancer, this was to be his last Christmas. Domenico and Frank (Uncle Roddie’s POW) were loaned a vehicle so that they could also join us there. The family photo captures those present: ‘The Hardings’ all my mother’s family and Domenico and Frank. This was our last family photo taken with daddy; a special photo.
Christmas 1944 Harding Family Rosewood
Standing: Bill Harding, Joyce Harding, Alice Harding, Connie Isles, Tom Isles, Margo McMillian, Robert McMillan, Edith Rackley (Mum), Judith Rackley (to the front), Cyril Rackley (Daddy), Diana Rackley (Baby) Francesco Pintabona, Domenico Masciulli, Dugald McMillan
Seated: Gran Harding with baby Nancy Harding, Alan Harding, Grandad Harding, Helen Rackley
(Photo courtesy of Helen Mullan [nee Rackley])
Daddy had a small crops farm with some cows for cream which we sold. Our farm produced corn, lucerne, pumpkins, potatoes, watermelons, cream melon or Indian Cream I think they were called, carrots, beetroot, peas and tomatoes. Daddy also had bee hives, so we always had honey.
Domenico’s lodgings was referred to as the ‘worker’s hut’. It was similar to one on my Uncle Roddie Harsant’s farm and was probably a standard worker’s hut. I remember Domenico sitting on the step and me looking into a small room with a bed; being told not to go into the hut and being a little five year old, that’s most likely all I could see. There was always a farm hand on our property, Mum used to say she always had work men to feed.
Domenico was like part of the family and ate with us. Judith first, then while she was at school, I took the smoko, which was a billy of tea, cake or biscuits down to the men in the paddock, morning and afternoon. The most memorable meal we had with Domenico and Frank who was at Uncle Roddie’s farm, was a Sunday lunch. We were all going to Church. Mum had a Rolled Beef Roast cooking, however Domenico asked if he could cook spaghetti for us as the canteen van had called that week and a box of spaghetti was purchased, the size of a half bushel case. Domenico asked mum for a big vessel to cook the spaghetti. Mum got him a saucepan. NO, not big enough to cook the spaghetti; so out came the boiler and off we went to church. On arriving home, Domenico and Frank were in the backyard cooking the spaghetti in the copper. Mum was flabbergasted!
Those plates coming out to the table still stay vividly in my memory…. piled high. Spaghetti, tomato sauce with slices of Roast Beef and topped with cheese. The following day Domenico was really sick, but he wouldn’t have it that he ate too much spaghetti. There began my love of spaghetti. He taught us how to use a spoon and fork to eat it and this I have passed down to my children and grandchildren.
The only words I can remember Domenico teaching us were ‘forchetta’ – fork which he used while teaching us to eat spaghetti; ‘bambina’ – baby, which Di was; and ‘bicheralia’ – he used when singing Di a lullaby. Di called him ‘Manny’, part of ‘Domenico’ I guess. She was only 22 months old when we parted.
Before he left the farm, Domenico gave me the needlework of “Madonna and Child”. He had painstakingly worked on a men’s handkerchief, when in a prison camp in India, I believe. It was kept folded in an envelope for many years. It is my special treasure, a reminder of Domenico, and I felt I needed to share this treasure with everyone, so I had it framed. It has pride of place in my China Cabinet. You can see that is a combination of needlework and drawing with a painted background. I have often wondered if he ran out of cotton as there are sections which have not been embroidered like the feet and the arms of the angel. It looks like he copied the image because you can see his pencilled in grid pattern. As an adult, I reflect upon what it must have been like in the POW camp in India and the hours he spent embroidering this “Madonna and Child”.
Madonna and Child: Domenico Masciulli
(courtesy of Helen Mullan [nee Rackley])
Other memories I have are of Domenico giving me an Italian coin and Salvital. I treasured that coin which was about the size of a threepence, but over my childhood, I lost it. Salvital was another first for us. It was available on the Canteen Van. Domenico would give us a drink now and then, not with chilled and iced water like it is used today though. There is also a letter that Domenico wrote to mum after he left the farm. I found it in mum’s paperwork but for the time, it is ‘lost’.
Domencio shared a special Christmas with my family. The photo of this Christmas in 1944 together with Domenico’s needlework gift to me, are fond reminders of the time our Italian prisoner of war worker lived on our farm.
Helen Mullan [Rackley]
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
$25.00 plus postage and handling
English version only
For further details and to place an order:
contact Joanne Tapiolas e. email@example.com
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.
Benedetto Ierna or better known as Uncle Berto, was 23 years old when he was captured at Alan Tumar on 9th December 1940. A barber from Floridia, Siracusa he was a soldier in the Engineers Corps when captured and was sent to India until April 1944.
Within 10 weeks of his arrival in Melbourne on board the Mariposa, he was being taken by army truck to the farm of Kelly Bros. at Silverdale, Harrisville together with Giuseppe Venturelli. The policy of the day was for the placement of Italian prisoners of war in groups of two or three.
Berto had journeyed from Melbourne through Cowra then Gaythorne and then to the Q10 PWCC at Boonah. More than likely, the barber mentioned in this article below from the Queensland Times, 13th July 1944, was Berto. While a barber by trade, he had learnt a number of skills as a soldier in the Engineers Corps. Berto arrived at Bill Kelly’s farm on the 10th July 1944.
P.O.W. Worker “A Barber Too!”
Italian prisoners-of-war now are arriving in the Fassifern district and are being placed on the farms. The Lieutenant-in-Charge reports some amusing incidents. Two Ps.O.W. were placed on the farm, one of whom could speak fairly good English. He was a carpenter, had some knowledge of machinery &c., and appeared to be a good man, although only a handful (English words). When handing the men over, the Lieutenant said, “Mr -! You should have a good man here. He is very handy with the tools.” The P.O.W. heard him and coming to attention saluting said, “I am a barber, too, Sir.” The farmer in question had been busy for the past fortnight and had not taken time off for a shave.
Berto was a strong short man who was a hard worker. He was known for being able to run a distance with a sack of potatoes on his back and continue to do this until the truck was loaded. He was grateful for the hospitality of Bill Kelly and his sister Kate and never saw any reason to escape. Working on the farm returned to Berto a sense of dignity and self-worth.
There are stories of Bill Kelly loaning a bike to Berto so he could go to the movies in Kalbar and most probably also civvies as these types of activities was against the regulations . The Kelly’s treated Berto like a son and arranged to sponsor Berto to return to Australia. In a show of good faith in Berto, the Kelly’s offered sponsorship also for Berto’s brother Antonino.
Such was Berto’s personality, locals like Laurie Dwyer remembered Berto as ‘the young fellow who returned after the war and would say, I not work as a POW, I work as a free man now’.
The Boonah district continued to hold a special place in Berto’s life. While he owned a barber shop on St Paul’s Terrace, he also was reported to own, in partnership with Dudley Surawski, a house in Clumber, Kalbar when it burnt down in December 1953. It might have been here that Berto grew a crop of tobacco which was destroyed by floods.
Uncle Berto continued to touch base with the Kellys and the Boonah district. Joe Indomenico, nephew of Berto remembers the visits to Silverdale. The family would take a day trip out to Kelly’s, with Uncle Berto shooting for quails and the children riding ponies. And Bill Kelly would come and visit Berto in the Valley. He would come in for the Ekka, park his car at the house and walk to the Ekka grounds.
Those early days as a migrant was a time when sacrifices had to be made. Berto rented his barber shop, but would sleep on a layer of newspapers in the back room. Finances did not stretch to the rent of a shop and rent for a residence. In time, he bought the shop and then the row of shops and today, his son Carmelo is planning to develop the site.
With an ability to turn his hand to different ventures , Berto would buy up houses in the Valley which were part of land resumption for the building of the freeway. He would buy the houses, have them cut in half and then remove them to blocks of land out Kilcoy, Helidon and Esk way.
While Berto might have been far away from Italy and ‘home’, he made his Brisbane residence a family hub. The house on the corner of St Paul’s Terrace and Julia Street was home to Berto, his wife and son, but it also became a home to others. At one stage for about 18 months, 12 – 14 members of the Ierna extended family lived there. Berto lined up a job for brother-in-law Salvatore at the Nanda pasta factory at Norgate. A job was found at the Jubilee Hotel on St Paul’s Terrace for brother Antonino. St. Paul’s Terrace was an Italian community hub as well. Mama Luigi’s was a Valley institution serving up generous servings of pasta. There was a saying in those days, that if the men didn’t like the meal which had been prepared, then the wife would say, “if you don’t like it, then go to Mama Luigi’s.”
As an Italian prisoner of war and migrant, Berto’s life is linked to the Boonah district. It was as a prisoner of war in the district that Berto realised the opportunities that Australia could offer. As a migrant, he turned his dreams into reality. He started a barber shop, he bought commercial property, he had a house painting business and he turned his hand to a house removal and relocation business. He was industrious and entrepreneurial. On a visit to Kalbar in 1976, Berto suffered a stroke. Rushed to Brisbane, he died aged 59 years.
A man with a big personality who was not afraid of taking risks and making sacrifices, Berto Ierna left a legacy centring on the importance of family and seizing opportunities.
Benedetto Ierna’s extended family blame their Uncle Berto… for being captured… for being sent to Australia as a POW…. But most importantly, for their own life in Australia.
Ogni cosa ha cagione