Category Archives: Q10 PWCC Boonah

Longevity and Letter Writing

life and lifelong connections

Dedicated to Ferdinando Pancisi

I would like to introduce you to 101 year old Ferdinando Pancisi. Ferdinando (Ferdy) has lived a full life; in more ways than one. Life events saw him journey from his home in Italy to Libya to Egypt to India to Australia and then home to Italy. Like the majority of Italian prisoners of war sent to Australia, they were absent from Italy for seven years.

Ferdy settled in the village of Civitella di Romagna with his wife Anna; both work in their small convenience shop. With age comes wisdom, and his sage insights were shared in 2017, when he was interviewed .

Longevity also relates to the duration of a special friendship between Ferdy and his Boonah family: The Dwyers. A bachelor, Pat Dwyer applied for prisoner of war workers and Ferdy was sent to his Fassifern farm. Ferdy left the farm on 2nd February 1946 and Pat Dwyer wrote to him soon after. And so began a correspondence that has continued through the decades. Ferdy’s response to Pat’s first letter is typed below…

(Letter courtesy of Tim Dwyer)

Ferdy’s first letter to Pat Dwyer was written on 11th February 1946. From the records it is known that Pauly and Peter were on the farm of Pat’s brother Jack and Nicola and Cosmo were on the farm of Mr TM McGrath.

Ferdy and Pat shared their family news throughout the decades. Pat’s wife Joie took on the role of letter writing after Pat died and then son Tim has taken on this role in recent years.

For over 73 years Ferdy and the Dwyer family have sent letters, cards and photos back and forth across the decades and across the miles. I would think that their situation might be unique.

Seventy three years is a long time: a special connection between farmer and Italian POW; a tangible link between two men from different walks of life; a personal history of war and friendship; a heartwarming story of Ferdy and the Dwyer family; a connection that goes beyond the backdrop of war.

a unique friendship in many ways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memories in Concrete

Memories in Concrete

When I started this project, I had a firm belief that there was concrete evidence of the presence of Italian POWs in Queensland. John Oxley Library holds three photos of Italian POWs at Bill Beattie’s farm at Calico Creek via Gympie.  I hoped to be able to add to this collection and my aim was to find the POWs ‘footprints’ and photos seemed the obvious records to survive seven decades.

So Pam Phillip’s photos of the concrete footings for a windmill on her father, Ron Niebling’s farm at Moorgoorah were ‘footprints’ I didn’t expect to see.  But there they are, footprints captured in concrete.

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Footprints of Giuseppe Miraglia Enna Sicilia 25.10.1945 Moogarah

In  the good times, plentiful rain keeps the Moogoorah Lake full but in drought, as was the case in 1995, the lake offers up its secrets and treasures.

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Footprints of Ron Niebling 24.10.45 Moogarah

Special Memories

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.

Rosewood Xmas 1944 Rackley Family -

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”.

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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]

A Beautiful Lesson of Life

Vale: Ian Roderick HARSANT

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. 

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Ian Harsant and Joanne Tapiolas : Warrill View 13th July 2017

*** 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.

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 Francesco Pintabona, Ian Harsant and Salvatore Mensile or Vincenzo Nocca

(from the collection of Ian Harsant)

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

Italian Family Needs Boonah’s Help

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.

 Morello India - Copy

Pietro Pepe, unknown, Salvatore Morello c. 1942

British POW Camp in India

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 joannetappy@gmail.com  Further information on the research project can be found at italianprisonersofwar.com

 

 

 

 

Home on the Farm

1944

Prisoner of War Quarters on Queensland Farms

Living arrangements for the Italian POWs who worked on Queensland farms were inspected and approved by the commanding officer of the Prisoner of War Control Centre.  Recollections of Queenslanders mention a variety of living arrangements for the Italians ranging from: sleeping on the verandah in the farmer’s house, sleeping in quarters built within a shed or barn, self contained cottages which had previously been labourers’ quarters and a stand alone building specifically constructed for the POWs. One of the excluded arrangements was ‘living in tents’. Please keep in mind that the buildings below are over 70 years old and no longer used as accommodation.

Some of the quarters still stand and continue to be reminders of those days.

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 Ol’ Goat Shed at the Boatfield Farm Amiens via Stanthorpe

(photo courtesy of Paula Boatfield)

Herbert William Boatfield’s farm was situated at Amiens and the farm had been Soldier Settlement plots of 55 acres.  Records show that he employed Andrea Lapa from Barletta Bari and Luigi Gardini Catanzaro. Paula Boatfield says that the shed was later used for angora goats, hence the nickname for the building.   Paula relates, “On our property is a building that we affectionately call the ol’ goat shed, because when Brett’s parents worked the property as a working orchard, they also had angora goats who lived in the goat shed and yards attached to it. The eastern wall of the ol’ goat shed has three doors (see photo) and the story was that when the Italian POWs were working on Harslett farm (our neighbour), when the authorities would visit the farm the POWs would come up here to our place and three of them each had a room in our ol’ goat shed. I don’t know how true this story.”

Prisoner of War Hut on the Sauer Farm Upson Downs outside of Gayndah

(photos courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Colin Sauer had two farms: Upson Downs and Bananpan across the river. This cottage is situated on Upson Downs.  Documents record that he employed Antonio Iaccarino, a barber from Mondo di Procido; Giovanni Farina, a farmer from San Giovanni a Teduccio Napoli; and Fortunato Franco, a mason from Bovalino Reggio Calabria.  Due to its historical significance, Colin’s grandson, Colin Wenck stands steadfast that the cottage will not be pulled down.

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Workers Cottage at the Harsant Farm Warrill View via Boonah

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Roderick Harsant’s farm is at Warrill View via Boonah.  Francesco Pintabona from Taviano Lecce; Domenico Masciulli from Palmoli Chieti; Salvatore Mensile from Siracusa Sicily; and Vincenzo Nocca from Modica Ragusa all spent time at the Harsant farm.  Roderick’s son Ian says that the cottage used to be on the banks of the creek which is prone to flooding.  To preserve this special link to Francesco Pintabona, Ian had the cottage moved and raised to protect it from future flooding.  Ian’s grandson Jack muses,

“If only walls can talk!”

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Janette and Dorothy Jones in front of Prisoner of War Accommodation

at Rural Retreat Severnlea 2018

(Photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

From Official Records

It is important to note that independent representatives eg Red Cross visited the POW camps and also the accommodation on farms. Reports were written and in March 1944, farm accommodation in N2 PWCC Parkes and N5 PWCC Canowindra were visited.  Italian POWs had been working on these farms for six months. Extracts from this report follows:

This farm has one prisoner of war. It has a maisonette with electric lights The bedroom includes an iron bed, a mattress, a pillow, pillow cases, bed sheets and four blankets. The room is furnished with a dresser, a chair and a rug. The prisoner takes his showers in the farmer’s house. He take all his meals with the farmer’s family.

This farm has two prisoners of war. They are lodged in a tin shack, lit by the oil lamp. The bedding includes wooden beds, mattresses, pillows, bed sheets and four blankets each. The hut is furnished with a table and stools. The meals are taken in the same house where a wood furnace is installed. Ablutions are done at the laundry.

This farm employs two prisoners of war. They are housed in a separate maisonette, including a bedroom and a veranda. The room is furnished with stools and shelves. The light is electric. The bedding includes wooden beds, mattresses, pillows and four blankets each. Ablutions are done at the laundry. Meals are taken with the farmer’s family.

This farm employs three prisoners of war. They have a small house furnished with tables, stools, cupboards and oil lamps.  The bedroom had iron beds, mattresses, pillows and four blankets each.  The ablutions are made in the kitchen of this house.  The meals are taken in a little room in this house.

The conclusion of the report includes recommendations:

In general, we have found that prisoners of war enjoy working on private farms. Their lodgings varies according to the possibilities of each employer, but the food is  good and abundant, and the relations between the employers and the prisoners of war are cordial.

Problems of language are difficult, with employers only knowing English, and prisoners of war generally making little progress in the study of that language.

We believe, therefore, that Prisoners of War have a great need for Italian books and periodicals. However, it is not possible to procure them in Australia now. We have taken this up with the Apostolic Delegate who, while assuring us of his entire sympathy, informed us that he saw no way of finding Italian books on the spot.

We have obtained from the Red Cross 150 English periodicals which we have sent to the centres of Parkes and Canowindra. On the other hand, the National Secretary of the YMCA  has just informed us that he has placed at our disposal 500 English periodicals to be distributed in the centres of control in Victoria. This effort will be continued, and we hope to be able to provide illustrated English periodicals in all Australian control centres.We have also consulted the Military Authorities, who have given their approval that small libraries of these illustrated periodicals be set up in each control centre.

Another important problem concerning Italian prisoners of war is that of family news. Indeed, in recent months, the number of letters received from Italy is extremely low. We offered our services to the prisoners of war to forward any request for family news.

Mittagong, 27 May 1944 (NAA: A989)

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Schulz Farm Image Flats via Nambour

(photo courtesy of Martin Schulz)

 

 

 

 

Buon Natale

A POW Christmas

Tracing the footsteps of the Italian prisoners of war in Australia is not just about dates, names and numbers. It is about everyday life in a Prisoner of War & Internment Camp, a Prisoner of War Control hostel or on a farm in the outback.

At this special time of the year, I have looked for glimpses of what a Christmas was like for the Italian POWs in Australia.

Christmas 1943

Special Christmas concessions were authorised on 17th December 1943 which applied to German and Italian prisoners of war in camps, labour detachments and hostels.  Initial arrangements were made for German POWs with reciprocal arrangements for Australia POWs in Germany, but this later extended to the Italian POWs.

The concessions were:

  • Service orders and Camp Routine be relaxed in the discretion of Camp Commandants on Christmas Eve and on Christmas day
  • That extension of hours of lighting be permitted on Christmas Eve.
  • Facilities be provided for decoration of living quarters, mess rooms etc.
  • That the maximum quantity of beer to be supplied to each P.W. be one pint on Christmas Eve and one pint on Christmas day.
(AWM52 1/1/14/6 November – December 1943)

Italian collectors of military postal history identify the Kangaroo Postcard below, as being distributed to POWs in Australia by the YMCA for Christmas 1943. These postcards gave family members in Italy a glimpse into life in Australia.

1943 Natale

( from http://forum.aicpm.net/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2515)

Christmas Wishes from Q6 Hostel Home Hill

Giuseppe Grimaldi was 24 years old when he wrote Christmas wishes to his mother from the banks of the Burdekin River via Home Hill.  A mechanic from Lucera Foggia he had arrived at Q6 Hostel on 15th September 1944.

How different his Christmas on an isolated farm surrounded by bush with its tropical and humid weather would have been compared with his home of Lucera with its Roman amphitheatre and medieval castle.

3-12-1944

Cara madre,

… I send many kisses for my brothers Antonio and Mario. And to you many kisses and hugs from your son Giuseppe.  Best wishes for a Holy Christmas.

(letter courtesy of Reinhard Krieger)

Christmas on Queensland Farms 1944 and 1945

From the Boonah district, Judith Lane (nee Rackely) remembers,

Rosewood was where we celebrated Christmas in 1944.  Mum, Daddy, me, my two sisters and Domenico and Frank travelled to Rosewood.  The photo of Domenico and Frank was taken then.  Mum must have ironed Domenico’s clothes because his pants have a crisp crease down the centre of the legs.  Frank’s uniform hung off him.  While the uniforms consisted of a tunic jacket and tailored pants, they were red, the term used was magenta and they were made of wool.  Not really suited for farming during a hot Queensland summer.

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Domenico Masciulli and Francesco Pintabona Rosewood Christmas 1944

(from the collection of Judith Lane (nee Rackley)

Neil Buchanan at Redslopes Goomboorian via Gympie wrote in the farm diary,

Dec 25 1945 Xmas Day. Made presentation of watches to POWs.

Percy Miles at Mooloo via Gympie wrote,

On Christmas day 1945, we spent the day with Ross and Edna [Erbs at Mooloo].  When we arrived home at nine o’clock that night, the prisoners were celebrating Christmas, the P.O.W’s for miles around were here, there must have been 30 of them, they had an His Masters Voice gramophone playing music, they were singing and dancing on the concrete floor, all wearing hobnail boots, they were having a great time I suspected there was more than one still made.

Camillo Vernalea who had worked on Stan Marshall’s farm at Wooroolin via Kingaroy, wrote in a letter to Stan about his 1945 Christmas at Gaythorne PW & I Camp:

28-12-45

Dear Stan…  This Christmas for us it was one of the worst we had in our life but your good thoughts comforted us a lot and the cake was well enjoied by me, Michele and some others of my best friends who appreciated high goodness of you.

(extract from We Remember by Dorcas Grimmet)

Christmas Loveday Internment Camp No. 10 

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Johann Friedrich Bambach was interned at Loveday Internment Camp 10 and he captured the everyday life of his internment with a number of watercolours.  The artwork above is entitled Christmas Eve in Camp Loveday.  His grandson Ralph Guilor together with Peter Dunn at ozatwar.com feature a number of Bambach’s watercolours.

Buon Natale

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