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.
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Maxina Williams from the Buderim Garden Club has brought to light information about Italian prisoners of war in Buderim during World War 2. While undertaking research for a book for the Buderim Garden Club, Maxina has linked a “well known landscape designer, author, artist, photographer and conservationist, Edna Walling” to “a little house in Buderim which once housed Italian POWs”.
Maxina writes, “Edna purchased the cottage, known as “Bendles”, which she considered ideal for her requirements. Bendles has an interesting history, having originally been built during the Second World War by the Beamish family as a hut to house three Italian prisoners of war who were working on their farm. After the war it was moved to its present location on the corner of Quiet Valley Crescent and Lindsay Road and renovated”.
According to the records, HE Beamish from Buderim had three Italian POWs work for him. Sebastiano Fresilli, Tommaso Mallozzi and Nicola Evangelista arrived on the Beamish farm on 3.3.44.
Additionally, another story emerges from the past. Nicola Evangelista was 28 years old when he died at Q2 Nambour Centre, Sydney Street on 30 April 1945. His burial took place at Nambour Cemetery 1 May 1945, attended by Captain Ryan and Evangelista’s employer Mr HE Beamish.
A farmer from Cassino Frosinone, Evangelista died from lobar pneumonia and acute pancreatitis. He had spent four years as a prisoner of war since his capture on 27 March 1941 at Keren (Cheren) when he was a private with a guard unit: II Reggimento Granatieri di Savoia. He arrived in Melbourne on Mooltan 29 December 1943 before transfer to Cowra No 12 (A) 30 December 1943 and then movement to Gaythorne. His time in Buderim was fourteen months.
Upon quiet reflection, a POW hut which was the final home for Evangelista became Edna Walling’s home until her death in 1973, and is now situated amongst quiet and reflective gardens of Bendles Cottages.
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.
Gordon Plowman remembers a cap made by an Italian POW for him. This one memory has helped tell the story of the Italian POWs at Flaxton.
Flaxton is a farming district between Mapleton and Montville on the Blackall Range in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Bananas, citrus fruit and later pineapples were the main crops of the district. The other main industry was sawmilling. Gordon’s father Ray in partnership with other locals set up a small mill making cases for the fruit and then later established a hardwood sawmill. During the war, they also became charcoal producers, as charcoal was in demand for the charcoal burners to run vehicles. It was a small community, with a population of 155 in 1947.
Gordon relates, “I was born in 1940 and vaguely recollect ‘Louie’ who worked on a pineapple and citrus farm. He made a little cap for me and I well remember the tassel which hung down the back. He gave it to my mother and said, ‘For the Bambino’. In later years I tried to find Louie through the National Archives but was told without his family name, this would be impossible.”
But this project Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland is about making the impossible, possible. And Gordon has now ‘found’ Louie.
Louie was Luigi Caputo a young farmer from Montagna di Basso Potenza. He is seated in the photo below, first on left. His military record highlights he was married with a daughter. Louie was sent to the farm of FW Potts and DB McHaffie Flaxton on 5th March 1944 together with Francesco Tozzi from Reino Benevento.
“My brothers Harold (13) and David (16) would take these POWs swimming in Bon Accord. They would come over of a Sunday afternoon, Mum would give them a drink and some cake and they would battle their way through the forest with my two brothers to cool off in Bon Accord rock pool. In the 1940’s it was hidden away in thick scrub with no walking tracks,” Gordon adds.
Three other Flaxton farmers employed POWs and snippets of memories are remembered by Gordon and his brothers. There is a memory of the wine made with pineapples by the Italians at Frank Mayne’s farm. Quinto Bernacchi, Giuseppe Berrettini, Ippazio De Blasi and Carlo Maffei all worked on this farm. Most likely Quinto and Giuseppe were the wine makers as they were on the farm for seven months while Ippazio and Carlo had a one week placement. Norm and Honour Mayne also welcomed the Italians onto their farm in Flaxton with Biagio Peluso and Pasquale Serafini spending eight months at Flaxton.
JR Perkins employed Guerrino Fregni, Giovanni Isopi and Guerino Lombardozzi. Gordon adds another memory about Mr Perkins’s POWs: “I remember that a heavy hessian curtain at the end of his packing shed was out-of-bounds because this was the entrance to the POWs living quarters, which I imagine would have been very basic. At that time we had no electricity, sewerage or reticulated water,” Gordon reminisces.
Another recollection of the Flaxton POWs is about church. With no Catholic church at Flaxton, the Italians would be picked up by the authorities and taken to the Catholic church in Nambour. Gordon mentions, “According to my brother, one of them was not a catholic and used to object most strongly at being taken to church. The Italian POWs were respected and made generally welcome in the small Flaxton community and I recall by mother speaking highly of them. I never forgot the little cap Louie made for me.”
Life in the small villages of Calabria was one of hard work with limited opportunities. Vincenzo Tigani was a farmer, who faced with limited opportunities in an economically depressed 1930’s Italy, made decisions in the interest of his family. These decisions would see him journey from Italy to Eritrea, India and Australia.
Farmers from Vazzano and Santo Onorfrio had been part of the first wave of migrants away from Italy. This Push-Pull migration resulted from farmers experiencing difficulty in making a reasonable living from small plots of land which were mainly rented. Sons worked with fathers on these plots without a wage. A roof to sleep under and food to eat was the currency. This offered little opportunity for families to grow their wealth, build their own homes and increase the acreage under cultivation. Combined with disease, underemployment, high taxes and the degradation and erosion of the soil, men looked for opportunities offered through a system termed chain migration.
Labour agents in USA assisted the Italians to find employment and accommodation and the period from 1870’s to 1910’s saw an influx of young Italians arrive to seize opportunities. Bruno Tigani from Vazzano (Vincenzo’s father) found his way to Braddock Pennsylvania, likely working in the steel industry and like many made the journey back and forth across the Atlantic. Domenico Lipari (Vincenzo’s future father-in-law) found his way to the “Little Italy” of New York living on Hester Street and working at N.Y. Steam Company. He would also travel between Italy and New York before becoming naturalised in 1937.
Against this background, Vincenzo Tigani enlisted in the Italian Army. In 1936, Mussolini combined Italian Eritrea, Italian Somaliland and Ethipoia into the Italian territory of Africa Orientale Italiana. Government employees, workers and soldiers were needed and Vincenzo became a soldier in the 1st Battalion Speciale Genio dell Eritrea. It would have been a difficult decision to leave behind his wife Domenica and two young sons: Bruno aged 3 and Domenico an infant with this decision resulting in a 10 year separation from his family.
Captured in Massaua, Eritrea 8 April 1941, Vincenzo as a prisoner of war was sent to Australia via India. In less than three years, he was working on a banana plantation owned by Mr AJ Schulz at Poona/Palmwoods in the Nambour district. His time there offered him an insight into the opportunities that Australia offered and the seed would have been sown as to the future direction of his and his family’s life. His hard work earned the respect of the Schulz family, with family members over 70 years later, speaking kindly and fondly of Vince. Vince told his family how he climbed the middle Glass House Mountain and carved his initials on a rock and how they, the POWs would walk everywhere including Nambour to Brisbane.
The return journey from Australia to Italy was long and protracted for Italian prisoners of war. But while waiting at N33 Prisoner of War Camp at South Head Sydney, Vince was allowed to visit family and/or Calabrian Italians in Liverpool. He would have weekend release from Friday night to Sunday evening and during this time he would have made the acquaintance of Salvatore Raffaele from Dee Why. Much discussion would have transpired over immigration to Australia, work opportunities in Sydney and the process of returning to Australia.
Vincenzo returned to Italy and to a stagnant and economically depressed Vazzano. Little had changed during his ten year absence. It was a village that was not directly impacted upon by the war, although planes often flew over the village and black outs and curfews were imposed. Only 100 kilometres away, Reggio Calabria was bombed heavily by the Allies. It was however a time of uncertainty and hardship.
The Tigani family survived with the support of Domenica’s family. Domenica’s father sent money from USA to fund the building of a home. With two sons to provide for, Domenica worked hard in the fields. Her fortitude ensured she survived the ten year separation from her husband. Vincenzo returned somewhat as a stranger to his family. His wife Domenica had, out of necessity, lived an independent life. His sons had grown up without the presence of a father and his youngest son Domenico had difficulty in accepting this stranger as his father. Their reunion was bitter sweet.
The Tigani family welcomed a daughter and sister, Maria Rosa in 1948. Little had changed in the region, and like his parents and parents-in-law, Vincenzo planned for a brighter future for his family.
The family was separated again when Vincenzo returned to Sydney in 1950. Within two months he was working as a labourer at Crown Crystal Glass Company in Bourke Street Waterloo and living at 72 Riley Street Surry Hills. In all likelihood, living in a city and working in a factory might not have been the ideal situation. Another complication was that the employees were strongly unionised and union action was being reported in the newspapers during May to June 1950.
Vincenzo returned to a familiar life and to the employment of his former POW employer, Mr Schulz. Within three months, he moved to Brisbane. Alexander Filia, also from Vazzano was an ice cream manufacturer and offered Vincenzo a place to stay at 10 Ernest Street South Brisbane. Vincenzo worked as an Ice Cream Vendor selling Filia’s Popular Ice Cream. His daughter Maria Rosa remembers a story from her father about those days: “He had a line-up of customers, when a cockroach raised its feelers above the metal frame of the cart. Children began to scream and Dad, nonchalantly, rang his bell repeatedly and called out loudly, ‘Ice-creams for Sale’.”
Within 18 months of his arrival in Australia, Vincenzo was reunited with his son Domenico who arrived as a 15 year old in November 1951. Priority became saving the passage for Domenica and Maria Rosa to travel to Australia and a new home in Brisbane. Domenico’s actions of hiding saved money under the stump caps of the house, reflected his intention to bring his mother and sister out to Australia and set them up with a new life. His sister, Maria Rosa reflects that Domenico took on a quasi-role of protector and provider for his mother and sister. He had spent more years with them, than his father had, and so he felt an obligation and responsibility for them.
Domenica and Maria Rosa arrived in Fremantle in July 1957. Domenico had made the journey to Fremantle to greet them and to assist them on the last stage of their journey to Brisbane. The voyage to Australia had seen Domenica in bed with sea sickness for a month while Maria Rosa wandered the ship freely, exploring this ‘new’ world. It was an adventure and the staff continually reminded the nine year old to go back to her room as her mother needed her. Upon arrival Domenico asked his sister if she spoke any English, and her curt reply was, “Shut up! Money.”
In time, Stafford Street East Brisbane became the family’s new home. Vincenzo worked in the building industry, with a gas company and as a night watchman with Evans Deakin at Henry Point. Those were difficult times for migrant families: the impact of war, years of separation and social isolation. As a family man, Vincenzo made decisions in the best interest of his family. At times, these decisions had a negative impact upon the unity of the family. Maria Rosa remembers that after her father died, she found two photos he had kept. One was of her as a 9 month old and another as an 18 month old. Her reflections were tinged with sadness as she thought of her father in Brisbane with his memories and photos of his family, while his wife and daughter were in Italy. It was a case of doing something to make life better- enlistment in the Italian army and migration to Australia and at the same time, these actions caused much hardship for the family.
Daughter Maria Rosa is grateful to her father for many things. “He gave us many opportunities which would have been unattainable in Vazzano. Opportunities such as a good education, owning our own businesses, owning our homes, can be attributed to the difficult decisions made by my parents,” says Maria Rosa. “My father’s story is no different from that of my grandparents who had emigrated to USA. Long periods of separation between family members, financial uncertainty, the dream being hard to find, social isolation and all those things associated with being a foreigner in a strange land.”
A family man, Vincenzo’s legacy is the close family ties between members of the Tigani extended family in Australia. There are relatives who have loaned money to those struggling financially, there are those who have assisted ‘new comers’ by finding them jobs and accommodation and there are those who continue to support others through health problems. Maria Rosa believes that at one stage her father seemed to have ‘lost faith’. “It is hard to define what I mean. It might have been a sense of insecurity about the decisions he made and how other people interpreted them. It might have been that he didn’t realise his dreams. It might have been his sadness over the ‘lost family years’,” reflects Maria Rosa. But life is what it is. Doors open, decisions are made and legacies forged.
And Maria Rosa now takes on the role of the head of the extended Tigani family in Brisbane. In 2017, to celebrate the feast day of the Patron Saint of Vazzano, Maria Rosa approached her parish priest to honour Saint Francesco Di Paolo. This special gathering of family ensues that traditions and stories from Vazzano are not forgotten: a tribute ‘for the family’.
There were three levels of camps or facilities for prisoners of war in Australia:
Reading a Service and Casualty Form for an Italian POW can be difficult if one can’t read the abbreviations.
The documents (links below) list the Prisoner of War facilities by State. The information has been reproduced from NAA: A7711 History of Directorate of Prisoners of War (PW and POWS) and Internees.
Clarification on certain data has been sourced from individual Prisoner of War Service and Casualty Forms.
Service and Casualty Forms often list an abbreviation eg Q6 but NAA:A771 does not give the identifying numbers for a PWCH or PWCC eg Q6 PWCH or V1 PWCC.
Information in A771 has been cross referenced with service records to build up a profile to make individual searches easier.
Much of the history of the Montville district has been lost as the farms have disappeared to make way for progress.
I was a young teenager during the war and remember well the Italian Prisoners of War on Cliff Dart and Artie Glover’s farms. I am not sure if the Italians were billeted with Cliff Dart and then loaned to Artie Glover, but there were a number of them during that time.
Pineapples were farmed there and the Italians were good workers. I suppose they did all the jobs around the farm including picking and packing.
I remember the Italians as being decent fellows. They were docile and peaceful and never any trouble. Cliff Dart had a spare house on his farm so the Italians lived independently. They had their beds and everything set up for cooking. So they had it pretty good. One fellow, I remember as being short and fat, probably the cook. Sometimes, at night, they would come down to our farm. They seemed to be able to move around freely.
They liked to tell stories. I remember there were many conversations and the Italians made it clear that they did not like the war. They were interested in learning about the history of the district and they would tell us stories about life in Italy. There was never a feeling that they were dangerous. When the war ended and peace declared, they were very excited to tell us that the war had finished. They were good singers too. It was like they were trained opera singers with their tenor voices. You could hear their singing and music from our farm.
Cliff Dart would take them to the Catholic Church in Nambour as there wasn’t a church in Montville. I remember the orange coloured uniforms they had to wear and the Army Supply Truck that would come around to the farms about once a month. The Italians could get lots of items that we couldn’t buy what with food rationing. They would always say after canteen day, “we give you some” as they offered and shared chocolate with us kids. The idea that Italian POWs could buy items like tinned peaches, did not sit well with the locals. They had more than they could eat, so we would swap tinned peaches for bananas we grew on our farm.
I can’t remember exactly when they arrived, but it was almost like one day they were there and then they were gone. It was a bit like that when the army set up camp with new recruits on the sports ground. There was a lot of military activity during the war in the district. An army camp would be set up, the soldiers would undergo their training and then overnight, they would disappear. All tents and equipment just gone.
Montville had four guest houses at the time and army and air force personnel would come up to Montville for R & R. They would come up with their girlfriends and then after they left, the pilots would fly over or buzz over Montville to say goodbye to their girlfriends. I have the Yankees to thank for not becoming a smoker. A couple of my mates and I obtained a packet of Camel or Lucky Stripes from the Yankees. Between us, we smoked the whole packet. I was crook. I never had a cigarette again. My parents didn’t say anything, but I am sure they knew what I had been up too.
The war had an impact on schools as well. Slit trenches were built in the school yard and air raid drills were held. There were about 70 pupils at the school and the younger kids would go in the morning and the older kids would go to school in the afternoon. It might have had something to do with us going from two teachers to one teacher during that time.