Walking in their Boots in now an eBook.
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At present Walking in their Boots is only available in English.
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Cousins Nicola Del Vecchio and Pasquale Falcone from Roseto Valfortore were so well regarded by farmer Henry Stey of Harveys Siding via Gympie, that he assisted them to return to Australia in 1951. While the military records provide invaluable information about Nicola and Pasquale, the personal stories about these men, can only be told by the farming family. Thanks to Faye Kennedy (Stey) the story of Pat and Mick emerge.
There were 40,000 Italians taken prisoner of war at the Battle of Bardia, but somehow, somewhere in the deserts of North Africa, Nicola and Pasquale found each other. Nicola was with the Infantry and Pasquale with the Artillery and were both taken prisoner of war on the first day of this battle, 3rd January 1941.
By the time they arrived in Geneifa Egypt for processing, there were together. Their Middle East Numbers (M.E. No.) indicate that they were close in line: Nicola M.E. 69698 and Pasquale M.E. 69701. From Egypt they spent time in POW camps in India and arrived in Australia onboard the Mariposa into Sydney 1st November 1943. They are photographed together in Cowra 6th February 1944 six weeks before they were sent to Gaythorne in Queensland for farm placement.
Together they were sent to Q3 Gympie and placed on the farm of JH Sargeant at Wilsons Pocket on 6th April 1944. Together they were transferred to the farm of HJ Stey at Harveys Siding on 4th May 1944. Henry Stey’s granddaughter Faye Kenney relates the memories of her family: “Nicola and Paquale befriended Henry and became close to his family. At the time, Henry’s wife became pregnant and the honour of naming the baby girl was given to these two men. My aunty was named Ventris in 1946. Henry’s family called the men Pat and Mick. There is the story of an incident at the farm, involving another POW worker who was going to attack Henry with a machete. But another worker close by, stepped in and held the worker until the police or military staff came out from Gympie and took him away. Apparently, Henry started proceedings with the Immigration Department to get them back to Australia. Henry’s application was successful as they both arrived in Sydney from Naples onboard the Assimina in February 1951. The destination on the ship’s register is noted as Harveys Siding via Gympie. My family told me that when they’d returned to Harveys Siding, sadly Henry was deceased. He had died in November 1962. Maybe they had not come straight to Queensland. I found a listing for Pasquale at Leichardt Sydney and one for Nicola in Ascot and Albion in Brisbane.”
While the only photo the Stey family have of Pat and Mick is a little blurry, it clearly tells a story. Together Pat and Mick lived on Henry Stey’s farm at Harveys Siding. They worked side by side with the farmer. They enjoyed the company of children and being part of a family. They earned the respect of Henry and were given the honour of naming the Stey’s daughter. And together with the assistance of Henry, they returned to Australia.
Anna Eusebi from Ancona Italy is the granddaughter of Fortunato Gobbi. In her quest to find out more information about her Nonno Ernesto (as he was known), she found this project’s research and website.
Anna mentioned that she had some photos of her grandfather when he was on a farm in Australia and that her family only had a few stories about Ernesto’s time in Australia. Ernesto told his family that in Australia there were many snakes and that he cultivated potatoes. He also told of the frustration of the Italian POWs who were taken off the farms but then had to wait almost a year before boarding a ship for Italy. Together, we pieced together Ernesto’s journey as an Italian soldier and prisoner of war.
Every photo that is shared with me is special: photos of the Italians posing on horse back, family photos which include the Italian prisoners of war. Each is special because every photo has a story to tell.
His photos are a first for this Queensland research. While there is written documentary evidence confirming that the Italian prisoners of war worked side by side with the Land Army Girls, this practice was a rather contentious issue: Itye POWs fraternising with our Aussie girls! A newspaper headline: DAGOES PESTER LAND ARMY GIRLS sums up a commonplace viewpoint.
Ernesto’s photo talks to us about the workforce on JJ Parr’s Amamoor farm during WW2. These photos are a unique snapshot of the combined POW and LAGS workforce at Amamoor via Gympie. While the prisoner of war workforce was employed on a permanent basis on most Queensland farms, the Australian Women’s Land Army (LAGS) workforce tended to be used for short periods during the hectic harvest seasons.
The Fourth Service by Mary Macklin is an excellent resource chronicling the services of the Land Army in Queensland during World War 2. There are two mentions of the LAGS picking potatoes, “It was hard work picking up potatoes, filling the bags, sewing them up, then tow of us loading them onto the trucks…” and “May Higgins picked and bagged sixty five bags of potatoes in one day, three bushel bags each, an amazing worker…”
In the photo below, the truck is loaded with bagged potatoes. Nonno Ernesto is sitting third from the right, and Luigi Iacopini, a friend from the same village as Ernesto is sitting first on the left.
Mention of Land Army girls working at Amamoor is made in Mary Macklin’s book: “A group of four girls went to work on pineapple harvesting and later will be harvesting beans. The number is now six. LAGS of this group are B Cedergreen, A Cedergreen, G [Gloria] Pattison, C [Clarice] Keyworth, C Burroughs, E Bonning and Mrs Cedergreen does the cooking for the girls.”
From the archives, we know that J.J. Parr employed POWs and LAGS on two properties: The Golden Mile Orchard near Gayndah/Mundubbera (Q4 PWCC) and Amamoor (Q3 PWCC). One LAG, Cecily Gourley (nee Brennan) wrote about her memories of these times. Cecily worked on both properties of J.J. Parr.
The next property was the Golden Orange [The Golden Mile Orchard] at Mundubbera. It was Christmas time, rockmelon harvest for the southern market and potato crop. Wages were two pounds, four shillings weekly and keep. When the season finished we left for Amamoor, Kadanga – same owners [J.J. Parr] as above property.
Contract potato pickers machine dug up to surface, with us picking up along rows with two kerosene tins. These tins were four gallons and square in which was commercial dispensed kerosene, for lighting and various needs. In one tin we collected small potatoes for the domestic market and in another, larger potatoes for Defence Forces. At the end of the rows, bags were filled and sewed across the top, but forming left and right “EARS” for grip handling.
Lunch time was taken at the nearby creek, in a beautiful atmosphere listening to the magnificent bell birds call and sounds of other birds, tranquillity so long ago…
On this property also six to eight Italian P.O.W.’s working as directed by Overseer [Manager]. Due to circumstances, the Overseer was absent, personal reasons and arrangements. A car arrived on the property with four male officials and no Overseer. The four men returned to Gympie. An hour later, Army M.P.’s arrived in a military truck and took the POW’s away.
The AWLA members were given instructions by phone to pack up and return by train to H.Q. Brisbane… (From The Fourth Service)
The authorities did not abide by a situation where the POWs and the LAGS worked together without appropriate supervision.
It is unlikely that Cecily and Ernesto’s paths crossed. Cecily appears to have been at the Amamoor property early 1944 and Ernesto did not arrive at Amamoor until July 1944. But Cecily’s memories and Ernesto’s photos sit side by side to tell us a story of the Amamoor workforce.
Ernesto also told his family that he “regretted not being able to stay in Australia because he said he was well looked after and that there was so much work”. Other poignant memories were: living in tents, making gnocchi when he took care of the kitchen, a terrible journey from India to Australia when Italians died from dysentery and were thrown into the sea and Italians committing suicide in the camps because they could not cope with the emotional stress of waiting and waiting to return home to Italy.
I thank Ernesto and his family for keeping these photos safe for over seventy years.
They are extraordinary because of the history they reflect. They tell us about a war time workforce, a potato harvest, Italian prisoners of war, Australian Women’s Land Army girls, life on the farm during World War 2, farming life at Amamoor via Gympie:
My research into Italian prisoners of war in Queensland has a number of public faces: the book Walking in their Boots, the website: italianprisonersofwar.com and the facebook page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia
It was through the facebook page that I received notification from Nino Amante in Italy. On 23rd March 2018, Nino wrote, “Sono il figlio di Angelo Amante, il più alto nella foto.” Nino had not only found a photo of his father on the facebook page but he then found the website’s article, A Day in the life of … and comments about his father’s time working on a farm ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian via Gympie 72 years ago.
This was an accident. Nino had been searching the internet for an article about his son, named for his grandfather, Angelo Amante, and instead found his father. Nino was overwhelmed.
I believe that things happen for a reason. I do not know the chances of bringing together the son of an Italian prisoner of war and the son of a Goomboorian farmer. But a google search and a phone call* has brought together the two sides to this history.
Nino Amante’s words and contact has brought this story ‘full circle’. “E’ stata per me una grande emozione avere delle informazioni da aggiungere a quelle raccotle dall sua viva voce, quando mi parlava del period della sua prigionia,” Nino reflects. Nino not only has knowledge about his father’s time on this farm, but he has a connection to Jim and John Buchanan who were young boys at the time and who have fond memories of Angelo.
More importantly, Angelo’s story before and after ‘Redslopes’ emerges. At 19 years old, Angelo Amante began his military training, first in Turin and then in Bolzano. He was a member of the 7th Reggimento Bersaglieri(marksmen). He was then transferred to Taranto and in 1941, he left Italy by ship for Libya. He was lucky to survive the journey to Libya, as many soldiers died after the fleet was bombed by the British.
Angelo was captured at Gialo, a Libyan oasis town on 25th November 1941. Gialo was taken by British and Punjabi troops on 24th November 1941, but a small group of Italian soldiers continued fighting in the north east El Libba sector. After four hours of combat, two Italian had been killed and 27 Italian soldiers were taken prisoner.
Possibly the photo below of a relaxed Angelo was taken at Benghasi, his first experience of Libya. Like many of his generation, Angelo spent ‘his youth’ in foreign and difficult circumstances. He returned home to Italy when he was 25 years old. Nino explains, “Sei dei suoi anni piubelli trascorsi fra guerra e prigionia.”
Angelo’s journey is like many of his peers. Italy to the battle field to Egypt to India to Australia to Italy. Angelo arrived in Melbourne Australia 29th December 1943. The next day he was in the Cowra PW & I Camp. His time there is recorded in a group photo Cowra 6th February 1944. Ten days later, Angelo was sent to Gaythorne Queensland 16th February 1944.
Before Nino’s internet search, he had one photo and the stories about his father’s time in Australia, but he did not know dates or places. Nino says, “Sapevo che mio padre era stato in Australia, ma in quale parte di Australia? Che era vissuto in una fattoria, ma quale fattoria?” But his time in Australia was always remembered with fondness, a place to which Angelo wanted to return. In 1956, Angelo made preparations to emigrate to Australia with his wife and family. During a medical visit, it was discovered he had a small heart problem and his dreams of going to Australia ended. But his family kept safe a small photo of three men and two boys, knowing that it was an important part of Angelo’s memories of Australia.
For over seven decades, this photo did not have a context. Nino knew that the photo was from his father’s time on a farm, but he did not know where in Australia this farm was located. Angelo told his family a story about chilli plants he had grown on this farm and now he knows it was Jim, a little boy who tasted the chilli with severe repercussions. Angelo told his family about a trip to the city, to undergo a medical visit at the hospital and the wonder of seeing so many kangaroos on the way.
Jim’s memories and Angelo’s stories to his family are being slotted together. Nino writes that his father arrived in Australia from POW camps in India with very poor health. Angelo had contracted malaria and Nino remembers the story of an old lady on the farm who realised the seriousness of his condition and encouraged him to eat and the need for him to regain his strength. Jim knows exactly who this lady was, his Aunty Mag [Margaret], who was the matron (supervisor) for the Land Army girls on the farm. Angelo’s visit to the Gympie Hospital is recorded in the farm diary: August 21 1944 – Angelo going to hospital. And the stories travel back and forth between Italy and Australia and across the decades.
Upon Angelo’s return to Italy, he made his way home to Fiumefreddo di Sicilia and his widowed mother. Angelo married in 1953 and moved to Mascali, his wife’s home town. He continued to work the land and raised his family: Nino and Giuseppina. In 1984, Angelo passed away at the age of 63.
The sharing of stories and memories, the answering of questions and the ‘Miracoli di Internet!’ is like finding those missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle and finally being able to put them in place.
*In September 2017, I telephoned Jim Buchanan in Gympie. I had been told that he was the person to speak to about some of the Italian prisoners of war in the Gympie district. Jim’s words to me were, “I think you will be surprised with what I have to tell you. I don’t think you will have found another one like this.” And surprised I was!
Jim’s father Neil Buchanan had kept a farm diary for ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian. Peppered through the entries from 7th March 1944 to 1st January 1946 are references not only about farm life, but also to the Italian prisoners of war at ‘Redslopes’. This diary offers a very unique and firsthand account about the employment of Italian prisoners of war.
On 24th March 2018, I telephoned Jim again. I told Jim that I had some extraordinary news for him. Angelo’s son had sent me an email. It took a few minutes for the news to sink in. Jim is rarely lost for words. I said to Jim, I wonder if Angelo took any photos home to Italy with him. Nonplussed, Jim felt that this is not probable as very few photos were taken in those days. Like Nino Amante, this journey for the Buchanan family is emotional and remarkable.
Service and Casualty Forms for the Italian Prisoners of War make great reading. I have given up counting how many forms I have read since I started this research in August 2015 but there is so much information that can be gleaned from these forms.
And several thousand forms later I can give you an insight into the nature of the breaches in discipline and the punishments meted out.
Some make sense eg fine 1/- for fastening ground sheet to bed, while others seem harsh eg. 28 days detention for stealing a bunch of grapes.
And some, make me laugh eg stealing lettuce plants… maybe this Italian just wanted a few plants to add to his private garden outside his barracks; and what about the bravado of the Italian who was smoking on parade.
But military discipline was essential and indiscretions punished.
For some Italian POWs, their breach in discipline resulted in formal investigations. The three incidents below are from Western Australia. Queensland POWs were much more meek and mild!
The following statement is made by a POW placed at the same farm as a Raffaele. The farmer also ran a boarding house: This family have always treated us with great courtesy and consideration but this rascal [Raffaele] for a long time has done nothing else but to annoy all the women who have stayed in this place… On another occasion [name redacted] and I were near our room when [ name redacted] came to us and asked the whereabouts of Raffaele. We told her we did not know as we never see him at night time as he goes away and returns after midnight. [ Name redacted] not taking any notice of us then stepped into [Raffaele’s] room and sat down and wrote a letter and left it on the table after leaving. On [Raffaele’s] return from his walk he read the letter did not even stop to finish meal went away and did not return until after midnight. If I had to tell all that [Raffaele] has done it would make a romantic novel. 11 October 1944.
An incident in the Northam area of Western Australia saw the award of 28 days detention: Conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline in that he behaved in an unsolicited manner by endeavouring to show Mrs C obscene magazine photos and by giving her a box upon which obscene drawings had been made.
Another incident reports reads as follows: At 17.30 hours the prisoner came to me and asked if he would feed the calf, to which I answered yes. He then asked me in his Pidgeon English if I would ? him the milk, I went through the house to the backdoor whist the Prisoner went around the side. When I arrived and opened the door he approached me with both his arms open and said “Oh, Missus.” plus other Italian phases which I did not understand. I could see the man was very excited and I slamed the door in his face… My husband had been away all day …During the lunch hour the Prisoner remained what I considered an unnecessary time in the kitchen after having had his meal, during which time he kept muttering to me in Italian, none of which i could understand. It appeared strange to me that this man should remain behind whilst the other Prisoner after having his meal went straight to his camp. No charges were laid on this matter and the POW was transferred to another farm.
Without a doubt, prisoner of war files make great and interesting reading.
Following are some of the ‘run of the mill’ type breaches in discipline and subsequent punishments:
14 days: stealing
2 days: stealing lettuce plants
5/- fine: failure to appear on parade
1/- fine: late to work
168 hours detention: wilful damage to CWG property
14 days detention: possession of prohibited article
21 days detention: taking employer’s car without permission
14 days detention – 3 days No 1 diet: refusing to work, inciting other POWs to slow up work
7 days detention: boots worn beyond repair
6 days fatigues: conduct to the prejudice of good order and disciplien
3/- fine – offence against good order and discipline
14 days detention: making unfound complaints about working
7 days detention: attempting to steal 1/2 lbs butter
14 days detention: removed 1 dz bananas from supply depot
1/- fine: failure to appear at inspection parade
28 days detention: communicating by signs with a person outside the complex, making a threatening gesture to officials.
72 hours detention: proceeding beyond boundary of place of employment
1/- fine: wasting water
3 days detention: pretending sickness to avoid work
7 days detention: attempting to evade censorship
168 hours detention: smoking on parade
7 days detention: failed to stand by kit during inspection
5/- fine: being in possession of government property
Admonished: carrying letters between compounds
28 days detention: failed to answer Roll Call
28 days detention: escaped from Hostel
28 days detention: unduly familiar with a female
3 days detention: breach of National Security Regulations
14 days detention: disobedience, violence
5 days detention: offensive behaviour
14 days detention: did adopt threatening attitude
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
$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.