Category Archives: Q3 PWCC Gympie

No More Pasta

Doug Wilson was a child when his father, Vernon Wilson at Lagoon Pocket took on two Italian prisoners of war.  The farm grew beans, tomatoes, bananas and beetroot and as well, had a dairy which was leased to another farmer. It was war time, and labourers had gone off to fight in the war, so the Department of Manpower promoted the employment of the Italians.

Doug’s memories of that time centre mainly on food and children.  Doug recalls, “Living on a farm, the Italians were well fed.  Mum would have a leg of ham hung up and the POWs took a liking to having a thick piece of ham with their eggs.  Eggs was another luxury, but because we had chooks, we had lots of eggs.  There was also fresh milk.  Two buckets of milk would be collected from the dairy each morning as part of the lease arrangement dad had. These items were in short supply in town and there were also ration cards.”  But Doug’s most memorable food story is about pasta.  His mum would cook up the pasta as that is what they were used to.  Doug says, “I was so sick of pasta, that after the war I refused to eat pasta.  To this day, I still won’t eat pasta.”

The two Italian prisoners of war were family men. Francesco Nicoli had a son and a daughter and Bernardino Patriarca had three sons. “I remember the men treated us very well.  They treated us like their own.  They were always around us and played with us.  One of the funny memories is how they were worried that mum bathed the baby every day. ‘Why wash bambini day?’  I suppose things were different in Italy,” Doug muses.

Treasured letters from the Italians explain the bond they formed with children.  It has been suggested that Italian POWs were more settled when there were little children on the farm and the words of these men tell of the special memories they would carry with them to Italy.

Bernardino wrote on 4th May 1946, “…Glad to hear that your children have not forgotten us yet.  You can’t imagine how hard it is for us to leave this country without seeing your lovely children once again.  Last night in my dream I was with your children to play to, but it was a dream only.”

Wilson.Bernardino.Francesco with children 1

Vernon Wilson Farm Lagoon Pocket Gympie

Men: Bernardino Patriarca, Vernon Wilson, Francesco Nicoli

Children: Wayne Choy Show, Leonie Choy Show, Douglas Wilson, Myra Wilson, Frances Wilson

(from the photographic collection of Doug Wilson)

Francesco wrote from Hay on 29th May 1946, “…thank you so much to your children for their remembering to us.  Please, will you send me some photos of your children and family as I want to see you and keep them as a remembrance of my Australian friends. When I get back to Italy I will send you some of mine too.”

Written by camp interpreters, Francesco and Bernardino wrote letters of their time at Gaythorne Camp, the delay in departing for Italy, the weather at the Hay Camp and the special connection between themselves and the Wilsons. The letters also tell of wanting to be free men once more.  Unfortunately, these men were taken off the farms on 4th January 1946 but it was almost a year before they boarded Alcantara on 23rd December 1946 to return to Italy. They were prisoners of war for over five years.

 

 

 

Rings from Coins

This project has brought to light a number of POW treasures. Items that Queenslanders and Italians have shared with me, are truly treasures: remnants over 70 years old.

There have been a number of references to rings the Italians made as gifts for the farming families.  With few resources, the Italians used Australian coins to make these rings. Unfortunately, rings are easily lost or misplaced.

I visited a lady in Brisbane in May to talk with her about her family’s Italian Prisoners of War. In a matter of fact manner she placed her hand on the table. I was so excited, ” You have one!” There on her little finger was a ring crafted from a one shilling coin for a young girl’s hand. Carefully finished, its design is simple but beautiful. Precious in so many ways.

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Partly Made Ring: Italian POW at PA Miles farm Mooloo

(from the collection of Alex Miles)

Alex Miles from Mooloo Gympie has ‘found’ the workings of the Italians, thrown in a box in the shed amongst other bits and pieces.  He remembers the ring that was made for him which is long gone, because he wore it to school and the teacher confiscated it.  It was decorated with pieces of coloured hardened plastic, red and green, possibly from Tek* toothbrushes which were army issue. Alex remembers, “Francesco made the ring and he had a small hammer which he brought with him to the farm.  I am not sure where the coins came from because it was against regulations for them to have money.  After he left our farm, his record card has him being awarded 21 days detention on 2.3.1946 for having Australian currency in his possession.  He served this in the detention block at Gaythorne PW & I Camp.”

Alex’s father, Percy Miles reminisced, “Some of the things they used to do to beat the boredom. … Another thing was by tapping the edge of a 2 shilling silver coin (20 cent piece) with a hammer, causing it to flare out, then cutting a hole in the centre, it made a ring you could wear on your finger as a dress ring.”  Coins were 92.5% silver up until 1944-45.

Buonadonna

Liboria Bonadonna seated far right showing ring on his finger

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 64837 A. Porcaro; 49904 S. Russo; 57220 G. Fino; Unidentified; 45531 V. Di Pietro; 61074 G. De Luca. Front row: 45685 B. Fiorentino; Unidentified; 46171 G. Massaro (holding a piano accordion); 46603 V. Massaro; 55168 L. Buonadonne. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photo documentation suggests that names are listed, back row, front row, left to right.

(AWM Image 030229/02 Photographer Stewart, Ronald Leslie)

One ponders, how many rings have survived and are in the collections of Australians and Italians, without their owners knowing their origins.  Liborio Mauro noticed a ring on his grandfather’s (Liborio Bonadonna) finger in a photo taken at Murchison, and he wondered about its origins. He had heard stories of Italian POWs having Australian girlfriends and wondered if the ring might be evidence of a liaison his grandfather had had. Quite possibly Liborio’s ring was a memento, handcrafted from a two shilling coin.

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Australian Florin: Working of Italian POW making a ring

(from the collection of Alex Miles Mooloo)

*Examples of Tek art, made by Australian soldiers can be found in the heraldry collection of the Australian War Memorial.  One such example is the ring below, but the metal used was aluminium.

Miles. Tek 2

Souvenir ring : Private E K Lloyd, 57/60 Battalion

REL27303 Australian War Memorial

A Farm Diary

A voice down the phone line said, “I think you will be surprised with what I have.  I don’t think you will find another like it.”

Many thoughts flashed through my mind but I was not prepared for this treasure:

A Farm Diary

Neil Buchanan managed and ran Redslopes at Goomboorian via Gympie as part of a partnership between himself and three brothers.   Every day he wrote in the Redslopes diary.  He wrote about workers coming and going, about the weather, machinery breakdown, visitors to the farm, important milestones during the war AND he wrote about the four Italian prisoners of war who came to Redslopes to work the farm.

Redslopes Diary 2

Jim Buchanan was the voice at the other end of the phone and I am sure he could hear my excitement at being offered the opportunity to read this unique primary source.

Generalisations about this history were replaced with specifics.  No longer did the Italians undertake farm work, the diary revealed exactly what type of farm work they did.  No longer did the Italians rarely go into town except for church, the Italians at Redslopes took produce into town with their boss and they went to the barber for their monthly haircuts.

Jim and I talked at length about farming during World War 2.  They were different times:  when wooden crates for the produce were made on site and stamped, when spare parts for farm machinery were scarce, when horses were used to plough the fields and when farming was labour intensive.

There are few statements about the importance and value of the POW workforce. But finally, it was there… in the diary:

Dec 31 1945 Last day of old year.  Four men for half a day.  POW then finish up, much to sorrow of Boss.  Had final talk with Ities at night.

Jan 1 1946 New Year’s Day but a sad day at Redslopes.  Took the three POW to town and said goodbye. Farm is now badly understaffed with no prospects of further employees.

The Redslopes diary is rarely personal.  But while these final two entries might be brief, the words reveal how important the POW workforce was to the farmer.

Redslopes Diary 2.jpeg

 

 

War time is a busy time.  War time is a complicated time.  War time is often a time of irony.  Our young Australian workforce had joined the services leaving our agricultural industries severely understaffed.  Feeding a nation was paramount for both domestic and service requirements.

The Italian prisoners of war not only provided a much needed agricultural workforce but these men helped feed a nation and enabled farmers to be economically viable and sustainable.

Escaped P.O.W. at Bowen

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.

Landolfi 1 Murchison

Pasquale Landolfi seated centre with accordian 2nd March 1945 Murchison

(from Australian War Memorial, Image 030230/04)

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

Di Pietro Murchison

Vincenzo di Pietro standing second from the right  2nd March 1945 Murchison

(Australian War Memorial, Image 030229/02)

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

Re-Capture Effected

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.

Journey Through Photos

Luigi Iacopini’s journey as a soldier and prisoner of war is told through the photos he kept.  His photos are like a diary recording major events in his early adult life.

Born 24.5.16  in Ponzano Di Fermo Ascoli Piceno, Luigi’s occupation was a barber.

In Italy

A reminder of his military service in the infantry is a photo of a young Luigi in full dress uniform.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__003 (1)

Luigi Iacopini

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

Craig Douglas from Regio Esercito History Group Australia  recognised the uniform and writes, “it looks like he belonged to the 115 Infantry Regiment, 62nd Infantry Division Marmarica. Destroyed 5 January 1941 at Bardia.”  And yes, Luigi was captured at Bardia on 3rd January 1941.

In Libya

Luigi and other young soldiers in Derna Libya. Derna is on the coast between Benghazi and Tobruk.  It was taken on 25.?.38. Luigi was 22 years old.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 (3) - Copy

Italian Soliders in Derna 1938

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

In India

The rattan matting, the socks and sandals, the shorts and trousers with a distinctive stripe down the sides are common to photos in the POW Camps in India. Luigi was 25-27 years old.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 (2) - Copy

A group of Italian prisoners of war in a POW Camp in India

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

In Australia

A group of Italian prisoners of war at a Gympie farm.  The photo was possibly on a Amamoor farm and taken on the day of departure from the farms in the first week of January 1946. Luigi was 29 years old.

Luigi Iacopini, Giovanni Meconi and Fortunato Gobbi went to the farm of JJ Parr at Amamoor on 5th August 1944.

Other Italian POWs who worked on the farm of JJ Parr were Vincenzo Licocci, Francesco Bevilacqua. Alessandro Di Placido, Costanzo Melino and Pasquale Di Donato.

Foto Luigi Iacopini

Italian Prisoners of War at a Gympie Farm

Alessandro Di Placido (?) first on left, Fortunato Gobbi second on left, Luigi Iacopini centre

(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)

 

Luigi was repatriated on the Alcantara on 23rd  December 1946.

1946 Dec Daily Advertiser

1946 ‘BACK TO ITALY’, Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW : 1911 – 1954), 25 December, p. 1. , viewed 07 Aug 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article145125911

Friends of the Italians at Amamoor

 

Anna Eusebi and Raffaele Iacopini are researching their father’s and grandfather’s time as prisoners of war in the Gympie district from 1944-1945 and need the help of Gympie locals to fill in the missing details.

Anna’s nonno Fortunato Gobbi and Raffaele’s father Luigi Iacopini, together with Giovanni Meconi, all from the Ascoli Piceno province of Italy, began work on an Amamoor farm owned by J.J.Parr on 5th August 1944.

Anna says, “My nonno never talked much about this piece of his life after he returned to Italy and I would appreciate any help from people who can help me find out more.  If possible, I would like to contact someone from the Parr family at Amamoor to know if someone remembers my nonno.”

Anna has shared photos from Fortunato’s time at Amamoor in the hope that someone might remember something. “We always knew that these photos held special memories for my nonno.  But it wasn’t until I found the research project “Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland” that I began to understand some of nonno’s story.  The researcher, Joanne Tapiolas, told me the name of the farmer and where the farm was.  She also told me that the photos show the Land Army Girls and the Italian prisoners of war who worked together on many farms during the war. One of the photos shows a truck loaded up with sacks of potatoes.”

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Amamoor Farm Gympie 1944-1945

Luigi Iacopini on the left and Fortunato Gobbi centre front.

Raffaele Iacopini is hoping that Gympie residents might recognise the people in one of his father’s photos.  Raffaele believes that the photo was sent to his father Luigi after the war and must be from someone that he knew. Possibly it was sent to Raffaele after he left a Gympie farm but was still in Australia.

The sender wrote on the back of the photo, You know who this is? Miss …cia and me, horses and fruit. “I hope that someone recognises the people in this photo and can tell me something more about my father when he worked in Amamoor and the people he met,” says Raffaele.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 - Copy

Pineapple Harvest Gympie District c. 1946-1947

A Hard Day’s Work

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.

Ernesto’s photos however are extraordinary.

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.

Gobbi and LAGS and Potatoes

A Hard Day’s Work

Italian Prisoners of War and Land Army Girls Amamoor via Gympie

(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)

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.

Cecily wrote:

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.

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Morning Tea for the Workers and young boy

Luigi Iacopini far left and Nonno Ernesto centre front

Italian Prisoners of  War and Land Army Girls Amamoor via Gympie

(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)

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:

 a hard day’s work.