Category Archives: Q3 PWCC Gympie

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.”

Scan0009

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.

Scan0009

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.

Lagoon Pocket’s Macadamia Trees

gympie-mercuri-mario-1

Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card, Mercuri, Mario PWI 57376

(National Archives of Australia J3118, 119)

Allan Blackman from Gympie recalls a macadamia farm at Lagoon Pocket where he worked during the 1970s  and how he had been told about a few hundred seedling trees that had been planted by the Italian POWs during WW2.  Combining local knowledge with archival research, a more complete picture emerges.

Mario Mercuri and Guido Vaccarini worked on Bernard Mason’s farm at Lagoon Pocket and “they would all search in the scrub above Calico Creek for wild macadamias with thin shells which were used to establish Bernie’s orchard.” This species of macadamia ‘integrifolia’ is also known as ‘papershell’ macadamia because of its thinner shell.  As a native species, it is now listed as vulnerable.

While initially, the relationship between farmer and POWs would have been of one boss and worker, a friendship of mutual respect would have been emerged as Guido and Mario were credited with saving the lives of Bernie Mason’s daughters.  The connection between Bernie Mason and Guido Vaccarini continued with Guido visiting Gympie to visit Bernie, after he had migrated to Australian in 1951.

gympie Vaccarini guido Bernard Mason.jpg

Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card Vaccarini, Guido PWI 57514

(National Archives of Australia J3118, 119)

One Event…Three Versions

A special event held in Gympie June 1944 involved Italian prisoners of war, the Apostolic Delegate Giovanni Panico and local Gympie residents.

Three versions of the event are reproduced: memories of Costanzo Melino, mainstream newspaper article under a section: Of General Interest and newspaper article from right wing Smith’s Weekly titled Fascist ‘Guard of Honor’.

The marrying of memories and primary sources is important in any historical research. Very little specific information about Italian prisoners of war was published in Australian newspapers of the time so to have three versions of the one event is extremely rewarding and enlightening.

Melino Card 2

Identity Card for Costanzo Melino PW57373

(NAA: J3118, 117)

  1. Appreciation for a Special Honour

Costanzo Melino had recounted a special event in Gympie while he was a prisoner of war working on a farm. His memories were recorded 30 years after the event; they were vivid and specific:

I even recalled the visit of the Italian Archbishop Giovanni Panéco.[Panico] We were all working on farms in those times and we gathered for Mass at Gympie.  We even marched in our group in the procession around the church in his honour.  It was a special occasion.  There was a band of Australian women playing and we were allowed to celebrate by dancing with these women for the first time.  I don’t recall any Australian men being present at this dance.  We danced for a few hours and then we were allowed to return to our farms.  It seemed to us to be a special honour. (Costanzo Melino)

  1. Spiritual Comfort

His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. John Panico, has recently been visiting prisoners of war employed in various centres on the North Coast of Queensland.  At Gympie he met a large number of them at St. Patrick’s Church, where he celebrated Mass.  At 10 o’clock his Excellency addressed the people, speaking in Italian to the prisoners of war and tendering them excellent advice.  The services of these men are greatly valued by their employers because of their good habits and their knowledge of rural industries.  During his stay in Gympie the Apostolic Delegate was welcomed by the mayor and leading citizens and thanked for the interest he displayed in visiting the district.  During his stay his Excellency and his secretary were the guests of Mgr. Molony. [1944 ‘Of General Interest’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 7 June, p. 4. , viewed 02 Oct 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172213489%5D

  1. Outrage

Fascist “Guard of Honor”

At Gympie (Q) at a religious ceremony, Dago prisoners of war formed the “guard of honor” for the officiating cleric.  There were afterwards entertained at a dinner and, to top it off, some of the local belles danced with them.  Because of these Fascists, many of our young Australians like in the Libyan Desert.  To parade them in an Australian town is just about the limit. “Pro Patria.” Gympie, Q. [1944 ‘LEADERLESS LEGION’, Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), 28 October, p. 19. , viewed 02 Oct 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article235765732%5D

Here is Costanzo Melino: his music and his life philosophy…

 

Friendships Forged by War

With few men available for farm work, Bernard Mason signed up to employ Italian prisoners of war mid 1944. On the 8th June 1944, Mario Mercuri and Guido Vaccarini were escorted to his property at Lagoon Pocket by military staff.

By the time Mario and Guido arrived at the Mason’s property, they had left their footprints across four countries.  As POWs, they had spent time in temporary caged compounds in the deserts of North Africa, POW camps on the Suez Canal; in India and Cowra Australia.  The war had gone badly for Italy in North Africa and Guido and Mario were but two of the 350,000 Italians captured in the North African campaigns. For 19 brief months, they lived and worked at Lagoon Pocket, settling in quickly to the daily routine of farm life.

Farming life was never easy in those times.  Petrol rationing meant that farmers became charcoal burners, making charcoal as a fuel to power trucks. Tractors were non-existent and the ploughs were pulled by horses. Farm work was hard, manual work.  Gympie farms did very well during the war, provided that they had workers.  Troop trains came through Gympie on a regular basis with fresh produce sold directly to the army.  Gympie being well situated supplied fruit and vegetables directly to the southern markets of Brisbane and Sydney.

Bernard Mason grew a diverse range of crops and also branched out into a macadamia plantation.  Pineapples, papaws, carrots, beetroots and cabbages were some of the fruit and vegetable crops produced on the farm. Bernie also had another 40 acre property from which he pioneered the macadamia industry.  At the time, there was no interest for ‘bush nuts’ and the Department of Primary Industry had little information about its commercial viability.  But Bernie with the assistance of the ‘Ityes’ planted 800 macadamia seedlings which in time was known to be the largest macadamia seedling plantation in existence. Nowadays, macadamia plantations use grafted trees.  Bernie would go up into the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast around Eumundi and Mapleton to collect the nuts for seeds.

G and M planting pineapples Lagoon Pkt

 

Guido Vaccarini and Mario Mercuri planting pineapples at Lagoon Pocket 1944-1945

(from the collection of Barry Mason)

It was in this bucolic setting that the POWs became part of the Mason family.  Barry Mason, born November 1939,  was only a child at the time, but he remembers the men well: “They treated us kids well.  I remember how they would put my sisters in a fruit basket and carry them around. And they played games with us.  Dad bought them each a watch and push bike.  There were rules about when and where they could go on their days off, so I suppose this is why he bought those items for them.  They made no attempt to attend church, and I remember a story about Guido and church.  Apparently, he told dad, ‘No church. Madonna no think of me. Me no think of Madonna’.  And there was the story about the POWs at the Butler vineyard.  Jack Butler had the Italians prune back the vines and had a fit when he saw what they had done.  They had cut them right back and Jack believed that they had ruined his vines.  As it turned out, these POWs knew more than a little bit about vineyards and the next crop was the best crop every grown on the farm.”

Another anecdote about the ‘Ityes’ at the Mason farm centres on ‘the still’.  Barry reminisces, “They set up a still to distil alcohol.  I am not sure where all the bits and pieces came from, but they used a milk separator bowl to boil the fruit in.  They used pineapple skins and no doubt other fruit.  They had a coiled pipe and the vapours would go up into the coil and came out a crystal clear toxic liquid. They could turn their hand to most things, although I am not sure that this was ‘allowed’.”  Lots of memories surface about those times and Barry relates a common joke of the day, “I don’t think there was any malice in the words but it went like this: ‘How would one describe ‘tall inebriated Italians?  Hi(gh) tiddly I-tyes’!”

It was however to be a near tragedy that cemented a lifelong friendship between the Mason family and the Vaccarini family. Guido saved the lives of Bernie’s two daughters, Valda and Rae. The girls had been playing in the cabin of the Ford V8 truck when they were rendered unconscious by carbon monoxide.  Bernie, Guido and Mario were in the packing shed when Guido realised he could not hear the girls.  He told Bernie, “Boss, bambini quiet… Mister, no hear bambini” adding “Mister, mister, I go see why no hear bambini”. Giudo had found the girls slumped and unconscious in the truck’s cabin. The girls were removed from the truck and laid on the floor of the packing shed and the Gran who looked after the children, felt all was lost and pushed Mason to the ground and said, “Pray, pray. Pray for the girls”.   Guido was loaded with one of the girls on the back of the truck and Mrs Mason in the cabin with the other lifeless girl.  Bernie had said, “It was the longest 8 mile I have ever driven.  But God must have heard my prayers”. The rush of fresh air across the face of the little girl on the back of the truck stirred her but it wasn’t until they arrived at Dr Warrener’s in Gympie, when a nurse revived the other child, that the family knew both girls were safe.  The doctor said that without the action of Guido, the girls would have died as had the girls inhaled the carbon monoxide for another few minutes, they would certainly have been dead.

After his repatriation to Italy in 1947, Guido wrote to Bernie in 1949 to ask for sponsorship to return to Australia. Bernie Mason said, “This, I felt was the least I could do because he was the means of saving our two little mites.” Guido arrived back in Gympie in 1951 and his wife Rina emigrated a year later.  Barry said, “When my dad died, the family wished for the graveside service to be private.  Guido asked to pay his respects to my dad and we decided that he deserved a place there.”

The Mason and Vaccarini families still reside in Gympie. Barry and Margaret live in Gympie and have become the custodians of the photos and stories of that time.  Valda married Duncan Polley of Polley’s Coaches and Rae married Gordon Saxelby and they now live in Bundaberg. Guido has now passed on some years ago.  In a fitting tribute to the close family ties, Barry had the honour of conducting the service at Guido’s funeral.  Guido’s wife Rina is still with us though she is very frail. Son Marco and Rina live in Lawrence Street Gympie.

While time progresses quickly these days and memories fade, the stories of the Italian POWs on Gympie farms are clearly remembered.  The special bonds forged between a prisoner of war and a Gympie farmer continue to be part of Gympie’s Italian prisoner of war history.

Bern, Guido, Joe

1950’s Bernie Mason, Guido Vaccarini and Joe Brooks in front of 4 x 4 Chev Blitz Truck

(from the collection of Barry Mason)

 

A Voice from the Past…

In a beautiful tribute to his nonno, Damiano Lumia recorded the voice of Antonino Lumia telling his story as a soldier and a prisoner of war.

Lumia Antonio Lumia Hay II

Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 46032 Raffaele Lomonaco; 46627 Giuseppe Restivo; 46007 Antonio Lumia (front row second left); 45586 Isidoro De Blasi; 46206 Gaetano Mineo; 45360 Giuseppe Cannata; 45103 Leonardo Barbera; 45997 Pietro Lomonte; 46221 Antonio Rondi and 47999 Leonardo Ciaccio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(Australian War Memorial Lewecki Image 030143/33)

Antonino’s  journey begins in Sicily and listening to his voice, we follow in his footsteps from his home town of Bompensiere to Toburk and Benghazi, then Australia. Finally, Antonino takes us back to Italy and his family.

Antonino Lumia begins his story with,

My dear grandson, I had a lot of trouble. When they called us…”

and ends with…

I saw your grandmother. I came down. I came home. I rushed to your father. Here is my story, dear grandson. The sufferings were severe, dear grandson”.

Damiano’s video Antonino Lumia POW in Australia 1941-1946  combines images of Bompensiere with photographs and documents from Australian War Memorial and National Archives of Australia  to take the viewer on an intimate journey through time.

Antonino’s memories are told with humour and melancholy. English subtitles combined with Antonino’s voice, makes this accessible for those who only speak English. More importantly for those Queenslanders who have memories of ‘their’ Italian POW, it brings back to life their voices: the timbre and musicality of the Italian language.

“Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland” has always been about connectivity between people, with the past, between Italians and Australians, with memories and history.

I am honoured and humbled that Damiano Lumia’s video has become part of this project for the oral histories of Italian prisoners of war are paramount to adding depth and perspective to this project.

Another aspect of the project has been to connect people with information. Research has provided Damiano with details about Antonino’s time in Queensland.  Antonino Lumia was assigned to Q3 PWCC Gympie along with Giovanni Adamo.  They were employed by Mr R – Mr Kevin John Rodney of North Deep Creek from 14 March 1944 to 4 January 1946.  Miss Gloria, mentioned by Antonino is Miss Gloria Davis from Auchenflower.  Mr R and Miss Gloria were married in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Brisbane on 6th May 1944.

Antonino remembers with clarity when he first met Miss Gloria. “The farmer was back. You could hear the horn of his car in the distance.  His wife was with him.  I had planted very beautiful flowers near the hut. I mad a bouquet of flowers.  When they arrived near us… I offered flowers to his wife.  He introduced us to his wife: Miss Gloria. They went home. For us the work continued. The next morning Madame served us the meal.  A very nice woman. Every morning I brought wood to this woman for cooking”, speaks Antonino.

Antonino Lumia’s testimony is not only a voice from the past but also an important window into the past.  Click on the above link and take a walk with Antonino through history.

Lumia Antonio Lumia Hay

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR HAVING A MEAL IN THEIR MESS AT NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. PICTURED ARE: 46007 ANTONIO LUMIA (1); 45824 BRUNO GALLIZZI (2); 46734 ALMO STAGNARO (3); 48355 GIUSEPPE ARRIGONI; (4); 45087 ANTONIO BACCIGALUPO (5); 46620 MICHELE RIZZO (6); 46626 EMILIO RUOCCO (7); 46635 FRANCO RONDELLI (8); 45900 ALESSANDRO IANNOTTA (9).

(Australian War Memorial, Geoffrey McInnes Image 063371)

 

Sticking Together

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.

Del Vecchio Falcone.JPG

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Shown here are: 56135 Nicola Del Vecchio; 56192 Pasquale Falcone; 56427 Michele Verrelli; 56428 Virginio Verrelli; 56424 Giacomo Veloci; 56026 Vincenzo Austero; 56226 Giovanni Italia; 56279 Amedeo Morrone; 56464 Riccardo Zingaro; 56483 Antonio Knapich; 55066 Giovanni Bianofiore; 55848 Michele Placentino. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(AWM Image 030175/05, Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)

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.

Stey.Gympie.Cousins

Pat and Mick and a Stey son c 1944-45

(from the collection of Faye Kennedy [nee Stey])