Category Archives: Q4 PWCC Gayndah

Stranger in a Strange Land

The complexity of  the war time policy of interment in Australia is mirrored by the backgrounds of  the Italian men, woman and child who have been laid to rest in The Ossario.

The list below informs visitors to The Ossario of the Italians buried in the complex. Lists are important but their purpose is limited. Feeling that every Italian laid to rest deserves more than their name on a list, I have delved into each person’s story. What I found while researching these names is  that there is a history lesson in the details.  I have learnt more about the complexity of war.

Tunnel vision, saw me focus on the five Italian prisoners of war who died in Queensland.  The Ossario however is the final resting place for 130 Italians: 128 men, one woman and one baby. Furthermore, one Italian prisoner of war drowned and his body was never recovered; therefore there is no public acknowledgement of this man’s death.

The Ossario List of Italians

Italians Buried at Murchison

(photo courtesy of Alex Miles)

From the names on the list, I have learnt about  Italians, residents of the British Isles, who were interned and sent to Australia on the infamous Dunera.  I have read about the Remo and RomoloItalian passenger ships in Australian waters when Italy declared war and scuttling of the Romolo in the Coral Sea. Italian internees were also sent to Australia from Palestine and New Guinea.

Details of Italian Internees who died in Australia 1941-1946 provides a little of the history for each internee resting at The Ossario.

Details of Italian Prisoners of War who died in Australia 1942-1946 provides a little of the background for each prisoner of war resting at The Ossario.

Three Italians whose freedom was taken from them and died in Australia deserve a specific mention:

MR Librio is Mario Roberto infant son of  Andrea and Giuseppina Librio. His parents were interned in Palestine and they arrived in Australia onboard Queen Elizabeth 23rd August 1941. His life was short: he was born 4th May 1942 and died 12th May 1942.

Cafiero Veneri was an Italian soldier captured at Sidi el Barrani on 11th December 1940.  He arrived in Australia from India on the Mariposa 26th April 1944. He was the son of Aldreo Veneri and Maria Fabbri from Porto Fuori Ravenna.  He was 32 years old when he drowned at Mornington on 23rd December 1945; caught in an undertow at Point Nepean, his body was never recovered.

Attilio Zanier was an Italian soldier captured at Asmara on 28th April 1941.  He arrived in Australia from India on the Mariposa 5th February 1944. He was 42 years old when he was gored by a bull on a farm in the W12 PWCC Narembeen district.  His death notice was advertised in The West Australian, a tribute from the Hall family:

Zanier (Attilio) – Accidentally killed on Frimley Farm Narembeen, on September 3 1944.  Attilio Zanier (prisoner of war). A stranger in a strange land. Husband of Erminia de Comun, fond father of Alcide of Ravascletto Udine Italia. Deeply regretted by the Hall family. (1944 ‘Family Notices’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 5 September, p. 1. , viewed 25 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44976920)

There has been an overwhelming generalisation that there were many POWs who commited suicide especially during 1946 when the men were desperate to return home to Italy. The nature and/or cause of death for the 95 Italian prisoners of war is illustrated in the graph below.  The numbers speak for themselves.

Deaths 95 updated

 

PS The main focus of my research has been Italian prisoners of war in Queensland. Their history is one small part of the bigger picture.  War is complicated and complex as were the groups of men, women and children who were interned in prisoner of war camps in Australia: Italian and German prisoners of war in other Australian states; Australian residents who were German, Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, Polish, Japanese, Spanish … who were interned; German and Italians who were resident in United Kingdom and interned in Australia; Italian families who were living in Palestine and interned in Australia;  and Italian and Austrian merchant seaman who were interned in Australia.

 

 

 

 

A Very Special Thank You

Gayndah. Robinson. POW photo

“Glen Olive” Gayndah: Robinsons and Italian POWs

 Ruby Robinson (at back)  and  Olive Munro (Robinson) (in front)

Who is Who? Antonio Colomba, Antonio Alfarano or Giuseppe Vergine

(from the Collection of Avis Hildreth)

“Glen Olive” and “Glen Ellen” in Gayndah were farmed by father and son Francis Charles Robinson and Francis William Robinson who employed Italian prisoners of War to help work their citrus orchards.  Five young Italians, all in their early 20s and from farming backgrounds, arrived at the Robinson’s property on 8 July 1944: Domenico Petruzzi, Nicola Micali, Antonio Colomba, Antonio Alfarano and Giuseppe Vergine.

Avis Hildreth granddaughter of Frank Senior relates with fondness family memories of Domenico Petruzzi: “My late mother, Ruby Robinson, remembered him as being very young.  He was well regarded by the Robinson family and according to family accounts, he did not want to return to Italy when the war ended… Domenico gave some needlework to my late mother.  It is an arrangement of Australian wildflowers. My mother gave it to my sister”.

Gayndah Tapestry (2)

Domenico Petruzzi’s Gift to Robinson Family

(from the Collection of Colleen Lindley)

Colleen Lindley, granddaughter of Frank Robinson Senior, is now the custodian of this special gift and her mother also entrusted her with its story. She says, “I only tell you the history of this piece as I was told by my Mother. My Mother had this needle work sent out to her by mail order. She intended to do the needle work herself.  Domenico asked her if she had any needle work that he could do to fill in the time of a night.  My Mother decided to give it to Domenico as a gift, never thinking that in time, it would become his thank you and farewell gift to her.   It was to be a cushion cover, but I was not willing to use it this way as I felt that it should be preserved. Mum had kept it wrapped up in a cloth with her linen until the day that she gave it to me.  The lettering at the bottom was Domenico’s doing.  He had put the lettering on the bottom and told her what the letters stood for: Remember Domenico Petruzzi Prisoner of War”.

 Before Domenico left the Gayndah orchard, Mr Robinson had discussed with him the possibility of sponsorship so that he could return to Australia.  The Robinson family could not locate or contact Domenico in Italy and letters sent to him possibly did not find him.

Over the years, family members thought often about Domenico.  An ABC documentary in the early 2000s reignited Ruby Robinson’s interest in finding Domenico and so daughter Colleen took up the challenge.  She contacted local historical societies and the Australian War Memorial but there were no answers nor leads.

There were many complications in the search: AWM requested a Prisoner of War Number; Ruby Robinson had never seen Domenico’s name written down so spelt it as she remembered it: Dominico Pertruse; and even if the family found his record, his home town was written as Nizzanello Lecce rather than Lizzanello Lecce.  Such are the many brick walls that Queenslanders have hit when trying to locate information on their Italian POWs.

Domenico Petruzzi’s gift is an enduring memory of his time working on a citrus orchard outside of Gayndah.  It is beautifully crafted and a treasured memento from the time Italian prisoners of war worked on Queensland farms.

More importantly, Domenico has had his wish come true.  His story had been embroidered into his gift and the sentiments of the words have ensured that he has not been forgotten.  Domenico Petruzzi’s Australia family will continue to remember him as this gift is passed down through the generations.

 

Why?

Why research Italian prisoners of war in Queensland?

Book Launch Joanne - Copy

Joanne Tapiolas – Accidental Historian

(photo courtesy of Michele Sinclair)

My research started with the Italian prisoners of war growing vegetables up river Home Hill.  As a Burdekin local, I had heard stories about these Italians who had come from North Africa after being captured.  Memories of the locals of the time are sketchy, ‘we knew about them’ ‘ we knew they were there but not much else’ ‘one didn’t talk about those things back then’.  In my mind, there must have been a barbed wire enclosure housing 20 – 30 Italian POWs to grow vegetables.

A puzzle for my young 10 year old self was the image of the map in my school Atlas.  North Africa was a long long way from Home Hill in northern Queensland. Questions beginning with WHY and HOW and WHAT stayed in my memory bank.  Not too much of this made sense.

Map of World

When I found the time to do some research, I consulted an excellent publication on the Burdekin history : Black Snow and Liquid Gold by John Kerr.  A section covering the years of the war provided me with the background and details.  I found the names of two Italian POWs who twice escaped the hostel BUT I became frustrated because in an editing error, the names of these men were printed incorrectly.  They are named as Pietro Di Vincenzo and Landolfi Pasquale.  Their names are Vincenzo DI PIETRO and Pasquale LANDOLFI.  The other Italians mentioned have their names correctly ordered.

My dad was as amazed as myself at the records I began to uncover. The research told a story of 250 Italian POWs who lived in barracks and grew vegetables for the armed forces in North Queensland. Now Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill not only had a history but also a context.  It was one of 10 prisoner of war control centres in Queensland and it operated as part of the Commonwealth Department of Commerce and Agriculture’s Vegetable Project : Home Hill and Ayr.

I became quite attached to MY Home Hill POWs especially when I could put a face to a name.  I left a copy of my research with the local historical society hoping that one day, the children or grandchildren of a Home Hill POW would pass through Home Hill looking for some information.  At least the list of POW names attached would verify that their father or grandfather had been at the hostel up river Home Hill.

I put aside other documents I found about the other nine centres in Queensland, just in case.  I felt that if the Burdekin locals had little knowledge about the Home Hill POW hostel, then did people in the other nine districts know about their POW history.

Curiosity got the better of me and so I began digging for information.  I found little bits of information BUT I was frustrated because the information in the public domain was scarce and incomplete.  The only photographic evidence of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland is three photos taken at Calico Creek.  They are housed in the John Oxley Library. Other records mention only six centres and there is no reference to the differences between a control centre: without guard and a hostel. Once such reference is: Prisoner-of-war control depots were established at Stanthorpe, Home Hill, Gympie, Nambour, Gayndah and Texas.(Fortress Queensland 1942-1945)

I believed that the history of Italian prisoner of war in Queensland needed to be more comprehensive,  contain various perspectives,  and include those who had a memory of the Italians an understanding of the context surrounding the placement of these men on the family farm.

It became obvious that this history was not found in the books of the libraries.  This history is found in the memories of Queensland locals and Italian families. Letters to editors, newspaper articles, letters to historical societies, Facebook posts, cold call letters, website development, oral history interviews, face to face interviews and radio interviews.

Slowly but surely, Queenslanders and Italians have helped write this history.

And just as I had hoped, the son of a Home Hill POW did come looking for the footsteps of this father.  Francesco (Ciccio) Cipolla was at the Q6 PWCH Home Hill from April 1944 to November 1945.  His son, Nino, on previous trips to Australia had visited the PW & I Camps at Hay and Cowra but the notation Q6 Home Hill had remained a mystery.  On a holiday to Melbourne in 2017, Nino searched yet again for some reference to this Q6 Home Hill. Nino found my research and Stepping Back in Time, Ciccio’s son was able to understand better his father’s time growing vegetables for supply to the armed forces in the north.

2017 Q6 36

Nino Cipolla Home Hill Railway Station April 2017

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

And back to the answer to the question: Why research Italian prisoners of war in Queensland?

Because it hadn’t been done… because if it wasn’t done now, the stories would be lost to time…because it needed to be done…Because it is a valuable part of Queensland history and this history should have a voice.

The rest they say is “HISTORY” and on these pages is this history.

Walking in their boots JPEG

Italian Soldiers at War

Researching Italian prisoners of war on farms in Queensland was my primary research focus.  With over 1500 Italians living and working in Queensland, it was difficult not to get kidnapped my peripheral topics.

But I soon realised I couldn’t research the Queensland Italians without knowing where they had been fighting and captured.  And with thanks to the families of Angelo Amante, Francesco Cipolla, Stefano Lucantoni, Ermanno Nicoletti, Adofo D’Addario, Luigi Iacopini, Antioco Pinna and Nicola Micala we have the  images below of the Italians as soldiers.

I was overwhelmed by the statistics for Italians captured  at Battle of Bardia so I spent some time reading newspaper articles for the Australian soldiers’ perspective, books in the James Cook University for detailed military and strategy information and personal memories of Italian prisoners of war.

 

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Delving into the battles of Beda Fomm,  Sidi el Barrani, Wolkefit,  Buq Buq,  Keren,  Tobruk,  Gialo Oasis and Giarabub Oasis happened as I  assisted Italian families with their research on their fathers and grandfathers. Appendix 2 in  Walking in their Boots   is a comprehensive list of places of capture for Queensland Italian prisoners of war.

Additionally, Libya.Egypt.Eritrea.Ethiopia is a photo story of a number of battles together with personal photos of Australia’s Italian prisoners of war.

 

Left photo: Vincenzo Piciaccia Right photo: Vincenzo Piciaccia on right

(photo courtesy of Leo Piciacci)

Vincenzo Piciaccia was 19 years old when these photos were taken in Libya.  The photo on the right shows the bravado of young men from Ascoli Piceno with Vincenzo holding his dagger in one hand and another man holding out his rifle. Side by side with weapons of war are the everyday items:  a  food container which Vincenzo holds in his left hand and the man on the left also holds a billy can. Vincenzo was 20 years old when he was captured at Bardia 4.1.41 and 26 years old when he returned to Italy: a youth stolen from him by war.

A report written by Major A.E. Reed C.C. No. 3 Reinforcement Group in June 1941, records a little information about the captured Italians soldiers:

“There is a large internment Camp for prisoners of war on the road from Gaza to Jeruselem and another near Ismailia.  I was informed that there was also one near Suez, but I was unable to get any reliable information regarding the capacity or other detials of these camps.  They are brilliantly illuminated at night and can be seen for from many miles away.  On one night, however, an unidentifited plane machine-gunned the camp at Suez, and since my return there has benn a report of the bombing of the camp on the road to Jeruselem. From enquiries I made, I was informed that large numbers of prisoners had been sent to India and some to South Africa.  … prisoners are also being sent to Ceylon, where, I was informed, a large number are alreay located.  The shortage of transport was stated to me to be  a reason for the delay in sending prisoners to Australia, and while I was at Suez two large ships which, it was understood, would be bringing prisoners here, [Australia] were diverted to South Africa, one of them taking women and children who were being evacuated.”  AWM2018.8.411

 

Treasures in Thread

Treasures in Thread

Treasured keepsakes, given as gifts to Queensland farming families taken home to Italy come in many forms.  One does not necessarily pair needlework with Italian soldiers. Possibly a skill taught in the camps to wile away the hours of monotony.  The hands of farmers and soldiers were capable of producing the most delicate needlework.

Salvatore Morello took his embroidered work home to his wife and daughter. The Sacred Heart of Mary (Sacro Cuore di Maria) was worked on canvas.  The angels’ banner reveals that it was created 1942 in India.

Morello Embroidery 1942 India

Sacro Cuore di Maria

(photo courtesy of Luigi Tommasi )

Knight on Horse was embroidered by Francesco Pintabona who stayed with the Harsant family at Warril View via Boonah.  Made into a cushion, the fabric has yellowed with age, but the embroidery shows a calm hand an a good eye.

Francesco Pintabona

Bouquet of Australia Wildflowers was crafted by Domenico Petruzzi who lived with the Robinson family at Glen Ellen via Gayndah.  The lettering at the bottom was Domenico’s addition: Remember Domenico Petruzzi Prisoner of War.

Gayndah Tapestry (2)

Embroidery by Domenico Petruzzi Q4 Gayndah

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Helen Mullan (nee Rackley) explains this about her embroidered gift: Before he left the farm, Domenico gave me the needlework of “Madonna and Child”.  He had painstakingly worked on a men’s handkerchief, when in a prison camp in India, I believe.  It was kept folded in an envelope for many years.  It is my special treasure, a reminder of Domenico, and I felt I needed to share this treasure with everyone, so I had it framed.  It has pride of place in my China Cabinet. You can see that is a combination of needlework and drawing with a painted background.  I have often wondered if he ran out of cotton as there are sections which have not been embroidered like the feet and the arms of the angel. It looks like he copied the image because you can see his pencilled in grid pattern.  As an adult, I reflect upon what it must have been like in the POW camp in India and the hours he spent embroidering this “Madonna and Child”.

Domenico.Rackely.jpeg

Embroidery by Domenico Mascuilli

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Another beautiful embroidery made in Derradoon India in 1942 can be viewed at Embroidery made by an Italian POW

Crocifisso Salvatore Martinicca’s  embroidered  handkerchief was sewn while he was in England: Saint Antonio di Padova  

Home on the Farm

Prisoner of War Quarters on Queensland Farms

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

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

Boatfield.Goat Shed.jpeg

 Ol’ Goat Shed at the Boatfield Farm Amiens via Stanthorpe

(photo courtesy of Paula Boatfield)

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

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

(photos courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

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

Boonah.Harsant.Pintabona

Workers Cottage at the Harsant Farm Warrill View via Boonah

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

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

“If only walls can talk!”

Jones.Janette.Dorothy

Janette and Dorothy Jones in front of Prisoner of War Accommodation

at Rural Retreat Severnlea 2018

(Photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

From Official Records

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

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

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

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

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

The conclusion of the report includes recommendations:

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

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

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

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

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

Mittagong, 27 May 1944 (NAA: A989)

Nambour.Schulz. Itys Hut 5 (2)

Schulz Farm Image Flats via Nambour

(photo courtesy of Martin Schulz)

 

 

 

 

Tribute: The Ossario

During World War II 4,000 Italian, German and Japanese POWs were detained at Murchison. Those who died at Murchison were buried in the local cemetery but floods in 1956 did major damage to the graves.

The Italian families in the municipality were persuaded by Luigi Gigliotti to pay for the building of a mausoleum – the Ossario. Luigi also convinced authorities to bury all the Italian POWs and detainees who died in Australian prison camps in the mausoleum. The Ossario is a fitting tribute to those Italians who were never to return home from Australia and each year on Remembrance Day there is a mass and service in recognition of these men.

The Ossario, as is shown below, is also the final resting place of the five Italians who died in Queensland:  Giovanni Ciccocioppo (Q1 Stanthorpe); Nicola Evangelista (Q2 Nambour); Agostino Naibo (Q3 Gympie); Francesco Leone (Q4 Gayndah) and Francesco Primiano (Q7 Kenilworth). They were reburied at the Ossario on 6 September 1961.  (National Archives of Australia NAA: A8234, 13A, 1915-1961)

Ossario.jpg

Ossario Murchison 

(Murchison and District Historical Society Inc., 2014)

A special thank you to Kay Ball from Murchison and District Historical Society. Kay lay the wreath for the Evangelista family from Cassino Italy at the ceremony and service 11th November 2018.

IMG_7202.JPGKay Ball Murchison: Laying Wreath for the Evangelista Family

(photo courtesy of Kay Ball)

 

 

Rememberance Day 11th November 2018

Ossario Murchison

(photos courtesy of Kay Ball)