Category Archives: Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill

Welcome… Benvenuto

Welcome to Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War  a comprehensive archive of documents, artefacts, testaments, photographs and research relating to this compelling chapter in Australian history. This is a community history involving Australian and Italian families from ten countries who have shared their stories so that this history is not forgotten.

Sneath Murray Bridge

Over 18000 Italian Prisoners of War came to Australia from 1941 – 1945. Captured in theatres of war in North Africa, East Africa and Europe, they were transported to Australia  via staging camps in Egypt, Palestine and India.

There is much written about internment in Cowra, Murchison and Hay the main Prisoner of War and Internment Camps in New South Wales and Victoria, but only snippets of information are recorded about Queensland’s Italian prisoners of war.

This research features Italian prisoners of war and their farming families in Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales. Articles cut across a range of topics: the battles in Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Greece; the movement of prisoners from the place of capture to prisoner of war camps in Egypt and Palestine; interment in the camps of India; transport to Australia; repatriation from Australia and arrival in Naples.  

The stories and memories of Italian and Australian farming families gives this history a voice.  The diversity of photos and relics shared personalises what would otherwise be a very black and white official report.

The articles featured on the project’s website brings colour and personality to this almost forgotten chapter in Australia’s history.

List of Articles 

The Italian prisoners of war were more than just a POW.  They were fathers, brothers, sons and husbands from across Italy and from diverse backgrounds and occupations.

Follow their journey…. Walking in their Boots

 

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Nonno Ermano Nicoletti’s Journey

(Photos and documents from: AWM, Red Cross, NAA, Trove, Alessandra Nicoletti, Nambucca Guardian: Ute Schulenberg, David Akers)

 

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

Walking in their Boots

 

Walking in their Boots

Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland 1943-1946

Walking in their boots JPEG

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

200+ pages

English version only

For further details and to place an order:

contact Joanne Tapiolas e. joannetappy@gmail.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.

Boonah.Niebling1

Footprints in Concrete

Farm of Ron Niebling Lake Moogerah via Boonah

(photo courtesy of Pam Phillips (nee Niebling)

 

Gentilissima Signorina Irma

A trainee nurse, Irma Vettovalli was working at the Ayr General Hospital during 1944 and 1945 when Italian prisoners of war from Q6 Home Hill Hostel were admitted to the hospital. While the military rule was that Italian prisoners of war were not to fraternise with women, Irma was not about to let military regulations get in the way of her nursing duties.

Pane Irma.jpeg

Trainee Nurse: Irma Vettovalli

(photo courtesy of Pina Vettovalli)

Agostino Leto was admitted to the hospital for chronic appendicitis 29th May 1944.  The story goes that the senior doctor at the hospital refused to operate on a prisoner of war, but the junior doctor, Dr Kelly had no hesitation in acting according to the ethical obligations of his profession.

Once he was admitted to the ward, Irma Vettovalli, realising Agostino had little English, went out of her way to speak with this patient. The Matron ordered Irma to cease her contact with this prisoner and under no circumstance was she to talk to or nurse Agostino again.  A plucky 18-year-old, Irma offered her resignation to Dr Kelly, without reason.  Upon questioning Irma, Dr Kelly identified the issue and told Irma to continue as before.

Agostino spent one month at the Ayr Hospital before returning to Q6 Hostel on 29th June 1944  but he did not return home to Prizzi Italy until January 1947. Upon his return to Italy, his recount of his one month hospital stay to his mother, prompted her to write a letter to Irma. Irma’s care and ability to speak Italian, was remembered and retold with great affection and appreciation by Agostino.

Prizzi 20 February 1947

Gentilissima Signorina Irma,

…As a mum it softened by heart and I feel an ache in which I must thank you through this sheet of paper.  I hope you accept my poor letter writing… [my son] says that yours [your visits] as a nurse were special.  He found you and only you will remain in my heart and you will be unforgettable to my dear son.  I wish that I could see you in person so I can tell you all that my poor heart feels, that I cannot put on paper.

And so my most gracious Miss, this is a small token of my esteem and from all my family to pass on to your dear ones.  I wish you good fortune and every kind of good.  Consider me your unknown friend. Rosa Leto.”

Pane, Irma Envelope

 

Mail from Rosa Leto to Irma Vettovalli

(photo courtesy of Pina Vettovalli)

Held in high regard, Dr Kelly, the medical superintendent wrote in December 1945, “she [Irma] gave eminent satisfaction, on account of her obedience, application to duty and intelligence.”

In 1992, Irma Vettovalli (now Mrs Irma Pane) received an award from the Alpini and Friends Group “expressing their profound gratitude for Irma’s ‘Noble gesture of Human Dedication for Italian Prisoners of War recuperating in hospital during the war period’.”

Irma wrote about those times, “Because of my dedication to Nursing in Ayr, I came in contact with people from all walks of life, colour and creed and having had respect and compassion for all during their illness, I too gained their respect.  Re- the war years, on some occasions only the ignorant would make hurtful remarks…”

Those war years were complicated years for Irma’s family.  Enrico Vettovalli, Irma’s father, was interned in February 1942 and sent to Gaythorne for processing and then to Loveday Internment Camp.  He was a naturalised British Subject and had been resident in Australia since March 1922.  Enrico was interned until May 1943 when he was released to work for Manpower SA.  In November 1943, he returned to Queensland.

Adding to the complexity of war, Irma’s brother Donato had in January 1942, been called to duty in the Australian Army. He was released for discharge in May 1945. Born in Italy, he was three years old when he migrated to Australia with his mother 1924.

Agostino Leto is seated first on the left.

 

Leto 3

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49115 C. Trentino; 49354 G. Ippolito; 49592 A. Poggi; 49107 G. Zunino; 48833 R. Bartoli; 49212 R. Papini; 48863 S. De Micco.

Front row: 48939 A. LETO; 49172 A. Mandrini; 57531 B. Protano; 49923 F. Carlone; 45196 A. Ciofani. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/11)

 

 

 

I want to go home…

Crescenzio RAVO was 18 years old when he was captured at Tobruk on 22nd January 1941.  He spent his 19th birthday on the Queen Elizabeth as she made her way to Australia, arriving in Sydney 15th October 1941.

Ravo 1

 Crescenzio Ravo: 19 years old Cowra PW & I Camp 17.11.41

NAA: A7919, C100635

His 20th and 21st birthdays were celebrated in Cowra and his 22nd and 23rd birthdays at Q6 Home Hill hostel. Three weeks after his 24th birthday, he escaped from Murchison POW Camp.

While he was at Q6 Home Hill hostel, Sept 1944 to November 1945, he had spent 67 days in detention.  He has escaped from Q6 and was found at Iona School and had also gone walkabout a couple of times while on work duty. Once in Murchison, he damaged property of the Commonwealth, used threatening language and then escaped again.

History is interesting. The full picture does not always reveal itself.  In a moment of sentimentality, I reflect that Crescenzio was the age of my sons, while I have been undertaking this research.  I wonder how they would act and react at being in such an unfamiliar environment. Both would endure their situation, very differently.

I think however angry Crescenzio was, however brazen and sullen, the final page in his file helps tell his story; he just wanted to go home.

Repatriation orders were for all Italian prisoners of war to transported to Italy.  Those men who were Italian, but were residents of Libya or Eritrea or Ethiopia were placed in an uncertain situation.  Home was not Italy, and therefore once in Naples, would transfer to their home in a ex-Italian colony be automatic? This is the situation Crescenzio found himself in: repatriation to Italy, but how would he get home to Tripoli? Did repatriation orders include directives for those Italians whose home was not in Italy?  Would Crescenzio be stranded in Naples without the means to make his way to Libya?

Ravo 2

Letter by Ravo to PW Camp Authorities

NAA: A7919, C100635

What is known about this situation is that a return to Libya was difficult.

Here are the journeys of two other Italian soldiers who were Libyan residents:

From ‘A Father’s Love’: Liborio Bonadonna

But Liborio’s return to his family in Tripoli was further delayed. Once he arrived in Naples, he required an operation.  Fighting bureaucracy, he tried to gain permission several times to reach Libya and his wife and parents.

Liborio’s grandson, Liborio Mauro says that “He told her [my grandmother] if I’m not able to join you, I would like to go back in Australia. After 3 times, he finally joined my grandmother in Libya where my father Carmelo was born in Tripoli in 1949.

Abele Damini was also a resident of Libya.   Valerio Damini writes, “After the war, Abele came to Afragola (Napoli province) identification center, he did not wait for official re-embarkation and, boarding clandestinely in an illegal ship, he tried to reach Libya coast by himself. He then be imprisoned in Libyan prison (for I do not know how long), where he got sick and died.”

After six years in captivity, these Italians who were residents of the colonies, deserved quick and free passage to their homes and families.

Report Card

The Italian POWs at Q6 Home Hill were a mixed group.  Mr Bulcock, the director of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, had reported that out of 230 POWs at Home Hill, only 100 was of any value. Accordingly, that left 130 POWs with questionable work ethics.

Here is a smattering of comments about some of those 130 Italians:

Unfit for Hostel Control Conditions, poor worker, character: BAD, agitator, unsuitable for rural work, tired to get clothes and sandals to POW in detention to assist his escape, sullen, refuses to work, bad influence, insolent, insubordinate, trouble maker, connected to tunnel in No 8 Camp 1942, keen Fascist, dangerous, cunning, crafty, refused to be finger printed, bad influence on the moral of others, ardent Fascist, adopted a go slow attitude to work, inclined to be obstinate, joined a hunger strike for 48 hours while in detention.

Unfortunately for the ‘100 of any value’, there is scant information available about the hostel, let alone information on their ‘outstandingly co-operative behaviour’.

Following are extracts of records for three Home Hill Italian POWs who were considered ‘unfit’ or ‘unsuitable for rural work and were transferred to Murchison.

Report Card 1

(NAA: A7919, C100735)

Report Card 2

NAA: A7917, C103433

Report Card 3

NAA: A7917, C100723

Snippets from Q6 Home Hill Hostel

What do we know about the Q6 Hostel at Home Hill?

Quite a lot, that is, about the bricks and mortar of the facility.  I can tell you that the Sullage Treatment Plant cost 970 pounds, that the dimensions of the drying room was 34′ x 17’4″ and that each of the ten sleeping huts were fitted with 6 x 75 watt lamps in E.I shades.  The layout of the QM and Ration Store and Admin Hut are illustrated in the plan below…

QM Ration 1

NAA: J153, T1595

What do we know about the men at this site?

Quite a lot in that the names and details of 272 Italian prisoners of war who lived on this site have been documented.  There were men named: Libertario, Bruno, Ambrogio, Gisberto, Eupidio, Paride, Primo, Orlando, Ciro, Urbano.  The majority were born in Italy although Giovanni Beni was born in Argentina, Tommaso Norton in Michigan USA,  Francesco Sica in New York. From the north to the south, east coast and west, they were men form across Italy: Ciro Puntel was from Paluzza Udine and Antonio Perez from Floridia Siracusa.

Further debunking the myth that ALL Italian soldiers were poor peasant farmers from the south are the diverse range of occupations: sculptor, book seller, student, policeman, linotypist, chrome plater, waiter,electrician, miner, tailor, mason.

 What do we know about these husbands and sons?

From the banks of the Burdekin River the following letters were written:

August 27-8-1945

… I am very happy that all the family is well as I assure you that I too am getting by very well and I hope that will continue to the end. … my heart is full of joy that you are well, at peace and that my parents look after you well with our son Eugenio. Rosina my sorrow is for our long distance.. That our son is five years old and does not know me but all will pass and when I return … My Rosina don’t talk to me any more about my sister Caterina and why she is keeping away, lets’ leave it at that I close with the pen but not the heart that always thinks of you, big kisses to you and to our son Eugenio big kisses from me who is your husband deeply in his heart…

Francesco Martucci

(Letter courtesy of Reinhard Krieger)

Letter writer Francesco Martucci is seated second from the left.

Martucci, F 3980530

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 45797 G. Gravagno; 49597 C. Pantisano; 45656 F. Feraglioni; 45935 R. Lauro; 45860 A. Galasso; 48552 I. Moscatelli. Front row: 49890 V. Penna; 46127 F. Martucci; 46753 D. Sangiuliano; 49484 O. Goffredi. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030149/12 Photographer Lewecki)

21 October 1945

Dear parents

Every week I always send you one or two memos: and you my dear ones, what do you do. You don’t write to me any more. Maybe you have forgotten your distant son. I will never believe that. It may be the distance that causes a long delay in the mail. I am in excellent health as I hope you all are… Hoping that some words of comfort from you will reach me soon as I am now sending to you. Thinking of you always I send you greetings and kisses . Your affectionate son  Massimo Kisses to my little nephews and nieces

Massimo Gatti

(Letter courtesy of Reinhard Krieger)

Letter writer Massimo Gatti is standing third from left.

Gatti, M 4110896

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49332 E. Bartolotti; 49793 R. Accorsi; 45739 M. Gatti; 46096 M. Matteini; 46054 A. Matteini; 45680 N. Falcioni. Front row: 46110 A. Montanari; 45737 B. Gambuti; 45005 B. Arbasi; 49364 G. Di Gloria. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030147/09 Photographer Lewecki)

 How much interaction was their between Australians and the POWs?

Not sure!  We know that civilians were employed by the Commonwealth Vegetable project as supervisors for farm work.  Their knowledge of crop growing in the tropics was vital in training the Italians in large scale crop production.

We know there was a cross over between Land Army Girls and Italian prisoners of war at least on Fowler’s farm. This was not uncommon and farms in Stanthorpe and Gympie had both work forces employed on their farms.

Kent Fowler confirmed that the Italians at Q6 had concerts.  Kent says that his father, uncle and grandfather would go up river to the concerts performed by the Italian POWs.

At times during the operation of Q6 electrical contractors and members of the Civil Constructional Corps were employed at Q6. Arthur Howie was the only electrical contractor within 40 mile radius available to install 125 lights and 4 power points in the timber framed buildings.

On  12th  September 1944, Thomas Ryan a plumber by trade was injured while at the POW Camp Home Hill.  He was employed by the Civil Constructional Corps as a member of a team working on top of a building at P.O.W. Camp Home Hill when a sheet of fibrolite gave way under his weight and he fell through the roof.  First aid was rendered at the POW Camp Home Hill by Italian POW doctor.  The doctor at the time was 2nd Lieutenant Anielleo Curzio, a surgeon.  Curzio was assigned to the 224 Field Hospital and was captured at Tobruk on 22nd January 1941.

We also know that a number of Italian prisoners of war were admitted to the Ayr Hospital and that Trainee Nurse Irma Vettovalli nursed at least two of the men.

Pina Vettovalli (nee Riviera) remembers clearly the day a truck pulled up outside the Delta Café in Ayr where she was working. Pina recalls, “It was a hot day, and one of those trucks with the timber railings and a canvas top pulled up.  The men in the back were in working clothes and the boss who looked Greek came in and ordered milkshakes.  I could see the men in the back of the truck, and it was a hot day, so I filled up with water a couple of those metal milkshake cups and took it out to the men.  The boss, and it was more the way he said it, but he said, ‘You know what you did?  You are not to be talking to those men. You are not to go anywhere near them.’  I was only a teenager, and I was just being courteous.  I found out later, that those men I had given water to, where some of the prisoner of war from the Home Hill camp.”  The boss man could have been Concetto Zappala or Sam Casella the Home Hill hostel Army interpreters.

Jocelyn Gould reminisces that her father, Bob Mann, was in the army and “I remember him saying that he was a guard there for some time and there was some sort of agriculture going on which I think may have been growing vegetables.  Another farm used was owned by George Fowler just up the road from ours.  Like most who have served in wars, dad rarely spoke of that time. He was also at Stuart Creek prison where there were other Italian internees, some of whom I think he may have known.

Helen Gelling recalls that the Italians had ‘market gardens, they had borders around the gardens which they sourced from the hills’.

John Milan recalls that Ian Becke sourced bricks from the onsite bakery and that he used to build his pizza oven.

Allison Ready and Jennifer Reid remembers that their father   was a camp cook in the POW camp up that way. Their dad’s name is William Robert Young. He only died 6 years ago aged 90 years. He talked about his life to us so much but unfortunately like most family members we didn’t write down details. If he was still alive we could simply just ask him. So many memories and local history dies with the oldies.

What remains on the Q6 Hostel site?

Charlie Scuderi remembers: “We went there many years ago with friends who had metal detectors. All that remained was a bunch of concrete slabs. Some of these slabs appeared to be shower rooms judging by the drains in the floors. Others could have been toilet blocks. Others? Who knows. The metal detectors only found nails, nails and more nails. Old timers tell of ‘truckloads’ of these prisoners wearing purple shirts being transported to this place.”

Helen Gelling shared: “There is not much left now as it was ripped up to plant cane. But there are some foundations and sewerage on the river bank. It is private property now. The managers house was on our farm.”

On the banks of the river you can find a banana plant, custard apple and citrus tree poking through the weed and rubbish shrub.  Possibly, these are remnants of the Q6 site.

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Banana on the banks of the Burdekin River at site of Q6 Home Hill

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)