Category Archives: Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill

Not Happy

What was it like living as an Italian prisoner of war at Q6 PWCH Home Hill?

Sante Testa a farmer from Pomigliano D’Arco (Napoli) grew up in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius.  He was 20 years old when he was captured in Libya on 21st January 1941.  His date of capture suggests he was stationed at Tobruk when the Australian army attacked this Libyan stronghold. A private in the Italian army: 10 Artiglieria 7th Gruppo 2nd Batteria, he was one of 25,000 Italians captured at Tobruk.

By the time he arrived at Q6 Home Hill, his travels had taken him on a long and unexpected journey: Tobruk-Suez-Trinocomalee-Fremantle-Sydney-Hay-Cowra-Gaythorne-Home Hill. Unable to sign his name upon arrival in Australia, his ‘new’ world would have been very unfamiliar.

Testa was in the first group of Italian prisoners of war to arrive at Q6, which was still in its construction phase.  It was April 1944 and a month earlier a cyclone had crossed the coast between Bowen and Townsville with Home Hill recording 509 points (c. 130mm) in the last week of March.  The Burdekin had been in minor flood and on 31st March 1944, the Burdekin bridge had 2 ft 6 ins of water over the rails. The rain had delayed construction.

By the 14th May PW and AMF personnel were still in tents with no floor boards, they were sleeping on bush bunks.  Work completed to the Q6 facility included: QM Store, Canteen, AMF latrine – ¾ complete, AMF sleeping huts – stumps and bearers in, PW latrine – complete, PW ablutions- frame completed and floor concreted, PW sleeping huts – not commenced, chlorination pit for septic tank – not installed.

By August 1944 living conditions had improved and the camp was completed including hot water and septic latrines.

But for Sante Testa, his personal circumstances changed in August.  His testimony in his defence of a charge of ‘refusing to obey a military command’ provides a personal insight into his interactions with the army staff at Q6 Home Hill and his views including unjust treatment meted out to the Italian prisoners of war.

DEFENCE

The accused being duly sworn gives the following evidence:

On 2 August 44 in the afternoon I done my duty like all other prisoners of war. Sgt Gibson did not send me to prison because of the work.  He sent me to prison because he doesn’t like me, because I had asked him for a change of squad.  The same day in the evening at teatime while I was proceeding for a wash, Sgt Gibson called me.  He said, “Testa you come to the commandant”.  I replied “Yes”.  After I finished washing I went.  He took me to the Commandant.  The Commandant asked me why did I refuse to work.  I told him that I had not refused I had done my duty.  The commandant sent me to prison.  I told the Commandant “you are sending me to prison unjustly that to-day I did my duty”. On 3 August about quarter past eight the Lieut. Hamilton and Sgt Zappala came to the Compound and he told me “Testa why are you in the Compound”. I answered “Sgt Gibson sent me unjustly”. The Lieutenant told me “Testa you come to work”. I said “No”. Had the Lieutenant told me that I would have been paid I would have come out to work willingly.  After that he took me to the Commandant.  The commandant asked me if I would work that morning. I told him “Yes” but I asked for a change in squad.  He told me “No”.  And the Commandant declared me as having refused, but I had not refused.  Had the Commandant told me that I wold have been paid I would have gone out willingly because he on the 19 June had sent me to prison without any trial and I was awarded seven days detention. Three days bread and water and four days, Australian rations and worked without pay, and for this reason I said “No”.  I did not refuse for any other reason. A Prisoner of War with seven days detention, three days on bread and water, worked and no pay and forfeited his free issue of cigarettes.  If on 3 August he would have been told that he would have been paid he would have gone to work willingly.

I have now been 19 days in detention unjustly and have had no soap and no writing material and no free issue of cigarettes.  This morning was the first issue of soap I have received, because the Commandant knew that there was Officers coming. 

There will come a day at this camp that no Prisoner of war will go to work because the Camp Commandant he punish the men unjustly and if a Prisoner of War has an accident and that would be sick for a period of about 20 days the Camp Commandant does not allow him to make purchases at the canteen.

His evidence is read to accused.

I certify that the above Summary of Evidence was taken by my at HOME HILL on the Twenty-first day of August 1944, and that the requirements of Rules of Procedure 4  ( C) , (D), (E ),  (F) and (G) have been complied with.

 Nugent Wallman [Captain AIF Lawyer Stationed in Townsville]

(NAA:A11626, POW20)

A summary of Sante Testa’s record and detentions is as follows:

3.6.44 Q6 Home Hill 4 days detention by C/O

19.7.44 Q6 Home Hill 7 days detention

3.10.44 Q6 Home Hill 120 days detention by court martial ‘disobeying a lawful command

7.1.45 Hay Detention Barracks – 3 days No. 1 Diet, gave letter w/o permission to a POW

And so Testa’s journey continued: Q6 Home Hill-Gaythorne in transit-Hay Detention Barracks-Murchison-Naples

3936403 Testa 030228 13

Murchison, Australia. 1 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D1 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49374 A. Curcio; 48235 S. Nardea; 62062 A. Criscuolo; 48243 G. Olivares; 55953 G. Dinapoli. Front row: 64344 A. Fantetti; 56526 A. Picheca; 64339 P. Fabrizio; 46885 S. Testa; 63786 I. Buttarelli. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photo documentation suggests that names are listed, back row, front row, left to right.  (AWM Image 030228/13, Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

Trouble in the Tropics

I keep being drawn back to Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill.  It is after all my starting point; a personal interest in finding the history to this site.

By the time some of the Home Hill Italian prisoners of war arrived at Q6, they had been in captivity for three years and had experienced life in camps at Hay, Cowra and Yanco.  One could say, they were ‘camp savvy’ regarding their rights under the terms of the Geneva Convention. 

Three Italians who wanted their views on record were Mario De Nigris, Ottorino Palermo and Alfonso Lopez. A letter was penned to Captain Burke outlining their objections to their treatment at Q6 Home Hill; all three signed the letter.

There are two sides to every story.

A note in one of the military files records a statement from a Commandant about this letter and one of the writers:

‘An insolent truculent trouble maker. Author of a most insolent and threatening letter sent to his Camp Commandant and useless as a worker, or for any other constructive purpose. He is an extremely bad influence among other P.W.s and good for nothing at all.’

The letter is strongly worded, critical and angry:

14-11-44

Captain,

This letter forwarded to you is the fourth of the things we draw to your notice t0 – in the first three we have not been given no exit.  This signifys being laxidaisical or either you don’t take offence at the words written to you, or either the Interpreter who translates the letters hides the significance of the words, and this signifys cowardice.

First of all we will bring to your knowledge that the faithful Interpreter not only does not understand Italian, but also does not understand English correctly, therefore he can never and never be an Interpreter.  We have asked for an improvement in Rations, we have begged to now the Canteen Profits, a major cleanliness of the camp, of having fixed Barbers who can keep us clean.  There are no disinfectants for the Barracks, and for a month there has been no hygiene paper in the Latrines.  You have put the pigs almost in the Barracks, dogs that go into the Camp, horses, cows etc., etc., This is incivility, cowardice, brutality, created only by yourself and your crawlers.

A few days back you itemised rules, addressing the name of the ‘Adjutant of the POW Camp, and you and your faithful Interpreter think that we believe the dirty words spoken to the POW. If so, you are in complete error.  These instructions written by you and read by your faithful, is nothing but abuses, because there is no one to control you, and therefore to refill your wallet through the POW vital interest.  We, the POW have been in Australia for four (4) years, and always worked conscientiously without Guards.  We have never permitted ourselves to escape, either from Camp or from work. Can you explain why? No – you do not know.  It is because, both in COWRA and HAY Camps, there were honest and human Officers commanding, and not those who try to rob the POW because they have no one to defend them.

Its not enough that from our Rations and from the PW Canteen, you keep all your men, and bank your money, but also appropriated the Canteen Profits which you had the barbarious courage to say that in six months they £1.6.6. this is open face robbery.  The cigarettes taken from the punished PW, are seen smoked by your dependents.  This is what you do.  Therefore we say that in the COWRA-HAY Camps we never escaped, and instead here we will never and never cease to escape, until the cleanliness and the Superior Command won’t make provisions for everything.  Regards the armed guards you send out with every gang, by which you think to dominate us POW, you are wrong.  On the contrary, if sometime you do not wish to observe that the POW are capable of tying hand and foot and disarming the Guard and Sgt, do away with the Guard.   

(NAA:A7919, C100387)

For their ‘honesty’ the three men were awarded 28 days detention and transferred to Murchison.  It was however around this time that Captain Burke was replaced with Captain Pollock as Commandant of Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill. 

IMG_7294.JPG

 View from site of Q6 PWCH Home Hill looking across the Burdekin River

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

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

Military Court Held in Home Hill

Not sure how this was kept quiet in Home Hill!

On 2nd and 3rd October 1944, a military court was convened at the Home Hill Court House to try Private Bartolomeo Fiorentino, Private Luigi Tesoro and Private Sante Testa on the charge with a breach of the National Security (Prisoner of War) Regulations, that is to say:  Army Act Section 9 (2)  ‘committing a military offence, that is to say, disobeying a lawful command given by his superior officer.’

In attendance were:

Major E Mullins – President

Capt RN Shannon and Capt RJ Hatch – Members

Capt AD Barnard – Waiting Member

Capt KR Townley – Judge Advocate

Capt NH Wallman – Prosecutor

Lieut KG Wybrow – Defence

Sgt Samuel Casella – Interpreter

Witnesses:

Sgt Concetta Zappala Interpreter Q6 PWCH Home Hill

Lieut Reginald James Hamilton 2/i/c Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill

Outcome:

Sante Testa and Luigi Tesoro to undergo detention for one hundred and twenty (120) days.

Bartolomeo Fiorentino was found not guilty.

Reading between the lines:

Tesoro, Testa and Fiorentino had on 3.6.44 been awarded 4 days detention for disobeying a lawful command and failure to appear at parade. Tesoro and Testa on or around 28-29.7.44 were awarded 7 days for disobeying a lawful command.  During this second period of detention, it was claimed that they were approached by Zappala as Interpreter and Hamilton as office in charge to return to which.  The contentious point was whether they were ordered to return to work without pay. Testa and Tesoro wanted to clarify whether they would be paid if they returned to work.  Hamilton said that whether they were paid was not his concern, his concern was the order to return to work, which they refused to do. There was conflicting information as to what Hamilton said, what Zappala interpreted and said and what Testa and Tesoro said. Regardless, the judge ruled that regardless of whether they were to be paid or not, they had disobeyed a lawful command which is a military offence.

What happened then:

Fiorentino was transferred to Gaythorne then Cowra.  While at Cowra he was awarded 14 days detention for refusing to work.  He was then transferred to Murchison.

Fiorentino

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: 47595 A. Manzo; 45685 B. Fiorentino; 48416 B. Criscuolo; 63457 E. Savarino; Unidentified; 63927 G. Chiavozzi. Front row: Unidentified; 57724 P. Di Battista; 45924 G. Giuffreda; 64066 A. Del Pozzo; 47757 A. Terribile. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photo documentation suggests that names are listed, back row, front row, left to right. (AWM 030229/14 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

Tesoro and Testa were transferred to Gaythorne then Hay for 120 days detention.  While at Hay, they were both given 3 days No. 1 Diet for giving a letter w/o permission to a POW.  They were then transferred to Muchison.

Testa Tesoro

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: 47848 F. Arancio; 57724 S. Di Battista; 56639 S. Gabriele; 46885 S. Testa; 48694 L. Testa; 49700 S. Mascaro. Front row: 47836 G. Quaranta; 48287 G. Picardi; 46838 L. Tesoro; 45479 S. Deledda; 48026 S. Dinardo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photo documentation suggests that names are listed, back row, front row, left to right. (AWM 030230/02 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

 

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 work did they do?

Australian Military Forces staff were put in charge of a gang of some 17 – 20 Italians.  Grubbing out stumps was one task.  Working in pairs, one Italian on a pick and one on a shovel, they took it in turn to work the stump from the ground.  Stumps were reported to be 9 inches in diameter. Chipping a row of weeds and cutting plants were other jobs.  Snippets… and only snippets.

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 writer Francesco Martucci is seated second from the left.

Martucci

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 writer Massimo Gatti is standing third from left.

4110896 Gatti

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.”

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.”

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

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

On the banks of the river you can find a banana plant, custard apple and citrus tree poking through the weed and rubbish scrub.  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)

 

Childhood Memories…

Ross Di Mauro’s dad had the farm on Block 182 Home Hill. Ross remembers his father’s story about how in the middle of the night, two Italian POWs who had escaped from the Home Hill POW camp came to their farm.

Ross’s dad gave them a meal, a bit of money and food and sent them on their way.  But before they left, he did ask them why they thought that his house was a ‘safe’ house to visit.  They replied that they saw clothes on the line and felt that the stitching had been done by Italians.  There were a number of unsuccessful escapes from the Q6 Prisoner of War Hostel Home Hill.  The furthest afield the escapees were found was at Bowen.

Another memory associated with prisoners of war is from the Stanthorpe district. Ross and his family spent some time during the war at a farm at Ballandean via Stanthorpe.  One of the stories about the POWs there was that there were a number of POWs in the district and they would get together on a Sunday and this was against the rules.  If a suspicious vehicle would be seen coming down the road, they would all scatter, hiding amongst the grape vines and fruit trees

 Felici, Sesto 3901142 Balladean Military Police

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49354 A. Biagioni; 46612 P. Rossi; 49906 B. Rodofile; 45671 S. Felici; 45091 C. Bono; 48923 F. Carlone. Front row: 48942 G. Filippelli; 46085 D. Martinuzzi; 45627 B. Falchi; 46807 M. Salvini. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030147/14, Photographer: Lewecki)

Ross says of the Ballandean POWs, “There was this one fellow that stood out. He was quite imposing, he had a shaved head and a big beard and he had a stick/baton in his hand. It seemed like he kept the others in line, like he was a policeman.” Tracking down this POW was not difficult.  Sesto Felici was from Pieve Sant  Giovanni Arezzo and his occupation was ‘Military Police’.  From February 1944, Felici was working on the farm of the Colvin Bros at Ballandean. The Cowra photo of Sesto Felici did not surprise Ross as this is exactly how he remembered the Ballandean ‘policeman’.

Ross also remembers that there was some trouble between the farmer and his POWs and it was written about in the newspapers. The words the Italian said stuck in Ross’s memory, “No like Calaboose”.  As reported in a newspaper, Attilio Corgiolu spoke these words after he and his friend, Antonio Perduto emerged from a Military Court hearing held in Stanthorpe in January 1945.

Calaboose

(Truth (Qld.: 1900-1954) Sunday 28 January 1945, page 24)

It is interesting what one remembers and remarkable when a memory is given a context.  Ross’s childhood memories highlight that the children of those times, have accurate memories which can be validated by photos, newspaper reports and government documents.

 

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)