Category Archives: Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill

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)

 

 

 

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.

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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

 

Red Uniforms

Magenta Dyed Army Issue

Italian POW uniform Red

Dark red shoulder strap with a button hole at the end. The button hole and the edges of the strap have been reinforced with khaki cotton.

(Australian War Memorial: ID number REL32594)

A predominant memory, if little else is remembered, is that the Italian prisoners of war were dressed in red.  A number of hues are recalled: red, burgundy, maroon, claret, pink and orange but the official term was ‘magenta’.

The colour was conspicuous, to make POWs stand out in a crowd.  POWs and internees were dealt the same humiliation: army issue clothing which had been dyed magenta.

The Italian prisoners of war objected against the dyeing of their clothes ‘burgundy’ but authorities responded with a practical answer… it was the only colour that could dye khaki.

The above shoulder strap is a remnant of one such POW magenta-dyed army issue, held in the heraldry collection of the Australia War Memorial. Its description is as follows:

“This shoulder strap was part of a scrap book put together by Eastern Command Salvage and Recovery Section in the early 1940s. The strap is taken from a uniform jacket issued to enemy prisoners of war and civilian internees held in Australian camps during the Second World War. The Salvage and Recovery Section were responsible for collecting and repairing unserviceable Australian army khaki uniforms, repairing them, and dying them the distinctive maroon that was required uniform for enemy prisoners of war. It was found that the section could carry out the work for far less cost than a civilian contractor.

Until 1942 there were not enough surplus uniforms available for dying and issue to prisoners of war or internees. Internees were required to bring their own clothing into camp and prisoners wore the uniforms in which they had been captured supplemented by civilian issue clothing.

From 1942 both groups were required to wear the distinctive red issue clothing, which was produced in both uniform and civilian styles. Generally speaking, prisoners of war were allowed to retain their own national headdress until it wore out. The compulsory wearing of red clothing by civilian internees varied from camp to camp and seems to have been at the camp commandants’ discretion. Many commandants found that civilian internees worked better when allowed to wear their own clothes, but others insisted they wear red as the prisoners of war were required to do”.

Another reference and more personal reference to the clothing is from internee, Peter Dalseno who wrote the following in Sugar, Tears and Eyeties:

“The officer signalled him on to the next table where he was allotted one overcoat, two shirts and two pairs of trousers – dyed a rich burgundy hue not dissimilar to wine aging in casks.  The name tags affixed to the garments – the property of previous soldiers – had not been obliterated…. Then came the pair of singlets, longjohns and socks and army boots that carried no name tags but showed signs of considerable wear”.

From the Australia War Memorial also comes the photos below.  Italian internees at Loveday dyed their uniforms and Army staff working at 3rd Salvage Depot are photographed dyeing salvage uniforms which were possibly used for the Italian POWs.

Loveday Uniforms 4087605

Loveday, Australia. 11 March 1943. An Italian internee at No. 9 Camp, Loveday Internment Group, at work dyeing clothing for issue to internees. This clothing is discarded Australian uniforms, cleaned, repaired and now dyed a burgundy colour.

(AWM Image 030198/09 Halmarick, Colin Thomas)

Uniforms 3887249

FISHERMENS BEND, VIC. 1944-02-02. V290231 PRIVATE T. A. MCDERMOTT (1) AND V325800 CORPORAL T.B. CUMMINS (2) OF THE CLOTHING AND DYING SECTION, 3RD SALVAGE DEPOT REMOVING HATS FROM A TROUGH OF DYE.

(AWM Image 063720 Rogers, MB)

Musical Memories

The Music Book of Franco (Ciccio) Cipolla

The government documents give us the rules and regulations, transport movements, roles and responsibilities but it is the personal souvenirs that provide us with a grass roots understanding of life as a prisoner of war.

Nino Cipolla, Ciccio’s son remembers how his father told him he gifted his guitar to his ‘farming’ family. While Ciccio was attached to Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill, Ciccio along with 52 other POWs were sent to the Atherton Tablelands for the 1945 maize harvest. Ciccio was on the Atherton Tablelands when peace was declared after the dropping of the bombs on Japan.  Maybe, the maize farmer was the receiver of the guitar.

There are other stories of banjos, mandolins and gramophones being in the possession of the Italian prisoners of war and many stories about their beautiful singing voices.

Ciccio’s Music Book however offers a unique insight into the music of the day.

Meticulously notated are ‘Valtzer’ ‘Tango Fox Trot’ ‘Rumba’ ‘One Step’ ‘Mazurka’ ‘Valtzer Lento’ and ‘Tango Argentine’.  Unexpectedly Ciccio’s music features an interesting mix of Italian folk music, Italian popular music and American Big Band music.

It is easy to ‘dance’ back in time to Ciccio’s music. Fox trot to Violino Tzigano . Enjoy a waltz to The Missouri Waltz and Speranze Perdute. Try a tango to Play to Me Gipsy or rumba to La Paloma.  Be taken back to Italy with Non Me Ne Importa Niente and Tra Veglia e Sonno. Travel to America with Begin the Beguine and SouthAmerican Joe.

With thanks to Ciccio Cipolla we have an invaluable personal reference and insight into the life of a POW in Queensland.

On the cover of the music book, Ciccio wrote Home Hill.  Ciccio arrived at Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill in April 1944 and departed in November 1945.  He was one of 272 Italian prisoners of war who called the hostel on the banks of the Burdekin River home.  Farmer, Kent Fowler from up river Home Hill, remembers his father and uncle talking about the concerts they attended at the POW camp.

A special thank you to Ciccio’s son Nino and grandson Jack for sharing the music and songs of the Italian prisoners of war.

Music Book Cover Franco Cipolla Home Hill IMG_2243

(photo courtesy of Jack Cipolla)

Music has a healing power.  It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.

Elton John

 

eBook Walking in their Boots

Walking in their Boots in now an eBook.

Published through kobo.com  copies are now available for purchase.

Prices are: €9.49 and AUD $14.99

At present Walking in their Boots is only available in English.

Read more about the book: Walking in their Boots

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Lost Local History

Maize Crop Tolga

The Atherton Maize harvest 1944 was predicted to be a record crop and Department of Manpower was approached in 1944 for Italian POWs to work the harvest.  A letter from Vincent Quilter, a Tolga farmer asks for information about the process of applying for POW labour.  The idea of using 200 Italian POWs was suggested March 1944: to increase vegetable production, work on tobacco, peanut and maize farms.  By May 1944, the proposal was rejected.  The 1944 harvest was worked by southern pickers whose return fares were paid and who earned between 6 to 7 pounds per week.  The harvest figures were 17,000 tons from 17,000 acres.

The 1945 harvest was predicted to be down due to an excessively wet season and only 5,000 ton was harvested from 18,000 acres.  But 120 pickers were urgently required to work the harvest.

The closest POW workforce was stationed at Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill.  Q6 Home Hill was a purpose built hostel for 250 Italian POWs who worked on the Commonwealth Vegetable Project in the Burdekin.  It operated from April 1944 to November 1945.

Up until beginning of June 1945, the director of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, Mr Bulcock would not sanction Italian POWs from Home Hill to go to Atherton as he believed he could not afford for his program to be jeopardised by the reduced workforce.  Out of 230 POWs at Home Hill, he said that only 100 was of any value.  A rethink and negotiations by the involved government parties, saw approval given by 12 June 1945, to set up a temporary arrangement for approximately 8 weeks and loan 60 POWs from Home Hill Hostel.

The ‘Temporary PWCC Atherton’ (prisoner of war control centre without guard) would have been an office set up in a building in Atherton to oversee the POWs and manned by army personnel from Home Hill.  Or possibly, it was set up at an army facility such as the State Farm at Kairi.  The army personnel would have been put up in boarding houses or hotels and the Italian POWs would have been billeted in groups of 2 – 3 to farmers within a radius of 25 miles of Atherton.  The POWs wore magenta dyed army issues, so as to be highly visible, although when working on farms, could wear their own clothing.  The farmers paid 1 pound per week to the Department of Commerce and Agriculture as it was the employing authority of the Home Hill POWs.

Fifty three Italian POWs arrived from Home Hill in Atherton on 3 July 1945 and were allocated to farmers on 4 July 1945.  By 26 September 1945, the temporary PWCC was closed and the POWs returned to Home Hill. The majority were captured in Libya and one was captured in Greece. These POWs came from all walks of life and had been prisoners of war for over 4 years having spent time at Prisoner of War Camps in Hay, Yanco and Cowra.

There was much military activity on the Atherton Tablelands during World War 2 and so the presence of 53 Italian POWs working on maize farms for 8 weeks would be easy to forget.  However, one local Jack Duffy remembers well seeing the men in red coats walking the road from the State Farm to the maize farms.  His father jokingly told him they were “Rugby Union Players”. Dick Daley from Tolga still has one of the tools used in those days to harvest the maize.  A leather strap around closed fingers, with an embedded three inch nail, was used to slice open the husk and the cob would then be removed.

Maize Harvest Tool

Dougie Clough’s Maize Tool

(photo courtesy of Annette Clough)

The Rocky Creek War Memorial Park records the history of military activity on the Atherton Tablelands during World War 2.  Nine Italian POWs spent time at the 47 ACH (Australian Camp Hospital) and seven  spent time at Staging Camp (Kairi) most probably    the State Farm precinct which had been taken over by the 5th Australian Farm Camp.

Rocky Creek War Memorial Park Atherton Tablelands