Category Archives: Q8 PWCC Kingaroy

‘Escarp’ with Me

My husband Dudley and his twin brother Lesley George Dickenson took over their mother’s farm at Haly Creek. I was 21 years old and  Dudley and I were newly married when Les arranged for Italian Prisoners of War to come and work on the farm.

Kingaroy.dudley and joyce wedding 2 (3)

Dudley Dickenson and Joyce Vidler

1 December 1943

(from the collection of Joyce Dickenson (nee Vidler))

My husband Dudley and his twin brother Lesley George Dickenson took over their mother’s farm at Haly Creek. I was 21 years old and  Dudley and I were newly married when Les arranged for Italian Prisoners of War to come and work on the farm.

Our farm was a mixed farm: dairying, pigs, cash crops such as peanuts, maize, and sorghum.  We also kept barley and oats.

Giuseppe Lettera and Giovacchino  Luciente were driven the 20 mile out to the farm in an army truck and no doubt the driver briefed Les and Dud.  They arrived about 10am and I gave the Italians and the driver a cup of tea.  The Italians didn’t speak any English, but I suppose we took such things in our stride in those days.

Giuseppe and Giovacchino would help feed the pigs, bring in the cows from the lucerne (you couldn’t keep the cows on the lucerne for longer than 10 minutes) and other farm work.  They could ride horses and brought the cows in that way. Things were pretty easy going and I don’t think they were overworked and didn’t always work full days.  We had orange trees in our modest household orchard and the trees were never as well kept as when the Italians were there.  The two men pruned and tended to the orange trees.

My memories of the men are that they were young men, ordinary men with no will to fight or to be the enemy.  They were terribly homesick and would look forward to receiving letters which came on canteen day once a week on a Monday. The canteen truck also brought them cigarettes and replacement clothing.

Everything they wore was red. Red socks, red underpants, the lot. They did their own washing in the old boilers.  The red dye ran and by the time they left, their clothes were worse for wear and shabby looking.

We treated them as part of the family.  They slept in a room at the corner of two verandas of a Queenslander.  We ate together in the kitchen, there was no dining room in that house and they ate whatever was served.  I would cook spaghetti with tomato sauce as they did miss their own type of food.  At night, they would help wipe up the dishes and after tea we would talk.

Dudley and Les learnt how to count to ten in Italian.  It was a trick that Dud trotted out for the rest of his life.  Dud had quite a good accent and the kids who were born after the Italians left, knew about the counting but not about the source of knowledge.  Giuseppe had asked me to “escarp” with him and this was a good story we told with the accent “escarp” rather than escape.  The army took these things seriously and Giuseppe was moved to another  farm about 6 kms away.


Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card – Lettera, Guiseppe

(National Archives of Australia NAA: J 3118, 91)

Dud and I played tennis but the men weren’t interested in coming with us on a Sunday to our tennis games.  We left them at home, they were trustworthy.  One of the rules was that they weren’t supposed to have contact with other POWs but they did, from Bookless and Kearney farms.  The POWs were trusted.

They also weren’t allowed alcohol.  But they used the oranges to make liquor, making a still out of a 4 gallon kerosene tin.  I don’t think they had much success with the alcohol, so I don’t count the still as a breach in the rules, it was more giving the men something to do and I don’t think it tasted that good.

I remember that the Italians were scared of frogs.  The veranda where they slept was unsealed and so the frogs would get in.  The men would stuff rags into the corrugations of the roof to try to keep the frogs out.  They would catch the frogs and take them away but two days later they would be back.

Other memories of those days is that on a Sunday, they would walk 1 – 2 miles to church.  Dud set up a ping pong table for them, I suppose to give them something to do as they weren’t interested in tennis.  They were very particular with their shaving, Giuseppe had a moustache and then grew a small beard.

Giuseppe and Giovacchino weren’t with us long, but it seemed like a long time.  It was long enough for them to become part of our family and for me to have fond memories of those times.

Joyce Dickenson (Haly Creek)

Big Brothers

Big Brothers: Reminisces of our Italian POWs

 Jimmy Cutelle 33 and Tony Della Polla 27

( Michelangelo Cutelle and Antonio Della Polla)

(from the Collection of Althea Kleidon (nee Rackemann))

I remember very clearly our Italian prisoners of war because they became part of our family.  I was ten years old when they came to our farm and it was a sad day when they left.

My father Edward Rackemann had a mixed farm at Wheatlands situated on the Barambah Creek.  It is about 10 miles from Wondai our closest town and 25 miles from Kingaroy which is where the prisoner of war centre was.  At the time, Dad grew vegetables for the army camps, there were four around Murgon and also for the Brisbane markets.

Farming was labour intensive and all the family had to get involved with the jobs.  I milked my first cow when I was five years old and at night the family spent time washing the vegetables after they had been dug up during the day.  Mum and Dad worked a hard seven day a week because we also had 25 milking cows at that time.  One older brother was up in the islands on a supply ship, one brother was killed in action and two younger brothers were sick: one with polio and another with a kidney disease.  So Dad would have made application to have the Italian POWs work for us.  Their records state that they came to Q8 Kingaroy 1.5.45 and then they would have been brought out to us.

Tony Della Polla and Jimmy Cutelle would have been in their twenties when they where captured in North Africa.  They both fitted in very easily with our family.  Some farmers kept their Italians at arm’s length as this was what was encouraged by the captain that brought them out to home and I think then that these families would have different memories of the POWs.

Dad however saw things differently.  My grandparents were German and had come out to Australia before 1900.  My grandfather was a Baron and my grandmother was Jewish, so even then the tide was changing against the aristocracy and Jews.  I think that my grandparents would have taught their children tolerance, understanding and a wisely perspective about politics and prejudice.  I don’t think Dad ever saw them as ‘the enemy’ and he would have treated them with respect as they were good workers and never really complained.

Tony Della Polla (Antonio) came from Naples and from a big family and Jimmy Cutelle (Michelangelo) was from Florence and had a sister.  Jimmy was much quieter and I think that a difference in rank maybe had something to do with that.  Tony would tell me that when he returned to Australia, he was going to bring his brother Faust(o) back with him, to marry me.  Tony’s nickname for me was Mary, I don’t remember why, maybe they just found Althea a hard name to pronounce.

The crops we grew were wheat and cotton, peanuts and then carrots, potatoes, parsnips, silverbeet, peas, beans and lettuce.  Jimmy and Tony did the digging and harvesting, the tractor work and the running of the irrigation pumps which operated off the tractor.  Tony was very good with mechanics and this was a benefit because in those days, parts were hard to come by and you just had to make do and repair parts.

The original house on the property was an old slab hut and this became home for them.  Mum was a very good cook and Jimmy and Tony had their meals with us.  Once I remember they got hold of some spaghetti and cooked up a meal for our family.  They often talked about how they missed eating spaghetti.

There was always conversation over the dinner table what with Dad taking about the work to be done the next day or Tony teaching us kids some Italian words.  Dad got by with the dictionary and they learnt English so we got by.  I can still count to twenty in Italian and know a few other words like sugar, why, thank you in Italian.

I remember well the red clothing that they had to wear, but they only had to wear them when they were away from the farm.  Otherwise they had ample clothing which they had with them.  I remember their clothes being green and grey.  And they had these wonderfully made heavy woollen coats which were probably their Italian army coats.

About once a month the army canteen truck would come to the farm.  I think that might have been also when they received mail but I would have been at school.  But they always bought lollies for us kids and treats which you couldn’t buy in town and they always gave Mum and Dad some of the cigarettes that they were issued with.

They were like ‘big brothers’ and they really did fit into the family well.  My sister had a baby and they would often walk the baby in the pram.  It was just all those normal everyday things.  Dad set up a ping pong table and set up some teams from the neighbours and their POWs, just to give them some activity on their day off.  Sometimes Dad would take them to a neighbour’s home at night, but only one at a time, to listen to the radio as we didn’t have one.  They would listen to the Tenor Hour.  Dad was  a trained singer: baritone with a tenor range and loved his music.  Jimmy was the one who I would hear singing sometimes.  Dad would also take them fishing, we lived on the river and he would take them to visit other POWs on nearby farms.  And Dad would sometimes take them to town on the Cream Carrier or the train.  Maybe he had business in town and would take them in, for something to do.  We didn’t go anywhere much in those days as the petrol was rationed and we needed the petrol for the tractors.

There was the incident when Tony got bitten by a black snake. He had gone down to check on the fuel in the tractor which ran the irrigation pumps.  Dad did what he could by sucking out the venom and called the ambulance which took a long time to get to us.  He was very sick and I think that after that he became a bit sad.  Maybe being sick made him a bit melancholy and made him think more about his mum and home.

When the time came for Tony and Jimmy to leave we felt like we were saying goodbye to our family.  It was a sad time.  They both would have preferred to stay in Australia, but at the same time wanted to get home to their family.  So it was bitter sweet.  My brother was given a Geometry Set as a goodbye present and they inscribed some words and the date on the back of it.  They also made a ring for mum.  They somehow managed to keep quiet the work they did on another gift as they had been busy etching and carving a pattern and design over a metal milkshake cup.  Mum must have got hold of one for them and they had set to and engraved a pattern around it.  They didn’t have much, but these gifts were very special and meant a lot to us.

They got taken away back to Kingaroy and then when Dad found out when they were leaving the district, Dad and Mum walked in to Murgon so that they could say a final goodbye as they were leaving on the train.  Dad and Mum kept in touch with them and we had a number of letters that my sister had kept.  There was talk of Dad sponsoring them, but I think once they got back home, circumstances were different and so they didn’t return.

Althea Kleidon (nee Rackemann)

Wheatlands via Wondai


There are many people who have been part of this project and  I would like to publicly acknowledge those who have:

  • shared with me their story and entrusted me with their memories, photos, letters and mementos,
  • assisted me in  promoting my research,
  • done a bit of  local ‘digging’ on my behalf by searching local publications, sending out letters and emails, making telephone calls to ‘find’ locals who have a memory, making suggestions as to where to look next, providing me with my next lead,
  • answered my ‘cold call’ letters that I have sent to municipal councils, local historical societies and most importantly relatives of Italian POWs who returned to Australia.

Without your assistance, this project would have been a ‘black and white’ history of Italian POWs in Queensland as army and government records are by nature, factual.

Your stories and memories and mementos have added ‘colour’ to this history as you have told stories of the every day life of the Italian POWs but told these stories as emotional and personal memories.

Q1 Stanthorpe: Mary Puglisi, Tony Hassall, Paula Boatfield, Alec Harslett, Morwenna and Franco Arcidiancomo, Janette and Rod Ratcliffe, Angelo Valiante, Lina Scalora, Claudio Marino, Esme and Millie Townsend, Rodney Smith, Shirley Stanton, Dorothy Barraclough (Jones), Lisa Saggiomo (Antonio De Marco), Marco Abbona (Angelo Abbona), Colleen and Roger Willis, Loreen Long (Stanthorpe Museum and Historical Society)

Q2 Nambour: Martin Schulz, Nev Townsend,  Lorna Akers (Ivin), Rosemary Watts (Bury), Barbara Want (Nambour Museum), Audienne Blyth, Di Brown (Sunshine Coast Heritage Library Officer), Franceschina Tigani, Gordon Plowman (Flaxton) Maria Rosa Allan (Tigani), Nambour: Remember When! Facebook Site, Sunshine Coast Daily, Paul Cass, Yvonne Derrington (Fullerton), Maxina Williams, Les Farmer, Nonno Armando Evangelista, Katia and Martina Evangelista, Laurelle Murphy (Beamish family)

Q3 Gympie: Allan Blackman (Gympie District Historical Society), Ian McConachie, John Huth, Ian Bevege, Ernie Rider, Beth Wilson ( Gympie: Local History Officer), Mike Butler, Patrick Rodney, Gloria Rodney, Damiano Lumia, Rosa Melino, Dianne Woodstock, Mal Dodt, Dr Elaine Brown, Kathy Worth(Knowles), Peter Van Breemen, Gympie Times, Doug and Lynne Wilson, John Miguel, Alex Miles, Keith Buchanan, Leita Boswell (Beattie), Val Doyle (Cullen), Barry Mason, Jim Buchanan, Marco Vaccarini, Anna Eusebi, Raffaele Iacopini, Faye Kennedy (Stey),

Q4 Gayndah: Avis Hildreth (Robinson Family)  Thea Beswick (Robinson),  Adrian Azzari-Colley, Joe Devietti,  Central and North Burnett Times, Colleen Lindley (Robinson Family) Colin Wenck (Sauer Family), Eva Lutvey, Samuele Micali,

Q5 Texas: Zita Hutton (Rodighiero), Darryl Hutton, Frank Yeo, Barbara Ellis (Texas Historical Society). Heidi Dawson (MacIntyre Gazette)

Q6 Home Hill: Nino Cipolla, Christine Morriss, Doug Kelly, Tom Durkin, Rhonda Mann, Glenis Cislowski, Julie Chapman (Tapiolas), Isabel Stubbs (Fowler) Kelsie Iorio (The Burdekin Advocate), Jack Cipolla, Kent Fowler, Ross Di Mauro, Pina Vettovalli, Charlie Scuderi, Jo Gallagher (Tiberi),

Temporary PWCC Atherton: David Anthony (The Tablelander), Jack Duffy, Dick Daley

Q7 Kenilworth: John Ower, Lenore Meldrum (Kenilworth Historical Museum), Margaret and Tony White, Heather O’Connor (Moreland), Sharon Pearson (Brown), Anthony Brown, Rose Moir-Bussy (Mangini),

Q8 Kingaroy: Joyce Dickenson and Robyn Bowman, Althea  Kleidon (Rackemann), Dudley Long and Lorraine Giollo, Tom McErlean,  Shannon Newley (South Burnett Times)

Q9 Monto: Janice Joyce (Pownall), Peter Pownall, Assunta Austin ( D’Addario Family), Doug Groundwater, Judith Minto, Lurline Graving (Harsant), Brett Dowling, Mackenzie Colahan, Rita Pace,

Q10 Boonah: Christine Titmarsh (Historical Society and Templin Museum),  Michael Joyce, Pam Phillips (Niebling), Eric Behrendorff, Ian Harsant, Laurie Dwyer, Carmel Peck (Dwyer), Murray Maudsley, Graham Neilsen, Carmelo Ierna, Joe Indomenico, Penny Wright, Antonio Ragusa, Judith Lane (Rackley), Billy Jack Harsant, John Gilbert, Tim Dwyer, Ferdinando Pancisi, Judith Lane (Rackley), Antonio Ragusa, Luigi Tommasi, Helen Mullen (Rackely)

Others: Peter Dunn @,  Rebecca Donohoe (Queensland Farmers’ Federation), Seniors News,  Paul Stumkat (re: Wallangarra German POWs), Gray Bolte (West Wylong), Fraser Coast Chronicle, The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), Australian War Memorial Facebook Site, Queensland History Network Facebook Site, Alex Chambers @ 630 AM  ABC North Queensland, Sara Bavato at Il Globo and La Fiamma, Annie Gaffney @  90.3 Fm ABC Sunshine Coast, Carlo Pintarelli, Reinhard Krieger, Torsten Weller,  Liborio Mauro Bonadonna, Vitoronzo Pastore,  Enrico Della Mora, Ann Megalla, Trudy Brown (Herbert River Express), Susan Mulligan (Oral History Queensland), Davide Dander, Jocelyn Maddock, Merle Heiner, Enoggera & District History Association Inc., Cris Dall ‘Osto, Sharon Rigano from Quick on the Click (Book Cover Design), Anne Scheu (State Library of Queensland), Bruno Van der Heide Burdekin Printers, Alex Mannea Burdekin Printers, Andy Toulson ABC Radio 630 North Queensland, Trudie Legio ABC Radio Wide Bay, Mikayla Mayoh Burdekin Advocate, Matteo Tettamanti, Veniero Granatelli, Paola Zagonara, Luigi Pinna, Home Hill Newsagency, Marco Lucantoni, Cristina Capitummino, Alessandra Nicoletti, Leo Piciacchia, Catherine Murdoch (Cardillo), Marie, John and Joan McInnes, Ute Schulenberg (Nambucca Guardian), Kay Ball (Murchison Historical Society),  Australian War Memorial-Acquisitions Department, Jennifer Ellis (Another Del Bo), Paolo Zulli (Sebastiano Di Campli), Giuli Musini, Francesco Fracasso, Robert Perna, Fabrizio Patriarca, Vanda Hodder, Colleen Hammat, Craig Douglas (Regio Esercito History Group), Darren Arnott (Rodolfo Bartoli),