Category Archives: Queensland Italian POWs

Treasures in Thread

Take a look at four beautiful embroideries sewn in the POW camps in India…

A little background: where did the cloth and thread come from?

Australian POWs in German camps used threads from worn out socks and jumpers as well as cotton from their army issue ‘housewife’.

Indian Publication Volumes 8-9 January 1941, listed items to be included in POW packages eg coloured silks and cotton threads, plain linen or canvas for embroidering.

The Red Cross sent supplies of recreational and educational material in bulk to prisoner of war camps.

The YMCA is also mentioned as a group who not only contributed books to Australian PW camps but were known also to provide material for tapestry, carpentry, embroidery and leatherwork.

The canteen at Camp No. 22 in India sold balls of mercerized cotton (like Coats Mercer Crochet Cotton).

Cloth used was from a variety of sources eg handkerchief, calico, canvas, cotton; salvaged or repurposed materials.

Treasures in Thread

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

Antonio Fracasso embroided this handkerchief in June 1941 in a camp at Bangalore India.  He was captured at Bardia Libya on 6th January 1941.  These details give an estimation about how long the prisoners were held in Libya and Egypt before sailing for India… a few months at the most.

Fracasso. Embroidery A XIX EF

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

Morello Embroidery 1942 India

Sacro Cuore di Maria

(photo courtesy of Luigi Tommasi )

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

Francesco Pintabona

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

Domenico.Rackely.jpeg

Embroidery by Domenico Mascuilli

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

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

An embroidery sewn in Australia by Italian POW: Gayndah Australia

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

Gayndah Tapestry (2)

Embroidery by Domenico Petruzzi Q4 Gayndah

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

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

Today it is called ‘Embroidery Therapy’ but during WW 2, embroidery was a recreational and theraputic past time; a means to keeping the hands and the minds occupied during the long months of confinement in POW camps.

During WW 1, soldiers recuperating in hospital were given embroidery to help keep them busy.

The Footprints Project

Join the journey and follow the footprints of the Italian prisoners of war

Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War Project is a community project supported by Australians in five states and Italian families in nine countries.****

Background

What started out as a personal journey to read about the Italian POW Camp outside of Home Hill has resulted in a comprehensive, diverse and rich collection of stories, letters, photographs, testimonies, artefacts, music, newspaper articles spanning 79 years: the battles on the Libyan/Egyptian border December 1940 to the present.

Over the past four years, I have heard these words many times over, “but you have it wrong, there were no Italian prisoners of war in Queensland”.

And this became a focal point for the research: to record this chapter in Queensland’s history before it was completely forgotten.

But like ripples in a pond,  Queensland’s history of Italian POWs expanded across and was part of a greater history and so the project extended and expanded: to other Australia states and to Italian families in nine countries across the world.

 

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What makes this research unique and diverse?

Perspective.

Contributions have come from far and wide:  farmers, farmers’ wives, farming children, the town kids, families of Australian Army interpreters, children of Italians who were prisoners of war, Italians who were prisoners of war, the local nurse, the mother of an ex-POW, government policy.

What does the research encompass?

Website: italianprisonersofwar.com

Facebook Page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia

Music Book: Notations for songs and dance music by Ciccio Cipolla.

Farm Diary: daily notations regarding farm life during war time including information on Italian POWs and Land Army Girls.

Discussion about our Queensland research at conference in Catania Sicily May 2019 on prisoner of war experiences.

Memories in Concrete: Giuseppe Miraglia from Enna Sicily and Adriano Zagonara from Bagnara di Romagna Ravenna.

Donations to the Australian War Memorial of two artefacts made by Gympie Italian prisoners of war

Two publications: Walking in their Boots and Costanzo Melino: Son of Anzano (in collaboration with Rosa Melino)

Journey of two Italian families from Italy to visit Queensland and ‘walk in the footsteps of their fathers’: Q1 Stanthorpe and Q6 Home Hill

POW Kit Bags: Adriano Zagonara and Sebastiano Di Campli

The Colour Magenta

Handbooks: L’Amico del Prigioniero, Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War, Piccolo Guido per gli Italiani in Australia

Voices from the Past: five testimonials from Italian soldiers who worked on Queensland farms.

Letters written by Italian prisoners of war to family in Italy, to their Queensland farmers and to the children of farmers, written by mother of an Italian POW to a Queensland nurse, written by the Italians to their interpreter, Queensland farmer to Italian.

Photographs of Italian soldiers in full dress uniform, Italian soldiers in Libya during training, Italians as POWs with their Queensland families, Italians on their Wedding Day and with their families, Italians in POW camps in India.

Handmade items: embroideries, wooden objects, cellophane belt, silver rings, paintings, cane baskets, metal items, chess sets, theatre programs.

Contributions by nine Italian families whose fathers and family returned to Australia as ‘new Australians’.

Identification of five buildings used as prisoner of war accommodation.

Publication of three guides for Italian families to assist in their search for information about their fathers and grandfathers.

Collaboration with numerous Italian and Australian families; local museums and family history associations; journalists; translators; collectors of historic postal items; local libraries.

Did you know?

The website operates as a ‘virtual’ museum and library.

The website has a wide reaching readership to 118 countries!

170 articles have been written for the website.

My Wish List

In the beginning:

I had one wish, to find one Queensland family who remembered the Italians working and living on their farm. Thank you Althea Kleidon, you were the beginning with your photos and memories of Tony and Jimmy.

My adjusted wish list, to find three photographs of Italian POWs on Queensland farms. Then came Rosemary Watt and Pam Phillips with their collection of photos, a signature in concrete and a gift worked in metal.

….

Now:

To have the three Finding Nonno guides translated into Italian.

If I win Gold Lotto, to have Walking in their Boots translated into Italian.

 

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****What does the future hold… After four years of research, two and half years of weekly (and at times bi-weekly) website articles, two publications, thousands of emails, visits, interviews, cataloguing etc …

I plan to go at a slightly slower pace.  I will continue to work offline and in the background answering questions, assisting families and adding to this historical collection.

I will however republish articles in a chronological order starting with the soldiers and their battles. And I will slot in new articles and add new information along the way. Hopefully this will convey ‘the journey’ of the Italian soldiers from capture through to repatriation.

Join the journey and follow the footprints of the Italian prisoners of war.

 

 

 

Memories Crafted in Wood

Two Italian prisoners of war were taken to the farm of JB Townsend (Jack) at Glen Alpin via Stanthorpe on the 14th March 1944. While the archiving of files relating to Italian prisoners of war is a little ad hoc, once you find the documents, one realises that the Army clerks did keep immaculate records.

Stanthorpe Glen Alpin

Movement of Prisoner of War

(NAA: BP242/1, Q43299)

Both Isidoro De Blasi and Rosario Morello (Marello) came to Australia onboard the first transport of Italian POWs, the Queen Mary* arriving in Sydney on the 27th May 1941.  They were in the first group of 2016 Italian POWs to take up residence at Hay PW & I Camp.

Isidoro De Blasi was a barber from Alcamo Trapani and Rosario Morelli was a baker from Militello in Val di Catania.

Esme Colley (nee Townsend) remembers the men and snippets of memories about their time living on their Glen Aplin farm.  She recalls the rings that were made from Australia coins, the fox that was skinned and left in the river for 3 days to soften (and was later made into a delicious stew), the Italian family behind them who befriended these Italian workers and Rosario who later returned to the Stanthorpe district with his family.

Rosario continues to be remembered by the Townsend family because he returned to the Stanthorpe district post war, but he also left the family with tangible mementoes: three items crafted in wood. The turret of the tank rotates, and motifs of angels, lions and Australian wildlife adorn the wooden gifts. And carefully carved in timber are the words Camp 8 HAY, Morello R. P.O.W.

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 Wooden Items carved by Rosario Morello

(Photos courtesy of Esme Colley (nee Townsend))

Rosario Morello’s story is part of Echoes of Italian Voices: Family Histories from Queensland’s Granite Belt written by Franco and Morwenna ArcidiaconoExtract from ‘The Morello Family’: When Rosario Morello was captured in Tobruk in north Africa he became a Prisoner of War (POW). He was subsequently sent to far off Australia and the course of his life changed forever.  In 1941, when Rosario arrived on these foreign shores he could not have imagined that Australia would become his home and the country where he would eventually raise his family.”  Sacrifices were made by Rosario, his wife Carmela and their children and in time hard work and saving of money had the family transition from labouring and renting to farm owners.  Within six years of Rosario’s return to Australia he owned his farm, cultivated scrub to increase farm yields and had built a new home for his family. In time, the farm became Red Rosella one of the Granite Belt’s large family vegetable growing enterprises.

 

De Blasi Isidoro in the photo

Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 46032 Raffaele Lomonaco; 46627 Giuseppe Restivo; 46007 Antonio Lumia; 45586 Isidoro De Blasi; 46206 Gaetano Mineo; 45360 Giuseppe Cannata; 45103 Leonardo Barbera; 45997 Pietro Lomonte; 46221 Antonio Rondi and 47999 Leonardo Ciaccio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030143/33 Photographer Lewecki)

Isidoro De Blasi is one of the men in the Hay photo.  At the time of the photo, he is 24 years old 5’ 6” and average build (150lbs at time of arrival in Australia). Like many of the Italian POWs, they are almost forgotten or their faces remain unidentified as is the case in this photo.  We know that the second man kneeling on the left is Antonino Lumia as his grandson Damiano Lumia has acknowledged him.  The list of names therefore bears no resemblance to placement of men.

Hopefully, one day, Isidoro’s family will find his face amongst this group of 10 men and find a context to their grandfather’s time as a prisoner of war in Australia. And the Townsend family can be introduced to Isidoro again.

*On the army register of Italian POWs onboard the Queen Mary Rosario Morello is number 661 and Isidoro De Blasi is number 1833. The list of the names of the first 2016 Italian prisoners of war is a reminder of the large numbers who were sent to Australiafor the duration of the war.  In total, some 18,000 Italian POWs worked and lived across the six states of Australia from 1941-1947.

Register of Queen Mary May 1941

(NAA:PP 482/1, 16)

 

 

Stranger in a Strange Land

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

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

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

The Ossario List of Italians

Italians Buried at Murchison

(photo courtesy of Alex Miles)

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

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

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

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

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

Librio Family

Mario Roberto Librio’s Family

Tatura, Australia. 10 March 1945. Group of Italian internees at No. 3 Camp, Tatura Internment Group. Back row, left to right: 20091 Andrea Librio; 20092 Giuseppina Librio; 20094 Concetta Librio; 20093 Giuseppe Librio. Front Row: 20095 Umberto Librio; 20096 Maria Librio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM 030247/03 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

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

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

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

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

Deaths 95 updated

 

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

 

 

 

 

The Flying Fox and Chocolate

nambour-fresco-2

Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card – Fresco, Luigi, PWI 57235

(National Archives of Australia Series J3118,64)

I was a child during WW2 and with my family: the Ivins, lived on Cooloolabin Road Yandina. Across the road from us was a racecourse that was converted into an Army Camp.  My mum used to make tea and scones for some of the young Army fellows who should have been up in the heavily wooded area of our property undergoing ‘jungle’ training. There was a fair amount of army activity in the district at that time.

Our neighbour was Dan Mills and he had a banana plantation at Cooloolabin and he had Italian prisoners of war working on the farm.

I have clear memories of the Italians, not too many memories because we lived in town, but none the less clear ones.  Dan Mills grew bananas on the side of the hillside and he had a flying fox set up which ran from the banana crop to the shed down on the flat.  How we children loved to go up to the Mills’ farm.  Dan would take me, my brother Brian and this two sons Billy and Charlie up to the farm and the best part was that the Italians would put us in the flying fox crate and send us down through the air to the shed: Italians, bananas and children.  What fun! We loved the invitation to go with Dan Mills to his farm.

From the farm to town would have been 5 or 6 miles and I remember the Italians from time to time walking past our house and going in to town.  They wore maroon uniforms and kept to themselves.  I had always thought that they might be going in to town to get supplies but now I know that they were probably going to church on a Sunday.

I always had the impression that the Italians were a happy lot.  They were just happy to be out of the war zone.  Maybe content is a good word.  We children always felt comfortable around them.  They were like any other farm workers and they knew we loved to ride the flying fox.  In a way they were like a ‘big brother’.  One of my brothers, Clark was mortally wounded at the Battle of Milne Bay and he died in his 24th year.  It was a very sad time for my family.  On reflection, these Italians were the age of my brother.

I have always had a memory which associated the Italian prisoners of war with chocolate.  Chocolate would have been one of those luxuries before the war and most definitely not available in shops during the war.  I have since learnt that the Italians were able to purchase items from an army Canteen Truck and many of these products were not available in civilian shops.  Chocolate was one of the items. Maybe my first taste of chocolate was when the Italians gave us children some.  How special to think that these fellows, and they wouldn’t have had much money or access to money, would buy chocolates to share with us.  A wonderful gesture of kindness and friendship.

“Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland 1943-1946” has given me the names of two Italians for my memories: Vincenzo Fusilli and Luigi Fesco and also a photo for Luigi.  After 70 years, I am so pleased that these men have not been forgotten.

Lorna Akers (nee Ivins)

18.2.17