Category Archives: Queensland Italian POWs

Welcome… Benvenuto

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

Sneath Murray Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

List of Articles 

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

Follow their journey…. Walking in their Boots

 

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Nonno Ermano Nicoletti’s Journey

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

 

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 ten 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 ten 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 ten 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!

150 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 and a half years of research, over 150 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 have republished 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 and for some Italians, a return to Australia.

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

 

 

 

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 committed 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.

 

 

 

 

Papaws and Prisoners of War?

PAPAW…PAWPAW… PAPAYA

Papaw eggs

1942 ‘TO-DAY’S RECIPE.’, Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 17 December, p. 3. , viewed 19 Jan 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42371778

I have been reading the details of a Gympie farm diary for Redslopes at Goomboorian. Farmer Neil Buchanan makes detailed notes of the cases of produce picked and packed: beans, citrus, tomatoes, bananas, papaws, carrots, pineapples and cucumbers. He employed three Italian prisoners of war on his farm.  Angelo, Vince and Salvatore were valued workers.

What has intrigued me are the numbers of cases of papaws being sent to the markets from Redslopes: 25 bags of green papaws, 90 cases, 44 cases, 100 cases, 50 cases, 70 cases. Papaw is a delicate fruit requiring careful handling and has a short shelf life.

Redslopes 1944: “October 9th. Continue preparing today’s load, making a total of 90 cases papaws, 42 cases beans, 20 cases cucumbers, the biggest tonnage every sent in produce.  More beans picked and packed cucumbers likewise as well as papaws being finished.”  

SO the question on my mind is where were all these papaws going?  How were they being used? Was papaw a popular fruit in the 1940’s?

I have been told that ‘ in the old days’  Golden Circle Fruit Salad (canned) used to contain pieces of papaw.  I asked my mother-in-law, a child of the 1940s, about papaws and she told me that her mother peeled and cut into pieces green papaw, boiled, drained and then added salt and pepper.

My way of thinking is that papaw is best served as a fruit on its own.  In recent times it is used green in Thai inspired salads. It is high in Vitamin C and Vitamin A and is used in a popular ointment:Lucas’ Papaw Ointment. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s we always had papaw trees in the backyard; a much loved fruit of my mother.  Today, it is difficult to buy a good quality papaw in the supermarkets and the best papaws are found at weekend markets.  Papaw is also used in making chutneys.

So what of the 1940s diet and housewives’ use of papaws… a little research and  I found that papaws were a very versatile fruit.  It could be used for all three courses of a meal.  As a vegetable, diced cooked papaw was a perfect accompaniment with grills or light chicken dishes.  It could be served as a vegetable in a white sauce or baked. Papaw juice was being used in the production of unshrinkable wool clothing. And it was reported in February 1945 that:

“MRS. J. SEWELL, of Caloundra, via Landsborough, wins this week’s £1 prize for her directions for making a papaw roll.”
nla.news-page000027303903-nla.news-article248025041-L3-6909dabdb992f42e60cd907f05c50392-0001

Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), Sunday 14 October 1945, page 34

If the Italian prisoners of war were wary of mashed pumpkin (as they considered pumpkin to be animal fodder), then I am not sure  how they would have reacted to grilled papaw  or diced papaw served in a lettuce cup with passionfruit, orange, mint, pineapple and flaked fish.

Yes, this history is not just about farmers, army guards and  Italian prisoners of war.

It is about historical farming practices, food on tables; an insight into daily life; recipes; music and much more.

PS Do you know the difference between a mouldboard plough and a disc plough? How much do you know about charcoal burners to fuel trucks? Do you know how charcoal was made during those war years? Did you know that sugar cane farmers in North Queensland had to relinquish their tractors which were then used to build airstrips? Did you know that the American appetite for sweet corn, introduced Australians to this variety of corn? (maize or corn was primarily for animal fodder before the Americans)

Papaw 1945

1945 ‘A Page for the Housewife’, Worker (Brisbane, Qld. : 1890 – 1955), 24 September, p. 14. , viewed 19 Jan 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71454103

 

A Farm Diary

A voice down the phone line said, “I think you will be surprised with what I have.  I don’t think you will find another like it.”

Many thoughts flashed through my mind but I was not prepared for this treasure:

A Farm Diary

Neil Buchanan managed and ran Redslopes at Goomboorian via Gympie as part of a partnership between himself and three brothers.   Every day he wrote in the Redslopes diary.  He wrote about workers coming and going, about the weather, machinery breakdown, visitors to the farm, important milestones during the war AND he wrote about the four Italian prisoners of war who came to Redslopes to work the farm.

Redslopes Diary 2

Jim Buchanan was the voice at the other end of the phone and I am sure he could hear my excitement at being offered the opportunity to read this unique primary source.

Generalisations about this history were replaced with specifics.  No longer did the Italians undertake farm work, the diary revealed exactly what type of farm work they did.  No longer did the Italians rarely go into town except for church, the Italians at Redslopes took produce into town with their boss and they went to the barber for their monthly haircuts.

Jim and I talked at length about farming during World War 2.  They were different times:  when wooden crates for the produce were made on site and stamped, when spare parts for farm machinery were scarce, when horses were used to plough the fields and when farming was labour intensive.

There are few statements about the importance and value of the POW workforce. But finally, it was there… in the diary:

Dec 31 1945 Last day of old year.  Four men for half a day.  POW then finish up, much to sorrow of Boss.  Had final talk with Ities at night.

Jan 1 1946 New Year’s Day but a sad day at Redslopes.  Took the three POW to town and said goodbye. Farm is now badly understaffed with no prospects of further employees.

The Redslopes diary is rarely personal.  But while these final two entries might be brief, the words reveal how important the POW workforce was to the farmer.

Redslopes Diary 2.jpeg

 

 

War time is a busy time.  War time is a complicated time.  War time is often a time of irony.  Our young Australian workforce had joined the services leaving our agricultural industries severely understaffed.  Feeding a nation was paramount for both domestic and service requirements.

The Italian prisoners of war not only provided a much needed agricultural workforce but these men helped feed a nation and enabled farmers to be economically viable and sustainable.

Lagoon Pocket’s Macadamia Trees

gympie-mercuri-mario-1

Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card, Mercuri, Mario PWI 57376

(National Archives of Australia J3118, 119)

Allan Blackman from Gympie recalls a macadamia farm at Lagoon Pocket where he worked during the 1970s  and how he had been told about a few hundred seedling trees that had been planted by the Italian POWs during WW2.  Combining local knowledge with archival research, a more complete picture emerges.

Mario Mercuri and Guido Vaccarini worked on Bernard Mason’s farm at Lagoon Pocket and “they would all search in the scrub above Calico Creek for wild macadamias with thin shells which were used to establish Bernie’s orchard.” This species of macadamia ‘integrifolia’ is also known as ‘papershell’ macadamia because of its thinner shell.  As a native species, it is now listed as vulnerable.

While initially, the relationship between farmer and POWs would have been of one boss and worker, a friendship of mutual respect would have been emerged as Guido and Mario were credited with saving the lives of Bernie Mason’s daughters.  The connection between Bernie Mason and Guido Vaccarini continued with Guido visiting Gympie to visit Bernie, after he had migrated to Australian in 1951.

gympie Vaccarini guido Bernard Mason.jpg

Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card Vaccarini, Guido PWI 57514

(National Archives of Australia J3118, 119)

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 mementos: 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)