Category Archives: Queensland Italian POWs

Friends of the Italians at Amamoor

Anna Eusebi and Raffaele Iacopini are researching their father’s and grandfather’s time as prisoners of war in the Gympie district from 1944-1945 and need the help of Gympie locals to fill in the missing details.

Anna’s nonno Fortunato Gobbi and Raffaele’s father Luigi Iacopini, together with Giovanni Meconi, all from the Ascoli Piceno province of Italy, began work on an Amamoor farm owned by J.J.Parr on 5th August 1944.

Anna says, “My nonno never talked much about this piece of his life after he returned to Italy and I would appreciate any help from people who can help me find out more.  If possible, I would like to contact someone from the Parr family at Amamoor to know if someone remembers my nonno.”

Anna has shared photos from Fortunato’s time at Amamoor in the hope that someone might remember something. “We always knew that these photos held special memories for my nonno.  But it wasn’t until I found the research project “Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland” that I began to understand some of nonno’s story.  The researcher, Joanne Tapiolas, told me the name of the farmer and where the farm was.  She also told me that the photos show the Land Army Girls and the Italian prisoners of war who worked together on many farms during the war. One of the photos shows a truck loaded up with sacks of potatoes.”

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Amamoor Farm Gympie 1944-1945

Luigi Iacopini on the left and Fortunato Gobbi centre front.

Raffaele Iacopini is hoping that Gympie residents might recognise the people in one of his father’s photos.  Raffaele believes that the photo was sent to his father Luigi after the war and must be from someone that he knew. Possibly it was sent to Raffaele after he left a Gympie farm but was still in Australia.

The sender wrote on the back of the photo, You know who this is? Miss …cia and me, horses and fruit. “I hope that someone recognises the people in this photo and can tell me something more about my father when he worked in Amamoor and the people he met,” says Raffaele.

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Pineapple Harvest Gympie District c. 1946-1947

Nicko’s Baskets

Anthony Brown reminisces about the Nicko and Pasquali who lived on the Brown farm via Kenilworth 1944-1945:
I remember Mum saying, “Boy can they eat!” They ate meals with us and were part of the family. Mum did all the cooking, she was a fantastic cook. Nicko and Pasquali slept on the verandah with my brother Craig and myself. My sister slept in her own room inside the house. The beds were canvas stretchers with a coir mattress (husk of coconuts). They were supplied with their own blankets which I recall were dyed red.

Nicko’s Baskets

(photo courtesy of Sharon Pearson [Brown])

The red coloured clothing was supplied by the army and was plentiful. The red dye came out in the wash tubs.  In those days you carted water from the creek and a wood fired copper was used to wash the clothes.  The clothes were wool and I remember them only wearing long trousers.

In those days, neighbours helped each other out.  There were two creek crossings into our farm which kept getting flooded.  The POWs from EV Kirk’s farm helped our two pick up rocks from the farmers’ paddocks to put in the creek crossings to dam the water way in preparation for concreting the crossings.  My dad contributed his POW workforce which meant he paid the wages for the job.  Another farmer paid for the cement and the council supplied the trucks, overseer and equipment such as a cement mixer.  The 1956 floods washed away the top of the causeway they made.

Our two POWs were different in nature.  I was 12 years old, and through my eyes, Nicko seemed more like a farmer and Pasquali more a ‘towny’ type.  Pasquali seemed more low key and spoke better English than Nicko.  My sister Dolores remembers that Pasquali sent a letter to us after they went back to Italy. She was nine years old at the time and thought Pasquali was good looking.

Nicko was short.  I was 5 foot six inches when I was 12 years old, and much taller than Nicko.  His record states that he was 4 foot 11 inches.  Once when a bag of potatoes came down from the Maleny butter factory dad kept them up in the dairy which was a way from the house.  Dad measured out about 40 pounds of potatoes and gave them to Nicko to take home; it was about 1 km from the dairy to the house.  Nicko took over ½ hour to get home with the potatoes.  When Nicko arrived home, he said to my dad as a way of excusing his lateness, “Mr Brown, you up there.  Poor Nicko down here.”  Dad was 6 foot tall and Nicko was 4 foot 11 inches.

Pasquali and Nicko helped in the dairy; milking morning and night.  So the farm routine was early to rise and to bed by 7pm.  On the farm, we had 32 volts electricity.  They did other jobs as needed.  Dad sent them down to brush away the rubbish from near the dairy.  He wanted the area cleaned up from the side of the hill leading down to the creek.  They cut down mum’s cumquart tree and left the other trees standing.  I remember Dad saying “The only tree you chopped down was the cumquart tree!”  It had prickles so I think they thought it was a rubbish tree.  The tree recovered and is still there on the farm today.

Nicko told Dad about his capture, “I flee! I flee!”  He was the more industrious one and made baskets from the lawyer cane.  One of the things they were required to do during their captivity was to learn crafts to keep them occupied.  I had the feeling that Pasquali was more of an academic as he didn’t seem to do too much of the physical work.

One of the baskets made by Nicko was called “The Egg Basket”.  It was used by to collect the eggs laid by the hens. My sister Dolores remembers that Nicko also made a laundry basket; used for collecting the clean clothes.  She also remembers how they loved their spaghetti and taught my mother how to cook it.  The first time mum made it, the big boiler was chockers with spaghetti.  One of them said, “We cook in copper next time.”

The Italians were always referred to as generally as ‘Dagos’ but I never knew why. At the time, I didn’t know if it was a term of endearment or derogatory.

Their names were Pasquale Mastrantonio and Nicola Fantetti and the records indicate that they came to the farm of AA Brown on 3rd August 1944.

My daughter Sharon has two baskets made by Nicko; a fond reminder of those days during the war.

God sent Carmello and Laurie

Carmello and Laurie have always been mentioned in our family prayers.

Written and contributed by Carmel King (nee Lutvey)

My name is Carmel King.  I was born in 1939 and my brother John was born in 1940.  My parents were Michael and Freda Lutvey, Michael being the fourth child of Russia and Eva Lutvey.  “Raschid” (Richard in English) was born in Lebanon.  When he landed in Australia in 1879 a Government Official incorrectly registered his name as “Russia” which explains the name change.

Lutvey Family

Lutvey Family Gayndah

(photo courtesy of Carmel King nee Lutvey)

Gayndah is a small town in the Central Burnett district of South East Queensland.  It is a District rich in Agriculture, the growing of Stock and Citrus Orchards.  When I was growing up the population of Gayndah was approximately 1500.

When scrub land was opened for selection in 1934, Michael purchased two portions and became a farmer in the “Woodmillar” District, preferring farming to his family’s storekeeping.  Over the years other properties were purchased by Russia until it became quite a large holding.

Much of the land had to be cleared of prickly pear.  There were 120 milking cows and dairying was carried out until 1945.  Picking up “stones” continued to add new paddocks for the growing of crops.  The land then became used for greater agricultural production and for the fattening of stock.  At one time Michael planted 100 Citrus trees.  The area was too dry and the experiment failed.

The farm-house at “Woodmillar” was on high blocks with rooms underneath.  The family bedrooms were upstairs and downstairs was the kitchen, the utility room and other rooms which were used to house the single workers on the farm.  The married men had separate accommodation or resided in the district or the township of Gayndah.

Michael continued to reside in Gayndah and drove the 15 miles to and from the farm every day.  When he married Freda Kayrooz in 1938 they came to live on the farm.  This is the farm where Camello and Laurie came to live during the war years and gives a picture of the type of farm work they would be expected to do.

The knowledge of Camello and Laurie comes from the memory of my mother Freda often talking about them during the years of my growing up in Gayndah.  Freda’s brother Peter Kayrooz, was a Gunner serving with the Australian Forces in the Middle East.  She always said that God sent Carmello and Laurie for her to care for so that there would be another family on the other side of the world who would do the same for her brother.

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Freda Lutvey

(photo courtesy of Carmel King nee Lutvey)

Michael and Freda , with my brother and me, moved to live in town (Gayndah) during the  1940’s.  Dad’s brother Herbert Lutvey moved with his family to live on the farm.  Once again Michael drove the 15 miles each day and continued to manage the farms until they were sold in 1970.

The Wash House (or Laundry as it is now called) was a small lean-to on the side of the house outside the Kitchen.  As a fire precaution, the Copper for boiling the clothes was about 10 metres away from the house.  A very small building called the Outhouse (Toilet) was a little further on from the Copper.  The working men would have also helped with the heavy lifting and transfer of wet work clothes and washing from the copper to the laundry tubs.

Freda hated and was very frightened of snakes.  The first night the “boys”, as         Carmello and Laurie were called, spent on the farm was a very traumatic experience for them.  When Freda came downstairs to cook breakfast the following morning, the boys were very excited and looked awful.  They had sat on top of their beds and not slept all night.  They were very frightened and tried to explain the hissing noises they heard and what they had seen.  This happened again the following night.

The milk from the large bowls which were left out for the dogs and cats had been disappearing.  Freda thought that Carmel and John (both small children) were playing with and spilling it, or, maybe there might be a snake around.  Because the boys were looking and feeling so frightened Michael decided to pull up the floor boards in the kitchen and do some checking.  He found and killed nearly 20 snakes.  The snakes had been coming out at night looking for food.  It was little wonder that the boys were so terrified with poisonous snakes slithering around the floor at night.  I do think they had had any experience or knowledge of snakes beforehand.  For this reason, which prompted Michael to pull up the floor boards, Freda said they saved John and Carmel from being bitten and dying from snake bite.

Michael would drive the boys to Gayndah to attend Mass on Sundays.  This trip       extended to spending the day with the large extended family at Russia’s home.  The family business interests also included a number of shops and Russia’s home was on land behind, and attached to the main shopping centre.  On many occasions, Michael was in trouble with the law for taking the boys away from the farm, taking them to town and most of all when he allowed the boys the freedom of going for a walk up and down the main street to look in the shop windows.

When Carmello and Laurie left Gayndah to return home after the war, they promised Freda they would stay in touch and would write.  Freda felt a very close connection to them, and she was always of the opinion that something happened to their ship and they never reached home.

I am very familiar with their names as they have always been mentioned in our family prayers.  If there is an opportunity I would love to meet, or be in touch, with a member of their families.

Treated Like Family

 

Russia Lutvey was the first Lutvey to go to Gayndah.  He and his wife Eva, had 10 children: six sons and four daughters.  The family owned businesses ranging from a general store, a hotel and dairy farms and several members held numerous public positions such as shire chairman.  As Lebanese migrants, they had a first hand understanding of being outsiders and the target of prejudice.

These experiences played a part in their easy acceptance of Italian prisoners of war as employees on their dairy farms during WW2.

Eva Lutvey was 9/10 years old at the time and remembers her Uncle Mick as a bit of a rebel.  Eva relates, “He treated Laurie and Carmello like sons.  The farmers were told by authorities ‘on no condition were they allowed to give the POWs butter and cream.’  These items were on rations. But Uncle Mick ignored this, and also the order that the Italians weren’t to eat with the family.  They were young men, a long way away from home and Uncle Mick made sure that they felt part of the family. They were not treated any different to his own family.  I remember it being said, that they didn’t know where Australia was, and that they were drafted and had no interest in war.  Uncle Mick’s wife Freda said that the men were going to keep in touch once they returned to Italy.  This was not the case and Aunty Freda never fully understood why she didn’t hear from them.   The Catholic priest at the time was Father Brosnan.  He had spent time in Italy and was fluent in Italian.  He would spend a lot of time visiting and talking to the Italians.  They appreciated this.  Uncle Mick would drive the POWs into town to Mass each Sunday.  I think people frowned upon this practice, as they thought the POWs were treated too generously. A clear memory is the burgundy coloured clothing they wore.”

“Carmello” was from Castri di Lecce and “Laurie”  was from Lizzanello Lecce.  They were 24 years old when they went to the Lutvey farm.  They had been sent from Libya to India before arriving in Australia onboard Mariposa 26.4.44.

Another two Italian POWs were sent to work for S Lutvey.  They were Antonio D’Amelio from Volturino Potenzo and Giuseppe Curiale from San Bartolomeo in Galdo Benevento.  Both were 33 years old in 1944. They had been sent from Libya to India before arriving in Australia onboard Ruys 28.2.44.

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Nieces of Sam Lutvey remember how their “Uncle Sam Lutvey was reliant upon the two men assigned to him. The men wrote to Sam after they returned home to Italy.  These letters written in broken English thanked Sam for his assistance to them in legal matters and also expressed appreciation of the good treatment they had experienced in their time with him. Unfortunately, these letters have all been lost.

Our cousin Barry who was three years old at the time. He told us his mother used to tell him that he was the only three year old who knew more Italian than English.  Apparently, the men loved looking after Barry and he obviously loved their company too.”

A Hard Day’s Work

Anna Eusebi from Ancona Italy is the granddaughter of Fortunato Gobbi.  In her quest to find out more information about her Nonno Ernesto (as he was known), she found this project’s research and website.

Anna mentioned that she had some photos of her grandfather when he was on a farm in Australia and that her family only had a few stories about Ernesto’s time in Australia.  Ernesto told his family that in Australia there were many snakes and that he cultivated potatoes.  He also told of the frustration of the Italian POWs who were taken off the farms but then had to wait almost a year before boarding a ship for Italy.  Together, we pieced together Ernesto’s journey as an Italian soldier and prisoner of war.

Every photo that is shared with me is special:  photos of the Italians posing on horse back, family photos which include the Italian prisoners of war.  Each is special because every photo has a story to tell.

Ernesto’s photos however are extraordinary.

His photos are a first for this Queensland research. While there is written documentary evidence confirming that the Italian prisoners of war worked side by side with the Land Army Girls, this practice was a rather contentious issue: Itye POWs fraternising with our Aussie girls! A newspaper headline: DAGOES PESTER LAND ARMY GIRLS sums up a commonplace viewpoint.

Ernesto’s photo talks to us about the workforce on JJ Parr’s Amamoor farm during WW2.  These photos are a unique snapshot of the combined POW and LAGS workforce at Amamoor via Gympie.  While the prisoner of war workforce was employed on a permanent basis on most Queensland farms, the Australian Women’s Land Army (LAGS) workforce tended to be used for short periods during the hectic harvest seasons.

The Fourth Service by Mary Macklin is an excellent resource chronicling the services of the Land Army in Queensland during World War 2.  There are two mentions of the LAGS picking potatoes, “It was hard work picking up potatoes, filling the bags, sewing them up, then tow of us loading them onto the trucks…” and “May Higgins picked and bagged sixty five bags of potatoes in one day, three bushel bags each, an amazing worker…”

In the photo below, the truck is loaded with bagged potatoes.  Nonno Ernesto is sitting third from the right, and Luigi Iacopini, a friend from the same village as Ernesto is sitting first on the left.

Gobbi and LAGS and Potatoes

A Hard Day’s Work

Italian Prisoners of War and Land Army Girls Amamoor via Gympie

(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)

Mention of Land Army girls working at Amamoor is made in Mary Macklin’s book: “A group of four girls went to work on pineapple harvesting and later will be harvesting beans.  The number is now six.  LAGS of this group are B Cedergreen, A Cedergreen, G [Gloria] Pattison, C [Clarice] Keyworth, C Burroughs, E Bonning and Mrs Cedergreen does the cooking for the girls.”

From the archives, we know that J.J. Parr employed POWs and LAGS on two properties: The Golden Mile Orchard near Gayndah/Mundubbera (Q4 PWCC) and Amamoor (Q3 PWCC). One LAG, Cecily Gourley (nee Brennan) wrote about her memories of these times.  Cecily worked on both properties of J.J. Parr.

Cecily wrote:

The next property was the Golden Orange [The Golden Mile Orchard] at Mundubbera.  It was Christmas time, rockmelon harvest for the southern market and potato crop. Wages were two pounds, four shillings weekly and keep. When the season finished we left for Amamoor, Kadanga – same owners [J.J. Parr] as above property.

Contract potato pickers machine dug up to surface, with us picking up along rows with two kerosene tins.  These tins were four gallons and square in which was commercial dispensed kerosene, for lighting and various needs.  In one tin we collected small potatoes for the domestic market and in another, larger potatoes for Defence Forces. At the end of the rows, bags were filled and sewed across the top, but forming left and right “EARS” for grip handling. 

Lunch time was taken at the nearby creek, in a beautiful atmosphere listening to the magnificent bell birds call and sounds of other birds, tranquillity so long ago…

On this property also six to eight Italian P.O.W.’s working as directed by Overseer [Manager].  Due to circumstances, the Overseer was absent, personal reasons and arrangements.  A car arrived on the property with four male officials and no Overseer.  The four men returned to Gympie.  An hour later, Army M.P.’s arrived in a military truck and took the POW’s away.

The AWLA members were given instructions by phone to pack up and return by train to H.Q. Brisbane… (From The Fourth Service)

The authorities did not abide by a situation where the POWs and the LAGS worked together without appropriate supervision.

It is unlikely that Cecily and Ernesto’s paths crossed.  Cecily appears to have been at the Amamoor property early 1944 and Ernesto did not arrive at Amamoor until July 1944. But Cecily’s memories and Ernesto’s photos sit side by side to tell us a story of the Amamoor workforce.

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Morning Tea for the Workers and young boy

Luigi Iacopini far left and Nonno Ernesto centre front

Italian Prisoners of  War and Land Army Girls Amamoor via Gympie

(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)

Ernesto also told his family that he “regretted not being able to stay in Australia because he said he was well looked after and that there was so much work”. Other poignant memories were: living in tents, making gnocchi when he took care of the kitchen, a terrible journey from India to Australia when Italians died from dysentery and were thrown into the sea and Italians committing suicide in the camps because they could not cope with the emotional stress of waiting and waiting to return home to Italy.

I thank Ernesto and his family for keeping these photos safe for over seventy years.

They are extraordinary because of the history they reflect. They tell us about a war time workforce, a potato harvest, Italian prisoners of war, Australian Women’s Land Army girls, life on the farm during World War 2, farming life at Amamoor via Gympie:

 a hard day’s work.

Italian Family Needs Boonah’s Help

Luigi Tommasi is researching his grandfather’s journey as an Italian soldier and prisoner of war during WW2 and his search has brought him to Boonah.

Luigi’s grandfather Salvatore Morello together with Pietro Pepe, both from Castri di Lecce were captured in the Battle of Bardia: 3 – 5th January 1941.  Together on 29th July 1944, they were sent to the Q10 Prisoner of War Control Centre for allocation to farm work.

Their first placement was on the farm of G. Bartholomew.  In the first week of September 1944, both men were sent to the Boonah Hospital. It is possible that Salvatore and Pietro were reassigned to another farmer after their release from hospital.

Luigi remembers, “My grandfather said he had worked at a large farm in Boonah, which used the tractor to reap the hay and a horse to gather the cattle. If I remember correctly the horse was white, to which he was very fond of. His work also included milking dairy cows and raising cattle, sheep and pigs. He also told us that the owner of the farm was lame.”

Salvatore’s time on Boonah farms was barely eight months as due to ongoing medical issues and chronic appendicitis he returned to Hay Prisoner of War Camp and further hospitalisation.  “My grandfather spoke with fondness about his time working on Australian farms, I always thought that he was on farms for much longer.  I think he was well treated because he had good memories.  We had no idea where in Australia he was sent, but with thanks to Joanne Tapiolas, we now know this place was Boonah,” Luigi said.

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Pietro Pepe, unknown, Salvatore Morello c. 1942

British POW Camp in India

Salvatore and Pietro spent three years in POW Camps in India and the only photos of Salvatore and Pietro during their time as prisoners of war were taken in India. Possibly the photo above combined with Salvatore’s memories of farm life, might jog the memories of a few Boonah locals.

Luigi has contacted researcher Joanne Tapiolas, to assist him with his quest.  “This journey is an emotional one for Salvatore’s daughter, Antonia.  Her father left home in 1939 and did not return until 1947. Eight years, is a very long time for a little girl.  Helping Luigi and Antonia is an extension of the research project into the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland.  There is an increase in the number of people in Australia who are tracing their family history, so it comes as no surprise that Italian families are also interested in the history of their family members,” explains Tapiolas.

If Boonah locals can assist Luigi Tommasi  in any way, Joanne Tapiolas can be contacted at joannetappy@gmail.com  Further information on the research project can be found at italianprisonersofwar.com

So far from home and family…

Geographic dislocation was tolerable and bearable as a prisoner of war in Australia, but the physical separation from wives and children must have been at times, almost unbearable.

Nicola Micali was 27 years old when he arrived in Gayndah*. As a soldier in an artillery unit, he had been captured on the first day of the Battle of Bardia 3rd January 1941.  The deserts of North Africa were replaced with the tropical climate of India where he spent up to four years. He had a brief two month stay at Cowra NSW before  a two week stay at Gaythorne PW & I Camp, Queensland.

Geographic dislocation was part of the life of the Italian soldier and prisoner of war. Nicola’s home was San Pietro Vernotico which is close to the Adriatic Sea and is known for olive and grape growing.  His new home in Gayndah however is situated 2 hours from the coast specialising in citrus production.

Swapping artillery and desert sand for farm tools and citrus scented breezes was idyllic in a physical sense, however the separation of Nicola from his wife and daughter was far from a perfect existence.

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Nicola Micali and friends: Libya (Nicola seated right)

(Photo courtesy of Samuele Micali)

Nicola’s grandson Samuele recently discovered a letter written by his grandfather to his grandmother Giovanna. Dated 4-6-1940 et XVIII, Nicola wrote about his movements in Libya but also these endearing words:  “La nostra bambina come se la passa, voglio sapere tutto.” Nicola’s daughter would be 7 years old when he returned.  War fractures family life with children growing up without knowing their father and wives having to survive economic hardship without the families’ breadwinner.

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Letter from Nicola Micali 4-6-1940

(Photo courtesy of Samuele Micali)

*Gayndah Queensland is the centre of the state’s citrus orchards and it was on orchards owned by Frank Charles Robinson and Frank William Robinson that five young Italian prisoners of war lived and worked from July 1944 to the end of 1945.

On 8th July 1944, from an office at Gayndah, an army truck would have taken the five young men to the property of Mr Frank Robinson and his son Frank Robinson.

The young men who made their home at Glen Ellen were Domenico Petruzzi from Lizzanello, Lecce; Nicola Micali from San Pietro Vernodi (Vernotico) Brindisi and Giuseppe Vergine from Castrignano Dei Greci, Lecce.

Antonio Colomba from Nardo, Lecce and Antonio Alfarno from Supersano, Lecce and worked on Glen Olive.

Lagoon Pocket’s Macadamia Trees

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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.

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Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card Vaccarini, Guido PWI 57514

(National Archives of Australia J3118, 119)

One Event…Three Versions

A special event held in Gympie June 1944 involved Italian prisoners of war, the Apostolic Delegate Giovanni Panico and local Gympie residents.

Three versions of the event are reproduced: memories of Costanzo Melino, mainstream newspaper article under a section: Of General Interest and newspaper article from right wing Smith’s Weekly titled Fascist ‘Guard of Honor’.

The marrying of memories and primary sources is important in any historical research. Very little specific information about Italian prisoners of war was published in Australian newspapers of the time so to have three versions of the one event is extremely rewarding and enlightening.

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Identity Card for Costanzo Melino PW57373

(NAA: J3118, 117)

  1. Appreciation for a Special Honour

Costanzo Melino had recounted a special event in Gympie while he was a prisoner of war working on a farm. His memories were recorded 30 years after the event; they were vivid and specific:

I even recalled the visit of the Italian Archbishop Giovanni Panéco.[Panico] We were all working on farms in those times and we gathered for Mass at Gympie.  We even marched in our group in the procession around the church in his honour.  It was a special occasion.  There was a band of Australian women playing and we were allowed to celebrate by dancing with these women for the first time.  I don’t recall any Australian men being present at this dance.  We danced for a few hours and then we were allowed to return to our farms.  It seemed to us to be a special honour. (Costanzo Melino)

  1. Spiritual Comfort

His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. John Panico, has recently been visiting prisoners of war employed in various centres on the North Coast of Queensland.  At Gympie he met a large number of them at St. Patrick’s Church, where he celebrated Mass.  At 10 o’clock his Excellency addressed the people, speaking in Italian to the prisoners of war and tendering them excellent advice.  The services of these men are greatly valued by their employers because of their good habits and their knowledge of rural industries.  During his stay in Gympie the Apostolic Delegate was welcomed by the mayor and leading citizens and thanked for the interest he displayed in visiting the district.  During his stay his Excellency and his secretary were the guests of Mgr. Molony. [1944 ‘Of General Interest’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 7 June, p. 4. , viewed 02 Oct 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172213489%5D

  1. Outrage

Fascist “Guard of Honor”

At Gympie (Q) at a religious ceremony, Dago prisoners of war formed the “guard of honor” for the officiating cleric.  There were afterwards entertained at a dinner and, to top it off, some of the local belles danced with them.  Because of these Fascists, many of our young Australians like in the Libyan Desert.  To parade them in an Australian town is just about the limit. “Pro Patria.” Gympie, Q. [1944 ‘LEADERLESS LEGION’, Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), 28 October, p. 19. , viewed 02 Oct 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article235765732%5D

Here is Costanzo Melino: his music and his life philosophy…

 

Friendships Forged by War

With few men available for farm work, Bernard Mason signed up to employ Italian prisoners of war mid 1944. On the 8th June 1944, Mario Mercuri and Guido Vaccarini were escorted to his property at Lagoon Pocket by military staff.

By the time Mario and Guido arrived at the Mason’s property, they had left their footprints across four countries.  As POWs, they had spent time in temporary caged compounds in the deserts of North Africa, POW camps on the Suez Canal; in India and Cowra Australia.  The war had gone badly for Italy in North Africa and Guido and Mario were but two of the 350,000 Italians captured in the North African campaigns. For 19 brief months, they lived and worked at Lagoon Pocket, settling in quickly to the daily routine of farm life.

Farming life was never easy in those times.  Petrol rationing meant that farmers became charcoal burners, making charcoal as a fuel to power trucks. Tractors were non-existent and the ploughs were pulled by horses. Farm work was hard, manual work.  Gympie farms did very well during the war, provided that they had workers.  Troop trains came through Gympie on a regular basis with fresh produce sold directly to the army.  Gympie being well situated supplied fruit and vegetables directly to the southern markets of Brisbane and Sydney.

Bernard Mason grew a diverse range of crops and also branched out into a macadamia plantation.  Pineapples, papaws, carrots, beetroots and cabbages were some of the fruit and vegetable crops produced on the farm. Bernie also had another 40 acre property from which he pioneered the macadamia industry.  At the time, there was no interest for ‘bush nuts’ and the Department of Primary Industry had little information about its commercial viability.  But Bernie with the assistance of the ‘Ityes’ planted 800 macadamia seedlings which in time was known to be the largest macadamia seedling plantation in existence. Nowadays, macadamia plantations use grafted trees.  Bernie would go up into the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast around Eumundi and Mapleton to collect the nuts for seeds.

G and M planting pineapples Lagoon Pkt

 

Guido Vaccarini and Mario Mercuri planting pineapples at Lagoon Pocket 1944-1945

(from the collection of Barry Mason)

It was in this bucolic setting that the POWs became part of the Mason family.  Barry Mason, born November 1939,  was only a child at the time, but he remembers the men well: “They treated us kids well.  I remember how they would put my sisters in a fruit basket and carry them around. And they played games with us.  Dad bought them each a watch and push bike.  There were rules about when and where they could go on their days off, so I suppose this is why he bought those items for them.  They made no attempt to attend church, and I remember a story about Guido and church.  Apparently, he told dad, ‘No church. Madonna no think of me. Me no think of Madonna’.  And there was the story about the POWs at the Butler vineyard.  Jack Butler had the Italians prune back the vines and had a fit when he saw what they had done.  They had cut them right back and Jack believed that they had ruined his vines.  As it turned out, these POWs knew more than a little bit about vineyards and the next crop was the best crop every grown on the farm.”

Another anecdote about the ‘Ityes’ at the Mason farm centres on ‘the still’.  Barry reminisces, “They set up a still to distil alcohol.  I am not sure where all the bits and pieces came from, but they used a milk separator bowl to boil the fruit in.  They used pineapple skins and no doubt other fruit.  They had a coiled pipe and the vapours would go up into the coil and came out a crystal clear toxic liquid. They could turn their hand to most things, although I am not sure that this was ‘allowed’.”  Lots of memories surface about those times and Barry relates a common joke of the day, “I don’t think there was any malice in the words but it went like this: ‘How would one describe ‘tall inebriated Italians?  Hi(gh) tiddly I-tyes’!”

It was however to be a near tragedy that cemented a lifelong friendship between the Mason family and the Vaccarini family. Guido saved the lives of Bernie’s two daughters, Valda and Rae. The girls had been playing in the cabin of the Ford V8 truck when they were rendered unconscious by carbon monoxide.  Bernie, Guido and Mario were in the packing shed when Guido realised he could not hear the girls.  He told Bernie, “Boss, bambini quiet… Mister, no hear bambini” adding “Mister, mister, I go see why no hear bambini”. Giudo had found the girls slumped and unconscious in the truck’s cabin. The girls were removed from the truck and laid on the floor of the packing shed and the Gran who looked after the children, felt all was lost and pushed Mason to the ground and said, “Pray, pray. Pray for the girls”.   Guido was loaded with one of the girls on the back of the truck and Mrs Mason in the cabin with the other lifeless girl.  Bernie had said, “It was the longest 8 mile I have ever driven.  But God must have heard my prayers”. The rush of fresh air across the face of the little girl on the back of the truck stirred her but it wasn’t until they arrived at Dr Warrener’s in Gympie, when a nurse revived the other child, that the family knew both girls were safe.  The doctor said that without the action of Guido, the girls would have died as had the girls inhaled the carbon monoxide for another few minutes, they would certainly have been dead.

After his repatriation to Italy in 1947, Guido wrote to Bernie in 1949 to ask for sponsorship to return to Australia. Bernie Mason said, “This, I felt was the least I could do because he was the means of saving our two little mites.” Guido arrived back in Gympie in 1951 and his wife Rina emigrated a year later.  Barry said, “When my dad died, the family wished for the graveside service to be private.  Guido asked to pay his respects to my dad and we decided that he deserved a place there.”

The Mason and Vaccarini families still reside in Gympie. Barry and Margaret live in Gympie and have become the custodians of the photos and stories of that time.  Valda married Duncan Polley of Polley’s Coaches and Rae married Gordon Saxelby and they now live in Bundaberg. Guido has now passed on some years ago.  In a fitting tribute to the close family ties, Barry had the honour of conducting the service at Guido’s funeral.  Guido’s wife Rina is still with us though she is very frail. Son Marco and Rina live in Lawrence Street Gympie.

While time progresses quickly these days and memories fade, the stories of the Italian POWs on Gympie farms are clearly remembered.  The special bonds forged between a prisoner of war and a Gympie farmer continue to be part of Gympie’s Italian prisoner of war history.

Bern, Guido, Joe

1950’s Bernie Mason, Guido Vaccarini and Joe Brooks in front of 4 x 4 Chev Blitz Truck

(from the collection of Barry Mason)