Category Archives: South Australia Italian POWs

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.

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 Story in a Photo

In April 2017, Luigi Pinna sent me some photos belonging to his father Antioco Pinna who was a prisoner of war in South Australia.  They were photos of children, families and friends and while there were names on the back of each photo: AE Warren, John, Milton, Ross, Terry and Mark the identities of these South Australians remained a mystery. Antioco Pinna’s story can be read at : Exceptionally Good and A Portable Gramophone 

To help solve this mystery, Luigi and I needed the assistance of someone on the ground in South Australia, and in the vicinity of Millicent and Mt Burr. Colleen Hammat: Researcher for South East Family History Group was up to the challenge. Many phone calls, visits and follow ups by Colleen and slowly a little of the history of the Mt Burr Italian prisoners of war emerges.

Pinna 6

Greetings for Jimmie (Antioco Pinna)  from AE Warren (Ted)

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

A bit more digging and Colleen located a biography of Ted and Hilda (nee Bowering) Warren in the Meyer History Book:

“After being married Ted and Hilda living in Millicent where sons John and Ben and daughter Ina were born.  Ted went to work on the Mt Burr Forest.  He worked in the nursery growing pines for the plantation.  A piece of uncleared land was bought between Rocky Camp and Mt Muirhead.  The family built a house on this block and the children attended the Mt Muirhead School.  Reta, Ronald and Keith were all born while the Warrens living at Mt Murihead.  Most of the land was sold to the Forests Department for the plantation and Ted bought another uncleared block the other side of Mt Muirhead.  He retained the house.

Ted and Hilda lived at this home until all the family married.  During the time of the Second World War they cared for daughter Ina and her daughter, also John’s wife Audrey and their son.  John served overseas in the army. Ted and Hilda retired to Millicent selling the house block to the Forest Department.”

The mystery of the photo from AE Warren is solved.  The two ladies in the photo are Ted’s daughter Ina (Jim Simpson’s mother) and Ted’s wife Hilda as confirmed by grandson Jim.  The connection with Jimmie (aka Antioco Pinna) and Ted Warren is also confirmed, as both worked on the Mt Burr Forest, Jimmie as a POW labourer and Ted as a nursery man.

Pinna 5

Ina Simpson and Hilda Warren 1946

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

But there is more to this history…

Following many leads, Colleen has also found a gentleman who worked for the Mt Burr butcher when he was a young fellow. He remembers delivering to the camp and he told Colleen that the mess hut from the camp was later moved from the site into Mount Burr and used for a rec. hall.   Colleen’s 84 year old friend, “Remembers the POWs walking into Millicent from Mt Muirhead where the camp was for the Catholic Church meetings – they were called the Red Coats because they wore Red Jackets and berets. She said they sang in the choir and all had beautiful voices.”

Photos taken back to Sardinia from a Prisoner of War hostel at Mt Burr forestry in South Australia, not only survived the passage of time, but have helped an Australian community reconnect to its history and Luigi Pinna to write his father’s story.

In December 2018, Luigi Pinna wrote and published Arrastus in Sa Storia relating the journey of his father Antioco from Italy to Ethiopia… India… Australia… Italy.

Pinna Antico

Arrastus in Sa Storia by Luigi Pinna

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Pidgin English for Italians

Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War

Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War

There are many references to the Italian-English language booklet that the Italian prisoners of war were issued with.

Laurie Dwyer from Aratula via Boonah remembers Paul bringing out his book and asking Laurie to help him with learning English: “Paul used the dictionary to try to improve his English but decided that English was stupid.  There were a lot of problems with miscommunication. Paul would wait for me to return home from school and then get out the yellow book they had for English.  Pronunciation was mainly the problem. Paper and pepper sounded the same. He also had difficulty with tree and the.  They had trouble with slang like ‘give it a burl’. One morning dad and the Italians were doing some fencing.  It was time to go home for lunch so dad told them to leave the crowbar there.  The word leave was a problem and they thought dad wanted them to carry it away with them.  Dad would have raised his voice and they thought that he was angry with them.  Paul told the interpreter the next day, ‘boss got mad, I got mad’.  He thought that he would be taken away.  Things were sorted. Another time, the Fordson tractor wouldn’t start so dad went to get the draught horses.  The horses wouldn’t get into the yards and dad would have blown off steam and whatever he said, or it might have been the way he said it, Paul and Peter thought they had done something wrong.  They had a great deal of respect for dad and they didn’t want to get into trouble.  So the next time the interpreter came to the farm, they asked to find out ‘what they did wrong’.  They would explain what had happened and the interpreter would explain what had happened.” (Don’t Run Away)

Dorcas Grimmet in “We Remember: The Italian Prisoners of War 1944/45” a publication about the Italian POWs on farms in the Kingaroy district includes a page from an Italian and English Book for Italian POWs.

And we know that language classes were held in camps like Cowra and Hay.

Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War was specifically published  and given to Italian POWs being allocated to farm work under the Prisoner of War Control Centre : Without Guard scheme.  Some of the sections were: Tools, Machinery, Farm Produce, Animals, Hygiene and Medical, Family, House and Conjugation of Verbs.

POW Camp Order No. 13

I have been blessed with much luck while researching Italian Prisoners of War.

I might be researching a topic or a PWCC or a specific POW and one statement or one document will lead me to another and then another and then another.

105

(National Archives of Australia)

The booklet ‘ Prisoners of War Camp Order No. 13’ is one such find. Dated 18th February 1944  it contains eight parts:

  1. Preliminary
  2. Prisoners of War Camps
  3. Maintenance of Discipline
  4. Health and Hygiene
  5. Communication by and with Prisoners of War
  6. Privileges of Prisoners of War
  7. Prisoners of War Awaiting Trial
  8. Unguarded Prisoners

The previous Prisoners of War Camp Orders No. 1 to 12 were repealed upon publication of No. 13.  These orders are of a general nature, as they are the guidelines for the operation of all prisoner of war camps in Australia.

However, more comprehensive and detailed explanations of the operations of prisoner of war and internment camps in Australia can be found with the links below:

The ‘History of Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees 1939 – 1951‘ is an invaluable document regarding this period of history as is the section Employment of Enemy PW and Internees.

I have also compiled a list of Further Reading  with links to information for India, UK, Zonderwater South Africa, Egypt  and Australian states.

 

Italian Soldiers at War

Researching Italian prisoners of war on farms in Queensland was my primary research focus.  With over 1500 Italians living and working in Queensland, it was difficult not to get kidnapped my peripheral topics.

But I soon realised I couldn’t research the Queensland Italians without knowing where they had been fighting and captured.  And with thanks to the families of Angelo Amante, Francesco Cipolla, Stefano Lucantoni, Ermanno Nicoletti, Adofo D’Addario, Luigi Iacopini, Antioco Pinna and Nicola Micala we have the  images below of the Italians as soldiers.

I was overwhelmed by the statistics for Italians captured  at Battle of Bardia so I spent some time reading newspaper articles for the Australian soldiers’ perspective, books in the James Cook University for detailed military and strategy information and personal memories of Italian prisoners of war.

 

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Delving into the battles of Beda Fomm,  Sidi el Barrani, Wolkefit,  Buq Buq,  Keren,  Tobruk,  Gialo Oasis and Giarabub Oasis happened as I  assisted Italian families with their research on their fathers and grandfathers. Appendix 2 in  Walking in their Boots   is a comprehensive list of places of capture for Queensland Italian prisoners of war.

Additionally, Libya.Egypt.Eritrea.Ethiopia is a photo story of a number of battles together with personal photos of Australia’s Italian prisoners of war.

 

Left photo: Vincenzo Piciaccia Right photo: Vincenzo Piciaccia on right

(photo courtesy of Leo Piciacci)

Vincenzo Piciaccia was 19 years old when these photos were taken in Libya.  The photo on the right shows the bravado of young men from Ascoli Piceno with Vincenzo holding his dagger in one hand and another man holding out his rifle. Side by side with weapons of war are the everyday items:  a  food container which Vincenzo holds in his left hand and the man on the left also holds a billy can. Vincenzo was 20 years old when he was captured at Bardia 4.1.41 and 26 years old when he returned to Italy: a youth stolen from him by war.

A report written by Major A.E. Reed C.C. No. 3 Reinforcement Group in June 1941, records a little information about the captured Italians soldiers:

“There is a large internment Camp for prisoners of war on the road from Gaza to Jeruselem and another near Ismailia.  I was informed that there was also one near Suez, but I was unable to get any reliable information regarding the capacity or other detials of these camps.  They are brilliantly illuminated at night and can be seen for from many miles away.  On one night, however, an unidentifited plane machine-gunned the camp at Suez, and since my return there has benn a report of the bombing of the camp on the road to Jeruselem. From enquiries I made, I was informed that large numbers of prisoners had been sent to India and some to South Africa.  … prisoners are also being sent to Ceylon, where, I was informed, a large number are alreay located.  The shortage of transport was stated to me to be  a reason for the delay in sending prisoners to Australia, and while I was at Suez two large ships which, it was understood, would be bringing prisoners here, [Australia] were diverted to South Africa, one of them taking women and children who were being evacuated.”  AWM2018.8.411

 

Legacy: Rabbit and Spaghetti

It is 70 years now since Italian Prisoners of War who worked and lived in Australia for up to six years, left Australia for their homes in Italy. Their legacy is lasting in many ways and a poignant tribute is “Rabbits & Spaghetti” as is highlighted by the label below.

“Rabbit & Spaghetti” is a wine label from the vineyards of South Australia. This wine pays tribute to the Italian Prisoners of War who worked in the grape growing industry in the state.

The label reads: “As WWII swept across Northern Africa, the idyllic landscape of Australia’s wine regions must have seemed a strange place of incarceration for a prisoner of war. And yet this is where scores of captured Italian soldiers found themselves labouring on farms and vineyards in place of a generation of young men far away at war.  Without this help many a grape grower could not have endured these times.  In return for their labour, the farmers shared their homes and tables with their ‘prisoners’. Rabbit and spaghetti was a staple and from those shared meals, traditions and friendships were born that have outlasted the war.” (Naked Wines Australia Limited, 2014)

 rabbits-and-spaghetti

 Rabbit & Spaghetti Label

(Naked Wines Australia Limited, 2014)

 

Rabbit and spaghetti was a well remembered meal made by the Italian prisoners of war on farms.  Rabbit was also referred to as ‘underground mutton’.

Permission to Marry

While there are number of documented cases of Italian prisoners of war marrying Australian women, the official stance was framed around the British Government’s policy, that being : REFUSAL FOR PERMISSION FOR CO-OPERATORS TO MARRY BRITISH WOMEN.

Buried deep in the National Archives is the story of one family who sought permission for an Italian POW to marry a young Australian woman.  EJ was a Land Army Girl and AM was a POW. They met at Goolagong while EJ was picking tomatoes with the Land Army.

An honourable man, AM wanted to marry EJ and support her and their son. As the extracts from letters highlight:  AM had sought and obtained permission from his family in Italy, the catholic priest at Cowra had baptised the baby and HA, EJ’s mother had arranged work for AM.

“My darling, after so much waiting I got a letter from you. It gave me so much happiness. My dearest, you said that mum rang up the officer at Cowra, well they did not yet call me to ask me anything about it however when they want me, I’m always ready to tell them the truth and I’ll tell them that I want to be free and marry you straight away.  I’m glad that you will send your photo to my mother, she will be happy to get it.” AM 15 May 1945

“I have had his baby baptised at the Catholic Church here in Cowra and told Father the priest all about my trouble and he is preparing me for our marriage… at the Church here I would keep it secret” EJ 7 June 1945

“My daughter is very anxious to marry an Italian prisoner of war… he [the baby] is very sick now has a very bad chest and took convulsions last night… the prisoner is also anxious to marry my daughter he is a good man and we can get him work in the back country trapping with my son  who has all the outfit and is willing to do something to help them when they get married.” HA (mother of EJ) 20 June 1945

Unfortunately, the government response was : “Although there appears to be no law in existence which would affect the validity of such marriages if performed it was decided that they would not be permitted.” So while the government would not sanction marriages or give couples permission to marry, there was little authorities could do, should an Australian woman and an Italian POW marry. Unfortunately, EJ and AM did not see this ‘loophole’.

AM and EJ did however seem to have spent 4 to 6 weeks together in early 1946 after AM escaped from custody.  He returned willingly to camp and surrendered himself to the guards. On 10th January 1947, AM was repatriated to Italy and there is no record of his return to Australia.

EJ and AM made one mistake, and that was to ask permission to marry from the authorities.  Had they married, their story might have had a happier ending.

The relationship between Italian POW FN and  HM, was dealt with the full force of the law.  On 20th April 1945, FN was sent to Detention Barracks at Hay (NSW) for 12 months by order of a Military Court.  FN was charged with “conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline among PW (Between Dec 43 and Feb 44 having sexual intercourse with a female).”  A harsh penalty considering other similar cases were dealt with differently and with more compassion. FN wanted to marry HM and HM said that she was prepared to marry him. Their liaison had resulted in the birth of a son.  FN served his 12 months detention but never returned to the state of his placement nor to Australia after the war.

A softening of the official directive regarding marriage of Australian women to Italian prisoners of war, is however highlighted by this notation from 18 December 1946:

Approval by the Minister has been given in principle to marriages between Italian prisoners of war and Australian Women. ( War Diary AWM52 1/1/14/15 July to December 1946)

One wonders if Italian POWs AM and FN were notified of this change in policy regarding marriages between Italian POWs and Australian women and given the opportunity to marry EJ and HM and be reunited with their sons.

Two stories with happier endings can be found at: Colleen and Mick and Francesco and June 

Records reveal the following statement on POW marriages:

It became apparent that 2 PW had been married to Australian women whilst escapees in Australia, and 4 others, 3 of whom had been escapees, desired to contract marriages; the remaining PW had been for a long period in rural employment.  The bona fides of the applications of these latter 4 PW were given full consideration and approval was finally given for their marriages, and where necessary leave was granted to them to enable marriages to be effected. (NAA: A7711)

And another happy ending is that of Mr and Mrs Auciello.  Nicola Auciello was photographed before he boarded the Alcantara to return to Italy. The attached report states: “Nicola Auciello, Italian sailor, became a prisoner in the Mediterranean Sea when the Sydney sank his cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni, said he was engaged to an Australian girl who lived at Orange and wanted to get back Australia to marry her.  Asked if any other Italians had become engaged Auciello smiled and said, “Plenty.”

Nicola

1946, The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 23 December, p. 3. (LATE FINAL EXTRA), viewed 13 Apr 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page24562456

He was repatriated to Italy and then his fiancee made the journey to Italy to marry before returning to Australia.

POW Marry 1

The Sun (Sydney, NSW: 1910-1954) Friday 3 December 1948