Category Archives: South Australia 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.

 

 

 

Legacy: Rabbit and Spaghetti

It is over 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’.

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.

 

 

 

 

Searching for King George

My search for King George began when Malcolm Davis from South Australia sent me a document about Italian prisoners of war near Gladstone South Australia in December 2019.  And so a needle in a haystack treasure hunt began…

1. from Gladstone a meeting of creeks – a breaking of gauges. Published by The Gladstone Centenary Committee, 1980. Printed by Gillingham Printers Pty Ltd Adelaide SA.

Post War Years

It was at this time that 5 CAD became host to Italian prisoners of war… One POW told the then depot commander, Capt. L.E. Ash, that he was a painter before the war.  Paint was produced from depot stocks, and canvas, but no fine brushes were available.  The POW overcame this problem by using hair from his own head to fashion brushes, and the resulting portrait of King George IV [sic.] copied from the cover of the then current edition of Women’s Weekly, now hangs in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

I sat on this information, for two months, calculating my plan of action.  During this time, I used varying combinations of wording for searches in the Australian War Memorial online collection.  I had no luck finding the King George portrait.

2. Women’s Weekly: maybe I could find a portrait of King George on the cover of the Women’s Weekly.  Logically, I was looking for a 1946 magazine, as this is the time that Italian POWs were sent to Australian Army facilities to undertake maintenance work. Fifty two copies later, no luck.  I broadened my search to 1945.  And there King George was on the cover of the April 7 1945 edition.

1945 April Women's Weekly Cover

1945 ‘The Australian WOMEN’S WEEKLY’, The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), 7 April, p. Front cover. , viewed 07 Mar 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47117733

3.   Australian War Memorial: taking the philosophy of nothing ventured, nothing gained I sent an enquiry to the Australian War Memorial: “This is a long shot, but do you have in your collection a portrait of King George VI painted c. 1945-46 by an Italian prisoner of war?   I received a reply stating that my query had been forwarded to their Art Section.

I waited… and within two days, Hugh Cullimore Assistant Art Curator sent me an email. Yes, ART28179 is a portrait of King George VI painted by an Italian prisoner of war in 1946.  The artist’s name appeared to be ‘Godulo’.

ART28179

Portrait of King George VI

Australian War Memorial Art Collection ART28179

This was clearly not a portrait painted from the Australian Women’s Weekly. It was much more beautiful and detailed, a very regal portrait.

4. Godulo: a search of the National Archives of Australia came up blank.  BUT a little known trick is the wild card search:  first three letters followed by *  I found three Italian prisoners of war: GOD*  but only one had been in South Australia.  I had found our artist:

Alfredo Goduto from Roseto Valfortore Foggia; Occupation: Painter.  He was in South Australia from 9.4.46 to 14.12.46 having previously worked on farms in Tasmania.

Now I wanted to know more about our painter eg. Did he continue to paint when he returned to Italy?  But google searches for Goduto Roseto Valfortore Foggia came to zero.  I had come to a dead end.

5. Sydney Cape Breton Novia Scotia and the Goduto family.   Alfredo and his family migrated to Nova Scotia in 1952. He continued to paint and his house and its painted decorations are featured in Heritage Trust Painter Rooms of Nova Scotia. Take the time to click on Building Images at the bottom of the page for a walk through Alfredo’s home.

The last treasure has been the Goduto family’s recollections of  King George…

 “In Australia, someone noticed his paintings and wanted him to paint a fullsized portrait of King George V [sic.] to hang in a community hall.  It took Dad months to paint this life size portrait.  The Australians treated him like a king, at that point… they gave him anything he wanted because he was working very hard on this important project.  When he notified the official that he was finished, he was told that an art expert wished to see it.  Not expecting this, he panicked.  He was really worried about someone coming to critique his work, and he told them that he was not a real artist. But the expert came and spent a couple of hours examining the portrait of the king.  The expert was truly impressed with the work and could only find one problem.  He pointed to the king’s hands. “You made his hands too feminine; they should show his veins.”  Dad quickly touched up the King’s hands.  The expert offered Dad a job in Australia after the war, but Dad never did go back.  Much of his artistic ability was nurtured during that period because he had a lot of leisure time at his disposal.”

from Migliore, S., and E. DiPierro, eds. 2017. Italian Lives, Cape Breton Memories, 2nd edition. Sydney: University College of Cape Breton Press.

6.  The King George VI portrait Australia War Memorial

Hugh Cullimore AWM has been informed that the portrait requires restoration work. Once restored, a high quality digital photograph will be taken and uploaded to the digital catalogue of the Australian War Memorial.

Contact has been made with Alfredo’s son, Dominic and the family is very grateful to finally ‘see’ the King George portrait that they had heard about so much.

7. A community effort: Malcolm Davis, Hugh Cullimore and Dominic Goduto have been instrumental in writing this history of the King George Portrait.  My research is very much about connecting memories, stories, photographs and artefacts to their history and historical context, so this has been an absolutely amazing outcome. 

WATCH THIS SPACE: Hugh Cullimore will write an article on the AWM website once the portrait is restored and photographed

Alfredo Goduto Alfredo Goduto: Self Portrait

Photograph by Leeann Roy, 2009

 

 

A Travesty…

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One of the questions often asked, is ‘why were the Italian POWs taken off farms to then sit idle in Prisoner of War and Internment Camps for over 12 months?’

Another often asked question is ‘how valuable was the contribution of the Italian POWs to agricultural production?’

The following ‘Letter to the Editor’ addresses both of these questions…

Italian P.O.W.

To the Editor

Sir- some of us can raise a lot of sympathy for those of the Indonesians who have co-operated with the Japanese but what of that poor underdog, the Italian POW? Six months ago two POW (Sicilians) assisted by an old man harvested, without tractor, 140 tons of hay, besides routine jobs of milking, tending sheep &c. One of these men was so outstanding that I left him in charge of my farm and took an extended rest in Melbourne.  On my return everything was in order – house painted, winter’s wood supply split and stacked, &c. On March 13 most POW were again barbed in, a precaution recognised as necessary before repatriation: but the call-up was because of AWU pressure.  Many are married and my two have families not seen for over six years.  Their greatest worry is the dreariness of the dragging days of enforced idleness after the free busy life on a farm.  War against Italy ceased 18 months ago, so maintenance of torture to men’s souls at this stage is a travesty of British justice. In spite of the AWU attitude, farm labor in the Naracoorte district is unavailable, through either the RSL and stock firms, and I am being forced off the land.  My neighbor has been without help since his POW was taken away, and was so run down that his doctor insisted on his going to the seaside with his wife and three children, leaving over 1,000 ewes uncared for in the midst of lambing.

I am, Sir, &c.

H.S. Naylor

Kybybolite S.E.

from Advertiser (Adelaide, SA: 1931-1954), Thursday 27 June 1946, page 8

For Queensland farmers, withdrawing Italian POWs from farms resulted in an acute shortage of workers for the summer harvest….

Disbandment Queensland

 

“FARMS HIT BY P.O.W. TRANSFER” The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954) 12 November 1945: 3. Web. 21 Oct 2018 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50269952&gt;.

1946 Gladstone Ammunition Depot

This situation in 1946 was that there were 18,000 Italian prisoners of war in camps awaiting repatriation.  At the same time, the Department of Army had army bases scattered around the country needing a workforce for clearing, maintenance, reconditioning, repairs, salvage work, improvements, revegetation.

A very special thank you to Malcolm Davis for providing this information.

One South Australian project where Italian prisoners of war were employed was the Gladstone Ammunition Depot in the Beetaloo Valley.  Known as the 5 CAD (Central Ammunition Depot), it “became host to Italian prisoners of war, but it was not a gaol like atmosphere.  These men were set to work cutting wood and doing other menial tasks, and from all accounts their stay was not a harsh one.  

The only reminder of the POWs stay left today is a stone wall, which enclosed the then parade ground.  the stone was quarried from the depot area, and as cement was unavailable, lime was burned for mortar.  The POWs also took up gardening and produced prolific crops of all types of vegetables which went to supplement the rations.  Some were also purchased by the married quarter members at nominal charges…With the assistance from the POWs, the billboard room was built, also from local stone which was shaped by a monumental mason stationed here at the time.  The POWs were paid for their work and had to buy their own cigarettes etc. but it was mainly a transit camp for them as most of them returned to Italy from 5CAD.”   from “Gladstone a meeting of creeks – a breaking of gauges“. Published by The Gladstone Centenary Committee, in 1980. Printed by “Gillingham Printers Pty Ltd Adelaide. SA”.

Gladstone and the Aerial of 411 Supply Company base

( from Gladstone a meeting of creeks – a breaking of gauge and https://location.sa.gov.au/viewer/)

Are there any remnants of the 411 Supply Company base?  Can you help pinpoint the location of this site?

I have found a number of terms used for the Gladstone Ammunition Depot:

No 4 Advanced Ammunition Depot

5 Central Ammunition Depot

411 Supply Company Gladstone

4AAAD Gladstone: Abbreviation used on Service and Casualty Forms  

So far we have the following Italians at the 4AAAD:

Bruno Angelini, mason from Sala Bolognese Bologna

Giuseppe Armanini, farmer from Storo Trento

Alfredo Goduto, painter from Roseto Valfortore Foggia

Michele Di Bari farmer from Montesantangelo Foggia

Verified is that Italian prisoners of war were sent to 4AAAD on 7.8.46 until repatriation.  But not all paperwork was completed as we know Alfredo Goduto was at the 4AAAD but there is no notation on his Service and Casualty Form.

Were there other South Australian army bases where Italian prisoners of war were employed in 1946?