Category Archives: South Australia Italian POWs

There, In Black and White

Jynette Brumpton of Banana Queensland was going through some paperwork of her parents and found old black and white negatives.  To her delight and amazement, two photos were of the Italian prisoners of war that had worked on her parents’ dairy farm at Ponde near Murray Bridge in South Australia.

Jynette’s mother Grace remembered that one fellow’s name was Paolo Bernardi but that Grace and her husband Ernest had difficulty pronouncing his name so asked if they could call him Bernard, which they did.  Also remembered is Giuseppe.  The Sneaths were going to sponsor Giuseppe to return to Australia but economic circumstances prevented this.  The third man was Giuseppe’s brother-in-law.

Sneath Murray Bridge

Giuseppe Pagano, Domenico La Torre and Paolo Bernardi at Sneath Farm Ponde SA 1944/45

(photo courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

And so began Jynette’s journey to discover the stories of her parents’ POWs.  A NAA request gave the name of the third man: Domenico La Torre. “My mum at 96 is a bit sketchy about things that long ago but still remembers some things clearly.  A clear memory is that Giuseppe always wore a tie. Mum says that when they received a letter from Giuseppe asking for sponsorship dad went to see the relevant authorities in Adelaide to see what was involved.  After much soul searching and shuffling the money around dad felt that he just wasn’t in a secure enough position financially to sponsor someone,” explains Jynette.

All three were captured at Bardia on 4th January 1941.  From Nocelleto (Napoli), brothers-in-law Giuseppe Pagano and Domenico La Torre stuck together as when they were processed at Geneifa in Egypt the Middle East Numbers issued were 70004 and 70006.  With 40,000 Italians surrendered/captured at Bardia, staying together was no easy task.  Paolo Bernardi came from Terracina Littoria.

An additional document which sheds light on farming life in 1944 is the farm ledger kept by Ernest Archibald Sneath.  This ledger offers a window in past farming practices.  It tells of the small crops grown through the seeds purchased, the income from milk production, the cost of screws, nails, steel wool, oil, petrol and diesel.  Before Jynette found the negatives and began her search about her family’s Italian POWs, the meaning of the notation PWCC would have eluded her.  Now Jynette knows that the 9 was paid to the prisoner of war control centre (PWCC) at Murray Bridge: S4 PWCC Murray Bridge.  The labour cost was £1/week per Italian indicating that the canteen truck would have visited the farm on a three-week cycle.

Sneath Murray Bridge Farm Ledger

Farm Ledger for Ernest Sneath’s Farm at Ponde SA

(courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

Jynette noticed that only £7 was paid in one cycle, but when cross-referenced with the Service and Casualty Forms, Domenico La Torre had left the farm to go to hospital between 17-11-44 and 30-11-44.  Jynette comments, “This history is like one big giant puzzle.  The photos are part of the puzzle, as are dad’s ledgers and the Italian Service Forms.”

Another piece of the puzzle emerges about a fruit and vegetable shop in Mannum. Jynette explains, “My parents ran a fruit and veg shop during part of the war years. I knew that and can remember going into it when I was small. It was in Mannum the local shopping centre. My maternal grandmother ran it for dad. But what I didn’t know until recently when mum and I were having one of our POW chats is that she said it was Giuseppe who made the suggestion to dad in the first place.  My father was a great veg gardener and Giuseppe noticing that, asked dad why he didn’t sell to the people in Mannum. So after some discussion that’s what they decided to do. The POWs would grow the vegetables, dad would go weekly to Murray Bridge to procure fruit and Nan would run the shop. My Nan kept the books and the shop paid £3/week for the POW wages [reimbursement to dad].  I should imagine that once the Italians left dad wouldn’t have been able to keep growing veg as well as maintain the irrigation and dairy etc. The list of veg is interesting as some of those varieties like Greenfeast peas are still being grown so it’s nice to think that some things stay the same,” explains Jynette.

Sneath Veg Shop Mannum

Mannum Shop Notebook

(courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

Another important find for Jynette are other farm records kept by her family, revealing a little more of Australia’s agricultural history.  The pages reveal what was planted and when the crops should be ready to harvest as well as the different varieties of vegetables grown seven decades ago.  Today, most people would not know the difference between a triamble and gramma pumpkin or Chatenay or Manchester Table carrots.

Sneath family

The Sneath Family May 1947.  Back: Dad’s mother Ina, Grace, Ernest with Carol Front:  Jynette, cat Sadie, Dennis with George Fletcher dad’s stepfather.

(photo courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

This is more than just the story of three prisoners of war on a South Australian farm.  These three Italians were part of a group of 13,500 Italian prisoners of war working on Australian farms from 1943-1946. This is also the story of farm diversity during war time; the hospitality of Australian farmers; the Italians who are remembered seven decades later and whose footsteps are found in black and white photos, on the pages of farm ledgers and in the memories of Australians. Jynette Brumpton’s black and white negatives have added ‘colour’ to this history.

PS Grace Sneath also remembered that there was another Italian POW who didn’t stay long.  After further research, a document reveals Silvio Pellacani was transferred from EA Sneath at Ponde to EB Brand at Ponde on 3rd May 1944.  He was sent to S4 PWCC Murray Bridge on 18th March 1944.  He was likely to have been replaced with Paolo Bernardi who arrived at S4 PWCC 2nd May 1944.

 

POW Camp Order No. 13

February 1944

  • Prisoner of War Camp Order No.13 is published and circulated
  • Mariposa transports 1014 Italian prisoners of war from India to Melbourne
  • Ruys transports 2028 Italian prisoners of war from India: a group disembarks at Fremantle and the the remainder disembark at Melbourne.
  • Italian prisoners of war in Australia total 11051 plus a group of merchant seamen from Remo and Romolo who were first processed as internees and then reassigned as prisoners of war.  In 1941, 4947 had been sent directly from Middle East to Sydney. During 1943 and 1944 transports brought Italian POWs from India.

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.

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(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.

 

Buon Natale

A POW Christmas

Tracing the footsteps of the Italian prisoners of war in Australia is not just about dates, names and numbers. It is about everyday life in a Prisoner of War & Internment Camp, a Prisoner of War Control hostel or on a farm in the outback.

At this special time of the year, I have looked for glimpses of what a Christmas was like for the Italian POWs in Australia.

Christmas 1943

Special Christmas concessions were authorised on 17th December 1943 which applied to German and Italian prisoners of war in camps, labour detachments and hostels.  Initial arrangements were made for German POWs with reciprocal arrangements for Australia POWs in Germany, but this later extended to the Italian POWs.

The concessions were:

  • Service orders and Camp Routine be relaxed in the discretion of Camp Commandants on Christmas Eve and on Christmas day
  • That extension of hours of lighting be permitted on Christmas Eve.
  • Facilities be provided for decoration of living quarters, mess rooms etc.
  • That the maximum quantity of beer to be supplied to each P.W. be one pint on Christmas Eve and one pint on Christmas day.
(AWM52 1/1/14/6 November – December 1943)

Italian collectors of military postal history identify the Kangaroo Postcard below, as being distributed to POWs in Australia by the YMCA for Christmas 1943. These postcards gave family members in Italy a glimpse into life in Australia.

1943 Natale

( from http://forum.aicpm.net/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2515)

Christmas Wishes from Q6 Hostel Home Hill

Giuseppe Grimaldi was 24 years old when he wrote Christmas wishes to his mother from the banks of the Burdekin River via Home Hill.  A mechanic from Lucera Foggia he had arrived at Q6 Hostel on 15th September 1944.

How different his Christmas on an isolated farm surrounded by bush with its tropical and humid weather would have been compared with his home of Lucera with its Roman amphitheatre and medieval castle.

3-12-1944

Cara madre,

… I send many kisses for my brothers Antonio and Mario. And to you many kisses and hugs from your son Giuseppe.  Best wishes for a Holy Christmas.

(letter courtesy of Reinhard Krieger)

Christmas on Queensland Farms 1944 and 1945

From the Boonah district, Judith Lane (nee Rackely) remembers,

Rosewood was where we celebrated Christmas in 1944.  Mum, Daddy, me, my two sisters and Domenico and Frank travelled to Rosewood.  The photo of Domenico and Frank was taken then.  Mum must have ironed Domenico’s clothes because his pants have a crisp crease down the centre of the legs.  Frank’s uniform hung off him.  While the uniforms consisted of a tunic jacket and tailored pants, they were red, the term used was magenta and they were made of wool.  Not really suited for farming during a hot Queensland summer.

Boonah.Rackely Masciulli Pintabona.jpeg

Domenico Masciulli and Francesco Pintabona Rosewood Christmas 1944

(from the collection of Judith Lane (nee Rackley)

Neil Buchanan at Redslopes Goomboorian via Gympie wrote in the farm diary,

Dec 25 1945 Xmas Day. Made presentation of watches to POWs.

Percy Miles at Mooloo via Gympie wrote,

On Christmas day 1945, we spent the day with Ross and Edna [Erbs at Mooloo].  When we arrived home at nine o’clock that night, the prisoners were celebrating Christmas, the P.O.W’s for miles around were here, there must have been 30 of them, they had an His Masters Voice gramophone playing music, they were singing and dancing on the concrete floor, all wearing hobnail boots, they were having a great time I suspected there was more than one still made.

Camillo Vernalea who had worked on Stan Marshall’s farm at Wooroolin via Kingaroy, wrote in a letter to Stan about his 1945 Christmas at Gaythorne PW & I Camp:

28-12-45

Dear Stan…  This Christmas for us it was one of the worst we had in our life but your good thoughts comforted us a lot and the cake was well enjoied by me, Michele and some others of my best friends who appreciated high goodness of you.

(extract from We Remember by Dorcas Grimmet)

Christmas Loveday Internment Camp No. 10 

camp10loveday03

Johann Friedrich Bambach was interned at Loveday Internment Camp 10 and he captured the everyday life of his internment with a number of watercolours.  The artwork above is entitled Christmas Eve in Camp Loveday.  His grandson Ralph Guilor together with Peter Dunn at ozatwar.com feature a number of Bambach’s watercolours.

Buon Natale

Boonah.Rackely Masciulli Pintabona.jpeg

Brighton PW Camp: December 1943

Brighton Military Camp has an interesting history.  A military camp for training recruits, it became a prisoner of war camp during WW2 and then after the war it was a migrant hostel for newly arrived migrants from Europe. Details of this history has been written by Reg Watson: Brighton Army Camp History

But from December 1943 to 1946 (April/May) the complex was known as Brighton PW Camp No. 18. Army records state that it had a capacity of 600: two compounds of 300 each. It was the parent and administrative camp for all Italian prisoners of war sent to work on farms in Tasmania.

Professor Ian McFarlane’s research into the Italian POW workforce adds further details and personal experiences to this history: Italian POWS in North West Tasmania

Below is a diagram of the PW Camp drawn in October 1944.  With some concern over the security of the camp, changes to the boundaries had changed as resident numbers decreased. The original compound is indicated by the outer blue line.  The compound was reduced in size to the red line.  The second reduction saw the compound decreased in size to the a to b line.  The October 1944 proposed reduction of the compound at night was to the inner blue line.  This last proposal was rejected by Camp Commandant Captain A Pearson.  In a letter he reports that due to the number of years the Italians had been in captivity c. 3.5 years, they had developed ‘barbed wire complex’ and would struggle mentally if they were fenced in, in a small compound as many were becoming ‘mentally deranged.’  Captain Pearson wrote, “In conclusion, it is desired to emphasise that the forgoing is not submitted to molly-coddle PW, but with the sole purpose of keeping them mentally and physically sound and thereby have the maximum number available for employment and at the same time comply with intention of regulations issued relative to the control of PW.” NAA P617 519.3.159 PART 1 

 

NAA P617 519.3.159 PART 1 Page 35

Brighton PW Compound 1944

NAA P617 519.3.159 PART 1 Page 35

In  February 1944, the scheme of employing prisoners of war on Tasmanian farms had received the ‘thumbs up’ from farmers and further recruitment of farmers was sort from Department of Manpower.

nla.news-page000001867187-nla.news-article26018382-L3-2d4170b0224f0f19d6badbf4beb926a1-0001

1944 ‘ITALIAN WAR PRISONERS’, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 14 February, p. 2. , viewed 30 Jul 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article26018382

nla.news-page000025422766-nla.news-article235765497-L3-6b2ee59ca476d7d28b771057852b1086-0001

But by June 1944, right wing racism was being reported by ‘Smith’s Weekly’ which seized on any opportunity to discredit the Italian prisoners of war and their treatment.

1944 ‘PREFERENCE TO DAGOES’, Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), 3 June, p. 1. , viewed 30 Jul 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article235765497

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following two photos were taken of the Brighton PW Camp site in April 1943 when it was under the direction of Department of Army as an army training camp.  Little would have changed when it transitioned to a PW Camp.

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BRIGHTON, TAS. 1943-04-23. A SECTION OF BRIGHTON CAMP IS BEING CONVERTED BY MEMBERS OF NO. 19 MAINTENANCE PLATOON, ROYAL AUSTRALIAN ENGINEERS, INTO BARRACKS FOR A TRAINING UNIT OF THE AWAS. THIS PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS A GENERAL VIEW OF THE NEW QUARTERS FOR THE TRAINING UNIT.

 

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BRIGHTON, TASMANIA, AUSTRALIA. 1943-04-28. GENERAL VIEW OF BRIGHTON MILITARY CAMP.

By June 1944, Brighton PW Camp Tasmania had been abandoned and the Italian prisoners of war were transferred to Loveday PW Camp South Australia.

ShowImage (5)

Prisoners of War. Italian. Loveday (S.A.) & Northam (W.A.) Camps. NAA: A1067, IC46/32/1/9

 

 

L’Amico del Prigioniero

It is thanks to Costanzo Melino that I know about L’Amico del Prigioniero. His daughter Rosa wrote Anzaro: The Home of my Ancestors which included her father’s memoirs of his time as a prisoner of war.

Costanzo said, “In 1943, Italy surrendered but we had to go to Australia [from India] to work on the farms.  We boarded an English ship which took us to Melbourne and then eventually by train to Cowra and Hay.  At that time we had an Apostolic Delegate who was from Lecce, also Pugliese, and he gave all the prisoners a book that I still have called the ‘Amico del Prigioniero’ (‘Friend of the Prisoner’’).”

The Apostolic Delegate was Monseigneur Giovanni Panicio and he published this book through Pellegrini, Sydney, 1943.  It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.

Holy Days.jpeg

The book being written in Italian and Latin is significant.  As mass was said in Latin until Second Vatican 1965, ensuring that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian was a significant show of concern for  their spiritual welfare.

Also, while the Italians had access to books in Italian in the libraries of Hay and Cowra, when they were on the farm, a book in Italian was an important gesture on behalf of Giovanni Panico.

L'Amico.jpeg

There are six copies of L’Amico del Prigioniero are held in museums and libraries in Australia.  I spent a morning in the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW and felt honoured to view this special relic pertaining to Italian prisoners of war and internees.

To understand the importance of this prayer book in Latin and Italian, a little background is necessary, “…the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (also called Vatican II) to discuss how the Catholic Church would face the modern world. Until 1965, all Catholic Mass was said in Latin, and the Church realized that may alienate parishioners who spoke Latin only in church. So the Church had to translate the Catholic Mass into a variety of different languages. from http://www.dictionary.com/e/catholic/

(photos courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Pidgin English for Italians

July 1943

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.

Italians to work on farms

When did Italian prisoners of war start working on Australian farms?

The scheme for placing Italian prisoners of war on farms was developed to address a severe labour shortage in rural communities.  By July 1943, the scheme had already been trialed in Connabarabran (N1) and Hamilton (V1) and its large scale roll out was announced:

Farms 1

Farms 2

1943 ‘PRISONERS OF WAR’, Camden News (NSW : 1895 – 1954), 8 July, p. 1. , viewed 29 Jul 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140588760

I have heard people mention that the reason the Italians were sent to  work on farms was Italy’s surrender on 8th September 1943.  But this was not so.  As the newspaper article confirms, Italian POWs were working on farms before July 1943.

What was a Prisoner of War Control Centre or PWCC?

A control centre was an office space and residential quarters for the Australian Military  Forces (AMF) staff who organised the placement of Italians to farmers.  It also included a detention room, stores and in some centres temporary accommodation for the Italians. The AMF staff included a captain, interpreter, driver.

PWCC on a record card indicates the placement of the centre eg Q2 PWCC Nambour = the second centre in Queensland (Q) was established at Nambour.

What was a Prisoner of War Control Hostel or PWCH?

A control hostel was a complex including barracks and facilities for a group of Italian prisoners of war and AMF staff.  Those Italians who were sent to a hostel, worked as a group (large scale) on a government project eg S13 PWCH Mt Burr-Mt Gambier-Penola = the 13th centre established in South Australia (S). Hostels were set up for Italians to work in three forestry zones, the men were employed by Conservator of Forestry (a South Australian government department).

A list of camps, hostels and centres for each state can be found at: italianprisonersofwar.com/pow-camps-in-australia/