Category Archives: Tasmania Italian POWs

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 six states and Italian families in thirteen 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 twelve 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!

187 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 published 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.

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 attached a copy of the Women’s Weekly Cover and also included the details from Gladstone a meeting of creeks – a breaking of gauges. 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

 

 

Remarkable…

What do Giuseppe Quarta, Tito Neri and Antioco Pinna and  have in common?

 

Giuseppe Quarta Tito Neri Antioco Pinna

(Photos courtesy of Antonio Quarta, NAA: A367 C85639, Luigi Pinna)

This is the question I had to ask myself when Antonio Quarta contacted me recently.  Antonio’s father  was from Arnesano (Lecce), he was captured in Bardia (Libya) and he worked on farms in the Burnie and Deloraine districts of Tasmania.

Remarkably, Giuseppe Quarta had a photo of ‘Adam and Eve’, the same photo Antioco Pinna from Palma Suergio (Cagliari) also had.Adam and Eve’ was a statue sculptured by Tito Neri in the Loveday Camp (SA) in 1946.

Caporale Tito Neri

‘Adam and Eve’ by Tito Neri

(Photo courtesy of Antonio Quarta)

All three men were captured in different battles of war and came from different parts of Italy, but all three are connected to ‘Adam and Eve’.

The connection is that Giuseppe, Antioco and Tito had all resided in Camp 12 POW Camp India (Bohpal) before boarding the ship Mariposa in Bombay, arriving in Melbourne on 5.2.44.  After being processed in Murchison Camp (Victoria) they went their separate ways: Giuseppe to farm work in Tasmania, Tito to farm work in South Australia and Antioco to forestry work in South Australia.

In 1946, all Italian prisoners of war were brought back into six main camps around Australia to await repatriation.  It was at Loveday Camp (SA) that the three men were reunited once more: Tito Neri arrived at Loveday Camp (SA) on 27.2.46, followed by Antioco Pinna  on 3.4.46 and Giuseppe Quarta on 10.4.46.

Sometime between 27.2.46 and 7.11.46, Tito Neri created and destroyed his statue of ‘Adam and Eve’. Fortunately, Tito Neri and his statue were photographed and more than one copy of the photograph was produced with one copy now in Sardinia (Pinna) and one copy in Puglia (Quarta).

So many more questions are raised: who took the photo? how many photos were reproduced? do other Italian families have the same or a similar photo? do any Australian families have a photograph of ‘Adam and Eve’.

The completion of the statue must have been an important event for the Loveday Camp. Not only were photographs taken, but as  Dott. Andrea Antonioli, Commune di Cesena. explained in his biography of Tito Neri,  “Adam and Eve … nevertheless appears even in an Australian magazine.”  

Another reference to the statue can be found on Flickr: “Life size statues of Adam and Eve and the serpent (snake) which was sculptured by the Italian prisoner in the background. He had requested permission to make the statue out of cement, but it was denied, so he made it out of mud, and it was so beautiful that the commandant of Camp 14 gave him permission to cover it in concrete. According to the chief engineer at the camp, Bert Whitmore, the man destroyed the statues after the war, before he left.”

6393183925_fbdf382cf6_b

Adam and Eve and Sculpture at the Loveday Internment Camp

(from Flickr)

 

Questions. Answers. And more Questions.

I pray for a special favour…

Giuseppe and Tarquinio Scatena spent the duration of the war together: 231 Leg. Blackshirts, capture at Bug Bug 11.12.40, processing in Geneifa (ME Numbers 30249 and 30243), arrival in Australia onboard Lurline 16.11.43, processing in Murchsion (PWI 56934 and 56935), transfer from Murchison PW Camp to Brighton Camp 17.2.44, allocation to farm work T2 PWCC Launceston 24.2.44, awarding of 28 days detention for disobeying a lawful command on 1.4.44.

Family men from Capistrello L’Aquila, Tarquinio was 31 years old with a son and two daughters while Giuseppe was 34 years old with two sons and one daughter.

On 1.8.44, unfortunately Giuseppe and Tarquinio  go separate ways when Tarquinio was returned from Brighton to Murchison as medically unfit.  This separation lead Giuseppe to pen a letter to the Brighton Camp Commandant on 2.8.44.

Comandante

Translation

To Camp commandant

Dear Sir,

During five years of military life, of which four years have been spent as a prisoner of war, I have always been united with my brother SCATERA – Tarquinio.  In whichever command we have been under, we always have had the privilege of being together and I cannot understand the reason why we have been separated.  Therefore I beg you to let us re-unite at the earliest opportunity.

I pray, as a special favor, to take into consideration, the pain and desperation that two brothers would feel in being apart.

I would like to explain that we  have not received any news from our families for about 14 months, and the only consolation we have is to speak a word of comfort between us.

Thanking you in anticipation.

sgd SCATERA Giuseppe

PW56934

(NAA: P617, 519/3/159 Part )

In response, Captain Pearson wrote to Captain Tiege to inform Giuseppe that a transfer to Murchison PW Camp might not necessarily mean he would be reunited with his brother. The memo continues that while no promise could be made, the matter would be considered when the next draft of Italian prisoners were returned to Murchison Camp.

A year later on 28.8.45, Giuseppe was transferred to Murchison Camp.  This transfer resulted in the brothers returning to Italy, together onboard Ortranto 10.1.47.

Had Giuseppe remained in Tasmania, he would have been transferred to Sandy Creek then Loveday Camps in South Australia and repatriated without Tarquinio in 1946.

Someone somewhere in the chain of command had shown a little understanding and humanity.

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.

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.

 

Public Perceptions

History needs to be written with balance and perspective.  War is complicated.

The system which placed Italian prisoners of war to work and live on farms was a necessary strategy to keep ‘food on the Australian table and in the bellies of US and Australia military’.  As our young Australians joined the military services, farmers were left without a farm labour workforce.  The labour shortage situation was dire.  War Cabinet documents convey this view.  It was imperative to keep farms operational.  With 18,000 Italian sitting idle in camps,  allocating the Italians to farms, was a matter of supply and demand.

BUT more importantly,  placing the Italians on farms, was a major benefit to their physical, emotional and metal health. With no barbed wire, these men settled into a familiar routine in a family environment: there was work to be done, attention to keeping their accommodation clean and orderly, cooking of meals, growing of vegetables in small plots, new skills to be learnt and new farming techniques to be mastered.

The other side of this history is the resentment and prejudice of many Australians. Criticism ranged from Italians being treated favourably in local hospitals to resentment that the POWs could buy items from the canteen truck that were unavailable to the civilian populations eg. canned peaches, chocolate.

The following report highlights some of the complaints in Smithton, Tasmania.  This is an example of ‘name and shame’…

NAA P617, 519 3 151 PART 2 Page 116

(NAA P617, 519 3 151 PART 2)

The newspaper Smith’s Weekly was well known to headline anti-Italian and migrant sentiment from 1919 through to 1950. Its criticism was therefore not only aimed at Italian prisoners of war but Italians in general. The below article highlights one of Smith’s Weekly’s complaints.  The full article is available via the link below:

Petrol f or Luigi

1944 ‘PETROL TO DRIVE LUIGI TO CHURCH’, Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), 18 November, p. 1. , viewed 06 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article235761465

Prisoners Eat; Guards Starve relates to the Italian prisoners of war who travelled by train to Sydney December 1946. They were in transit to board the Alcantara for repatriation to Italy.  I think that the Italians POWs would have been able to see the humour in this situation.

1946 Dec 23 The Telegraph

1946 ‘Prisoners Eat; Guards Starve’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 23 December, p. 7. , viewed 06 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article187263650

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.

3908726

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.

 

3957764

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.

In their spare time…

What isn’t written into the records is how the Italian prisoners of war kept themselves occupied during their many hours of idleness.  It just wasn’t the hours spent on board the transport ships to India and Australia that needed filling, but also the Sundays on farms and the days and nights in Cowra, Hay and Murchison.

Snippets of information from newspapers, oral histories and letters, when combined with images from photos deliver an insight into the pastimes of our Italian POWs.

CARDS and BOARD GAMES My nonno taught me how to play card games.  I have always thought that this is how he wiled away his spare hours during the ‘slack’ in the cane cutting communities of north Queensland during the 1920s and 1930s.  Briscola and scopa are two Italian card games which no doubt the Italian POWs played while in Australia.  A newspaper photographer captured two Italians playing cards onboard the train taking them to Hay.  A pack of cards is portable and cheap.

Mention is made in a newspaper article of an ‘improvised draughts board’ carried by an Italian POW when he landed in Sydney. The draught pieces had been cut from broom handles. Official photos taken at Hay and Cowra, had Italian POWs playing chess and making chess sets (from lathes constructed by the POWs).

Italian POWs Playing Cards

(The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954) Thursday 16th October 1941, page 10)

EDUCATION and LANGUAGE CLASSES Costanzo Melino wrote that whilst in India, he attended Italian and English classes.  Having minimal formal education in Italy, he seized opportunities to undertake classes in Italian and English. It was considered imperative that POWs occupied their leisure time usefully and the policy was to provide opportunities for POWs to further their studies.  Libraries in the camps were established and canteen profits used to purchase additional text books relevant to courses undertaken. Books from overseas were allowed in the areas of banking and financial, medical, scientific, art, economics, music, agriculture, religion, trade and commerce as well as periodicals of a general literary nature.

METAL WORK CLASSES Rosemary Watt (Bury) is caretaker of a carved artefact made in Cowra by Angelo Capone.  Most like mass produced in a mould, the Italians then finished the carving with adornments of their choosing.  Interestingly, the Australia War Memorial has a similar arefact in their collection and one is left to ponder “how many other carved arefacts are their in homes in Australia and Italy?”

LEATHER WORK  Australian children recall the shoes and sandals made by their Italian POWs.  The leather would be produced from hides and crafted into practical items such as coin pouches, belts and footwear.  In POW group photos taken at Cowra, Hay and Murchison, many Italians can be seen wearing sandals, which were certainly not standard issue.

EMBROIDERY The origins of the elegant sewing prowess of Italian POWs is hard to locate.  Personal memories are that the Italian POWs had learnt the skill in India and embroideries completed by Italian POWs in India can be found from time to time on EBay. Two beautifully embroidered works are keepsakes of Colleen Lindley (a gift from Domenico Petruzzi to her mother Ruby Robinson of Gayndah) and Ian Harsant (a gift from Francesco Pintabona to the Harsant family of Boonah). An interesting interpretation of the word ’embroidery’ is offered by Alan Fitzgerald in his book ‘The Italian Farming Soldiers’. Used in letters written by Italian POWs,  the word ’embroidery’ was code  for ‘fascist propaganda’.

ART and MUSIC and PLAYS Musical performances and stage plays were performed in the camps.  The wigs of theatre as illustrated below were captured on film at Cowra.
V-P-HIST-01882-02.JPG

Cowra 12D 2 7.43 Wigs of Theatre V-P-HIST-01882-02

(International Committee for the Red Cross)

Instruments and art supplies were provided to Italian prisoners of war. The photo below shows a wall of the barracks at Hay which had been decorated as well as the musical instruments acquired for use by the Italians.  Furthermore, Queenslanders remember the mandolins, guitars and banjos that were played on the farms and Nino Cipolla has the music for songs his father Francesco notated while in Q6 Home Hill and Cowra PW & I Camp.

Hay.Art.Music

HAY, AUSTRALIA, 1943-09-09. GROUP OF ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR INTERNED AT NO.6. P.O.W. GROUP, WHO HAVE FORMED THEMSELVES INTO THE CAMP ORHESTRA.

(Australian War Memorial Image 030142/02)

Cowra Council have an interpretive display on a number of themes at various points around the precinct.  The Italians is once such display and under the title Members of the Family, the following is recorded: “Their great love of music, food and art endeared them to the community.  They formed bands and produced musical events which would attract local people to sit outside the camp and listen to their beautiful singing”.

FOOTBALL, TENNIS and BOXING

It is not surprising that just as football is a passion for Italians today, it was also a passion back in the 1940’s.  Group photos of Italian prisoners of war were taken in 1944, among them photos of the Football Teams.

Murchison.Football Team

MURCHISON, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA. 1944-05-20. SOCCER TEAM OF ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR OF NO. 13A COMPOUND, MURCHISON PRISONER OF WAR GROUP.

(Australian War Memorial: Image 066766)

Hay.Football

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Soccer teams from No. 15 Prisoner of War (POW) Camp lined up on the ground before commencement of play. All Italians, some have recently transferred from Hay. The match was played in temperatures over 109 degrees F.

(Australian War Memorial: Image 063921 Geoffrey McInnes)

Official photos in the Australian War Memorial collection also show the Italians playing tennis at Hay and boxing competitions at Cowra.

GARDENS and STATUES and FOUNTAINS  One would be hard put to find a piazza in Italy that doesn’t have a statue or fountain. Group photos taken at Cowra have the Italians seated in front of this prominent fountain.

V-P-HIST-01881-01.JPGo

Guerre 1939-1945 Nouvelle – Galls du Sud. Camp du Cowra Fontaine.

(International Red Cross V-P-HIST-01881-01)

Reflecting their history and culture, the Italians keenly constructed statues like the replica Colosseum  at Hay and just to the right of the photo is a tank atop a plinth. Italian POWs grew their own vegetables as is evident by the photo below. Between the barracks at Hay, gardens were dug and crops grown.   Ham Kelly told his grandson that the Italian POWs at Q6 Home Hill Hostel grew the most amazing vegetables outside their barracks.

Hay.Gardens.Statues

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. THE CRAFTSMANSHIP OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR IS ILLUSTRATED BY THIS GARDEN AT THE 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. NOTE THE MODEL OF THE COLISEUM IN THE FOREGROUND.

(Australian War Memorial Image 063365)

LETTER and JOURNAL WRITING

For the Italian POWs, there were two main regulations regarding the sending of mail:

Prisoners were not to send letters other than through official channels.

Prisoners were allowed to send two letters or two postcards or one letter and one postcard every week on approved Service of Prisoners of War Notelopes and postcards.

Unfortunately, postal services to and from Italy were unreliable. Italians became despondent at not receiving mail from family.  In a letter written by Giuliano Pecchioli, he writes on 12/1/45 that he was in receipt of his sister’s letter dated 3/6/1943.  Communication with family was difficult.  Before Christmas, POWs were given cards with Australian scenes to send home to Italy. Below is a page of a booklet of scenes produced for Christmas 1941.

Card 1941 Xmas

Di sotto la “cartolina” dell’YMCA distribuita per il Natale del 1941

(From the collection of Enrico Dalla Morra)

A number of journals survive, written by Italian soliders and prisoners of war.  For some Italians, it was a way of recording the events of the lives, over which they had little control.  From Tobruk to Clare  is the story of Luigi Bortolotti as recorded in his diary. The “Libbretta” of “Corporal Cofrancesco Umberto” is the basis for “Umberto’s War” . Recorded are details of his journey as a soldier and prisoner of war which took him to Australia.  Another journal “Diario di Guerra” by Francesco D’Urbano was found in  the sands of north Africa by an Australia soldier.  In time, the soldier asked the assistance of CO.AS.IT to trace D’Urbano.  Laura Mecca researched the Italian archives and found that he had spent time in India before returning to Italy.  A copy of the diary was presented to his wife.

CRAFT

While this photo is of Italian POWs in an Egyptian camp, it illustrates the type of craft work POWs engaged in and similar projects would have been undertaken in Australian camps.

NZ Italian Prisoners of War Craft Work

Italian prisoners of war with items of their carved handiwork at Helwan POW Camp, Egypt. One prisoner shown chiselling portrait features of a roundel. Taken 1940-1943 by an official photographer.

John Oxley Library from the collection of New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs Image DA-00736-F