Libretto Personale : In their Own Words
The personal memories of the Italian soldiers were recorded in their libretto or diario. How many have survived the passage of time is anyone’s guess. These books are valuable as they have been written ‘at the time’ and so as a primary source reference they are precious.
Davide Dander in his journey to find out more about his grandfather’s time as a prisoner of war in Australia has ‘found’ two such books. His grandfather Antonio ARICI kept a number of books from his time as a POW but it is only now that their historical importance is being respected. Antonio’s ‘Libretto personale’ might be yellowed by age, but his words tell of his experiences and his reflections.
Additionally, is a notebook belonging to Giovanni AMBROSI. Written while in India, it appears that either Giovanni Ambrosi left his book behind in India or gave it to Antonio Arici. There is a record of a Giovanni D’Ambrosi coming from India to Australia. Whether this man is the owner of the notebook remains a puzzle! It is a register of notices received and sent.
Some other examples of diaries written by Italian POWs are:
Umberto Cofrancesco’s biography covers fighting in North Africa, capture and treatment, life in POW Camp India, transfer to Australia, working in Victoria and repatriation.
From Tobruk to Clare is the story of Luigi Bortolotti as recorded in this diary manuscript.
Il Diario del soldato Francesco D’Urbano records the life of an Italian soldier fighting in North Africa.
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).
(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.
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, 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, 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)
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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
How many Internment Camp tokens made their way back to Italy?
Upon entry into Australia, all money in the possession of Italian prisoners of war was to be ‘handed over’ to authorities. Property statements were maintained indicating money on hand. This statement was a receipt.
There are memories of the Italians having Australian coins with which they made rings for themselves and for their farm families. Black market trading in ‘canteen goods’ for Australian money is also inferred. However, Italian prisoners of war caught with Australian currency were given 7 days detention for having money in their possession.
Property Statement for Antonio Arici
(NAA: MP1102/Arici, Antonio)
Many Italian prisoners of war managed to ‘hide’ money. Alex Miles from Mooloo via Gympie has lost the Italian bank note he was given by one of the Italians. It showed the she wolf with Romulus and Remus.
Veniero Granatelli has shared his father’s POW money. His father, Filippo Granatelli managed to keep a bank note used in the Bhopal Prisoner of War Camp India, which is shown below.
Bhopal Prisoner of War Currency
(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)
Very excitingly, are the coins that Filippo Granatelli kept hidden. They are Internment Camp tokens. These tokens were used as payment at the Army Canteen and their production and destruction was strictly controlled. A little of the history of these tokens is included below.
Internment Camp Tokens Australia
(photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)
An indication of how valuable these coins are today is the price for a set of tokens. Considered a rare and unique collection, a set can be purchased for $7,950. An uncirculated threepence sells for $250.00 and a penny token $299.00.
Set of Internment Tokens
(Photo from: http://www.macquariemint.com/wwii-internment-camp-token-set-vf-unc#product.info.description)
The reasons for their introduction are as follows:
a) to prevent bribery of guards
b) to prevent escaping prisoners and internees from having in possession any money which will facilitate their remaining at large
c) to prevent the use of prisoners’ and internees’ money for subversive purposes.
A Department of the Treasury letter 9th February 1948 summarises the production and post war holdings of these tokens:
5/- 34643 produced, 33903 held
2/- 91720 produced, 84428 held
1/- 18000 produced, 169771 held
3d. – 224000 produced, 182022 held
1d. -144630 produced, 104161 held
How many Internment Camp tokens made their way back to Italy?
Service and Casualty Forms for the Italian Prisoners of War make great reading. I have given up counting how many forms I have read since I started this research in August 2015 but there is so much information that can be gleaned from these forms.
And several thousand forms later I can give you an insight into the nature of the breaches in discipline and the punishments meted out.
Some make sense eg fine 1/- for fastening ground sheet to bed, while others seem harsh eg. 28 days detention for stealing a bunch of grapes.
And some, make me laugh eg stealing lettuce plants… maybe this Italian just wanted a few plants to add to his private garden outside his barracks; and what about the bravado of the Italian who was smoking on parade.
But military discipline was essential and indiscretions punished.
(NAA: MP1103/1 for DF)
For some Italian POWs, their breach in discipline resulted in formal investigations. The three incidents below are from Western Australia. Queensland POWs were much more meek and mild!
The following statement is made by a POW placed at the same farm as a Raffaele. The farmer also ran a boarding house: This family have always treated us with great courtesy and consideration but this rascal [Raffaele] for a long time has done nothing else but to annoy all the women who have stayed in this place… On another occasion [name redacted] and I were near our room when [ name redacted] came to us and asked the whereabouts of Raffaele. We told her we did not know as we never see him at night time as he goes away and returns after midnight. [ Name redacted] not taking any notice of us then stepped into [Raffaele’s] room and sat down and wrote a letter and left it on the table after leaving. On [Raffaele’s] return from his walk he read the letter did not even stop to finish meal went away and did not return until after midnight. If I had to tell all that [Raffaele] has done it would make a romantic novel. 11 October 1944.
An incident in the Northam area of Western Australia saw the award of 28 days detention: Conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline in that he behaved in an unsolicited manner by endeavouring to show Mrs C obscene magazine photos and by giving her a box upon which obscene drawings had been made.
Another incident reports reads as follows: At 17.30 hours the prisoner came to me and asked if he would feed the calf, to which I answered yes. He then asked me in his Pidgeon English if I would ? him the milk, I went through the house to the backdoor whist the Prisoner went around the side. When I arrived and opened the door he approached me with both his arms open and said “Oh, Missus.” plus other Italian phases which I did not understand. I could see the man was very excited and I slamed the door in his face… My husband had been away all day …During the lunch hour the Prisoner remained what I considered an unnecessary time in the kitchen after having had his meal, during which time he kept muttering to me in Italian, none of which i could understand. It appeared strange to me that this man should remain behind whilst the other Prisoner after having his meal went straight to his camp. No charges were laid on this matter and the POW was transferred to another farm.
Without a doubt, prisoner of war files make great and interesting reading.
Following are some of the ‘run of the mill’ type breaches in discipline and subsequent punishments:
14 days: stealing
2 days: stealing lettuce plants
5/- fine: failure to appear on parade
1/- fine: late to work
168 hours detention: wilful damage to CWG property
14 days detention: possession of prohibited article
21 days detention: taking employer’s car without permission
14 days detention – 3 days No 1 diet: refusing to work, inciting other POWs to slow up work
7 days detention: boots worn beyond repair
6 days fatigues: conduct to the prejudice of good order and disciplien
3/- fine – offence against good order and discipline
14 days detention: making unfound complaints about working
7 days detention: attempting to steal 1/2 lbs butter
14 days detention: removed 1 dz bananas from supply depot
1/- fine: failure to appear at inspection parade
28 days detention: communicating by signs with a person outside the complex, making a threatening gesture to officials.
72 hours detention: proceeding beyond boundary of place of employment
1/- fine: wasting water
3 days detention: pretending sickness to avoid work
7 days detention: attempting to evade censorship
168 hours detention: smoking on parade
7 days detention: failed to stand by kit during inspection
5/- fine: being in possession of government property
Admonished: carrying letters between compounds
28 days detention: failed to answer Roll Call
28 days detention: escaped from Hostel
28 days detention: unduly familiar with a female
3 days detention: breach of National Security Regulations
14 days detention: disobedience, violence
5 days detention: offensive behaviour
14 days detention: did adopt threatening attitude
It started with a message from Italy via Facebook on 2nd December 2017:
Hi! I found these documents about my grandfather in the Australian Archives, but I can’t understand too much of the document. Can you help me?
And it has ended with a reunion* of the Arici family in Ghedi Brescia Italy with the Maddock family in Mukinbudin Western Australia.
Antonio Arici was 29 years old when as an Italian prisoner of war in Australia, he was transferred to the farm of Norm and May Maddock at Hill View via Mukinbudin. The writer of the above message is Antonio’s grandson Davide Dander, also 29 years old. As a tribute to his grandfather, he is retracing his grandfather’s footsteps in Australia. Davide’s research has lead him to Mukinbudin and Bert Maddock, son of Norm Maddock, who has clear memories of Antonio working on the family farm.
Step by step, the Arici family is finding Antonio’s footprints. Arriving in Melbourne Victoria on 26th April 1944, Antonio was one of 4069 POWs in a convoy of three transport ships from India. Antonio spent time at Murchison PW & I Camp Victoria before being transferred to Marrinup PW Camp WA on 4th June 1944 along with 1099 other Italian POWs.
These 1100 were destined for farm work in several Prisoner of War Control Centres. Allocated to W19 Prisoner of War Control Centre Koorda, Antonio’s first placement was with Mr S Goodchild Mukinbudin from 16th July 1944 to 8th November 1944. He was then transferred to the farm of Mr Norman Maddock on 8th November 1944 until 15th January 1946.
Identity Card for Antonio Arici
(NAA:K1174 ARICI, Antonio)
Norman’s son Bert Maddock was a teenager when Antonio stepped onto the family farm. Bert’s wife, Jocelyn provides the backdrop to Antonio’s journey:
“The farm at Hill View had been taken up by Norm Maddock in 1929 and had to be developed by cutting down the bush. He did a small amount of cropping but livestock mainly sheep were his chief source of income, so Antonio would have been involved helping with these activities… Norman also had a few cattle and of course a milking cow… Bert, my husband would have been about 15 when Antonio worked on the farm and he recalls going out into the bush with Antonio to cut timber railings to build horse yards. Antonio had a comfortable hut – made from corrugated iron and containing his bed, a cupboard, a fireplace, a couple of chairs, a small table and a bath tub. He had all his meals with the family. The hut had originally been built for another worker who enlisted when the War began.”
Jocelyn relates that Bert and his sister Doreen, “both of them remember separately a Sunday when Antonio and another POW from a neighbouring farm cooked the evening meal for the family and it was pasta. This was the first time any of them had tasted pasta as it was then not a usual dish in Australia…They remember Antonio as a ‘good bloke’ which is high praise indeed and means pleasant, friendly, trustworthy, a reliable helper on the farm and respected. Indeed most people who employed Italian POWs speak of them in these terms. Bert has a wooden box which Antonio left behind in his Camp – it was probably too heavy to take. It is not a large box and was empty.”
Government records further confirm Bert’s memories of Antonio. Notated on one of these forms are the words: A good worker with a cheery disposition. Highly regarded by employers.
Antonio took home to Italy a few mementos of his stay in Western Australia. Two of them take pride of place, displayed on a wall in a daughter’s home: a felt hat and a whip. Jocelyn mentions that “we find the picture of the hat and whip intriguing. All the men on farms wore similar felt hats as a general item of clothing in all seasons so it may be the one he [Antonio] had on the farm. Whips were not general use on the farm … Bert surmises the whip in your [Davide’s] photo is a sulky whip used by his Grandfather George Maddock as George’s possession were brought to the farm after he died.”
Hat and Whip belonging to Antonio Arici
(photo courtesy of the Arici family)
After leaving the Maddock farm, Antonio arrived at the Northam PW Camp on 21st January 1946. It wasn’t until 17th October 1946 that Antonio boarded the SS Katoomba for his repatriation to Naples.
Antonio’s daughter Franca continues retracing her father’s footsteps: “…[he] arrived in Naples on 23rd November 1946, from Naples, with the train reached northern Italy, his hometown, Brescia and the village of Ghedi. He resumed the activities left before the war, working in the countryside as a farmer and herdsman, helping the family and his brothers. In November 1954 he married my mother, Agnese, and the next year his first daughter was born. Immediately and almost constantly, my father asks my mother to move to Australia.”
An extract from a letter written by another Italian POW, Donato Caruso, working on Oscar Miell’s farm in the Mukinbudin district explains the impressions the Italians had of Australia and the reasons why Antonio wanted to move to Australia:
“Here one lives well. There is everything to eat that one wants. I hope I can return here at the end of the war. There is enough land for all ITALY to be lodged here. Here the farmers could live till they reached a hundred. There are no hoes, the ground is worked with horses and tractors. The climate is good (better than there). There are all conveniences, and nothing is missing. The country is flat plain and a lot of wheat is lost on the ground. Wheat which we badly want. Nothing is missing as regards enjoyment. There is everything that one desires.”
Franca Arici says that, “the years spent in Australia had remained in the heart of my father, who always told of the past moments with great nostalgia; life as a prisoner of war should not have weighed too much in his memories, instead leaving the place to stories of boundless landscapes, meeting with people who respected him and considered him positively even if he were in a subordinate position… it is a beautiful, serene, nostalgic memory of my father’s and the desire to return to Australia has always remained alive in him, it certainly owes to the good treatment received on the farm that hosted him [Maddock farm] and we are very grateful to your family [Maddock family].”
The other mementoes Antonio kept from his time in Australia are a few librettos. Italian prisoners of war working on farms were provided with a copy of Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War published by the Department of Army. It contained a list of common words and phrases relevant to life on a farm as well as pronunciation guides. The other book was written specifically for Italian migrants but by the end of 1945, the Department of Army allowed for its distribution to prisoners of war considering migration to Australia: Piccola Guida per gli Italiani in Australia. This handbook gives descriptions of Australia’s climate and geography with practicalities such as opening a bank account. As well, it included comprehensive English language instruction.
Franca Arici talks about her father’s librettos and “His [Antonio’s] passion for the English… he had brought and kept with love from Australia his notebooks of English and during the winter evenings he would often read from them to us [his daughters].”
Piccola Guida per gli Italiani in Australia belonging to Antonio Arici
(photo courtesy of the Arici family)
Like many Italian POWs who had a dream to return to Australia, circumstances prevented their migration. “My mother’s seamstress work, family ties, bureaucratic and economic difficulties have prevented my father to fulfil his life dream to bring his family to Australia,” Franca relates.
Antonio was only 57 years old when he died on 19th July 1973, leaving behind his wife and family of four daughters. But through the decades, his daughters have remembered their father’s dream to return to Australia and now are visiting Australia and Antonio’s life on a Western Australian farm through the memories of the Maddock family and the government records.
Arici Family 1964
Back row: Agnese, Franca, Antonio and Elena
Front row: Maria Augusta and Luigina
(photo courtesy of the Arici family)
Franca reflects, “Now rediscovering you [Maddock family], allows us to ‘compensate’ our father for that desire which he had to give up and from heaven he will surely smile at us…”
(photo courtesy of the Arici family)
And the last words to this journey belong to Davide, Antonio’s grandson who at the same age as his grandfather took a journey* to Australia to walk in his grandfather’s footsteps.
Davide had started with the question ‘Can you help me?’ On receiving the news that the Maddock family had been found and that Antonio was remembered, David wrote:
“oh my god!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! scusa non riesco a scrive in inglese dall’emozione, spero che google translate faccia un buon lavoro.
grazie grazie grazie davvero,!!!!! grazie ancora con tutto il cuore
Davide Dander, grandson of Antonio Arici
(photo courtesy of Davide Dander)
*Technology (Facebook, Google translate, email and internet searches) has enabled Davide and his family in Italy to ‘travel’ to Australia and retrace the footsteps of Antonio Arici: Italian Prisoner of War as well as ‘meet’ the Maddock family and be reunited with Antonio’s past.
There were three levels of camps or facilities for prisoners of war in Australia:
- Prisoner of War & Internment Camp (PW & I Camp)
- Prisoner of War Control Hostel (PWCH)
- Prisoner of War Control Centre: Without Guard (PWCC)
Reading a Service and Casualty Form for an Italian POW can be difficult if one can’t read the abbreviations.
The documents (links below) list the Prisoner of War facilities by State. The information has been reproduced from NAA: A7711 History of Directorate of Prisoners of War (PW and POWS) and Internees.
Clarification on certain data has been sourced from individual Prisoner of War Service and Casualty Forms.
Service and Casualty Forms often list an abbreviation eg Q6 but NAA:A771 does not give the identifying numbers for a PWCH or PWCC eg Q6 PWCH or V1 PWCC.
Information in A771 has been cross referenced with service records to build up a profile to make individual searches easier.