Rings from Coins

This project has brought to light a number of POW treasures. Items that Queenslanders and Italians have shared with me, are truly treasures: remnants over 70 years old.

There have been a number of references to rings the Italians made as gifts for the farming families.  With few resources, the Italians used Australian coins to make these rings. Unfortunately, rings are easily lost or misplaced.

I visited a lady in Brisbane in May to talk with her about her family’s Italian Prisoners of War. In a matter of fact manner she placed her hand on the table. I was so excited, ” You have one!” There on her little finger was a ring crafted from a one shilling coin for a young girl’s hand. Carefully finished, its design is simple but beautiful. Precious in so many ways.

Ring.Alex Miles.POW.jpeg

Partly Made Ring: Italian POW at PA Miles farm Mooloo

(from the collection of Alex Miles)

Alex Miles from Mooloo Gympie has ‘found’ the workings of the Italians, thrown in a box in the shed amongst other bits and pieces.  He remembers the ring that was made for him which is long gone, because he wore it to school and the teacher confiscated it.  It was decorated with pieces of coloured hardened plastic, red and green, possibly from Tek* toothbrushes which were army issue. Alex remembers, “Francesco made the ring and he had a small hammer which he brought with him to the farm.  I am not sure where the coins came from because it was against regulations for them to have money.  After he left our farm, his record card has him being awarded 21 days detention on 2.3.1946 for having Australian currency in his possession.  He served this in the detention block at Gaythorne PW & I Camp.”

Alex’s father, Percy Miles reminisced, “Some of the things they used to do to beat the boredom. … Another thing was by tapping the edge of a 2 shilling silver coin (20 cent piece) with a hammer, causing it to flare out, then cutting a hole in the centre, it made a ring you could wear on your finger as a dress ring.”  Coins were 92.5% silver up until 1944-45.

Buonadonna

Liboria Bonadonna seated far right showing ring on his finger

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 64837 A. Porcaro; 49904 S. Russo; 57220 G. Fino; Unidentified; 45531 V. Di Pietro; 61074 G. De Luca. Front row: 45685 B. Fiorentino; Unidentified; 46171 G. Massaro (holding a piano accordion); 46603 V. Massaro; 55168 L. Buonadonne. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photo documentation suggests that names are listed, back row, front row, left to right.

(AWM Image 030229/02 Photographer Stewart, Ronald Leslie)

One ponders, how many rings have survived and are in the collections of Australians and Italians, without their owners knowing their origins.  Liborio Mauro noticed a ring on his grandfather’s (Liborio Bonadonna) finger in a photo taken at Murchison, and he wondered about its origins. He had heard stories of Italian POWs having Australian girlfriends and wondered if the ring might be evidence of a liaison his grandfather had had. Quite possibly Liborio’s ring was a memento, handcrafted from a two shilling coin.

Ring.Florin.POW.1

Australian Florin: Working of Italian POW making a ring

(from the collection of Alex Miles Mooloo)

*Examples of Tek art, made by Australian soldiers can be found in the heraldry collection of the Australian War Memorial.  One such example is the ring below, but the metal used was aluminium.

Miles. Tek 2

Souvenir ring : Private E K Lloyd, 57/60 Battalion

REL27303 Australian War Memorial

Just 19

Umberto Liberto was just 19 years old when he was taken prisoner of war on 7th February 1941 at Benghazi Libya.

These photos were taken in 1941 and 1943.  The photos combined with Umberto’s letter to his mother, gives credence to his words “You will not recognise your son – five years has been a long time.”  Umberto Liberto’s  mother last saw her son when he was 18 years old.  By the time he returned to Italy, he was almost 26 years old.

Umberto’s letter is shared in the article Cara Mamma

Listen to his letter:

Follow Berto’s journey as a soldier and prisoner of war: Berto Liberto

Voices from the Past

The Unexpected

At the beginning of this project, I had a wish list.  It was a simple list: to find one Queenslander who remembered the Italian prisoners of war and to double the number of photos of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland.  The only three photos in the public domain which feature our Queensland POWs  are housed in the John Oxley Library.

My wish list  for one story and three photos has been exceeded many times over.

BUT  I had never expected to find the testimonies of Italians about their time as prisoners of war. This project is honoured to have these testimonies as part of its collection.

 Antonino Lumia’s  story is told in more depth in A Voice from the Past, Fighting in North Africa and Capture.Surrender.Imprisonment .  His grandson Damiano Lumia recorded his grandfather’s memories over 40 years ago ensuring that the voice of the Italian soldier can be heard and that his experiences are not forgotten.

Lumia.JPG

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR HAVING A MEAL IN THEIR MESS AT NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. PICTURED ARE: 46007 ANTONIO LUMIA (1); 45824 BRUNO GALLIZZI (2); 46734 ALMO STAGNARO (3); 48355 GIUSEPPE ARRIGONI; (4); 45087 ANTONIO BACCIGALUPO (5); 46620 MICHELE RIZZO (6); 46626 EMILIO RUOCCO (7); 46635 FRANCO RONDELLI (8); 45900 ALESSANDRO IANNOTTA (9).

(AWM, Image 063371 McInnes, Geoffrey)

Costanzo Melino’sstory is part of a book written and published by his daughter Rosa Melino “Anzaro: The Home of My Ancestors”.  Captured… On the Move and Captured at Bardia share the everyday details of life as a young Italian soldier.  Costanzo returned to Australia after the war with his family following later. Life as a soldier was difficult but life as a ‘new’ Australian presented many challenges for the Melino family.

Q3 Gympie Italian prisoner of war Melino Costanzo

Costanzo Melino c 1940

(photo courtesy of Rosa Melino)

Ferdinando Pancisi is 100 years old and living and working in a tiny village Civorio in Alta Romagna.  Tim Dwyer (ex Boonah) arranged for Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti to visit Ferdinando (Ferdy) in October 2017.  His memories were recorded on 21st October 2017. They offer a stoic perspective on life, war, death and imprisonment.  Ferdy had worked on the farm of Pat Dwyer Fassifern via Boonah and for over 70 years the Dwyer family have corresponded with Ferdy.  At first it was Pat Dwyer, then his wife Joie and recently son Tim.  This is a special family connection and legacy.  Against all odds, Tim arranged for Ferdy to be interviewed so that his ‘voice’ will never be silenced.

Ferdy.Anna.Tim.Ferdy

Anna Pancisi, Tim Dwyer and Ferdinando Pancisi

(photo courtesy of Cathy Dwyer)

Angelo Valianteis a well known and much respected resident of the Stanthorpe district.  His story is recorded in a book, newspapers and a mural painting.  Seizing an opportunity and an offer to have an interview filmed, I travelled with Ann Megalla to Stanthorpe in October 2017 to talk with Angelo about his time as a prisoner of war.

Stanthorpe.Valiante

Angelo Valiante – Mural by Guido van Helten : Stanthorpe

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Gift to Farmer

Angelo Capone’s gift to his employer and friend George Bury was an ornament he carved while in Cowra Prisoner of War & Internment Camp. It is a treasured Bury family memento from the time Italian prisoners of war lived on their Beerwah farm 1944-1945.

Rosemary Watt, daughter of George Bury has always wanted to know more about her dad’s eagle and the ringed insignia at the bottom. Angelo said that the ornament had been carved with a six inch nail as were the words: Cowra 21-4-42 Australia.

It wasn’t until Rosemary found a similar object in the Australian War Memorial that a more complete history of such objects was revealed.  The AWM relic is more expertly crafted as the pictures below attest, but the description reveals, ” The eagle is made from thin sheet lead or alloy taken from used toothpaste tubes.”

The Italian prisoners of war were resourceful and were known to repurpose and recyle items in the most unusual ways.  The cellophane belts made from the cellophane wraps from cigarette packets is another example of their resourceful abilities.

Fascist Eagle Desk Ornament

(Australian War Memorial Relic 33406)

Click on the link to read the description of the above Eagle from the Australian War Memorial

The Italian POWs left a number of reminders and/or political statements in the camps in Australia.  Italians made many statues at Hay PW Camp which included  the Colosseum, the she wolf with twins Romulus and Remus, an army tank and a fascist eagle sitting atop a plinth.

V-P-HIST-01881-16B.JPG

Statue of Fascist Eagle at Hay Prisoner of War Camp

Libretto Personale

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.

Libretto Personale ARICI Antonio

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.

Libretto Personale AMBROSI Giovanni

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.

Escaped to Queensland

In May 1947 there were 100 escaped prisoners of war in Australia: 4 German and 96 Italian. Interestingly 92 had escaped in 1946 (and 8 in 1947).

The background history is that the Italians were taken off farms late 1945/early 1946 and told that they would be going home ‘soon’.  It wasn’t until December 1946/January 1947 that the majority of POWs were repatriated.

For young men who had already given 8 years to military service and as a POW, thoughts of delaying a ‘start of a new life’ back in Italy versus starting a new life in Australia would have been debated. Some would have wanted to start their new life in Australia sooner than later and thought repatriation would be a waste of another two valuable years of their working life.

Four escaped prisoners of war ‘hid out’ in Queensland: Harry Lugsch (Innisfail), Alberto Bandiera (Ingham), Giovanni Brisotto (Poziers) and Giuseppe Volpato (Poziers).  The authorities advertised the escapes in government and police gazettes.

Lugsch Harry 1947

Victorian Police Gazette Special Circular No. 7

NAA:A373, 11638D, 1946-1952

The journey of Harry Lugsch is an interesting one.  He was one of the sailors onboard the German raider Kormoran which sank the HMAS Sydney on 19th November 1941.  The 318 Germans who survived were captured off the coast at Carnarvon WA. Harry was captured 23rd November 1941. Once interrogated at Harvey WA, they were sent to Murchison and then a satellite camp at Graytown.  On 14th November 1946, a group of 300 German POWs were detached to V20 Wallangarra Hostel on the Queensland – New South Wales border, to undertake: preventative maintenance on dead storage Army Vehicles, 8,00 ‘B’ Army vehicles held by Ordnance Service. Included in this group were motor mechanics, paint sprayers, electricians, oxywelders, engineers, steam power cleaners and power greasers from the Kormoran.  Harry Lugsch escaped from PWCH Wallangarra on 25th December 1946 and was recaptured 5th January 1948 at Innisfail.

Lugsch Harry

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

Another prisoner of war to escape to Queensland was Alberto Bandiera. He escaped from N31 Hostel Glenfield: Army Ordnance Depots and Workshops, Ordnance installation at Moorebank. He was one of 455 Italian POWs sent to this hostel in January 1946. Joe Devietti from Ingham explains:

“Ingham has another link to Italian prisoners of war because an escaped POW cut cane in Ingham. His name was Alberto Bandiera and he had escaped in September 1946 and surrendered in Brisbane February 1950. The police questioned dad [Giovanni Devietti] about this but he denied any knowledge.  Bandiera was repatriated on the ship which brought out my cousins to Brisbane Surriento. They arrived 23rd February 1950 and Alberto Bandiera was repatriated onboard on the 24th February 1950.   In time, he returned to Australia and worked at Peacock Siding. Bandiera wasn’t the only escaped POW the police were looking for.”  Alberto Bandiera returned to Ingham in February 1951 and eventually took up farming and settled at Birkdale Queensland.

Bandiera Alberto

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

On 8th January 1946, Giovanni Brisotto and Giuseppe Volpato escaped together from N31 Hostel Glenfield.  They made their way to Angelo Vedelago’s farm at Poziers (via Stanthorpe).  Giuseppe Volpato surrendered in Brisbane on 8th May 1950, in time to be repatriated to Italy on SS Surriento on 11th May 1950.

Volpato Giuseppe

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

Giovanni Brisotto on the other hand remained ‘at large’ until 22rd March 1951 and surrendered in Brisbane.  He was granted an Aliens Registration Certificate which allowed him to stay in Australia.  Giovanni Brisotto’s story can be read in Echoes of Italian Voices.  He made Poziers his home.

Brisotto Giovanni

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

By 1952, 13 Italian prisoners of war had escaped repatriation.  Department of Army referred the men to Department of Immigration and once surrendered they were issued with Alien Certificates of Registration.  Among this group were two Italian POWs who had worked on Queensland farms: Pietro Daidone (Q10 Boonah) who escaped from Middle Head Hostel and Ottavio Brancatella (Q1 Stanthorpe) who escaped from Applethorpe while the Stanthorpe POWs were awaiting transport to Gaythorne.

Journey Through Photos

Luigi Iacopini’s journey as a soldier and prisoner of war is told through the photos he kept.  His photos are like a diary recording major events in his early adult life.

Born 24.5.16  in Ponzano Di Fermo Ascoli Piceno, Luigi’s occupation was a barber.

In Italy

A reminder of his military service in the infantry is a photo of a young Luigi in full dress uniform.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__003 (1)

Luigi Iacopini

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

Craig Douglas from Regio Esercito History Group Australia  recognised the uniform and writes, “it looks like he belonged to the 115 Infantry Regiment, 62nd Infantry Division Marmarica. Destroyed 5 January 1941 at Bardia.”  And yes, Luigi was captured at Bardia on 3rd January 1941.

In Libya

Luigi and other young soldiers in Derna Libya. Derna is on the coast between Benghazi and Tobruk.  It was taken on 25.?.38. Luigi was 22 years old.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 (3) - Copy

Italian Soliders in Derna 1938

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

In India

The rattan matting, the socks and sandals, the shorts and trousers with a distinctive stripe down the sides are common to photos in the POW Camps in India. Luigi was 25-27 years old.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 (2) - Copy

A group of Italian prisoners of war in a POW Camp in India

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

In Australia

A group of Italian prisoners of war at a Gympie farm.  The photo was possibly on a Amamoor farm and taken on the day of departure from the farms in the first week of January 1946. Luigi was 29 years old.

Luigi Iacopini, Giovanni Meconi and Fortunato Gobbi went to the farm of JJ Parr at Amamoor on 5th August 1944.

Other Italian POWs who worked on the farm of JJ Parr were Vincenzo Licocci, Francesco Bevilacqua. Alessandro Di Placido, Costanzo Melino and Pasquale Di Donato.

Foto Luigi Iacopini

Italian Prisoners of War at a Gympie Farm

Alessandro Di Placido (?) first on left, Fortunato Gobbi second on left, Luigi Iacopini centre

(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)

 

Luigi was repatriated on the Alcantara on 23rd  December 1946.

1946 Dec Daily Advertiser

1946 ‘BACK TO ITALY’, Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW : 1911 – 1954), 25 December, p. 1. , viewed 07 Aug 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article145125911