Walking in their Boots




Walking in their Boots

Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland 1943-1946

Walking in their boots JPEG

North Queenslander, Joanne Tapiolas, has been delving into the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland and slowly the stories and memories of this chapter in Queensland history have emerged.

Walking in their Boots incorporates the facts and the personal narratives  from the ten districts where the POWs worked and lived.  Queenslanders and Italians sharing their memories, artefacts, photos and letters have added a richness and diversity to this chronicle.

Walking in their Boots is a record of this history and a valuable reference to the background and context of Italian POWs in Australia.

Book now available

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$25.00 plus postage and handling

200+ pages

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For further details and to place an order:

contact Joanne Tapiolas e. joannetappy@gmail.com

Precis of Walking in their Boots

Over 1500 Italian prisoners of war, captured in the battlefields of North Africa, came to Queensland during World War 2.  The Italians provided a much-needed workforce for farmers throughout nine south-east Queensland districts.  Additionally, 250 Italians worked at the Commonwealth Vegetable Farm on the Burdekin River, to supply fresh produce to the north’s military forces.

Queensland farming families welcomed the Italians onto their farms and into their homes.  A temporary refrain from life behind barbwire fences, friendships were forged, and lasting memories remain clear over seven decades later.

The Italian prisoners of war left their footprints in the landscape and in the memories of Queenslanders. Walking in their Boots traces the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland and tells the stories of a time when POWs worked on our Queensland farms.


Footprints in Concrete

Farm of Ron Niebling Lake Moogerah via Boonah

(photo courtesy of Pam Phillips (nee Niebling)


Friendships Forged by War

With few men available for farm work, Bernard Mason signed up to employ Italian prisoners of war mid 1944. On the 8th June 1944, Mario Mercuri and Guido Vaccarini were escorted to his property at Lagoon Pocket by military staff.

By the time Mario and Guido arrived at the Mason’s property, they had left their footprints across four countries.  As POWs, they had spent time in temporary caged compounds in the deserts of North Africa, POW camps on the Suez Canal; in India and Cowra Australia.  The war had gone badly for Italy in North Africa and Guido and Mario were but two of the 350,000 Italians captured in the North African campaigns. For 19 brief months, they lived and worked at Lagoon Pocket, settling in quickly to the daily routine of farm life.

Farming life was never easy in those times.  Petrol rationing meant that farmers became charcoal burners, making charcoal as a fuel to power trucks. Tractors were non-existent and the ploughs were pulled by horses. Farm work was hard, manual work.  Gympie farms did very well during the war, provided that they had workers.  Troop trains came through Gympie on a regular basis with fresh produce sold directly to the army.  Gympie being well situated supplied fruit and vegetables directly to the southern markets of Brisbane and Sydney.

Bernard Mason grew a diverse range of crops and also branched out into a macadamia plantation.  Pineapples, papaws, carrots, beetroots and cabbages were some of the fruit and vegetable crops produced on the farm. Bernie also had another 40 acre property from which he pioneered the macadamia industry.  At the time, there was no interest for ‘bush nuts’ and the Department of Primary Industry had little information about its commercial viability.  But Bernie with the assistance of the ‘Ityes’ planted 800 macadamia seedlings which in time was known to be the largest macadamia seedling plantation in existence. Nowadays, macadamia plantations use grafted trees.  Bernie would go up into the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast around Eumundi and Mapleton to collect the nuts for seeds.

G and M planting pineapples Lagoon Pkt

Guido Vaccarini and Mario Mercuri planting pineapples at Lagoon Pocket 1944-1945

(from the collection of Barry Mason)

It was in this bucolic setting that the POWs became part of the Mason family.  Barry Mason, born November 1939,  was only a child at the time, but he remembers the men well: “They treated us kids well.  I remember how they would put my sisters in a fruit basket and carry them around. And they played games with us.  Dad bought them each a watch and push bike.  There were rules about when and where they could go on their days off, so I suppose this is why he bought those items for them.  They made no attempt to attend church, and I remember a story about Guido and church.  Apparently, he told dad, ‘No church. Madonna no think of me. Me no think of Madonna’.  And there was the story about the POWs at the Butler vineyard.  Jack Butler had the Italians prune back the vines and had a fit when he saw what they had done.  They had cut them right back and Jack believed that they had ruined his vines.  As it turned out, these POWs knew more than a little bit about vineyards and the next crop was the best crop every grown on the farm.”

Another anecdote about the ‘Ityes’ at the Mason farm centres on ‘the still’.  Barry reminisces, “They set up a still to distil alcohol.  I am not sure where all the bits and pieces came from, but they used a milk separator bowl to boil the fruit in.  They used pineapple skins and no doubt other fruit.  They had a coiled pipe and the vapours would go up into the coil and came out a crystal clear toxic liquid. They could turn their hand to most things, although I am not sure that this was ‘allowed’.”  Lots of memories surface about those times and Barry relates a common joke of the day, “I don’t think there was any malice in the words but it went like this: ‘How would one describe ‘tall inebriated Italians?  Hi(gh) tiddly I-tyes’!”

It was however to be a near tragedy that cemented a lifelong friendship between the Mason family and the Vaccarini family. Guido saved the lives of Bernie’s two daughters, Valda and Rae. The girls had been playing in the cabin of the Ford V8 truck when they were rendered unconscious by carbon monoxide.  Bernie, Guido and Mario were in the packing shed when Guido realised he could not hear the girls.  He told Bernie, “Boss, bambini quiet… Mister, no hear bambini” adding “Mister, mister, I go see why no hear bambini”. Giudo had found the girls slumped and unconscious in the truck’s cabin. The girls were removed from the truck and laid on the floor of the packing shed and the Gran who looked after the children, felt all was lost and pushed Mason to the ground and said, “Pray, pray. Pray for the girls”.   Guido was loaded with one of the girls on the back of the truck and Mrs Mason in the cabin with the other lifeless girl.  Bernie had said, “It was the longest 8 mile I have ever driven.  But God must have heard my prayers”. The rush of fresh air across the face of the little girl on the back of the truck stirred her but it wasn’t until they arrived at Dr Warrener’s in Gympie, when a nurse revived the other child, that the family knew both girls were safe.  The doctor said that without the action of Guido, the girls would have died as had the girls inhaled the carbon monoxide for another few minutes, they would certainly have been dead.

After his repatriation to Italy in 1947, Guido wrote to Bernie in 1949 to ask for sponsorship to return to Australia. Bernie Mason said, “This, I felt was the least I could do because he was the means of saving our two little mites.” Guido arrived back in Gympie in 1951 and his wife Rina emigrated a year later.  Barry said, “When my dad died, the family wished for the graveside service to be private.  Guido asked to pay his respects to my dad and we decided that he deserved a place there.”

The Mason and Vaccarini families still reside in Gympie. Barry and Margaret live in Gympie and have become the custodians of the photos and stories of that time.  Valda married Duncan Polley of Polley’s Coaches and Rae married Gordon Saxelby and they now live in Bundaberg. Guido has now passed on some years ago.  In a fitting tribute to the close family ties, Barry had the honour of conducting the service at Guido’s funeral.  Guido’s wife Rina is still with us though she is very frail. Son Marco and Rina live in Lawrence Street Gympie.

While time progresses quickly these days and memories fade, the stories of the Italian POWs on Gympie farms are clearly remembered.  The special bonds forged between a prisoner of war and a Gympie farmer continue to be part of Gympie’s Italian prisoner of war history.

Bern, Guido, Joe

1950’s Bernie Mason, Guido Vaccarini and Joe Brooks in front of 4 x 4 Chev Blitz Truck

(from the collection of Barry Mason)


Louie Made Me a Cap

Gordon Plowman remembers a cap made by an Italian POW for him. This one memory has helped tell the story of the Italian POWs at Flaxton.

Flaxton is a farming district between Mapleton and Montville on the Blackall Range in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Bananas, citrus fruit and later pineapples were the main crops of the district.  The other main industry was sawmilling.  Gordon’s father Ray in partnership with other locals set up a small mill making cases for the fruit and then later established a hardwood sawmill.  During the war, they also became charcoal producers, as charcoal was in demand for the charcoal burners to run vehicles. It was a small community, with a population of 155 in 1947.

Gordon relates, “I was born in 1940 and vaguely recollect ‘Louie’ who worked on a pineapple and citrus farm.  He made a little cap for me and I well remember the tassel which hung down the back.  He gave it to my mother and said, ‘For the Bambino’.  In later years I tried to find Louie through the National Archives but was told without his family name, this would be impossible.”

But this project Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland is about making the impossible, possible. And Gordon has now ‘found’ Louie.

Louie was Luigi Caputo a young farmer from Montagna di Basso Potenza. He is seated in the photo below, first on left.  His military record highlights he was married with a daughter.  Louie was sent to the farm of FW Potts and DB McHaffie Flaxton on 5th March 1944 together with Francesco Tozzi from Reino Benevento.

Q2 Nambour.Flaxton Caputo Luigi POW

AWM Image 30173/06 Geoffrey McInnes

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47904 M. Bello; 45091 C. Bono; 47434 F. De Venuto; 57496 G. Sinisi; 49432 S. Cristiano; 46264 N. Monteleone; 57291 M. Laricchia. Front row: 45349 L. Caputo; 57302 F. Liberto; 57414 A. A. Palladino; 57324 M. Macchia; 57210 A. Fato. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

“My brothers Harold (13) and David (16) would take these POWs swimming in Bon Accord.  They would come over of a Sunday afternoon, Mum would give them a drink and some cake and they would battle their way through the forest with my two brothers to cool off in Bon Accord rock pool.  In the 1940’s it was hidden away in thick scrub with no walking tracks,” Gordon adds.

Three other Flaxton farmers employed POWs and snippets of memories are remembered by Gordon and his brothers.  There is a memory of the wine made with pineapples by the Italians at Frank Mayne’s farm.  Quinto Bernacchi, Giuseppe Berrettini, Ippazio De Blasi and Carlo Maffei all worked on this farm.  Most likely Quinto and Giuseppe were the wine makers as they were on the farm for  seven months while Ippazio and Carlo had a one week placement.  Norm and Honour Mayne also welcomed the Italians onto their farm in Flaxton with Biagio Peluso and Pasquale Serafini spending eight months at Flaxton.

JR Perkins employed Guerrino Fregni, Giovanni Isopi and Guerino Lombardozzi.  Gordon adds another memory about Mr Perkins’s POWs: “I remember that a heavy hessian curtain at the end of his packing shed was out-of-bounds because this was the entrance to the POWs living quarters, which I imagine would have been very basic.  At that time we had no electricity, sewerage or reticulated water,” Gordon reminisces.

Another recollection of the Flaxton POWs is about church.  With no Catholic church at Flaxton, the Italians would be picked up by the authorities and taken to the Catholic church in Nambour.  Gordon mentions, “According to my brother, one of them was not a catholic and used to object most strongly at being taken to church.  The Italian POWs were respected and made generally welcome in the small Flaxton community and I recall by mother speaking highly of them.  I never forgot the little cap Louie made for me.”



Resourceful is an apt description of Mario Marino.  A stone mason from Pentone Catanzaro, as a prisoner of war in Australia, he nominated his occupation as ‘bricklayer’, a more versatile job.  Throughout his life, he continued to work with concrete, stone and bricks in the construction industry in Morwell Victoria owning his own business and operating as Marino Bros.

Among the first 2000 Italian POWs to be shipped directly from Libya to Sydney onboard Queen Mary, from Sydney he was trained to Hay. He travelled with two compatriots also from Pentone, Salvatore Tarantino and Graziano Mustari.

As a ‘skilled’ POW, Mario was put to work in construction at Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.  Put to work making clay bricks, Mario spent over two and a half years at Hay before being sent to Cowra. He also had experience in surveying and did surveying for clearing and road building while at Hay. Salvatore was sent to Murchison and then V4 Leongatha while Mario and Graziano stayed together in Cowra then Gaythorne.  Their Queensland farm allocations had them sent in different directions: with Mario going to the farm of R Brown at Bapaume in Q1 Stanthorpe area and Graziano to Q3 Gympie area.

Marino, Hay

Hay, NSW. 1944-01-13/14. Sergeant M. Marino an Italian prisoners of war stacking freshly made clay bricks in the drying shed at the 16th Garrison Battalion Prisoner of War Camp

(Australia War Memorial Image 062932)

It appears that Mario’s resourcefulness had him reallocated to a Victorian farm in the V4 Leongatha area.  Interestingly, Salvatore also was at V4 Leongatha at the time and they both spent time together at V22 Rowville.

Repatriated to Italy in January 1947, it wasn’t long before he married Marietta and made plans to return to Australia. He left Italy onboard the Toscano in June 1949 and his first son Antonio was born in July 1949.  It would be three years before he would meet his first born child, when his wife and child arrived in Melbourne in 1953.

The  Carmody family of Leongatha had been Mario’s POW employer and sponsored his return to Australia. Settling in Leongatha, Mario was joined by his brothers Giuseppe and Angelo. All three brothers worked at the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine in the latter part of 1951.  Giuseppe drove the horse and cart which took coal out of the mine on railway lines, Mario was a seamer, lying on his stomach in cramped confines shovelling out the coal and Angelo would stack the coal tightly in the kibbles. Vince Moranti was a family friend who also worked with the Marino brothers in the coal mine.

Built between 1953 and 1954, the Traralgon Hospital construction site became Mario’s new workplace.  Continuing working in construction and concrete, he then established himself as a concrete contractor and won council contracts such as footpath building.  By 1954, Mario applied for naturalization and in 1955 his naturalization was reported in the newspaper.

Not forgetting his POW compatriots, Mario sponsored Salvatore Tarantino in 1955 and in 1956 Graziano Mustari also migrated to Morwell. Graziano however returned to Italy in 1964.

A growing migrant community in the district opened an opportunity for Mario to branch out into a food emporium  in Church Street Morwell, selling salamis, coffee, cheeses and other continental goods.  He diversified further by taking his shop to the farmers of the district and his children remember the box of juicy fruit chewing gum kept in the truck.

Returning to construction, Mario continued to work in the industry until his retirement. A supporter of the local football club, the Morwell community held him in high regard and he would always be asked to join the trainer and coach at home games.

And of those days as a prisoner of war, Mario told his family that as soldiers in the sands of Libya, Mussolini gave them little hope and only a pistol with one shot and a rifle with another.  The soldiers were half starved and they didn’t have a chance. But his time as a prisoner of war in Australia opened the door to a new start in life for his family.

Resourcefulness and optimism were trademarks to Mario’s life.


Marino, Mario 1955

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1849-1957) Thursday 17 November 1955






Walking in his footsteps…Yanco

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Twenty two of the original thirty Italian prisoners of war (POWs) who arrived at No. 15 POW Camp on 19 March 1942.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInness Image 063919)

I hadn’t meant to delve into places outside of Queensland, because nine PWCC, one PWC Hostel and one PW&I Camp is more than I can handle. But here I am, delving into the history of Yanco Camp 15.

Many Queensland Italian POWs had worked at Yanco, so this is justification enough.  A little more research and I realised the similarities between the work being done at Yanco and the work being undertaken at Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill. Another Queensland connection.

But in truth, my motivation is much less complicated: a gentleman from Rome, Alessdandro Di Sabatino contacted me.  He is visiting Australia in 2018 and he would like to walk in the footsteps of his father, Antonio Di Sabatino.  And so my quest to understand the operations of Yanco began.

Di Sabatino, Antonio first left standing

Yanco, Australia. 23 January 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 15 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 45593 Antonio De Sabatino;49625 Oreste Piermattei; 49876 Goffredo Mangiasciutto; 46515 Andrea Pesaola; 45240 Cesare Nobilia; 48641 Luigi Salvati; 45417 Paolo Di Massimo. Front row: 49902 Giuseppe Ricci; 45732 Armando Guaazi; 46354 Mario Palma; 49489 Antonio Galea; 45730 Nicola Clemenzi. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 030171/01)

I have combined photos from Australian War Memorial and interspersed them through the following newspaper article, accessible from Trove.com to assist other children and grandchildren of Italian POWs to walk in their father or grandfather’s footsteps.

Yanco Camp 15 is now the Yanco Agricultural Institute (YAI).  The site has been repurposed many times during its history and the YAI celebrated its 100 anniversary in 2008. Staff of the YAI welcome visits from families of the Italian POWs and are more than happy to provide you with an historical perspective of the property.

Yanco 063917.JPG

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) at No. 15 POW Camp enjoying a shower after a hard day’s work on the farm. This shower block can accommodate twenty four men at a time, and was originally a Riverina Welfare Farm building.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063917)

Yanco Prisoner of War Camp (NSW) was a compound housing 700 – 800  prisoners of war who worked producing vegetables for supply to the allied forces. The site is in the Riverina district WNW of Canberra, between Wagga Wagga and Hay.  It is 290 km from Cowra Prisoner of War and Internment Camp and 170 km from Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.

Yanco 063594


(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063594)

Yanco operated differently to the other POW camps and this included the baking of bread. A request was lodged for the procurement of 100 bread tins: “that probable reason for demand for 100 Tins, bread for No. 15 P.W. Camp Yanco is that P.W. there make their own bread which procedure is not followed in other P.W. Camps. P.W. held at this camp total 550 and in view of foregoing, supply is recommended.” (AWM War Diary 18 Oct 43)

Yanco Bread 3896867

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoner of war (POWs) bakers at No. 15 POW of War Camp removing bread from the oven. In the foreground can be seen tins of dough ready to be baked. (AWM Photo 063916 Geoffrey McInnes)

The article below from Farmer and Settler (Sydney, NSW: 1906 – 1955), Friday 14 April 1944, page 6 explains the operations and importance of the work done by Italian prisoners of war at Yanco.

Riverina Farm Now Biggest Vegetable Garden Project in Australia

Swarthy Italians have replaced students, soldiers have taken over from teachers, and fields where games were played are now flourishing vegetable gardens at Riverina Welfare Farm, Yanco.

Yanco 063822.JPG

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-29. An Italian prisoner of war (POW) from No. 15 POW Camp operating a horse drawn insecticide duster on a crop of tomatoes on one of the unit’s farms.

Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063822

In two years the farm has become Australia’s greatest vegetable growing project- the biggest producer on the food front.

New methods of growing and harvesting have been introduced as well as new methods of seed production.  At present more than 300 acres have been devoted to vegetables for seed purposes only.

The farm was taken over from the Education Department in March, 1942, by the Department of Agriculture in cooperation with the Department of Commerce to step up vegetable growing.

In the first year, using only prisoners of war labour more than 500 tons of tomatoes, silver beet, sweet corn, beans, cabbages, cauliflowers and sweet peppers (an American delicacy) were delivered to Leeton cannery.  The area under vegetables was 320 acres.

Yanco 063793.JPG

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-29. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from No. 15 POW Camp grading and packing tomatoes at the packing shed before sending them to the Leeton Co-operative Cannery for processing.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063793)

With the importation of lend-lease machinery, several units were sent to the farm to speed up production and last October the area given to vegetables was increased to 640 acres.

Shortage of vegetable seed and the difficulty of importing it caused a change of plans.  Instead of bulk vegetable production, the farm set out to grow seed.

Two areas of 320 acres and 150 acres were laid out under spray irrigation, the remainder being furrow irrigation.  With the spray equipment, about 40 acres are given water at the rate of one inch of rain a day.

Largest crops sown are beans, 160 acres; tomatoes 75 acres; silver beet 37 acres, carrots 30 acres and sweet corn 25 acres.  The carrots will be transplanted in the winter to 100 acres for seed production.

Yanco 063820.JPG

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-29. Italian prisoners of war (POW) from No. 15 POW Camp using a Farmall tractor and a furrowing out machine to prepare a paddock for silver beet irrigation.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063820)

Next month 38 acres will be sown to onion and in June, 150 acres of peas will be sown.  Some peas will be sent to the cannery and the remainder retained for seed.

Beside the vegetable project, the farm which is 2045 acres in extent has 225 acres under pasture, paspalum and clover, 40 acres under Lucerne, 50 acres under orchard and 30 acres under sorghum to make 200 tons of silage.

In addition, it has a stud Jersey herd of 115 head of cattle, a Berkshire pig stud of 130 as well as 300 sheep and 60 horses.  All products go to the Services.

Yanco 063884

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) tending stud Berkshire pigs on the farm at No. 15 POW Camp.

Australia War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063884)

The Farm Manager (Mr John L Green) yesterday described the new method of harvesting and preparing tomato seed.

Varieties being grown include 16 acres of Bonnie Best, 15 Marglobe, 12 Break of Day, 14 Pearson, 9 Earliana, 8 Tatura Dwarf Globe and one of Bonnie Marr, a new type.

Picked into kerosene tins, they are emptied into lug boxes in the field and these are carted on drays to the grading shed erected in the field adjacent to the crop.  An average day’s picking is 500 to 600 lug boxes, weighing 10 to 12 tons.

The tomatoes are then place on sorting tables 30 ft long, 3 ft wide and made of rubber and this revolves.

Those retained for seed extraction pass through an electrically driver pulper and juice extractor, and the pulp thus obtained, together with that returned from the cannery is placed in barrels and treated with hydrochloric acid for the purpose of making seed extraction more rapid and easy.

Yanco 063885

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from No. 15 POW Camp pulping tomatoes in order to recover the seed. The crushed tomato is then treated with weak hydrochloric acid to free the seed from the pulp. Seeds are then washed and dried.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063885)

The system was developed by Mr EM Hutton, of the C.S. and I.R. AT Canberra two years ago and makes it possible to pre-treat pulp in 30 minutes compared with two days required under the old system of natural fermentation.

The pulp is poured on to a 600 ft wooden flume with a slight gradual decline.  The flume is 15 inch wide and 12 inch deep and every 5 ft is a baffle board 6 inch high.

Water is run in at a rate sufficient to give a flow of ½ to 1 inch over the baffles.

The result is the seed, being heavier than the pulp, sinks and is caught in the baffles, while the pulp flows over and is eventually lost at the lower end in an open drain.

Two barrels of pulp, representing 100 bushells of tomatoes can be washed in this manner in 50 minutes. The washing, however, does not remove every small particle of pulp, it being necessary to take this in a screen of meshes.

After this treatment, the seed is placed for 24 hours in a solution of ascetic acid with the object of controlling bacterial canker disease.

It is then spread on tarpaulins on a drying green for six to 10 hours, collected and bagged.

Mr Green said that already 1500 lb of seed has been produced and it was expected that 3000 lb more seed would be harvested before the end of May.  The amount of tomatoes involved would be 400 tons.

Yanco 063934.JPG

Yanco, NSW. 1944-02-01. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from No. 15 POW Camp picking Tatura Dwarf Globe tomatoes which they have grown for seed on the unit’s vegetable farm.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063934)

War Time Friends

Alex Miles lived on a farm at Mooloo about 11 miles outside of Gympie during World War 2.  As a young lad, he had ‘a ring side seat’ to the comings and goings of the Italian prisoners of war in the Mooloo area. Assisting in the recording of his father’s memoirs, Alex has ensured that the stories of the Italian prisoners of war on their Mooloo farm are part of their family history.

And 72 years later, Alex remembers Sam, Frank, Marino, Mario, Tony, Amerigo and Raffa as being like his ‘childhood’ friends.  They were part of Mooloo’s history and the Miles farm became the centre for congregation for the Italians on a Sunday.

Alex remembers them as  family men who made spaghetti by making the dough, talked of their children with longing,  crafted kites for the children which flew high on the westerly winds in winter, took the children for a ride in the billy cart of an afternoon and loved nothing more than nursing baby Joan Miles who was born early in 1945.

Alex says that they were ingenious, industrious and inventive and could turn their hands to most things some of which went against the rules. They make a potent brew with their home made ‘illegal’ still, dammed a creek which they bailed out so that they could catch fish, set up a barber shop for all the POWs in the district, bought  items for the Miles family from the canteen truck in return for money, carved out a secret place inside their shaving sticks to hide their Australian currency,  made belts from the cellophane wraps of their cigarette packets and created rings from one shilling and two shilling coins.


Ring in the Making: 1943 Florin

(from the collection of Alex Miles)

The four Italian prisoners of war on the Miles farm were:  Mario Lauretti (uncle) and Marino Iacovacci (nephew) from Vallecorsa Frosinone; and Antonio Buffa and Francesco Ciaramita (both from Xitta Trapani and possibly brothers-in-law).

Amerigo Capriotti and Raffaele Fischetti were at AW Collard’s farm at Mooloo and Vincenzo Di Domenico and Filippo Castiglione were at LF Sizer’s farm at Mooloo.

The following extracts are from The Life and Times of Percy Alexander Miles:

…Three months after the Italians arrived, Mario became ill and had to go back into the prison camp to be near medical help. Andy and Nellie Anderson decided they didn’t need their prisoners, so we took them on, namely Francesco and Antonio. “Tony” was an officer’s cook in the Italian Army, so they wanted to cook for themselves.  This was ok by us as they didn’t like our cooking, they wanted spaghetti every day of the week.  Clyde and I put a kitchen on the end of the shed they were living in…. As time went by our kids used to eat with them now and then.  In the end the kids preferred their food to ours.

…Everything was good, except I couldn’t get enough spaghetti for them.  Because I had 3 POW’s working for me, I was allowed to apply directly to the factory to buy the spaghetti.  I filled out a form enquiring about spaghetti.  Next thing I knew there was ½ ton of spaghetti at the Gympie Railway Station for me. The prisoners were really happy but I didn’t know how they could possibly eat it all before the weevils got into it; I sold a lot to other farmers who had POW’s.  My three still maintained they could eat it all.  Turns out the three of them probably could have eaten the ½ ton in 12 months.    By the end of the year they were making their own spaghetti.

… Nearly every Sunday all the Italian POW’s from all the farms within walking distance (up to 5 miles away) would come to our farm.  Marino was a barber in Italy and the Australian barbers gave them short back and side haircut, they didn’t like that so they came here.  Marino cut hair all day; he charged them so many cigarettes for a haircut.

…They were not allowed to have a radio or to listen to one.  If ever we went away, they would go into the house and listen to our radio.  I bought it new in 1941, it was a big cabinet push button Brevelle model radio. To change stations all you had to do was push a button. How we knew they were listening to it was they always forgot to switch it back from short wave. I don’t know whether they found any Italian stations, I never let them know that I knew, it must have been hard for them not knowing what was going on in Italy.

Francesco was a tin-smith, he spent weeks cutting a kerosene tin into strips and rolling them into half inch pipes and soldering them, then joining them together.  It turned out to be a still to make alcohol which was something they were not allowed to have.

I turned a blind eye at first but in the end I had to tell them to destroy it, but not before they gave me a sample of the alcohol it made. They had old rotten pineapples and potatoes and any other fruit they could find in a 4 gallon drum with a top on it with the pipe coming out of the top. A clear vodka-like fluid was dripping out of the pipe.  They gave me a ¼ cup to try, Alice put some on a teaspoon and put a match to it, it had a nice blue flame. I thought this may be the way to fuel my ute, but it had to be destroyed much to the POW’s disappointment.    

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.


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.

Q10 Boonah prisoner of war Rackely Masciulli, Domenico and Pintabona, Francesco

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:


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 


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