Fighting in North Africa

At War

Antonino Lumia has had his memories of being soldiers in the Italian army and prisoners of war in Australia recorded for posterity.   Lumia’s words were recorded by his grandson Damiano and can be heard via YouTube,  Antonino Lumia POW in Australia 1941-1946.

This recording is an invaluable insight into the personal experiences of the ordinary men who were caught up in the politics of war.  Lumia had his 28th birthday in the north African desert and was captured at Tobruk.

Special acknowledgement to Damiano Lumia for allowing for his work and the words of  Antonino to be reproduced here as part of this project.  His  assistance is invaluable as these memories provide depth and perspective for this history.

Antonino Lumia was captured at Tobruk 22nd January 1941

.. we embark in the direction of Cyrenaica

We passed close to Tripoli at night …Destination Benghazi.  Before arriving in Benghazi, a captain tells us … “Young people, dress up. Tthat night the port was bombed …” “If aviation surprises you when going down, it’s the end of the world” We gathered our things. The blankets on our shoulders. Our guns. The dinner. When the boat arrives at the port in Benghazi … in speed, all … We have moved away from Benghazi. We found refuge under a tree. For a month we waited for the weapons, the cannons. Towards the fortress of Tobruk. Some morning workouts.  In the evening … free in Benghazi. 
Guns 044455

Bardia, Cyrenaica, Libya. C. 1941. An Italian 47mm anti tank cannon used by the Italian Army in operations in the Western Desert and abandoned after its defeat by Allied forces (Australian War Memorial, Image 044455)

After 15 days came the guns … we dragged them.  Shells firing … 8 kilometres … In columns, we went to war. We arrived in Barce. And we are stopped.

I found a fountain … … the women filled … … their water reserves …… a knife skin, mounted on a donkey.

I was on duty that day. Soldiers were forbidden to clean their dishes in drinking water.

A young black woman …… fills her reserve. A soldier is always a bit provocative.

I wanted to get close to her to help her …… she pushed me violently shouting. I could not approach her. She then left.

The next day, the order was given: departure for the war. The column was reformed: the colonel at the head, … and we all behind, trailing the guns.

We passed Tobruk. We landed in the desert. The fortress of Tobruk. Everyone had his place.

Our guns, concrete refuges. One day… … the British began the bombing …… the lieutenant calls me …”Lumia” “Tonight will get me to eat” Are you calling me? I’m just a sergeant, a helper …

Call the second lieutenant! “The sub-lieutenant is sick, you’re designated!” … They will think that I am an enemy, pull me off. And if I’m wrong, in the dark… “He is an enemy. “You are appointed.”

Resigned. I take my dinner. He said, “Take this power line in your hand …” … and walking … more …

I took this line in my hands. … you will find the mess of the officers …” I lifted this electric wire …

… and I walked. I arrived at the command post. Come back. in the dark. Again the line in my hands, back. Thorns in my legs, on my skin. I was following the telephone line in my hands. The lieutenant had his dinner. Lieutenant Duca, from Vallelunga. The next day the English bombed us.

With their guns. The American navy approached the port. The US Navy fired shells up to 20 kilometers. Shells fell on us … up to 250 kilos. Luckily they landed on sand.

Most did not explode. There’s something to jump in the air. They silenced us. In the distance, the smoke. The command telephone no longer works. Our commander called Sergeant Traina.

A man from Vittoria, near Canicatti. “Traina, the phone does not work anymore!”

Traina … orphan child of soldiers of the great war …”But, my captain … I’m going to die”

“You have to go, you!” The poor man. Religious sign. On a motorcycle. He’s going there.

Thanks to God, he returned alive.

 “Captain, the colonel told me …… we are free. Because in a moment …… the enemies will make us prisoners “.

“To fire, to flee, to surrender … everything is allowed”. The Colonel tells us. “Take with you whatever you want … one moment to the other we will be prisoners”.

POW cage 040628

Tobruk, Libya 1941. Italian Prisoners, captured by the 9th Australian Division, in a temporary P.O.W. cage.

(Australian War Memorial, G. Keating, Image 040628)

A Voice from the Past…

In a beautiful tribute to his nonno, Damiano Lumia recorded the voice of Antonino Lumia telling his story as a soldier and a prisoner of war.

Lumia Antonio Lumia Hay II

Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 46032 Raffaele Lomonaco; 46627 Giuseppe Restivo; 46007 Antonio Lumia (front row second left); 45586 Isidoro De Blasi; 46206 Gaetano Mineo; 45360 Giuseppe Cannata; 45103 Leonardo Barbera; 45997 Pietro Lomonte; 46221 Antonio Rondi and 47999 Leonardo Ciaccio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(Australian War Memorial Lewecki Image 030143/33)

Antonino’s  journey begins in Sicily and listening to his voice, we follow in his footsteps from his home town of Bompensiere to Toburk and Benghazi, then Australia. Finally, Antonino takes us back to Italy and his family.

Antonino Lumia begins his story with,

My dear grandson, I had a lot of trouble. When they called us…”

and ends with…

I saw your grandmother. I came down. I came home. I rushed to your father. Here is my story, dear grandson. The sufferings were severe, dear grandson”.

Damiano’s video Antonino Lumia POW in Australia 1941-1946  combines images of Bompensiere with photographs and documents from Australian War Memorial and National Archives of Australia  to take the viewer on an intimate journey through time.

Antonino’s memories are told with humour and melancholy. English subtitles combined with Antonino’s voice, makes this accessible for those who only speak English. More importantly for those Queenslanders who have memories of ‘their’ Italian POW, it brings back to life their voices: the timbre and musicality of the Italian language.

“Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland” has always been about connectivity between people, with the past, between Italians and Australians, with memories and history.

I am honoured and humbled that Damiano Lumia’s video has become part of this project for the oral histories of Italian prisoners of war are paramount to adding depth and perspective to this project.

Another aspect of the project has been to connect people with information. Research has provided Damiano with details about Antonino’s time in Queensland.  Antonino Lumia was assigned to Q3 PWCC Gympie along with Giovanni Adamo.  They were employed by Mr R – Mr Kevin John Rodney of North Deep Creek from 14 March 1944 to 4 January 1946.  Miss Gloria, mentioned by Antonino is Miss Gloria Davis from Auchenflower.  Mr R and Miss Gloria were married in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Brisbane on 6th May 1944.

Antonino remembers with clarity when he first met Miss Gloria. “The farmer was back. You could hear the horn of his car in the distance.  His wife was with him.  I had planted very beautiful flowers near the hut. I mad a bouquet of flowers.  When they arrived near us… I offered flowers to his wife.  He introduced us to his wife: Miss Gloria. They went home. For us the work continued. The next morning Madame served us the meal.  A very nice woman. Every morning I brought wood to this woman for cooking”, speaks Antonino.

Antonino Lumia’s testimony is not only a voice from the past but also an important window into the past.  Click on the above link and take a walk with Antonino through history.

Lumia Antonio Lumia Hay


(Australian War Memorial, Geoffrey McInnes Image 063371)


Grubbing Lantana



The Overflow Homestead

(from the Collection of Michael Joyce)

My dad Edgar de Burgh Joyce had a property “The Overflow” between Boonah and Beaudesert.  I would have been about nine years old at the time the Italian POWs came to work on the property.  We were mainly grazing with dairying, potatoes, melons, pumpkins and lettuce, but the Italians had nothing to do with the breeding and fattening of the cattle.

From memory, we would have had several gangs of men who came to do hard manual work.  Grubbing lantana with mattocks, ring barking and pulling burrs was the work they did.  We didn’t have a tractor, only horse and plough.  They would have to walk 1 – 2 miles to get to the paddock they were working in.  I got the feeling that if they had had enough, they would leave and walk back to Boonah, about 16 miles.

They lived in a self-contained cottage (the old stockmen’s quarters) down the hill from our house.  They looked after their own meals as they had a kitchen but we did go down to them for a feed of spaghetti.  I still remember a few words of Italian eg gallina for hen,  uovo (warwar) for egg,  bambini mocca for milk calf.

The Italians also helped in the vegetable garden.  It was about 1 acre so we always had lots of fresh salads and vegetables for them.  Another of their jobs was to take the five house cows down to the oats paddock in the morning.  They could only be left there for 10 minutes so Mum lent Tony (Antonio Macchitella)  her watch to keep time.  Tony told us he lost the watch but we never believed him.  He was a cheeky fellow, always answering with a YES YES YES and came across as being overly eager to please.


Boonah Macchitella, Antonio

Prisoner of War/Internee,  Macchitella, Antonio

(National Archives of Australia NAA: MP 1103/2, 64632)


But the Italians weren’t seen as our enemy.  They just got involved in a war that had nothing to do with them.

Michael Joyce

Boonah.The Overflow (3)

The Overflow Homestead

(from the collection of Michael and Jan Joyce)


Memories from Mahoon

Monto.Tom Pownall, Geoff Pownall, Dick McGuigan 5.4.1942

Pownall Family 1942

Back: Jan, Tom and Barbara Pownall; Heather McGuigan; Geoffrey and Peter Pownall

Front: John, Dick and Bruce McGuigan

(from the collection of Jan Joyce (nee Pownall))

My father, Thomas Norman Pownall of “Mahoon”, Monto certainly had a group of POWs and from the little that I remember they were a great success.

Ring barking was the main work that the Italians did.  They would work out on the property at a camp site as the work was a distance away from the house.  After the men moved on, Dad went out to the spot where their camp kitchen had been and found a tablespoon with QG engraved on it. I still have it and it is used every day in my kitchen! Isn’t that lovely?

At that time my parents had bought our big English Oak dining table. One of the Italians was a French Polisher and Dad agreed for him to restore the table. My Mother’s heart was in her mouth as he took to her table with a plane. She thought, “What if he takes his situation out on my table?”  But of course he didn’t, and he did a beautiful job with what Dad had at hand. What a joy it would have been to him to work in his trade – far better than ring barking.

Oak Table Restored by Italian Prisoner of War at Mahoon

(from the collection of Jan Joyce (nee Pownall))

The rules of employment encouraged farmers not to get too close to the Italian POWs.  I think that this is how things went on our farm especially as the Italians were away from the house during the week ring barking.  The war was a challenging time for everyone.

Also, one of the Italians fashioned a ring for me out of a spoon. I was about 6 or 7 and loved it. However my sister and I were playing in the hay shed which at the time was full of corn cobs. I carefully placed my precious ring on one of the husks while we climbed all over the stack. You can imagine the fate of the ring!

My uncle Geoffrey Pownall had POWs as well on his property Tecoma and after the war he sponsored Adolfo D’Addario. My sister Barbara remembers that Adolfo had a spaghetti maker. Adolfo would teach us how to pick up spaghetti to eat it the Italian way.  The spaghetti and sauce was in a dessert or porridge plate and using a fork and a soup spoon he would roll the spaghetti on the fork, using the soup spoon to hold it safely and then we could get it to our mouths without losing everything!

I clearly remember my younger cousin Suzanne, Peter Pownall’s sister, helping Adolfo with English pronunciation.  She would say, “spoon Dolfo, similar moon” obviously copying the way her parents helped him. She would have been 4 or 5.

Janice Joyce (nee Pownall)





A Very Special Thank You


“Glen Olive” Gayndah: Robinsons and Italian POWs

 Ruby Robinson (at back)  and  Olive Munro (Robinson) (in front)

Who is Who? Nicola Micali, Antonio Colomba, Antonio Alfarano or Giuseppe Vergine

(from the Collection of Avis Hildreth)

“Glen Olive” in Gayndah was farmed by father and son Francis Charles Robinson and Francis William Robinson who employed Italian prisoners of War to help work their citrus orchards.  Five young Italians, all in their early 20s and from farming backgrounds, arrived at the Robinson’s property on 8 July 1944: Domenico Petruzzi, Nicola Micali, Antonio Colomba, Antonio Alfarano and Giuseppe Vergine.

Avis Hildreth granddaughter of Frank Senior relates with fondness family memories of Domenico Petruzzi: “My late mother, Ruby Robinson, remembered him as being very young.  He was well regarded by the Robinson family and according to family accounts, he did not want to return to Italy when the war ended… Domenico gave some needlework to my late mother.  It is an arrangement of Australian wildflowers. My mother gave it to my sister”.

Gayndah Tapestry (1).JPG

Domenico Petruzzi’s Gift to Robinson Family

(from the Collection of Colleen Lindley)

Colleen Lindley, granddaughter of Frank Robinson Senior, is now the custodian of this special gift and her mother also entrusted her with its story. She says, “I only tell you the history of this piece as I was told by my Mother. My Mother had this needle work sent out to her by mail order. She intended to do the needle work herself.  Domenico asked her if she had any needle work that he could do to fill in the time of a night.  My Mother decided to give it to Domenico as a gift, never thinking that in time, it would become his thank you and farewell gift to her.   It was to be a cushion cover, but I was not willing to use it this way as I felt that it should be preserved. Mum had kept it wrapped up in a cloth with her linen until the day that she gave it to me.  The lettering at the bottom was Domenico’s doing.  He had put the lettering on the bottom and told her what the letters stood for: Remember Domenico Petruzzi Prisoner of War”.

 Before Domenico left the Gayndah orchard, Mr Robinson had discussed with him the possibility of sponsorship so that he could return to Australia.  The Robinson family could not locate or contact Domenico in Italy and letters sent to him possibly did not find him.

Over the years, family members thought often about Domenico.  An ABC documentary in the early 2000s reignited Ruby Robinson’s interest in finding Domenico and so daughter Colleen took up the challenge.  She contacted local historical societies and the Australian War Memorial but there were no answers nor leads.

There were many complications in the search: AWM requested a Prisoner of War Number; Ruby Robinson had never seen Domenico’s name written down so spelt it as she remembered it: Dominico Pertruse; and even if the family found his record, his home town was written as Nizzanello Lecce rather than Lizzanello Lecce.  Such are the many brick walls that Queenslanders have hit when trying to locate information on their Italian POWs.

Domenico Petruzzi’s gift is an enduring memory of his time working on a citrus orchard outside of Gayndah.  It is beautifully crafted and a treasured memento from the time Italian prisoners of war worked on Queensland farms.

More importantly, Domenico has had his wish come true.  His story had been embroidered into his gift and the sentiments of the words have ensured that he has not been forgotten.  Domenico Petruzzi’s Australia family will continue to remember him as this gift is passed down through the generations.


His Name was George

Back in those days, we grew potatoes, vegetables and we had a dairy out at Moogerah about seven miles from town.  Besides the ploughing, seeding and harvesting of the crops we had the twice daily task of milking our herd of 60 Friesian dairy cows.  It would have been the beginning of milking machines back then, but they weren’t that good.  The Cream Cart would collect the milk and take it to the Butter Factory in Boonah.  The cream would be skimmed to make the butter and the by product, butter milk would then be turned into a powder.  The buttermilk powder was used to feed the calves and for cattle.

George was a good match for our farm because of the work he did back in Italy.  We were lucky because he had knowledge of animals.  In Italy, he had about 100 ewes which were milked every morning.  Then they would make cheese with the milk. He could ride a horse and was good with all jobs around the farm. George was a hard worker.

Giovanni Ragusa

‘George’ Giovanni Ragusa Boonah

(from the Collection of Antonio Ragusa)

I was about 25 years old and my wife was 20 years old when we welcomed George.  Mr Collins used to be our school teacher and he was in charge of the Prisoner of War Centre in Boonah.  It was located on Railway Street where Dover and Sons are now.  It used to be the aerated water and cordial factory.

George came to us after he had been at the Moffat’s farm and probably was with us about 6 months.  He was never any trouble.  He ate with us and slept in the house.  He missed spaghetti and he told my wife how to cook it up using his family recipe, the proper way.  It was a good cheap meal.  The spaghetti would come out on the canteen truck.

The canteen truck also brought out other things for the men to buy.  Things like chocolate, shaving sticks, cigarettes.  George was clean shaven and would shave every day.  I know not sure whether that was the regulation or not.

We used to call them the “Red Army”, because of the coloured uniforms they had to wear.  George taught me some Italian but he would say in stilted English, “no possible, Eric learn Italian.”  He had pretty good everyday English.

George told us that he was in the Horse Brigade and during a battle he was knocked from his horse and he made out he was dead.  He said that they did what they could to survive. He had no respect for Mussolini and it was like he would spit and stamp it into the ground and curse and huff if Mussolini was talked about.

We didn’t go out much in those days because of the petrol rationing, but on a Sunday we would go and visit my wife’s parents in John Street Boonah.  I don’t remember taking him to church, but if he asked, I would have taken him.

Giovanni Ragusa Eric Berhendorff

‘George’ Giovanni Ragusa with Eric Behendorff and family Boonah

(from the Collection of Antonio Ragusa)

My brother Amos had two Italians.  Frank was a beautiful man.  Tony was a bit ‘funny’, I think a bit irrational at times, or easy to get upset. Their names were Francesco Di Lucca and Antonio Di Renna.

George didn’t want to leave our place when they had to return to Gaythorne.  He said that he would sooner stay working on the farm rather than wait around at Gaythorne until he could go home.  He had one regret, and that was that he would have liked to have been with us, when our first baby was born.  I think he wanted to meet our baby and have that connection with us.  After they were sent to Gaythorne at Enoggera we made the trip to Brisbane to say goodbye to him.  He told us that he wanted me to go visit him in Italy and he would welcome me and give me a good time and show me around.  We corresponded with him and him with us.

I have never forgotten his name: Giovanni Ragusa. But we called him George.

Eric Behrendorff


Prisoner of War/Internee: Ragusa, Giovanni

(National Archives of Australia MP1103/2, 64947)

Ring Barking in the Outback



Ring Barking on Tecoma

Adolfo D’Addario right of photo

(from the Collection of Assunta Austin)

My parents had a cattle property at Tecoma about 50 km due west of Monto when the Italian POWs came to stay with us in 1945.  That period has a special place in my memory because I was a four year old boy and only child on the farm. As well, one of the Italians returned to Australia, sponsored by my father and so re-entered our lives in 1951.

They were all in their late 30s.  Giuseppe Ferranti was a motor driver and a very good diesel mechanic.  Salvatore Bernardo was a musician and Adolfo D’Addario was a barber.

The Italians became my ‘playmates’ especially as they were such great family men and had had to leave their children when war started. I was called ‘Pietro’ and received birthday cards and Christmas cards once they left the district.  Letters from Adolfo D’Addario to my parents were always signed off with “a great kiss to my little friend Peter” or “a big hug to Peter”.  From Hay, 12.8.1946 Adolfo wrote, “Dear Peter, I express you my best wishes for your birthday. Sincerely Yours Adolfo.” I was looked after and carried around by the Italians.  They made trinkets and little toys for me and I have a memory of sweets they gave me, like a boiled lolly in the shape of fruit.


Tecoma: Italian POWs, Mr Pownall driving, family friend standing, Aussie worker with hat, ‘Pietro’ at back 1945

(from the Collection of Assunta Austin)

Adolfo was a barber and one day when he was cutting my hair in the shed, a neighbour rode over home for a visit.  Adolfo asked Mr Mick if he would like a hair cut to which he replied, “You’ll have to charge me ½ price”. Language was a bit of a problem because Mick was bald and had no hair, so he took off his hat, yelled at Adolfo and repeated his “joke”. While the Italians managed to get by with limited English, they were slow to comprehend conversations especially if someone talked loudly and quickly.  Of course there are lot of my generation who can count to ten in Italian, compliments of the POWs.  The words ‘understand’, ‘no understand’ and ‘possible’ were much used.

Another story about language is the time that we left the property to go on holidays for a week.  The Italians and our Aussie workers were left to care take.  There were pigs to attend to, cows to be milked and they would ride the horses to check on the windmills.  Dad and Mum returned to a note, “Pig is death. Possible eat snake.”

The Italians worked out at a camp during the week and came in on weekends.  The work they undertook was ring barking.  It was a hard job and in the beginning their hands were covered in blisters.  No doubt they had never held an axe before.  They camped in tents which had rudimentary bedding and I remember the pillows were nothing more than a round log.  The countryside is treed with iron bark and grew thick which wouldn’t allow the grass to grow.  Saplings were ringbarked with a small frill, but the mature trees required a 4 inch band of frilling.

When they were back home on a Sunday, mum would cook up a Sunday dinner of roast chicken or beef.  They complained about the spaghetti that came out on the canteen truck because it was ‘not long enough’.  I suppose mum would have made spaghetti for them.

They were never any trouble. Of course they would have arguments amongst themselves and sometimes run at each other with a knife, but no one was hurt and it was more a way of sorting out their disagreements.

Reading letters they sent from Gaythorne after they finished up with us, tells a story of unhappiness and longing to be back on the farm. They always asked after our health, mum ‘lady’ and me and wrote about the good treatment that they had at home. Questions about the cattle, the cucumbers, the melons and tomatoes were asked and regards and goodbye to Pat and Lesley (workers) sent.  Appreciation was expressed for letters received, apologies made for their English and concerns for the family if they hadn’t received letters. Hopes of being home within 2 – 3 months were mentioned despite, them not getting home to Italy until early 1947.

After the war, Dad and Adolfo corresponded as Dad had offered to sponsor Adolfo to return to Australia.  Dad only had work for one and so Adolfo’s dream of bringing out his sons was put on hold.  Adolfo worked hard and saved his money.  After missing so much of his children’s lives, he wanted to keep his family together and so when he was able, he brought out his two sons: Mario and Attilio.  The two sons worked on a forestry project in the Coominglah range.  At some stage, his sons wanted to leave the district and go cut sugar cane.  Adolfo told dad that where his sons went, he went.  They would stay together.  They moved to Bundaberg and Adolfo then brought out his wife Assunta and daughter Aminta in 1956.


Mrs and Mr Pownall, Attilio D’Addario and Adolfo D’Addario (photo taken by Mario D’Addario

(from the Collection of Assunta Austin)

Our family would visit Adolfo and his family in Targo Street Bundaberg and I have memories of being served black coffee and a liqueur named cent herbes. Adolfo had a cane farm and I remember that he also helped out another family. His pride and joy in later life was a Poinciana tree in the front garden which was a local landmark.

Only just recently, I have been in touch with a granddaughter of Adolfo: Assunta.  She has sent me a copy of the letter my dad sent to Adolfo 8.2.51 explaining the arrangements regarding sponsorship and the process Adolfo needed to follow so that he could be on the Toscana in June 1951.

Peter Pownall