Artistic and Romantic

The story of Tito Neri began with two photos sent to me by Luigi Pinna from Cagliari Sardinia. They were a puzzle.  Why did Luigi’s father, Antioco Pinna have in his possession two photos of a sculpture created in South Australia by Tito Neri?    What was the story behind these photos?  Where was this sculpture of Adam and Eve created?  Did this sculpture or any record of it still exist?#

Who was Tito Neri?

Tito Neri was a talented and well-respected sculptor from Villa Casone di Cesena (Forli). But for a time, he was an Italian prisoner of war living and working on South Australian farms.

While Neri’s Australian Service and Casualty Form records his occupation as bricklayer his biography relates that from a young age, he had a natural talent for art.  He went on to train at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. For further details of his work: Neri Tito

In 1939, he was sent to Libya as a soldier in the 11th Artillery Division, 202 Regiment and was captured at Alam El Tumar 9th December 1940. Sent to prisoner of war camps in India, Neri found time to sculpture with some of his memorable works being: Il Barbaelettrica, Il Duce, Il Re e L’Aquila Imperial, Don Bosco in marble, Il Re di’Ingheiterra Girogio IV, I Re Magi.*  Word spread amongst the English of his talents.

From his Australian POW record, he arrived in Melbourne, onboard the Mariposa and sent to Murchison for processing before a transfer to Sandy Creek POW Camp in South Australia.  Farm placement on farms in the S2 Willunga POW Centre and S1 Mt Barker POW Centre, left him with little time to pursue his art. A comment made by one of his employers was, “This man is a clever sculptor and all spare time is given to this. Works well otherwise.”

Neri Tito PWI 58694

Tito Neri

(NAA: A367, C85639)

He worked on a farm owned by Hartley Roy Moulds of Ashbys Road Inman Valley where he fell in love with the farmer’s daughter, Hazel who left an impression on the ‘sculptor’s soul.‘ An S2 PWCC Willunga report records, “This man is a good type, above average intellect, but romantic… Not necessarily bad but would be better employed away from women.”

 Neri was transferred to the Usher farm near Meadows and also worked for six weeks at Mr MS (Maurice Samuel)  Pearce’s farm Doringa at Paris Creek.  He also worked Mr FS Evans farm at Aldgate Stirling which was his most serene and welcoming placement.

“For his art, the years lived in Australia are much less prolific than those in India and that is due to the hard and unceasing work in the ‘farms’. In fact, Neri only sculpts a few subjects: a kangaroo, a large snake in cement, a bust of a Boss and above all, an Adam and Eve which nevertheless appears even in an Australian magazine,” as is explained in his biography by Dott. Andrea Antonioli, Commune di Cesena.

Puzzling however, is how did Antioco Pinna have in his possession two photos of Adam and Eve and the serpent, which could possibly be the sculpture mentioned in his biography.

Tito Neri. Adam and Eve

A Puzzle: Is this Tito Neri with his sculpture Adam and Eve?

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

Antioco Pinna from Cagliari Sardinia and Tito Nero from Villa Casone Forli were in different theatres of war: Pinna Wolkefit Ethiopia and Neri Alam Et Tumar Libya.  What they do have in common is time in the POW Camps in India, arrival in Australia on the Mariposa 5th February 1944, time at Loveday POW Camp in 1946 and their repatriation on Strathmore 7th November 1946.  While Pinna was assigned to work in Prisoner of War Control Hostels on government projects: forestry, Neri worked on individual farms.

Still a puzzle: where in South Australia did Neri create his Adam and Eve?  Does this sculpture still exist?  What Australian magazine was his work featured in?

#The sculpture was created at Loveday Prisoner of War Camp during 1946.  It was said that Tito Neri destroyed his work before leaving the camp for repatriation to Italy.

*Dott. Andrea Antonioli, Ufficio Topomostica Commune di Cesena,  is the writer of TITO NERI: A Biography.

Made by his Hands

Made by his Hands

Antonio Arici was sent to Mukinbudin WA to work on the farm of  Norman Maddock.

A wooden box made by Antonio was too heavy for him to take home to Italy.  Or maybe he left it behind because the POWs had been issued instructions as to how much luggage they could take with them.  It is still lined with remnants of magazine pictures he decorated the inside of the box with.

Antonio's Wooden Box WA Open

It has been kept in the Maddock family for over seven decades. Bert Maddock who was a teenager at the time assumes that it was made from demolition timber sort from unoccupied houses in the area.  These houses were purchased by his father, dismantled and the timber used to construct a new home for the Maddock family.

Made from Jarrah timber,  the tongue and groove sections used by Antonio would have been walls of the derelict houses and possibly there were sections not used to build the new house.

Read more about the Maddock and Arici families: Antonio’s journey 

Antonio's Wooden Box WA closed

Another Del Bo!

Jennifer Ellis stumbled across a portrait of a lady and so began her journey to understand the history behind the portrait and painter…

Jennifer writes, “It was purchased in a second hand shop in Smythesdale Victoria for the sum of two dollars. It’s not framed . On canvas . On back is branded 1943 on the canvas. In red writing it has Riccardo del.bo Parma Italy. The front is signed like the picture in [your Del Bo] article and dated 1946. Pow . The detail is beautiful.”

Signature of Riccardo Del Bo 1944 and 1946

(photos courtesy of Janette Ratcliffe (Jones) and Jennifer Ellis)

It is with thanks to Janette Ratcliffe (Jones) that we know a little about Del Bo and his time on the Jones farm at Severnlea via Stanthorpe. Riccardo Del Bo was from the Parma region in Italy and had been captured in Greece on 24th January 1941. He arrived in Australian on ‘Queen Mary’ 13th October 1941 and was sent to Cowra PW & I Camp until his transfer to Stanthorpe via Gaythorne PW & I Camp in Mid October 1943.

On 7th February 1945 he was transferred to Murchison PW & I Camp in Victoria until his repatriation to Italy on the ‘Otranto’ on 10th January 1947.

It would appear that Jennifer’s ‘Del Bo’ was painted while he was in Murchison PW & I Camp. The answers to the questions: who is the lady in the painting? how did the painting get from a prisoner of war camp to a second hand shop? what is this painting’s story? Did Del Bo continue painting? will probably never be known. Shortly after Del Bo’s arrival at Murchison, he was photographed: he is the last man standing on the right.

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: 61970 N. Bruni; 48039 P. De Carlo; Unidentified; 49913 Q. Spognetta; 48016 R. Del Bo. Front row: Unidentified; 57177 G. De Vita; 57536 P. Rizzelli; 48145 P. Landolfi; 46993 H. Zirafi; 48153 M. Lo Cantore. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.  (AWM Image 030230/04 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

Jennifer’s keen eye and interest in the history of her second hand bargain, means that another small part of the history of Italian prisoners of war in Australia has been pieced together.

Jennifer reflects, ” I am also happy that I have found some history of this picture. The man I purchased it from can’t remember where he got it from as its been hidden away… When I told him about the history he was amazed. He is an antique/junk seller, and when I mentioned the pow under the signature he was surprised that he missed it. As I said it’s still probably only worth two dollars- but worth more in the history of it. I don’t think it has ever been framed. I’d say perhaps he [Del Bo] made it as a gift for someone and they kept it in a draw rolled up. It would be great to see if he continued his art. “

Portrait of a Lady by Del Bo

(photo courtesy of Jennifer Ellis)

And 73 years later…

One special family reunion

And 73 years later, the Arici and Maddock families celebrate a reunion.

Franca and Augusta (daughters of Antonio) Camilla, Davide Dander, Maurizio Dander with Sophie Maddock
(photo courtesy of Davide Dander and Sophie Maddock)

Antonio Arici was 29 years old when he went to work on the farm of Norm and May Maddock at Hill View via Mukinbudin. In December 2017, Antonio’s grandson Davide Dander began his research journey for his grandfather when he asked the question: Can you help me?

Antonio left the Maddock farm on 15th January 1946 and on 24th June 2019, Sophie Maddock from Western Australia stepped off a train at Brescia Italy to visit the Arici family.

Sophie is the great grandaughter of Norm and May Maddock and her grandfather Bert Maddock remembers Antonio from when he lived at the family farm. Bert and his wife Jocelyn are unable to make a trip to Italy but Sophie was more than happy and very honoured to visit the Arici family.

History connects people and events, often in unexpected ways. Australia and Italy. A farmer and a prisoner of war. 1940s and 2010s. War and peace. But there is one special similarity: families who share the same values; importance of family and respect for everyone.

Different countries. Different backgrounds. Different decades. Different circumstances.

One special family reunion

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

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

Letters from the Past

Many letters written by Italian prisoners of war are held in private postal history collections and Queenslanders’ family history collections. I am grateful and honoured that these letters have been shared with me and have become a comprehensive dossier of prisoner of war letters.

Letters written by the Italian POWs after they left the farms, talk of the health of the family, the state of the harvest and farm work,  the POWs that they were still grouped with, news that they would be going home soon, or that they are still waiting to go home, reflections on the kind treatment given to them by the farming families and reflections on leaving Australia and returning home. Two cousins, wrote a thank you letter to their farmer apologising for some of their bad behaviour which was never aimed at the farmer, but more at their situation.  They closed with gratitude for the kindness the family had shown them and the gifts they were given.

If there had been children in the family, there is a request for the farmer to send a photograph of the children, words about how much they missed the children, questions about how the children were going or growing, and wishes of being back on the farm with playing with the children instead of being in camp.

Angelo Capone wrote to Mr Bury on 16th January 1946 from Gaythorne. Written with a beautiful hand, the sentiments are simply worded but heartfelt.

Letter to George & Gwen Bury, from Angelo Capone 1946 (1)

 

Letter Written to Mr Bury Beerwah from Angelo Capone 1946

(letter courtesy of Rosemary Watt)

Letters written by the Italians to their families are interesting.  While the men had to be careful of what they wrote (due to censorship), their words are always about concern for their families.  One Italian’s wife must have had a disagreement with her sister-in-law, which she had communicated to her husband, because his reply to her was that they would have to sort it out because he could do nothing about it.  There were always questions about sending news of the situation in their home towns, questions about who had died and comments as to the length of time it has taken for mail to reach them.  Other common messages were: longing to see the family again, the years of separation will be forgotten once they reach home, and  five years of separation might mean mums and children might not recognise them.

A lovely sentiment of the day is ‘I close with the pen, but not the heart’.

A summary of the relevant regulations regarding prisoner of war mail is as follows:

Four types of stationery were approved for the use of a prisoner of war in Australia.

  1. Notelopes which was a combined notepaper and envelope
  2. Postcards
  3. Parcel Acknowledgement cards
  4. Address Cards

Italian POWs were entitled to mail 2 letters or 2 postcards or 1 letter and 1 postcard per week.  Protected personnel could send 2 letters and 2 postcards per week.

From 1942 the YMCA provided  Christmas cards for the prisoners of war.

CArd 1944 natale

1944 Christmas Card

Post cards and letters could be sent airmail, at the expense of the POWs.

‘Express Messages’ could additionally be sent through the International Red Cross services.  This service was reserved for POWs who had had no communication from their next-of-kin in three months.

Monthly messages not exceeding 25 words could be sent via His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.

Address Cards (Capture Cards) were made available to POWs to send not later than one week after arrival at their camp an/d or in the case of sickness.

Censorship of POW mail ceased from 10th November 1945 but camp commandants had discretionary powers.