Tag Archives: Alan Fitzgerald

Distilling Alcohol

Three years after the Italian prisoners of war departed Cowra Prisoner of War Camp a hidden alcohol distilling unit was found. Its discovery was reported in the newspaper.

There are many memories about prisoners of war making alcohol. Ernie Polis researcher of Italian and German prisoners of war in Western Australia interviewed ex- staff and ex- prisoners of Marrinup POW Camp in WA. The camp had a permanent population of German prisoners of war and the “Marrinup Schnapps” they made was legendary.

A Kingaroy farmer’s wife Joyce Dickenson recounted that her citrus trees in the home garden thrived under the attention of their Italian prisoners of war and the alcohol they made was quite potent: “They also weren’t allowed alcohol.  But they used the oranges to make liquor, making a still out of a 4 gallon kerosene tin.  I don’t think they had much success with the alcohol, so I don’t count the still as a breach in the rules, it was more giving the men something to do and I don’t think it tasted that good.”

Percy Miles from Mooloo via Gympie recalled the still making equipment his POW workers.

“…Francesco [ Francesco Ciaramita from Xitta Trapani] 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 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. “   

Alan Fitzgerald in his book, The Italian Farming Soldiers wrote, ” a search at Gaythorne Camp [Brisbane] uncovered a home-made still capable of brewing alcohol beneath a hut in the Italian compound. The still, although a crude structure, was full of sliced apples and other fruits in the process of fermentation. A medical officer, Second Lieutenant Cariglia, state that the brew from the still was intended for use in flavouring the morning coffee. He added that in India there was no objection to the POWs using a still for the making of cognac.”

… necessity is the mother of invention …

Everyday Memories

Janice Joyce (nee Pownall) has a keepsake, from the time that Italian prisoners of war worked on her father’s property Mahoon out Monto way.

Monto.DowlingWarren.Pace.Dunn Syd (10)

QG Spoon: Daily Reminder of Monto Italian POWs

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

“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?” (Memories from Mahoon)

The Italian POWs were most resourceful and Alan Fitzgerald in The Italian Farming Soldiers wrote:

“The Italians, like prisoners everywhere did not pass up an opportunity.  When nine were admitted to the Hay detention barracks from Yanco they were found to possess towels, pillowslips and tumblers bearing the New South Wales Railways brand.”

One wonders how many ‘interesting’ objects like government branded items made their way back to Italy.

Q10.9 Michael Joyce and Jan Joyce

Michael Joyce, Joanne Tapiolas and Janice Joyce at Croftby 2017

(from the collection of Joanne Tapiolas)