February 1945 Oakleigh/Rowville
Do you recognise your father or grandfather?
(photo courtesy of Miriam Stucchi)
War and imprisonment gave Alcide Stucchi the opportunity to learn languages and appreciate other countries and cultures.
It was in the prisoner of war camps of India that Alcide Stucchi studied languages: English and French. He found the weather unbearable and the food dreadful, but he learnt about monsoons, the Ganges and the sacred cow.
Alcide told his daughters that on his voyage to Australia, “flying fishes and the dolphins accompanied the ship while crossing the tropic.” Part of the magic and terror of Australia were memories of “seeing kangaroos running aside the train, and he was terrified by snakes and insects very venomous there.” Alcide kept a connection to Australia throughout his life. His daughter Miriam writes, “One of the strongest memories I have, is that of my father connecting frequently to Radio Australia in UHF, and listening to the starting jingle … the song of the Kookaburra, which he called Laughing Jack[ass] – and we, two small girls about 3-5 years, trying to catch the singing bird in the rear box of the radio (very big one, at the time).”
Of her father’s movements in Australia, Miriam Stucchi recalls, “I know he was detached to a local farm, but he was not a farmer, he hated horses and he refused to work and was sent back to the camp, where from time to time he acted as interpreter between the Italian prisoners and the people managing the camp, when necessary.”
After careful examination of Alcide’s Service and Casualty Card and in conjunction with Darren Arnott’s research into V22 Rowville, Miriam starts to piece together parts of her father’s journey in Australia. V22 Oakleigh was part of V22 Rowville and the above photo taken in February 1945 features a group of Italians at those camps. Alcide Stucchi is seated fourth from the left and Rodolfo Bartoli is seated fourth from the right. In jest, Alcide wrote on the back of the photo a message for his fiance Antonia; that in Australia he had become so tanned, that if she met him in the dark, she would take him for a thief, happily hand over her money for fear of her life. Upon his return to Italy, Alcide went to find Antonia and he told his daughters, “She [your mother] was advised during working hours that there was someone downstairs asking for her, and when she saw him, she almost did not recognise him after 7 years. He was so dark tanned that he could be taken for a north African person.”
Adding to this history Miriam reveals, “I vividly remember that my father told many times there was fighting between the prisoners, especially those coming from South Italy who used to walk always with a knife in the pocket and any discussion may end up with a man killed. He was particularly aware of the dangers and stayed usually apart, being only interested in living peacefully and learning languages.” One Italian prisoner of war, Angelo Franchitto was indeed found outside Rowville camp with a stomach wound inflicted by a knife in March 1946.
Conditions in Rowville camp were far from satisfactory. A number of Italians escaped and the Camp Commandant Captain Waterson used heavy handed tactics to assert his authority. Alcide Stucchi was called as a witness into Justice Simpson’s Inquiry into conditions in the camp and allegations against Captain Waterson including the circumstances regarding his fatal shooting of Rodolfo Bartoli.
1946 ‘P.O.W. CAMP INQUIRY’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 20 July, p. 13. , viewed 22 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article46159263
The love of languages is one of Alcide’s legacies. Upon return to Italy, he found work as an interpreter using his English and French. He ensured his daughters learnt English and from the age of 7, he was their teacher. Later in formal classes at school, Miriam remembers, “My teacher told me that my pronunciation was not British but a bit Aussie.” Alcide’s granddaughter Alice specialised in English and German. And Alice like her grandfather found her way to Australia; to teach Italian and to appreciate the beauty of wonders like the Great Barrier Reef and the Blue Mountains.
Meet some of the other Italians at Rowville, Oakleigh and Balcombe: V22 Oakleigh and Rowville V30 Balcombe
History is never boring!