My research into Italian prisoners of war in Queensland has a number of public faces: the book Walking in their Boots, the website: italianprisonersofwar.com and the facebook page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia
It was through the facebook page that I received notification from Nino Amante in Italy. On 23rd March 2018, Nino wrote, “Sono il figlio di Angelo Amante, il più alto nella foto.” Nino had not only found a photo of his father on the facebook page but he then found the website’s article, A Day in the life of … and comments about his father’s time working on a farm ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian via Gympie 72 years ago.
This was an accident. Nino had been searching the internet for an article about his son, named for his grandfather, Angelo Amante, and instead found his father. Nino was overwhelmed.
I believe that things happen for a reason. I do not know the chances of bringing together the son of an Italian prisoner of war and the son of a Goomboorian farmer. But a google search and a phone call* has brought together the two sides to this history.
Nino Amante’s words and contact has brought this story ‘full circle’. “E’ stata per me una grande emozione avere delle informazioni da aggiungere a quelle raccotle dall sua viva voce, quando mi parlava del period della sua prigionia,” Nino reflects. Nino not only has knowledge about his father’s time on this farm, but he has a connection to Jim and John Buchanan who were young boys at the time and who have fond memories of Angelo.
More importantly, Angelo’s story before and after ‘Redslopes’ emerges. At 19 years old, Angelo Amante began his military training, first in Turin and then in Bolzano. He was a member of the 7th Reggimento Bersaglieri(marksmen). He was then transferred to Taranto and in 1941, he left Italy by ship for Libya. He was lucky to survive the journey to Libya, as many soldiers died after the fleet was bombed by the British.
Angelo Amante: 19 years old
(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)
Angelo was captured at Gialo, a Libyan oasis town on 25th November 1941. Gialo was taken by British and Punjabi troops on 24th November 1941, but a small group of Italian soldiers continued fighting in the north east El Libba sector. After four hours of combat, two Italian had been killed and 27 Italian soldiers were taken prisoner.
Possibly the photo below of a relaxed Angelo was taken at Benghasi, his first experience of Libya. Like many of his generation, Angelo spent ‘his youth’ in foreign and difficult circumstances. He returned home to Italy when he was 25 years old. Nino explains, “Sei dei suoi anni piubelli trascorsi fra guerra e prigionia.”
Angelo Amante in Libya 1941
(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)
Angelo’s journey is like many of his peers. Italy to the battle field to Egypt to India to Australia to Italy. Angelo arrived in Melbourne Australia 29th December 1943. The next day he was in the Cowra PW & I Camp. His time there is recorded in a group photo Cowra 6th February 1944. Ten days later, Angelo was sent to Gaythorne Queensland 16th February 1944.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57037 A. Amante; 57273 G. Guarnaccia; 57288 G. La Iacona; 57252 S. Giambusso; 57051 C. Avola; 46957 S. Vizzini; 57257 G. Giarratano. Front row: 57268 M. Gordini; 57070 L. Bloisi; 57046 R. Armentano; 57038 S. Amoroso; 57226 D. Foringo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/15)
Before Nino’s internet search, he had one photo and the stories about his father’s time in Australia, but he did not know dates or places. Nino says, “Sapevo che mio padre era stato in Australia, ma in quale parte di Australia? Che era vissuto in una fattoria, ma quale fattoria?” But his time in Australia was always remembered with fondness, a place to which Angelo wanted to return. In 1956, Angelo made preparations to emigrate to Australia with his wife and family. During a medical visit, it was discovered he had a small heart problem and his dreams of going to Australia ended. But his family kept safe a small photo of three men and two boys, knowing that it was an important part of Angelo’s memories of Australia.
Angelo Amante , Salvatore Scicchitani (Schichitano), Vincenzo Cannavo with John and Jim Buchanan at Redslopes Goomboorian via Gympie
(courtesy of Nino Amante)
For over seven decades, this photo did not have a context. Nino knew that the photo was from his father’s time on a farm, but he did not know where in Australia this farm was located. Angelo told his family a story about chilli plants he had grown on this farm and now he knows it was Jim, a little boy who tasted the chilli with severe repercussions. Angelo told his family about a trip to the city, to undergo a medical visit at the hospital and the wonder of seeing so many kangaroos on the way.
Jim’s memories and Angelo’s stories to his family are being slotted together. Nino writes that his father arrived in Australia from POW camps in India with very poor health. Angelo had contracted malaria and Nino remembers the story of an old lady on the farm who realised the seriousness of his condition and encouraged him to eat and the need for him to regain his strength. Jim knows exactly who this lady was, his Aunty Mag [Margaret], who was the matron (supervisor) for the Land Army girls on the farm. Angelo’s visit to the Gympie Hospital is recorded in the farm diary: August 21 1944 – Angelo going to hospital. And the stories travel back and forth between Italy and Australia and across the decades.
Upon Angelo’s return to Italy, he made his way home to Fiumefreddo di Sicilia and his widowed mother. Angelo married in 1953 and moved to Mascali, his wife’s home town. He continued to work the land and raised his family: Nino and Giuseppina. In 1984, Angelo passed away at the age of 63.
(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)
The sharing of stories and memories, the answering of questions and the ‘Miracoli di Internet!’ is like finding those missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle and finally being able to put them in place.
*In September 2017, I telephoned Jim Buchanan in Gympie. I had been told that he was the person to speak to about some of the Italian prisoners of war in the Gympie district. Jim’s words to me were, “I think you will be surprised with what I have to tell you. I don’t think you will have found another one like this.” And surprised I was!
Jim’s father Neil Buchanan had kept a farm diary for ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian. Peppered through the entries from 7th March 1944 to 1st January 1946 are references not only about farm life, but also to the Italian prisoners of war at ‘Redslopes’. This diary offers a very unique and firsthand account about the employment of Italian prisoners of war.
On 24th March 2018, I telephoned Jim again. I told Jim that I had some extraordinary news for him. Angelo’s son had sent me an email. It took a few minutes for the news to sink in. Jim is rarely lost for words. I said to Jim, I wonder if Angelo took any photos home to Italy with him. Nonplussed, Jim felt that this is not probable as very few photos were taken in those days. Like Nino Amante, this journey for the Buchanan family is emotional and remarkable.