Tag Archives: Breaches in Discipline Q6 Home Hill

Not Happy

What was it like living as an Italian prisoner of war at Q6 PWCH Home Hill?

Sante Testa a farmer from Pomigliano D’Arco (Napoli) grew up in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius.  He was 20 years old when he was captured in Libya on 21st January 1941.  His date of capture suggests he was stationed at Tobruk when the Australian army attacked this Libyan stronghold. A private in the Italian army: 10 Artiglieria 7th Gruppo 2nd Batteria, he was one of 25,000 Italians captured at Tobruk.

By the time he arrived at Q6 Home Hill, his travels had taken him on a long and unexpected journey: Tobruk-Suez-Trinocomalee-Fremantle-Sydney-Hay-Cowra-Gaythorne-Home Hill. Unable to sign his name upon arrival in Australia, his ‘new’ world would have been very unfamiliar.

Testa was in the first group of Italian prisoners of war to arrive at Q6, which was still in its construction phase.  It was April 1944 and a month earlier a cyclone had crossed the coast between Bowen and Townsville with Home Hill recording 509 points (c. 130mm) in the last week of March.  The Burdekin had been in minor flood and on 31st March 1944, the Burdekin bridge had 2 ft 6 ins of water over the rails. The rain had delayed construction.

By the 14th May PW and AMF personnel were still in tents with no floor boards, they were sleeping on bush bunks.  Work completed to the Q6 facility included: QM Store, Canteen, AMF latrine – ¾ complete, AMF sleeping huts – stumps and bearers in, PW latrine – complete, PW ablutions- frame completed and floor concreted, PW sleeping huts – not commenced, chlorination pit for septic tank – not installed.

By August 1944 living conditions had improved and the camp was completed including hot water and septic latrines.

But for Sante Testa, his personal circumstances changed in August.  His testimony in his defence of a charge of ‘refusing to obey a military command’ provides a personal insight into his interactions with the army staff at Q6 Home Hill and his views including unjust treatment meted out to the Italian prisoners of war.

DEFENCE

The accused being duly sworn gives the following evidence:

On 2 August 44 in the afternoon I done my duty like all other prisoners of war. Sgt Gibson did not send me to prison because of the work.  He sent me to prison because he doesn’t like me, because I had asked him for a change of squad.  The same day in the evening at teatime while I was proceeding for a wash, Sgt Gibson called me.  He said, “Testa you come to the commandant”.  I replied “Yes”.  After I finished washing I went.  He took me to the Commandant.  The Commandant asked me why did I refuse to work.  I told him that I had not refused I had done my duty.  The commandant sent me to prison.  I told the Commandant “you are sending me to prison unjustly that to-day I did my duty”. On 3 August about quarter past eight the Lieut. Hamilton and Sgt Zappala came to the Compound and he told me “Testa why are you in the Compound”. I answered “Sgt Gibson sent me unjustly”. The Lieutenant told me “Testa you come to work”. I said “No”. Had the Lieutenant told me that I would have been paid I would have come out to work willingly.  After that he took me to the Commandant.  The commandant asked me if I would work that morning. I told him “Yes” but I asked for a change in squad.  He told me “No”.  And the Commandant declared me as having refused, but I had not refused.  Had the Commandant told me that I wold have been paid I would have gone out willingly because he on the 19 June had sent me to prison without any trial and I was awarded seven days detention. Three days bread and water and four days, Australian rations and worked without pay, and for this reason I said “No”.  I did not refuse for any other reason. A Prisoner of War with seven days detention, three days on bread and water, worked and no pay and forfeited his free issue of cigarettes.  If on 3 August he would have been told that he would have been paid he would have gone to work willingly.

I have now been 19 days in detention unjustly and have had no soap and no writing material and no free issue of cigarettes.  This morning was the first issue of soap I have received, because the Commandant knew that there was Officers coming. 

There will come a day at this camp that no Prisoner of war will go to work because the Camp Commandant he punish the men unjustly and if a Prisoner of War has an accident and that would be sick for a period of about 20 days the Camp Commandant does not allow him to make purchases at the canteen.

His evidence is read to accused.

I certify that the above Summary of Evidence was taken by my at HOME HILL on the Twenty-first day of August 1944, and that the requirements of Rules of Procedure 4  ( C) , (D), (E ),  (F) and (G) have been complied with.

 Nugent Wallman [Captain AIF Lawyer Stationed in Townsville]

(NAA:A11626, POW20)

A summary of Sante Testa’s record and detentions is as follows:

3.6.44 Q6 Home Hill 4 days detention by C/O

19.7.44 Q6 Home Hill 7 days detention

3.10.44 Q6 Home Hill 120 days detention by court martial ‘disobeying a lawful command

7.1.45 Hay Detention Barracks – 3 days No. 1 Diet, gave letter w/o permission to a POW

And so Testa’s journey continued: Q6 Home Hill-Gaythorne in transit-Hay Detention Barracks-Murchison-Naples

3936403 Testa 030228 13

Murchison, Australia. 1 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D1 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49374 A. Curcio; 48235 S. Nardea; 62062 A. Criscuolo; 48243 G. Olivares; 55953 G. Dinapoli. Front row: 64344 A. Fantetti; 56526 A. Picheca; 64339 P. Fabrizio; 46885 S. Testa; 63786 I. Buttarelli. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photo documentation suggests that names are listed, back row, front row, left to right.  (AWM Image 030228/13, Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

Trouble in the Tropics

I keep being drawn back to Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill.  It is after all my starting point; a personal interest in finding the history to this site.

By the time some of the Home Hill Italian prisoners of war arrived at Q6, they had been in captivity for three years and had experienced life in camps at Hay, Cowra and Yanco.  One could say, they were ‘camp savvy’ regarding their rights under the terms of the Geneva Convention. 

Three Italians who wanted their views on record were Mario De Nigris, Ottorino Palermo and Alfonso Lopez. A letter was penned to Captain Burke outlining their objections to their treatment at Q6 Home Hill; all three signed the letter.

There are two sides to every story.

A note in one of the military files records a statement from a Commandant about this letter and one of the writers:

‘An insolent truculent trouble maker. Author of a most insolent and threatening letter sent to his Camp Commandant and useless as a worker, or for any other constructive purpose. He is an extremely bad influence among other P.W.s and good for nothing at all.’

The letter is strongly worded, critical and angry:

14-11-44

Captain,

This letter forwarded to you is the fourth of the things we draw to your notice t0 – in the first three we have not been given no exit.  This signifys being laxidaisical or either you don’t take offence at the words written to you, or either the Interpreter who translates the letters hides the significance of the words, and this signifys cowardice.

First of all we will bring to your knowledge that the faithful Interpreter not only does not understand Italian, but also does not understand English correctly, therefore he can never and never be an Interpreter.  We have asked for an improvement in Rations, we have begged to now the Canteen Profits, a major cleanliness of the camp, of having fixed Barbers who can keep us clean.  There are no disinfectants for the Barracks, and for a month there has been no hygiene paper in the Latrines.  You have put the pigs almost in the Barracks, dogs that go into the Camp, horses, cows etc., etc., This is incivility, cowardice, brutality, created only by yourself and your crawlers.

A few days back you itemised rules, addressing the name of the ‘Adjutant of the POW Camp, and you and your faithful Interpreter think that we believe the dirty words spoken to the POW. If so, you are in complete error.  These instructions written by you and read by your faithful, is nothing but abuses, because there is no one to control you, and therefore to refill your wallet through the POW vital interest.  We, the POW have been in Australia for four (4) years, and always worked conscientiously without Guards.  We have never permitted ourselves to escape, either from Camp or from work. Can you explain why? No – you do not know.  It is because, both in COWRA and HAY Camps, there were honest and human Officers commanding, and not those who try to rob the POW because they have no one to defend them.

Its not enough that from our Rations and from the PW Canteen, you keep all your men, and bank your money, but also appropriated the Canteen Profits which you had the barbarious courage to say that in six months they £1.6.6. this is open face robbery.  The cigarettes taken from the punished PW, are seen smoked by your dependents.  This is what you do.  Therefore we say that in the COWRA-HAY Camps we never escaped, and instead here we will never and never cease to escape, until the cleanliness and the Superior Command won’t make provisions for everything.  Regards the armed guards you send out with every gang, by which you think to dominate us POW, you are wrong.  On the contrary, if sometime you do not wish to observe that the POW are capable of tying hand and foot and disarming the Guard and Sgt, do away with the Guard.   

(NAA:A7919, C100387)

For their ‘honesty’ the three men were awarded 28 days detention and transferred to Murchison.  It was however around this time that Captain Burke was replaced with Captain Pollock as Commandant of Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill. 

IMG_7294.JPG

 View from site of Q6 PWCH Home Hill looking across the Burdekin River

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Report Card

The Italian POWs at Q6 Home Hill were a mixed group.  Mr Bulcock, the director of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, had reported that out of 230 POWs at Home Hill, only 100 was of any value. Accordingly, that left 130 POWs with questionable work ethics.

Here is a smattering of comments about some of those 130 Italians:

Unfit for Hostel Control Conditions, poor worker, character: BAD, agitator, unsuitable for rural work, tired to get clothes and sandals to POW in detention to assist his escape, sullen, refuses to work, bad influence, insolent, insubordinate, trouble maker, connected to tunnel in No 8 Camp 1942, keen Fascist, dangerous, cunning, crafty, refused to be finger printed, bad influence on the moral of others, ardent Fascist, adopted a go slow attitude to work, inclined to be obstinate, joined a hunger strike for 48 hours while in detention.

Unfortunately for the ‘100 of any value’, there is scant information available about the hostel, let alone information on their ‘outstandingly co-operative behaviour’.

Following are extracts of records for three Home Hill Italian POWs who were considered ‘unfit’ or ‘unsuitable for rural work and were transferred to Murchison.

Report Card 1

(NAA: A7919, C100735)

Report Card 2

NAA: A7917, C103433

Report Card 3

NAA: A7917, C100723

Military Court Held in Home Hill

Not sure how this was kept quiet in Home Hill!

On 2nd and 3rd October 1944, a military court was convened at the Home Hill Court House to try Private Bartolomeo Fiorentino, Private Luigi Tesoro and Private Sante Testa on the charge with a breach of the National Security (Prisoner of War) Regulations, that is to say:  Army Act Section 9 (2)  ‘committing a military offence, that is to say, disobeying a lawful command given by his superior officer.’

In attendance were:

Major E Mullins – President

Capt RN Shannon and Capt RJ Hatch – Members

Capt AD Barnard – Waiting Member

Capt KR Townley – Judge Advocate

Capt NH Wallman – Prosecutor

Lieut KG Wybrow – Defence

Sgt Samuel Casella – Interpreter

Witnesses:

Sgt Concetta Zappala Interpreter Q6 PWCH Home Hill

Lieut Reginald James Hamilton 2/i/c Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill

Outcome:

Sante Testa and Luigi Tesoro to undergo detention for one hundred and twenty (120) days.

Bartolomeo Fiorentino was found not guilty.

Reading between the lines:

Tesoro, Testa and Fiorentino had on 3.6.44 been awarded 4 days detention for disobeying a lawful command and failure to appear at parade. Tesoro and Testa on or around 28-29.7.44 were awarded 7 days for disobeying a lawful command.  During this second period of detention, it was claimed that they were approached by Zappala as Interpreter and Hamilton as office in charge to return to which.  The contentious point was whether they were ordered to return to work without pay. Testa and Tesoro wanted to clarify whether they would be paid if they returned to work.  Hamilton said that whether they were paid was not his concern, his concern was the order to return to work, which they refused to do. There was conflicting information as to what Hamilton said, what Zappala interpreted and said and what Testa and Tesoro said. Regardless, the judge ruled that regardless of whether they were to be paid or not, they had disobeyed a lawful command which is a military offence.

What happened then:

Fiorentino was transferred to Gaythorne then Cowra.  While at Cowra he was awarded 14 days detention for refusing to work.  He was then transferred to Murchison.

Fiorentino

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: 47595 A. Manzo; 45685 B. Fiorentino; 48416 B. Criscuolo; 63457 E. Savarino; Unidentified; 63927 G. Chiavozzi. Front row: Unidentified; 57724 P. Di Battista; 45924 G. Giuffreda; 64066 A. Del Pozzo; 47757 A. Terribile. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photo documentation suggests that names are listed, back row, front row, left to right. (AWM 030229/14 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

Tesoro and Testa were transferred to Gaythorne then Hay for 120 days detention.  While at Hay, they were both given 3 days No. 1 Diet for giving a letter w/o permission to a POW.  They were then transferred to Muchison.

Testa Tesoro

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: 47848 F. Arancio; 57724 S. Di Battista; 56639 S. Gabriele; 46885 S. Testa; 48694 L. Testa; 49700 S. Mascaro. Front row: 47836 G. Quaranta; 48287 G. Picardi; 46838 L. Tesoro; 45479 S. Deledda; 48026 S. Dinardo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photo documentation suggests that names are listed, back row, front row, left to right. (AWM 030230/02 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)