A POW Christmas
Tracing the footsteps of the Italian prisoners of war in Australia is not just about dates, names and numbers. It is about everyday life in a Prisoner of War & Internment Camp, a Prisoner of War Control hostel or on a farm in the outback.
At this special time of the year, I have looked for glimpses of what a Christmas was like for the Italian POWs in Australia.
Special Christmas concessions were authorised on 17th December 1943 which applied to German and Italian prisoners of war in camps, labour detachments and hostels. Initial arrangements were made for German POWs with reciprocal arrangements for Australia POWs in Germany, but this later extended to the Italian POWs.
The concessions were:
- Service orders and Camp Routine be relaxed in the discretion of Camp Commandants on Christmas Eve and on Christmas day
- That extension of hours of lighting be permitted on Christmas Eve.
- Facilities be provided for decoration of living quarters, mess rooms etc.
- That the maximum quantity of beer to be supplied to each P.W. be one pint on Christmas Eve and one pint on Christmas day.
(AWM52 1/1/14/6 November – December 1943)
Italian collectors of military postal history identify the Kangaroo Postcard below, as being distributed to POWs in Australia by the YMCA for Christmas 1943. These postcards gave family members in Italy a glimpse into life in Australia.
Christmas Wishes from Q6 Hostel Home Hill
Giuseppe Grimaldi was 24 years old when he wrote Christmas wishes to his mother from the banks of the Burdekin River via Home Hill. A mechanic from Lucera Foggia he had arrived at Q6 Hostel on 15th September 1944.
How different his Christmas on an isolated farm surrounded by bush with its tropical and humid weather would have been compared with his home of Lucera with its Roman amphitheatre and medieval castle.
… I send many kisses for my brothers Antonio and Mario. And to you many kisses and hugs from your son Giuseppe. Best wishes for a Holy Christmas.
(letter courtesy of Reinhard Krieger)
Christmas on Queensland Farms 1944 and 1945
From the Boonah district, Judith Lane (nee Rackely) remembers,
Rosewood was where we celebrated Christmas in 1944. Mum, Daddy, me, my two sisters and Domenico and Frank travelled to Rosewood. The photo of Domenico and Frank was taken then. Mum must have ironed Domenico’s clothes because his pants have a crisp crease down the centre of the legs. Frank’s uniform hung off him. While the uniforms consisted of a tunic jacket and tailored pants, they were red, the term used was magenta and they were made of wool. Not really suited for farming during a hot Queensland summer.
Domenico Masciulli and Francesco Pintabona Rosewood Christmas 1944
(from the collection of Judith Lane (nee Rackley)
Neil Buchanan at Redslopes Goomboorian via Gympie wrote in the farm diary,
Dec 25 1945 Xmas Day. Made presentation of watches to POWs.
Percy Miles at Mooloo via Gympie wrote,
On Christmas day 1945, we spent the day with Ross and Edna [Erbs at Mooloo]. When we arrived home at nine o’clock that night, the prisoners were celebrating Christmas, the P.O.W’s for miles around were here, there must have been 30 of them, they had an His Masters Voice gramophone playing music, they were singing and dancing on the concrete floor, all wearing hobnail boots, they were having a great time I suspected there was more than one still made.
Camillo Vernalea who had worked on Stan Marshall’s farm at Wooroolin via Kingaroy, wrote in a letter to Stan about his 1945 Christmas at Gaythorne PW & I Camp:
Dear Stan… This Christmas for us it was one of the worst we had in our life but your good thoughts comforted us a lot and the cake was well enjoied by me, Michele and some others of my best friends who appreciated high goodness of you.
(extract from We Remember by Dorcas Grimmet)
Christmas Loveday Internment Camp No. 10
Johann Friedrich Bambach was interned at Loveday Internment Camp 10 and he captured the everyday life of his internment with a number of watercolours. The artwork above is entitled Christmas Eve in Camp Loveday. His grandson Ralph Guilor together with Peter Dunn at ozatwar.com feature a number of Bambach’s watercolours.