Tag Archives: Embroidery by Italian Prisoners of War

Treasures in Thread

Treasures in Thread

Treasured keepsakes, given as gifts to Queensland farming families taken home to Italy come in many forms.  One does not necessarily pair needlework with Italian soldiers. Possibly a skill taught in the camps to wile away the hours of monotony.  The hands of farmers and soldiers were capable of producing the most delicate needlework.

Salvatore Morello took his embroidered work home to his wife and daughter. The Sacred Heart of Mary (Sacro Cuore di Maria) was worked on canvas.  The angels’ banner reveals that it was created 1942 in India.

Morello Embroidery 1942 India

Sacro Cuore di Maria

(photo courtesy of Luigi Tommasi )

Knight on Horse was embroidered by Francesco Pintabona who stayed with the Harsant family at Warril View via Boonah.  Made into a cushion, the fabric has yellowed with age, but the embroidery shows a calm hand an a good eye.

Francesco Pintabona

Bouquet of Australia Wildflowers was crafted by Domenico Petruzzi who lived with the Robinson family at Glen Ellen via Gayndah.  The lettering at the bottom was Domenico’s addition: Remember Domenico Petruzzi Prisoner of War.

Gayndah Tapestry (2)

Embroidery by Domenico Petruzzi Q4 Gayndah

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Helen Mullan (nee Rackley) explains this about her embroidered gift: Before he left the farm, Domenico gave me the needlework of “Madonna and Child”.  He had painstakingly worked on a men’s handkerchief, when in a prison camp in India, I believe.  It was kept folded in an envelope for many years.  It is my special treasure, a reminder of Domenico, and I felt I needed to share this treasure with everyone, so I had it framed.  It has pride of place in my China Cabinet. You can see that is a combination of needlework and drawing with a painted background.  I have often wondered if he ran out of cotton as there are sections which have not been embroidered like the feet and the arms of the angel. It looks like he copied the image because you can see his pencilled in grid pattern.  As an adult, I reflect upon what it must have been like in the POW camp in India and the hours he spent embroidering this “Madonna and Child”.

Domenico.Rackely.jpeg

Embroidery by Domenico Mascuilli

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Another beautiful embroidery made in Derradoon India in 1942 can be viewed at Embroidery made by an Italian POW

Crocifisso Salvatore Martinicca’s  embroidered  handkerchief was sewn while he was in England: Saint Antonio di Padova  

In their spare time…

What isn’t written into the records is how the Italian prisoners of war kept themselves occupied during their many hours of idleness.  It just wasn’t the hours spent on board the transport ships to India and Australia that needed filling, but also the Sundays on farms and the days and nights in Cowra, Hay and Murchison.

Snippets of information from newspapers, oral histories and letters, when combined with images from photos deliver an insight into the pastimes of our Italian POWs.

CARDS and BOARD GAMES My nonno taught me how to play card games.  I have always thought that this is how he wiled away his spare hours during the ‘slack’ in the cane cutting communities of north Queensland during the 1920s and 1930s.  Briscola and scopa are two Italian card games which no doubt the Italian POWs played while in Australia.  A newspaper photographer captured two Italians playing cards onboard the train taking them to Hay.  A pack of cards is portable and cheap.

Mention is made in a newspaper article of an ‘improvised draughts board’ carried by an Italian POW when he landed in Sydney. The draught pieces had been cut from broom handles. Official photos taken at Hay and Cowra, had Italian POWs playing chess and making chess sets (from lathes constructed by the POWs).

Italian POWs Playing Cards

(The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954) Thursday 16th October 1941, page 10)

EDUCATION and LANGUAGE CLASSES Costanzo Melino wrote that whilst in India, he attended Italian and English classes.  Having minimal formal education in Italy, he seized opportunities to undertake classes in Italian and English. It was considered imperative that POWs occupied their leisure time usefully and the policy was to provide opportunities for POWs to further their studies.  Libraries in the camps were established and canteen profits used to purchase additional text books relevant to courses undertaken. Books from overseas were allowed in the areas of banking and financial, medical, scientific, art, economics, music, agriculture, religion, trade and commerce as well as periodicals of a general literary nature.

METAL WORK CLASSES Rosemary Watt (Bury) is caretaker of a carved artefact made in Cowra by Angelo Capone.  Most like mass produced in a mould, the Italians then finished the carving with adornments of their choosing.  Interestingly, the Australia War Memorial has a similar arefact in their collection and one is left to ponder “how many other carved arefacts are their in homes in Australia and Italy?”

LEATHER WORK  Australian children recall the shoes and sandals made by their Italian POWs.  The leather would be produced from hides and crafted into practical items such as coin pouches, belts and footwear.  In POW group photos taken at Cowra, Hay and Murchison, many Italians can be seen wearing sandals, which were certainly not standard issue.

EMBROIDERY The origins of the elegant sewing prowess of Italian POWs is hard to locate.  Personal memories are that the Italian POWs had learnt the skill in India and embroideries completed by Italian POWs in India can be found from time to time on EBay. Two beautifully embroidered works are keepsakes of Colleen Lindley (a gift from Domenico Petruzzi to her mother Ruby Robinson of Gayndah) and Ian Harsant (a gift from Francesco Pintabona to the Harsant family of Boonah). An interesting interpretation of the word ’embroidery’ is offered by Alan Fitzgerald in his book ‘The Italian Farming Soldiers’. Used in letters written by Italian POWs,  the word ’embroidery’ was code  for ‘fascist propaganda’.

ART and MUSIC and PLAYS Musical performances and stage plays were performed in the camps.  The wigs of theatre as illustrated below were captured on film at Cowra.
V-P-HIST-01882-02.JPG

Cowra 12D 2 7.43 Wigs of Theatre V-P-HIST-01882-02

(International Committee for the Red Cross)

Instruments and art supplies were provided to Italian prisoners of war. The photo below shows a wall of the barracks at Hay which had been decorated as well as the musical instruments acquired for use by the Italians.  Furthermore, Queenslanders remember the mandolins, guitars and banjos that were played on the farms and Nino Cipolla has the music for songs his father Francesco notated while in Q6 Home Hill and Cowra PW & I Camp.

Hay.Art.Music

HAY, AUSTRALIA, 1943-09-09. GROUP OF ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR INTERNED AT NO.6. P.O.W. GROUP, WHO HAVE FORMED THEMSELVES INTO THE CAMP ORHESTRA.

(Australian War Memorial Image 030142/02)

Cowra Council have an interpretive display on a number of themes at various points around the precinct.  The Italians is once such display and under the title Members of the Family, the following is recorded: “Their great love of music, food and art endeared them to the community.  They formed bands and produced musical events which would attract local people to sit outside the camp and listen to their beautiful singing”.

FOOTBALL, TENNIS and BOXING

It is not surprising that just as football is a passion for Italians today, it was also a passion back in the 1940’s.  Group photos of Italian prisoners of war were taken in 1944, among them photos of the Football Teams.

Murchison.Football Team

MURCHISON, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA. 1944-05-20. SOCCER TEAM OF ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR OF NO. 13A COMPOUND, MURCHISON PRISONER OF WAR GROUP.

(Australian War Memorial: Image 066766)

Hay.Football

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Soccer teams from No. 15 Prisoner of War (POW) Camp lined up on the ground before commencement of play. All Italians, some have recently transferred from Hay. The match was played in temperatures over 109 degrees F.

(Australian War Memorial: Image 063921 Geoffrey McInnes)

Official photos in the Australian War Memorial collection also show the Italians playing tennis at Hay and boxing competitions at Cowra.

GARDENS and STATUES and FOUNTAINS  One would be hard put to find a piazza in Italy that doesn’t have a statue or fountain. Group photos taken at Cowra have the Italians seated in front of this prominent fountain.

V-P-HIST-01881-01.JPGo

Guerre 1939-1945 Nouvelle – Galls du Sud. Camp du Cowra Fontaine.

(International Red Cross V-P-HIST-01881-01)

Reflecting their history and culture, the Italians keenly constructed statues like the replica Colosseum  at Hay and just to the right of the photo is a tank atop a plinth. Italian POWs grew their own vegetables as is evident by the photo below. Between the barracks at Hay, gardens were dug and crops grown.   Ham Kelly told his grandson that the Italian POWs at Q6 Home Hill Hostel grew the most amazing vegetables outside their barracks.

Hay.Gardens.Statues

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. THE CRAFTSMANSHIP OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR IS ILLUSTRATED BY THIS GARDEN AT THE 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. NOTE THE MODEL OF THE COLISEUM IN THE FOREGROUND.

(Australian War Memorial Image 063365)

LETTER and JOURNAL WRITING

For the Italian POWs, there were two main regulations regarding the sending of mail:

Prisoners were not to send letters other than through official channels.

Prisoners were allowed to send two letters or two postcards or one letter and one postcard every week on approved Service of Prisoners of War Notelopes and postcards.

Unfortunately, postal services to and from Italy were unreliable. Italians became despondent at not receiving mail from family.  In a letter written by Giuliano Pecchioli, he writes on 12/1/45 that he was in receipt of his sister’s letter dated 3/6/1943.  Communication with family was difficult.  Before Christmas, POWs were given cards with Australian scenes to send home to Italy. Below is a page of a booklet of scenes produced for Christmas 1941.

Card 1941 Xmas

Di sotto la “cartolina” dell’YMCA distribuita per il Natale del 1941

(From the collection of Enrico Dalla Morra)

A number of journals survive, written by Italian soliders and prisoners of war.  For some Italians, it was a way of recording the events of the lives, over which they had little control.  From Tobruk to Clare  is the story of Luigi Bortolotti as recorded in his diary. The “Libbretta” of “Corporal Cofrancesco Umberto” is the basis for “Umberto’s War” . Recorded are details of his journey as a soldier and prisoner of war which took him to Australia.  Another journal “Diario di Guerra” by Francesco D’Urbano was found in  the sands of north Africa by an Australia soldier.  In time, the soldier asked the assistance of CO.AS.IT to trace D’Urbano.  Laura Mecca researched the Italian archives and found that he had spent time in India before returning to Italy.  A copy of the diary was presented to his wife.

CRAFT

While this photo is of Italian POWs in an Egyptian camp, it illustrates the type of craft work POWs engaged in and similar projects would have been undertaken in Australian camps.

NZ Italian Prisoners of War Craft Work

Italian prisoners of war with items of their carved handiwork at Helwan POW Camp, Egypt. One prisoner shown chiselling portrait features of a roundel. Taken 1940-1943 by an official photographer.

John Oxley Library from the collection of New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs Image DA-00736-F

Special Memories

 

I was five years old at the time, but I have clear memories of the time when Domenico Masciulli lived and worked on our farm at Radford via Harrisville.  I was the chatterbox in the family; my eldest sister Judith was at school and my youngest sister Diana was a baby, so I think I had more time around and with Domenico than my sisters.

Christmas 1944: we went to Rosewood to be with my grandparents.  With my dad having cancer, this was to be his last Christmas.  Domenico and Frank (Uncle Roddie’s POW) were loaned a vehicle so that they could also join us there. The family photo captures those present: ‘The Hardings’ all my mother’s family and Domenico and Frank.  This was our last family photo taken with daddy; a special photo.

Rosewood Xmas 1944 Rackley Family -

Christmas 1944 Harding Family Rosewood

Standing: Bill Harding, Joyce Harding, Alice Harding, Connie Isles, Tom Isles, Margo McMillian, Robert McMillan, Edith Rackley (Mum), Judith Rackley (to the front), Cyril Rackley (Daddy), Diana Rackley (Baby) Francesco Pintabona, Domenico Masciulli, Dugald McMillan

Seated: Gran Harding with baby Nancy Harding, Alan Harding, Grandad Harding, Helen Rackley

(Photo courtesy of Helen Mullan [nee Rackley])

Daddy had a small crops farm with some cows for cream which we sold.  Our farm produced corn, lucerne, pumpkins, potatoes, watermelons, cream melon or Indian Cream I think they were called, carrots, beetroot, peas and tomatoes.  Daddy also had bee hives, so we always had honey.

Domenico’s lodgings was referred to as the ‘worker’s hut’.  It was similar to one on my Uncle Roddie Harsant’s farm and was probably a standard worker’s hut.  I remember Domenico sitting on the step and me looking into a small room with a bed; being told not to go into the hut and being a little five year old, that’s most likely all I could see. There was always a farm hand on our property, Mum used to say she always had work men to feed.

Domenico was like part of the family and ate with us.  Judith first, then while she was at school, I took the smoko, which was a billy of tea, cake or biscuits down to the men in the paddock, morning and afternoon. The most memorable meal we had with Domenico and Frank who was at Uncle Roddie’s farm, was a Sunday lunch.  We were all going to Church. Mum had a Rolled Beef Roast cooking, however Domenico asked if he could cook spaghetti for us as the canteen van had called that week and a box of spaghetti was purchased, the size of a half bushel case.  Domenico asked mum for a big vessel to cook the spaghetti.  Mum got him a saucepan. NO, not big enough to cook the spaghetti; so out came the boiler and off we went to church.  On arriving home, Domenico and Frank were in the backyard cooking the spaghetti in the copper.  Mum was flabbergasted!

Those plates coming out to the table still stay vividly in my memory…. piled high.  Spaghetti, tomato sauce with slices of Roast Beef and topped with cheese.  The following day Domenico was really sick, but he wouldn’t have it that he ate too much spaghetti.  There began my love of spaghetti.  He taught us how to use a spoon and fork to eat it and this I have passed down to my children and grandchildren.

The only words I can remember Domenico teaching us were ‘forchetta’ – fork which he used while teaching us to eat spaghetti; ‘bambina’ – baby, which Di was; and ‘bicheralia’ – he used when singing Di a lullaby.  Di called him ‘Manny’, part of ‘Domenico’ I guess.  She was only 22 months old when we parted.

Before he left the farm, Domenico gave me the needlework of “Madonna and Child”.  He had painstakingly worked on a men’s handkerchief, when in a prison camp in India, I believe.  It was kept folded in an envelope for many years.  It is my special treasure, a reminder of Domenico, and I felt I needed to share this treasure with everyone, so I had it framed.  It has pride of place in my China Cabinet. You can see that is a combination of needlework and drawing with a painted background.  I have often wondered if he ran out of cotton as there are sections which have not been embroidered like the feet and the arms of the angel. It looks like he copied the image because you can see his pencilled in grid pattern.  As an adult, I reflect upon what it must have been like in the POW camp in India and the hours he spent embroidering this “Madonna and Child”.

Domenico.Rackely

Madonna and Child: Domenico Masciulli

(courtesy of Helen Mullan [nee Rackley])

 

Other memories I have are of Domenico giving me an Italian coin and Salvital.  I treasured that coin which was about the size of a threepence, but over my childhood, I lost it.  Salvital was another first for us.  It was available on the Canteen Van.  Domenico would give us a drink now and then, not with chilled and iced water like it is used today though. There is also a letter that Domenico wrote to mum after he left the farm.  I found it in mum’s paperwork but for the time, it is ‘lost’.

Domencio shared a special Christmas with my family.  The photo of this Christmas in 1944 together with Domenico’s needlework gift to me, are fond reminders of the time our Italian prisoner of war worker lived on our farm.

Helen Mullan [Rackley]