Domenico Ippedico was one of the Glen Innes POW workers. A handsome young mason from Gravini [Bari] he told his family that working on a farm after being in camps with barbed wire was a good situation.
His daughter Anna shares that the farmer’s daughter fell in love with her father. But like many such romances between an Aussie girl and an Italian POW, the relationship could not continue.
Domenico was in the Glen Innes district from June 1944 to January 1945. He had two admissions to the Glen Innes District Hospital during that time.
Unfortunately for prisoners of war who were in Queensland or New South Wales, there is no extra file containing identity photos or the name of the farmer. Domenico’s stories to his daughter Anna about life on an Australian farm were happy memories. Through her father’s stories, Anna feels a connection to Australia; a place where Domenico lived for two and a half years.
Domenico came to Australia as a ‘forced migrant’; a group of Italian who because of circumstances out of his control temporarily called Australia home. For the Ippedico family, there will always be a special connection with Australia. Many decades later, Domenico’s granddaughter found her way to Australia. Francesca teaches Italian at a bilingual school in Melbourne.
Domenico as a prisoner of war lived in a bilingual world. Like many of his peers, he took opportunities to learn English. Living with a farming family would have assisted his mastery of English together with the lessons in his book “L’Inglese in Tre Mesi”.
L’Inglese in Tre Mesi (photo courtesy of Anna Ippedico)
Read more about Italian Prisoners of War in Glen Innes district: https://www.gleninnesexaminer.com.au/story/6276170/italian-prisoners-of-war-in-glen-innes/
A little of the background history:
Against a backdrop of anti-Italian sentiment, in December 1943 a POW centre was approved for Glen Innes. The POW centre office (Prisoner of War Control Centre: PWCC) was situated besides the Grand Theatre. Captain JJ Owens was in charge of the administration of allocation of Italians to farms.
For the centre to be established 30 district farmers had to submit applications. In November 1943, only 8 applications had been received by Mr Furby from the District War and Agricultural Committee. The application form was comprehensive, detailing the regulations of the scheme: Prisoner of War Control Centres: Without Guards. Below is an example of a form used in South Australia.
Employment Agreement to Employ Italian Prisoners of War (NAA: D2380)
Fear of the ‘unknown’ is a powerful influence.
One Glen Innes farmer declared, “My idea is that we would be better without prisoners of war.” His concern was that when he was in the paddock working, his wife might be left at home on her own with a couple of prisoners who could not speak English.
Other farmers feared the power of trade unions. If a farmer employed Italian prisoners of war, then in the future, no unionised worker would want to work on that farm.
Despite opposition for Italian POW workers and threats by locals that they would rather their farms go bankrupt than employ the POWs, approximately 100 Italians worked on district farms from December 1943 to December 1945.
Necessity is a powerful motivator: farmers needed labourers.
In March 1944, Mr Furby reported lack of evidence against the use of POWs was the best explanation as to why the Italian prisoners of war were of no threat to local residents. At that time, there were 69 Italian workers in the Glen Innes district and ‘everyone says they work like sons of guns’ and that one farmer says ‘he can’t knock them off from working.’
“Mr Furby said there had been excellent reports about the cleanliness and general suitability of the prisoners made available. In some instances it was considered they looked after the farmers better than the farmers themselves.
As to safety of the womenfolk, the opinion had been expressed that women were safer with most of the Italian prisoners than they would be with many Australians.” [1943 ‘P.O.W. LABOR’, The Inverell Times (NSW : 1899 – 1907, 1909 – 1954), 17 November, p. 5. , viewed 22 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article263355284%5D
Employment Contract for Italian Prisoners of War (NAA:7919)
Fear of the ‘unknown’ also relates to the Italian prisoners of war. What did they know about Australian farming methods? How were they going to communicate with the farming family? Would they be treated like a slave? It was a ‘leap of faith’ for the Italians to transfer from their known world: camp life behind barbed wire to the unknown: living on a farm with an Australian family.
The Department of Army was committed to ensuring that this employment scheme would work. Inspections of proposed accommodation for the Italians were made before the prisoners of war were sent to a farm. A language book, Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War was published to assist with communication between farmer and worker. Regular visits to each farm by Australian army staff ensured that any minor concerns could be discussed and/or rectified. The commanding officer of the POW centre would respond immediately to any complaints of major discipline issues a farmer might have experienced.
Across Australia approximately 13,500 Italians prisoners of war worked on farms or on government projects. This workforce of ‘forced migrants’ made a valuable economic, social and cultural contribution to war time Australia.
Domenico Ippedico (photo courtesy of Anna Ippedico)