Tag Archives: George Donaldson Bury Beerwah

Letters from the Past

Many letters written by Italian prisoners of war are held in private postal history collections and Queenslanders’ family history collections. I am grateful and honoured that these letters have been shared with me and have become a comprehensive dossier of prisoner of war letters.

Letters written by the Italian POWs after they left the farms, talk of the health of the family, the state of the harvest and farm work,  the POWs that they were still grouped with, news that they would be going home soon, or that they are still waiting to go home, reflections on the kind treatment given to them by the farming families and reflections on leaving Australia and returning home. Two cousins, wrote a thank you letter to their farmer apologising for some of their bad behaviour which was never aimed at the farmer, but more at their situation.  They closed with gratitude for the kindness the family had shown them and the gifts they were given.

If there had been children in the family, there is a request for the farmer to send a photograph of the children, words about how much they missed the children, questions about how the children were going or growing, and wishes of being back on the farm with playing with the children instead of being in camp.

Angelo Capone wrote to Mr Bury on 16th January 1946 from Gaythorne. Written with a beautiful hand, the sentiments are simply worded but heartfelt.

Letter to George & Gwen Bury, from Angelo Capone 1946 (1)


Letter Written to Mr Bury Beerwah from Angelo Capone 1946

(letter courtesy of Rosemary Watt)

Letters written by the Italians to their families are interesting.  While the men had to be careful of what they wrote (due to censorship), their words are always about concern for their families.  One Italian’s wife must have had a disagreement with her sister-in-law, which she had communicated to her husband, because his reply to her was that they would have to sort it out because he could do nothing about it.  There were always questions about sending news of the situation in their home towns, questions about who had died and comments as to the length of time it has taken for mail to reach them.  Other common messages were: longing to see the family again, the years of separation will be forgotten once they reach home, and  five years of separation might mean mums and children might not recognise them.

A lovely sentiment of the day is ‘I close with the pen, but not the heart’.

A summary of the relevant regulations regarding prisoner of war mail is as follows:

Four types of stationery were approved for the use of a prisoner of war in Australia.

  1. Notelopes which was a combined notepaper and envelope
  2. Postcards
  3. Parcel Acknowledgement cards
  4. Address Cards

Italian POWs were entitled to mail 2 letters or 2 postcards or 1 letter and 1 postcard per week.  Protected personnel could send 2 letters and 2 postcards per week.

From 1942 the YMCA provided  Christmas cards for the prisoners of war.

CArd 1944 natale

1944 Christmas Card

Post cards and letters could be sent airmail, at the expense of the POWs.

‘Express Messages’ could additionally be sent through the International Red Cross services.  This service was reserved for POWs who had had no communication from their next-of-kin in three months.

Monthly messages not exceeding 25 words could be sent via His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.

Address Cards (Capture Cards) were made available to POWs to send not later than one week after arrival at their camp an/d or in the case of sickness.

Censorship of POW mail ceased from 10th November 1945 but camp commandants had discretionary powers.

Gift to Farmer

Angelo Capone’s gift to his employer and friend George Bury was an ornament he carved while in Cowra Prisoner of War & Internment Camp. It is a treasured Bury family memento from the time Italian prisoners of war lived on their Beerwah farm 1944-1945.

Rosemary Watt, daughter of George Bury has always wanted to know more about her dad’s eagle and the ringed insignia at the bottom. Angelo said that the ornament had been carved with a six inch nail as were the words: Cowra 21-4-42 Australia.

It wasn’t until Rosemary found a similar object in the Australian War Memorial that a more complete history of such objects was revealed.  The AWM relic is more expertly crafted as the pictures below attest, but the description reveals, ” The eagle is made from thin sheet lead or alloy taken from used toothpaste tubes.”

The Italian prisoners of war were resourceful and were known to repurpose and recyle items in the most unusual ways.  The cellophane belts made from the cellophane wraps from cigarette packets is another example of their resourceful abilities.

Fascist Eagle Desk Ornament

(Australian War Memorial Relic 33406)

Click on the link to read the description of the above Eagle from the Australian War Memorial

The Italian POWs left a number of reminders and/or political statements in the camps in Australia.  Italians made many statues at Hay PW Camp which included  the Colosseum, the she wolf with twins Romulus and Remus, an army tank and a fascist eagle sitting atop a plinth.


Statue of Fascist Eagle at Hay Prisoner of War Camp

The Burys at Beerwah

Artefact made by Angelo Capone in Cowra 1942

(From the collection of Rosemary Ann Watt (nee Bury))

My parents, George Donaldson Bury and my mum Gwen had three Italians working on their pineapple farm in Burys Road Beerwah.  There were others possibly when my paternal grandfather came and stayed with us and helped work the farm. His name was also George Bury and I think a few “Land Girls” also worked the farm at times. Mum said the men did general farm duties i.e planting & chipping/ weeding pineapples. My Dad was one of the first to grow tobacco in that area too. My Mum said that the men always called my paternal Nan “Madame” and called my Mum “Mistress.”

Nambour.Angelo Capone & Nicola Serracino. G.D.Bury's pineapple farm. Bury's Road Beerwah.

Angelo Capone and Nicola Serracino on the Bury Pineapple Farm Bury Road Beerwah

(from the Collection of Rosemary Ann Watt)

Mum and Dad always spoke fondly of the men: Angelo Capone, Nicola Serracino, and Vincenzo Arenella. They were young single men in their 20’s.  Mum and Dad were especially fond of Angelo so we have often wondered where they went after the war or if they returned to Australia as migrants.

Dad built a hut for the men to live in. The hut had “push up” windows and one of their horses liked to poke its head through the window and would terrify poor Vincenzo.   They shared their meals with the family, except for Sundays which was their day to do with as they wished, I guess. Mum said they could attend church as long as they were accompanied.  In those days, Mum and Dad only had a horse and sulky and it was rare that they both left the farm at the same time.  There was a family who lived in Beerwah, by the name of “Biondi” with whom they all shared a friendship. Descendants of the family remain in the Beerwah area.

Mum remembers that every so often a van would come around to the farm with any provisions the men might need.  I expect it was a government van.

The men would kill a chicken for their Sunday lunch and Mum said for some reason, they always cooked them intact, except for feathers and head.  Nicola always liked to suck a raw egg from the shell with his breakfast.  My Dad always kept bees and Mum said they hated them and if a bee flew around them they’d lie flat on the ground to avoid it. They were often spooked by the call of the curlews in the evening, when they first went to the farm.  It must have been such an alien existence to them, initially.

I was a baby at the time the Italians lived with us and it’s amazing how one is influenced by very early memories. To this day I love to hear Italian spoken as a language and love the music. Even though Angelo & co had left the farm when I was a small child, memory must remain imbedded. Mum said that the men loved children. She recalls the day the men were leaving the farm.  Vincenzo was nursing me and the contents of my nappy ran down his shirt. She said she was mortified but he laughed and laughed and said, “Look Mrs, last one”.

I have two precious mementos from Angelo.  The first is a letter that he had written from Gaythorne. The letter is written after he left the farm and is dated 11.2.46.  In the letter Angelo mentions “Ann”, which is the name I was known as in infancy. He also asks after Jean and Beverley, two of my cousins who often visited the farm. Angelo wrote, “I should very much appreciate if I could see her (Ann) again.  Her clear image live, as it always will live in my memory”. (Letter from Angelo Capone to Bury Family) The other memento was an artefact Angelo had made while at Cowra, which he hand carved with a 6 inch nail. When he left us, he presented it to my Dad. It always sat in pride of place on every desk my Dad owned, until his death in 2010.

Nambour.George D. & Rosemary (known as Ann) Bury. 1945. Pineapple Farm Bury's Road, Beerwah

George Donaldson Bury and Rosemary ‘Ann’ Bury, Bury Pineapple Farm Beerwah 1945

(from the Collection of Rosemary Ann Watt)

Another interesting story about the war was the TC McIntyre’s Sawmill in South Brisbane. My mum Gwen Matthews was from Diddillibah but during the war went to work  in a sawmill which manufactured prefabricated huts for the USA Airforce. The company was run by two brothers and when mum left to marry, she was rolled in a heap of sawdust, as was the tradition. One chap named Dudley made her wedding cake and when I was born, the staff had made a lovely timber cot for me. The Sawmill closed down after the war.

Gwen Matthews working at McIntyre’s Sawmill manufacturing prefab huts for the USA Airforce 1944

(from the Collection of Rosemary Ann Watt)