Tag Archives: Irma Vettovalli Ayr Queensland

Snippets from Q6 Home Hill Hostel

What do we know about the Q6 Hostel at Home Hill?

Quite a lot, that is, about the bricks and mortar of the facility.  I can tell you that the Sullage Treatment Plant cost 970 pounds, that the dimensions of the drying room was 34′ x 17’4″ and that each of the ten sleeping huts were fitted with 6 x 75 watt lamps in E.I shades.  The layout of the QM and Ration Store and Admin Hut are illustrated in the plan below…

QM Ration 1

NAA: J153, T1595

What do we know about the men at this site?

Quite a lot in that the names and details of 272 Italian prisoners of war who lived on this site have been documented.  There were men named: Libertario, Bruno, Ambrogio, Gisberto, Eupidio, Paride, Primo, Orlando, Ciro, Urbano.  The majority were born in Italy although Giovanni Beni was born in Argentina, Tommaso Norton in Michigan USA,  Francesco Sica in New York. From the north to the south, east coast and west, they were men form across Italy: Ciro Puntel was from Paluzza Udine and Antonio Perez from Floridia Siracusa.

Further debunking the myth that ALL Italian soldiers were poor peasant farmers from the south are the diverse range of occupations: sculptor, book seller, student, policeman, linotypist, chrome plater, waiter,electrician, miner, tailor, mason.

What work did they do?

Australian Military Forces staff were put in charge of a gang of some 17 – 20 Italians.  Grubbing out stumps was one task.  Working in pairs, one Italian on a pick and one on a shovel, they took it in turn to work the stump from the ground.  Stumps were reported to be 9 inches in diameter. Chipping a row of weeds and cutting plants were other jobs.  Snippets… and only snippets.

What do we know about these husbands and sons?

From the banks of the Burdekin River the following letters were written:

August 27-8-1945

… I am very happy that all the family is well as I assure you that I too am getting by very well and I hope that will continue to the end. … my heart is full of joy that you are well, at peace and that my parents look after you well with our son Eugenio. Rosina my sorrow is for our long distance.. That our son is five years old and does not know me but all will pass and when I return … My Rosina don’t talk to me any more about my sister Caterina and why she is keeping away, lets’ leave it at that I close with the pen but not the heart that always thinks of you, big kisses to you and to our son Eugenio big kisses from me who is your husband deeply in his heart…

Francesco Martucci

Letter writer Francesco Martucci is seated second from the left.

Martucci

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 45797 G. Gravagno; 49597 C. Pantisano; 45656 F. Feraglioni; 45935 R. Lauro; 45860 A. Galasso; 48552 I. Moscatelli. Front row: 49890 V. Penna; 46127 F. Martucci; 46753 D. Sangiuliano; 49484 O. Goffredi. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030149/12 Photographer Lewecki)

21 October 1945

Dear parents

Every week I always send you one or two memos: and you my dear ones, what do you do. You don’t write to me any more. Maybe you have forgotten your distant son. I will never believe that. It may be the distance that causes a long delay in the mail. I am in excellent health as I hope you all are… Hoping that some words of comfort from you will reach me soon as I am now sending to you. Thinking of you always I send you greetings and kisses . Your affectionate son  Massimo Kisses to my little nephews and nieces

Massimo Gatti

Letter writer Massimo Gatti is standing third from left.

4110896 Gatti

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49332 E. Bartolotti; 49793 R. Accorsi; 45739 M. Gatti; 46096 M. Matteini; 46054 A. Matteini; 45680 N. Falcioni. Front row: 46110 A. Montanari; 45737 B. Gambuti; 45005 B. Arbasi; 49364 G. Di Gloria. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030147/09 Photographer Lewecki)

How much interaction was their between Australians and the POWs?

Not sure!  We know that civilians were employed by the Commonwealth Vegetable project as supervisors for farm work.  Their knowledge of crop growing in the tropics was vital in training the Italians in large scale crop production.

We know there was a cross over between Land Army Girls and Italian prisoners of war at least on Fowler’s farm. This was not uncommon and farms in Stanthorpe and Gympie had both work forces employed on their farms.

Kent Fowler confirmed that the Italians at Q6 had concerts.  Kent says that his father, uncle and grandfather would go up river to the concerts performed by the Italian POWs.

At times during the operation of Q6 electrical contractors and members of the Civil Constructional Corps were employed at Q6. Arthur Howie was the only electrical contractor within 40 mile radius available to install 125 lights and 4 power points in the timber framed buildings.

On  12th  September 1944, Thomas Ryan a plumber by trade was injured while at the POW Camp Home Hill.  He was employed by the Civil Constructional Corps as a member of a team working on top of a building at P.O.W. Camp Home Hill when a sheet of fibrolite gave way under his weight and he fell through the roof.  First aid was rendered at the POW Camp Home Hill by Italian POW doctor.  The doctor at the time was 2nd Lieutenant Anielleo Curzio, a surgeon.  Curzio was assigned to the 224 Field Hospital and was captured at Tobruk on 22nd January 1941.

We also know that a number of Italian prisoners of war were admitted to the Ayr Hospital and that Trainee Nurse Irma Vettovalli nursed at least two of the men.

Pina Vettovalli (nee Riviera) remembers clearly the day a truck pulled up outside the Delta Café in Ayr where she was working. Pina recalls, “It was a hot day, and one of those trucks with the timber railings and a canvas top pulled up.  The men in the back were in working clothes and the boss who looked Greek came in and ordered milkshakes.  I could see the men in the back of the truck, and it was a hot day, so I filled up with water a couple of those metal milkshake cups and took it out to the men.  The boss, and it was more the way he said it, but he said, ‘You know what you did?  You are not to be talking to those men. You are not to go anywhere near them.’  I was only a teenager, and I was just being courteous.  I found out later, that those men I had given water to, where some of the prisoner of war from the Home Hill camp.”  The boss man could have been Concetto Zappala or Sam Casella the Home Hill hostel Army interpreters.

Jocelyn Gould reminisces that her father, Bob Mann, was in the army and “I remember him saying that he was a guard there for some time and there was some sort of agriculture going on which I think may have been growing vegetables.  Another farm used was owned by George Fowler just up the road from ours.  Like most who have served in wars, dad rarely spoke of that time. He was also at Stuart Creek prison where there were other Italian internees, some of whom I think he may have known.”

Allison Ready and Jennifer Reid remembers that their father   was a camp cook in the POW camp up that way. Their dad’s name is William Robert Young. He only died 6 years ago aged 90 years. He talked about his life to us so much but unfortunately like most family members we didn’t write down details. If he was still alive we could simply just ask him. So many memories and local history dies with the oldies.

What remains on the Q6 Hostel site?

Charlie Scuderi  remembers: “We went there many years ago with friends who had metal detectors. All that remained was a bunch of concrete slabs. Some of these slabs appeared to be shower rooms judging by the drains in the floors. Others could have been toilet blocks. Others? Who knows. The metal detectors only found nails, nails and more nails. Old timers tell of ‘truckloads’ of these prisoners wearing purple shirts being transported to this place.”

Helen Gelling shared: “There is not much left now as it was ripped up to plant cane. But there are some foundations and sewerage on the river bank. It is private property now. The managers house was on our farm.”

Helen Gelling recalls that the Italians had ‘market gardens, they had borders around the gardens using stone which they sourced from the hills’.

John Milan recalls that Ian Becke sourced bricks from the onsite bakery and that he used them to build his pizza oven.

On the banks of the river you can find a banana plant, custard apple and citrus tree poking through the weed and rubbish scrub.  Possibly, these are remnants of the Q6 site.

 

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Banana on the banks of the Burdekin River at site of Q6 Home Hill

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

 

Gentilissima Signorina Irma

A trainee nurse, Irma Vettovalli was working at the Ayr General Hospital during 1944 and 1945 when Italian prisoners of war from Q6 Home Hill Hostel were admitted to the hospital. While the military rule was that Italian prisoners of war were not to fraternise with women, Irma was not about to let military regulations get in the way of her nursing duties.

Pane Irma.jpeg

Trainee Nurse: Irma Vettovalli

(photo courtesy of Pina Vettovalli)

Agostino Leto was admitted to the hospital for chronic appendicitis 29th May 1944.  The story goes that the senior doctor at the hospital refused to operate on a prisoner of war, but the junior doctor, Dr Kelly had no hesitation in acting according to the ethical obligations of his profession.

Once he was admitted to the ward, Irma Vettovalli, realising Agostino had little English, went out of her way to speak with this patient. The Matron ordered Irma to cease her contact with this prisoner and under no circumstance was she to talk to or nurse Agostino again.  A plucky 18-year-old, Irma offered her resignation to Dr Kelly, without reason.  Upon questioning Irma, Dr Kelly identified the issue and told Irma to continue as before.

Agostino spent one month at the Ayr Hospital before returning to Q6 Hostel on 29th June 1944  but he did not return home to Prizzi Italy until January 1947. Upon his return to Italy, his recount of his one month hospital stay to his mother, prompted her to write a letter to Irma. Irma’s care and ability to speak Italian, was remembered and retold with great affection and appreciation by Agostino.

Prizzi 20 February 1947

Gentilissima Signorina Irma,

…As a mum it softened by heart and I feel an ache in which I must thank you through this sheet of paper.  I hope you accept my poor letter writing… [my son] says that yours [your visits] as a nurse were special.  He found you and only you will remain in my heart and you will be unforgettable to my dear son.  I wish that I could see you in person so I can tell you all that my poor heart feels, that I cannot put on paper.

And so my most gracious Miss, this is a small token of my esteem and from all my family to pass on to your dear ones.  I wish you good fortune and every kind of good.  Consider me your unknown friend. Rosa Leto.”

Pane, Irma Envelope

 

Mail from Rosa Leto to Irma Vettovalli

(photo courtesy of Pina Vettovalli)

Held in high regard, Dr Kelly, the medical superintendent wrote in December 1945, “she [Irma] gave eminent satisfaction, on account of her obedience, application to duty and intelligence.”

In 1992, Irma Vettovalli (now Mrs Irma Pane) received an award from the Alpini and Friends Group “expressing their profound gratitude for Irma’s ‘Noble gesture of Human Dedication for Italian Prisoners of War recuperating in hospital during the war period’.”

Irma wrote about those times, “Because of my dedication to Nursing in Ayr, I came in contact with people from all walks of life, colour and creed and having had respect and compassion for all during their illness, I too gained their respect.  Re- the war years, on some occasions only the ignorant would make hurtful remarks…”

Those war years were complicated years for Irma’s family.  Enrico Vettovalli, Irma’s father, was interned in February 1942 and sent to Gaythorne for processing and then to Loveday Internment Camp.  He was a naturalised British Subject and had been resident in Australia since March 1922.  Enrico was interned until May 1943 when he was released to work for Manpower SA.  In November 1943, he returned to Queensland.

Adding to the complexity of war, Irma’s brother Donato had in January 1942, been called to duty in the Australian Army. He was released for discharge in May 1945. Born in Italy, he was three years old when he migrated to Australia with his mother 1924.

Agostino Leto is seated first on the left.

 

Leto 3

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49115 C. Trentino; 49354 G. Ippolito; 49592 A. Poggi; 49107 G. Zunino; 48833 R. Bartoli; 49212 R. Papini; 48863 S. De Micco.

Front row: 48939 A. LETO; 49172 A. Mandrini; 57531 B. Protano; 49923 F. Carlone; 45196 A. Ciofani. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/11)