Tag Archives: Italian POWs Australia

Lagoon Pocket’s Macadamia Trees

gympie-mercuri-mario-1

Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card, Mercuri, Mario PWI 57376

(National Archives of Australia J3118, 119)

Allan Blackman from Gympie recalls a macadamia farm at Lagoon Pocket where he worked during the 1970s  and how he had been told about a few hundred seedling trees that had been planted by the Italian POWs during WW2.  Combining local knowledge with archival research, a more complete picture emerges.

Mario Mercuri and Guido Vaccarini worked on Bernard Mason’s farm at Lagoon Pocket and “they would all search in the scrub above Calico Creek for wild macadamias with thin shells which were used to establish Bernie’s orchard.” This species of macadamia ‘integrifolia’ is also known as ‘papershell’ macadamia because of its thinner shell.  As a native species, it is now listed as vulnerable.

While initially, the relationship between farmer and POWs would have been of one boss and worker, a friendship of mutual respect would have been emerged as Guido and Mario were credited with saving the lives of Bernie Mason’s daughters.  The connection between Bernie Mason and Guido Vaccarini continued with Guido visiting Gympie to visit Bernie, after he had migrated to Australian in 1951.

gympie Vaccarini guido Bernard Mason.jpg

Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card Vaccarini, Guido PWI 57514

(National Archives of Australia J3118, 119)

Friendships Forged by War

With few men available for farm work, Bernard Mason signed up to employ Italian prisoners of war mid 1944. On the 8th June 1944, Mario Mercuri and Guido Vaccarini were escorted to his property at Lagoon Pocket by military staff.

By the time Mario and Guido arrived at the Mason’s property, they had left their footprints across four countries.  As POWs, they had spent time in temporary caged compounds in the deserts of North Africa, POW camps on the Suez Canal; in India and Cowra Australia.  The war had gone badly for Italy in North Africa and Guido and Mario were but two of the 350,000 Italians captured in the North African campaigns. For 19 brief months, they lived and worked at Lagoon Pocket, settling in quickly to the daily routine of farm life.

Farming life was never easy in those times.  Petrol rationing meant that farmers became charcoal burners, making charcoal as a fuel to power trucks. Tractors were non-existent and the ploughs were pulled by horses. Farm work was hard, manual work.  Gympie farms did very well during the war, provided that they had workers.  Troop trains came through Gympie on a regular basis with fresh produce sold directly to the army.  Gympie being well situated supplied fruit and vegetables directly to the southern markets of Brisbane and Sydney.

Bernard Mason grew a diverse range of crops and also branched out into a macadamia plantation.  Pineapples, papaws, carrots, beetroots and cabbages were some of the fruit and vegetable crops produced on the farm. Bernie also had another 40 acre property from which he pioneered the macadamia industry.  At the time, there was no interest for ‘bush nuts’ and the Department of Primary Industry had little information about its commercial viability.  But Bernie with the assistance of the ‘Ityes’ planted 800 macadamia seedlings which in time was known to be the largest macadamia seedling plantation in existence. Nowadays, macadamia plantations use grafted trees.  Bernie would go up into the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast around Eumundi and Mapleton to collect the nuts for seeds.

G and M planting pineapples Lagoon Pkt

 

Guido Vaccarini and Mario Mercuri planting pineapples at Lagoon Pocket 1944-1945

(from the collection of Barry Mason)

It was in this bucolic setting that the POWs became part of the Mason family.  Barry Mason, born November 1939,  was only a child at the time, but he remembers the men well: “They treated us kids well.  I remember how they would put my sisters in a fruit basket and carry them around. And they played games with us.  Dad bought them each a watch and push bike.  There were rules about when and where they could go on their days off, so I suppose this is why he bought those items for them.  They made no attempt to attend church, and I remember a story about Guido and church.  Apparently, he told dad, ‘No church. Madonna no think of me. Me no think of Madonna’.  And there was the story about the POWs at the Butler vineyard.  Jack Butler had the Italians prune back the vines and had a fit when he saw what they had done.  They had cut them right back and Jack believed that they had ruined his vines.  As it turned out, these POWs knew more than a little bit about vineyards and the next crop was the best crop every grown on the farm.”

Another anecdote about the ‘Ityes’ at the Mason farm centres on ‘the still’.  Barry reminisces, “They set up a still to distil alcohol.  I am not sure where all the bits and pieces came from, but they used a milk separator bowl to boil the fruit in.  They used pineapple skins and no doubt other fruit.  They had a coiled pipe and the vapours would go up into the coil and came out a crystal clear toxic liquid. They could turn their hand to most things, although I am not sure that this was ‘allowed’.”  Lots of memories surface about those times and Barry relates a common joke of the day, “I don’t think there was any malice in the words but it went like this: ‘How would one describe ‘tall inebriated Italians?  Hi(gh) tiddly I-tyes’!”

It was however to be a near tragedy that cemented a lifelong friendship between the Mason family and the Vaccarini family. Guido saved the lives of Bernie’s two daughters, Valda and Rae. The girls had been playing in the cabin of the Ford V8 truck when they were rendered unconscious by carbon monoxide.  Bernie, Guido and Mario were in the packing shed when Guido realised he could not hear the girls.  He told Bernie, “Boss, bambini quiet… Mister, no hear bambini” adding “Mister, mister, I go see why no hear bambini”. Giudo had found the girls slumped and unconscious in the truck’s cabin. The girls were removed from the truck and laid on the floor of the packing shed and the Gran who looked after the children, felt all was lost and pushed Mason to the ground and said, “Pray, pray. Pray for the girls”.   Guido was loaded with one of the girls on the back of the truck and Mrs Mason in the cabin with the other lifeless girl.  Bernie had said, “It was the longest 8 mile I have ever driven.  But God must have heard my prayers”. The rush of fresh air across the face of the little girl on the back of the truck stirred her but it wasn’t until they arrived at Dr Warrener’s in Gympie, when a nurse revived the other child, that the family knew both girls were safe.  The doctor said that without the action of Guido, the girls would have died as had the girls inhaled the carbon monoxide for another few minutes, they would certainly have been dead.

After his repatriation to Italy in 1947, Guido wrote to Bernie in 1949 to ask for sponsorship to return to Australia. Bernie Mason said, “This, I felt was the least I could do because he was the means of saving our two little mites.” Guido arrived back in Gympie in 1951 and his wife Rina emigrated a year later.  Barry said, “When my dad died, the family wished for the graveside service to be private.  Guido asked to pay his respects to my dad and we decided that he deserved a place there.”

The Mason and Vaccarini families still reside in Gympie. Barry and Margaret live in Gympie and have become the custodians of the photos and stories of that time.  Valda married Duncan Polley of Polley’s Coaches and Rae married Gordon Saxelby and they now live in Bundaberg. Guido has now passed on some years ago.  In a fitting tribute to the close family ties, Barry had the honour of conducting the service at Guido’s funeral.  Guido’s wife Rina is still with us though she is very frail. Son Marco and Rina live in Lawrence Street Gympie.

While time progresses quickly these days and memories fade, the stories of the Italian POWs on Gympie farms are clearly remembered.  The special bonds forged between a prisoner of war and a Gympie farmer continue to be part of Gympie’s Italian prisoner of war history.

Bern, Guido, Joe

1950’s Bernie Mason, Guido Vaccarini and Joe Brooks in front of 4 x 4 Chev Blitz Truck

(from the collection of Barry Mason)

 

Breach of Discipline

Service and Casualty Forms for the Italian Prisoners of War make great reading.  I have given up counting how many forms I have read since I started this research in August 2015 but there is so much information that can be gleaned from these forms.

And several thousand forms later I can give you an insight into the nature of the breaches in discipline and the punishments meted out.

Some make sense eg fine 1/- for fastening ground sheet to bed, while others seem harsh eg. 28 days detention for stealing a bunch of grapes.

And some, make me laugh eg stealing lettuce plants… maybe this Italian  just wanted a few plants to add to his private garden outside his barracks;  and what about the bravado of the Italian who was smoking on parade.

But military discipline was essential and indiscretions punished.

Ferrante

(NAA: MP1103/1 for DF)

For some Italian POWs, their breach in discipline resulted in formal investigations. The three incidents below are from Western Australia.  Queensland POWs were much more meek and mild!

The following statement is made by a POW placed at the same farm as a Raffaele.  The farmer also ran a boarding house:  This family have always treated us with great courtesy and consideration but this rascal [Raffaele] for a long time has done nothing else but to annoy all the women who have stayed in this place… On another occasion [name redacted] and I were near our room when [ name redacted] came to us and asked the whereabouts of Raffaele. We told her we did not know as we never see him at night time as he goes away and returns after midnight. [ Name redacted] not taking any notice of us then stepped into [Raffaele’s] room and sat down and wrote a letter and left it on the table after leaving.  On [Raffaele’s] return from his walk he read the letter did not even stop to finish meal went away and did not return until after midnight.  If I had to tell all that [Raffaele] has done it would make a romantic novel. 11 October 1944.

An incident in the Northam area of Western Australia saw the award of 28 days detention: Conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline in that he behaved in an unsolicited manner by endeavouring to show Mrs C obscene magazine photos and by giving her a box upon which obscene drawings had been made.

Another incident reports reads as follows: At 17.30 hours the prisoner came to me and asked if he would feed the calf, to which I answered yes.  He then asked me in his Pidgeon English if I would ? him the milk, I went through the house to the backdoor whist the Prisoner went around the side.  When I arrived and opened the door he approached me with both his arms open and said “Oh, Missus.” plus other Italian phases which I did not understand.  I could see the man was very excited and I slamed the door in his face… My husband had been away all day …During the lunch hour the Prisoner remained what I considered an unnecessary time in the kitchen after having had his meal, during which time he kept muttering to me in Italian, none of which i could understand. It appeared strange to me that this man should remain behind whilst the other Prisoner after having his meal went straight to his camp.  No charges were laid on this matter and the POW was transferred to another farm.

Without a doubt, prisoner of war files make great and interesting reading.

Following are some of the ‘run of the mill’ type breaches in discipline and subsequent punishments:

14 days: stealing

2 days: stealing lettuce plants

5/- fine: failure to appear on parade

1/- fine: late to work

168 hours detention: wilful damage to CWG property

14 days detention: possession of prohibited article

21 days detention: taking employer’s car without permission

14 days detention – 3 days No 1 diet: refusing to work, inciting other POWs to slow up work

7 days detention: boots worn beyond repair

6 days fatigues: conduct to the prejudice of good order and disciplien

3/- fine – offence against good order and discipline

14 days detention: making unfound complaints about working

7 days detention: attempting to steal 1/2 lbs butter

14 days detention: removed 1 dz bananas from supply depot

1/- fine: failure to appear at inspection parade

28 days detention: communicating by signs with a person outside the complex, making a threatening gesture to officials.

72 hours detention: proceeding beyond boundary of place of employment

1/- fine: wasting water

3 days detention: pretending sickness to avoid work

7 days detention: attempting to evade censorship

168 hours detention: smoking on parade

7 days detention: failed to stand by kit during inspection

5/- fine: being in possession of government property

Admonished: carrying letters between compounds

28 days detention: failed to answer Roll Call

28 days detention: escaped from Hostel

28 days detention: unduly familiar with a female

3 days detention: breach of National Security Regulations

14 days detention: disobedience, violence

5 days detention: offensive behaviour

14 days detention: did adopt threatening attitude

Acknowledgements

There are many people who have been part of this project and  I would like to publicly acknowledge those who have:

  • shared with me their story and entrusted me with their memories, photos, letters and mementos,
  • assisted me in  promoting my research,
  • done a bit of  local ‘digging’ on my behalf by searching local publications, sending out letters and emails, making telephone calls to ‘find’ locals who have a memory, making suggestions as to where to look next, providing me with my next lead,
  • answered my ‘cold call’ letters that I have sent to municipal councils, local historical societies and most importantly relatives of Italian POWs who returned to Australia.

Without your assistance, this project would have been a ‘black and white’ history of Italian POWs in Queensland as army and government records are by nature, factual.

Your stories and memories and mementos have added ‘colour’ to this history as you have told stories of the every day life of the Italian POWs but told these stories as emotional and personal memories.

Q1 Stanthorpe: Mary Puglisi, Tony Hassall, Paula Boatfield, Alec Harslett, Morwenna and Franco Arcidiancomo, Janette and Rod Ratcliffe, Angelo Valiante, Lina Scalora, Claudio Marino, Esme and Millie Townsend, Rodney Smith, Shirley Stanton, Dorothy Barraclough (Jones), Lisa Saggiomo (Antonio De Marco), Marco Abbona (Angelo Abbona), Colleen and Roger Willis, Loreen Long (Stanthorpe Museum and Historical Society)

Q2 Nambour: Martin Schulz, Nev Townsend,  Lorna Akers (Ivin), Rosemary Watts (Bury), Barbara Want (Nambour Museum), Audienne Blyth, Di Brown (Sunshine Coast Heritage Library Officer), Franceschina Tigani, Gordon Plowman (Flaxton) Maria Rosa Allan (Tigani), Nambour: Remember When! Facebook Site, Sunshine Coast Daily, Paul Cass, Yvonne Derrington (Fullerton), Maxina Williams, Les Farmer, Nonno Armando Evangelista, Katia and Martina Evangelista, Laurelle Murphy (Beamish family)

Q3 Gympie: Allan Blackman (Gympie District Historical Society), Ian McConachie, John Huth, Ian Bevege, Ernie Rider, Beth Wilson ( Gympie: Local History Officer), Mike Butler, Patrick Rodney, Gloria Rodney, Damiano Lumia, Rosa Melino, Dianne Woodstock, Mal Dodt, Dr Elaine Brown, Kathy Worth(Knowles), Peter Van Breemen, Gympie Times, Doug and Lynne Wilson, John Miguel, Alex Miles, Keith Buchanan, Leita Boswell (Beattie), Val Doyle (Cullen), Barry Mason, Jim Buchanan, Marco Vaccarini, Anna Eusebi, Raffaele Iacopini, Faye Kennedy (Stey), Daniel Reginato (Paolo Reginato),

Q4 Gayndah: Avis Hildreth (Robinson Family)  Thea Beswick (Robinson),  Adrian Azzari-Colley, Joe Devietti,  Central and North Burnett Times, Colleen Lindley (Robinson Family) Colin Wenck (Sauer Family), Eva Lutvey, Samuele Micali,

Q5 Texas: Zita Hutton (Rodighiero), Darryl Hutton, Frank Yeo, Barbara Ellis (Texas Historical Society). Heidi Dawson (MacIntyre Gazette)

Q6 Home Hill: Nino Cipolla, Christine Morriss, Doug Kelly, Tom Durkin, Rhonda Mann, Glenis Cislowski, Julie Chapman (Tapiolas), Isabel Stubbs (Fowler) Kelsie Iorio (The Burdekin Advocate), Jack Cipolla, Kent Fowler, Ross Di Mauro, Pina Vettovalli, Charlie Scuderi, Jo Gallagher (Tiberi),

Temporary PWCC Atherton: David Anthony (The Tablelander), Jack Duffy, Dick Daley

Q7 Kenilworth: John Ower, Lenore Meldrum (Kenilworth Historical Museum), Margaret and Tony White, Heather O’Connor (Moreland), Sharon Pearson (Brown), Anthony Brown, Rose Moir-Bussy (Mangini),

Q8 Kingaroy: Joyce Dickenson and Robyn Bowman, Althea  Kleidon (Rackemann), Dudley Long and Lorraine Giollo, Tom McErlean,  Shannon Newley (South Burnett Times)

Q9 Monto: Janice Joyce (Pownall), Peter Pownall, Assunta Austin ( D’Addario Family), Doug Groundwater, Judith Minto, Lurline Graving (Harsant), Brett Dowling, Mackenzie Colahan, Rita Pace,

Q10 Boonah: Christine Titmarsh (Historical Society and Templin Museum),  Michael Joyce, Pam Phillips (Niebling), Eric Behrendorff, Ian Harsant, Laurie Dwyer, Carmel Peck (Dwyer), Murray Maudsley, Graham Neilsen, Carmelo Ierna, Joe Indomenico, Penny Wright, Antonio Ragusa, Judith Lane (Rackley), Billy Jack Harsant, John Gilbert, Tim Dwyer, Ferdinando Pancisi, Judith Lane (Rackley), Antonio Ragusa, Luigi Tommasi, Helen Mullen (Rackely),  Dino De Propertis (Paolo De Propertis)

Others: Peter Dunn @ http://www.ozatwar.com,  Rebecca Donohoe (Queensland Farmers’ Federation), Seniors News,  Paul Stumkat (re: Wallangarra German POWs), Gray Bolte (West Wylong), Fraser Coast Chronicle, The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), Australian War Memorial Facebook Site, Queensland History Network Facebook Site, Alex Chambers @ 630 AM  ABC North Queensland, Sara Bavato at Il Globo and La Fiamma, Annie Gaffney @  90.3 Fm ABC Sunshine Coast, Carlo Pintarelli, Reinhard Krieger, Torsten Weller,  Liborio Mauro Bonadonna, Vitoronzo Pastore,  Enrico Dalla Mora, Ann Megalla, Trudy Brown (Herbert River Express), Susan Mulligan (Oral History Queensland), Davide Dander, Jocelyn Maddock, Merle Heiner, Enoggera & District History Association Inc., Cris Dall ‘Osto, Sharon Rigano from Quick on the Click (Book Cover Design), Anne Scheu (State Library of Queensland), Bruno Van der Heide Burdekin Printers, Alex Mannea Burdekin Printers, Andy Toulson ABC Radio 630 North Queensland, Trudie Legio ABC Radio Wide Bay, Mikayla Mayoh Burdekin Advocate, Matteo Tettamanti, Veniero Granatelli, Paola Zagonara, Luigi Pinna, Home Hill Newsagency, Marco Lucantoni, Cristina Capitummino, Alessandra Nicoletti, Leo Piciacchia, Catherine Murdoch (Cardillo), Marie, John and Joan McInnes, Ute Schulenberg (Nambucca Guardian), Kay Ball (Murchison Historical Society),  Australian War Memorial-Acquisitions Department, Jennifer Ellis (Another Del Bo), Paolo Zulli (Sebastiano Di Campli), Giuli Musini, Francesco Fracasso, Robert Perna,  Vanda Hodder, Colleen Hammat, Craig Douglas (Regio Esercito History Group), Darren Arnott (Rodolfo Bartoli), Petrus De Savoie (Giovanni Trunfio), , Rossana Ferulli (Domenico Ferulli), Fabrizio Patriarca( Blasioli Fioravante), Francesca Elliot (Luigi Moltedo)