Tag Archives: Italian POWs in Australia

Bomb Blast kills 5

I was working with the granddaughter of Nicola Capitummino to trace the journey of her grandfather in Australia when I read about the bomb blast at N33 Bathurst Hostel in June 1946.

There were a number of POW hostels set up at Australian military complexes in 1946.  The role of the Italian prisoners of war was to assist with ‘general duties at AMF
Camps and Schools, clearing and maintenance of ammunition depots etc.’

One such hostel was at Bathurst where 3 Australians and 2 Italians were killed by a bomb blast.  Adelmo Rondinini’s legs were severed above the knees and he also lost his left eye in the explosion.

In reference to the burial of Sapper Michael Freeman in Bathurst,  the following was written:

The Italian prisoners of war from the Bathurst Army Camp on Limekilns Road made a large V-shaped wreath of greenery which was placed at the Military Cemetery. Their card read: “Michael Freeman from your Italian friends. For the kindness and understanding shown to us”…There was a single cortege for both the soldiers and the Italian prisoners.

 

Bathurst

Solemn: Sapper Michael Freeman’s Funeral passes onto Steward Street from Keppel Street on June 5, 1946.

(www.westernadvocate.com.au/story/4004852/yesterday-today-alan-mcrae/)

5 Die in Bathurst Camp Explosion

Bathurst, Monday. – Three Australian soldiers and two Italian prisoners of war were killed in the Bathurst military camp today when a fragmentary mortar bomb exploded amongst a working party of Australians and Italians.

At Bathurst Hospital to-night doctors were battling to save the life of a third Italian who lost both legs and has little chance of survival.

The victims of the explosion were: –

Sgt. Thomas Dickenson, AIF

Sapper Arthur Murray, AIF

Sapper Michael Joseph Freeman, AIF

Pietro Monfredi, POW

Stefano Mola, POW

The injured man is Adelmo Rondinini a POW.

Sgt. Dickenson, Freeman and Stefano Mola were killed instantly while Murray and Monfredi died in hospital hours later.  Ronlinini’s legs were severed above the knees and he was rushed in a critical condition to hospital, where blood transfusions were given him throughout the day and to-night in an effort to save his life.

Luck favoured Cecil Snudden, of Bathurst, who was standing about 10 yards from the working party when the explosion occurred.  Fragments of metal passed between his legs, carrying away portions of his trousers near the knees, but he was not injured.

Bathurst police investigating the tragedy have been told the explosion occurred at 10.30 a.m. while the six victims were working on the site of an ash dump at the camp. 

The bomb, it is believed, lay hidden under some ashes and according to one report the explosion resulted when an Italian cutting wood struck the bomb with his axe.

“5 DIE IN BATHURST CAMP EXPLOSION” Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954) 4 June 1946: 1. Web. 11 Oct 2018 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article99118261&gt;.

 

The Story in a Photo

In April 2017, Luigi Pinna sent me some photos belonging to his father Antioco Pinna who was a prisoner of war in South Australia.  They were photos of children, families and friends and while there were names on the back of each photo: AE Warren, John, Milton, Ross, Terry and Mark the identities of these South Australians remained a mystery. Antioco Pinna’s story can be read at : Exceptionally Good and A Portable Gramophone 

To help solve this mystery, Luigi and I needed the assistance of someone on the ground in South Australia, and in the vicinity of Millicent and Mt Burr. Colleen Hammat: Researcher for South East Family History Group was up to the challenge. Many phone calls, visits and follow ups by Colleen and slowly a little of the history of the Mt Burr Italian prisoners of war emerges.

Pinna 6

Greetings for Jimmie (Antioco Pinna)  from AE Warren (Ted)

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

A bit more digging and Colleen located a biography of Ted and Hilda (nee Bowering) Warren in the Meyer History Book:

“After being married Ted and Hilda living in Millicent where sons John and Ben and daughter Ina were born.  Ted went to work on the Mt Burr Forest.  He worked in the nursery growing pines for the plantation.  A piece of uncleared land was bought between Rocky Camp and Mt Muirhead.  The family built a house on this block and the children attended the Mt Muirhead School.  Reta, Ronald and Keith were all born while the Warrens living at Mt Murihead.  Most of the land was sold to the Forests Department for the plantation and Ted bought another uncleared block the other side of Mt Muirhead.  He retained the house.

Ted and Hilda lived at this home until all the family married.  During the time of the Second World War they cared for daughter Ina and her daughter, also John’s wife Audrey and their son.  John served overseas in the army. Ted and Hilda retired to Millicent selling the house block to the Forest Department.”

The mystery of the photo from AE Warren is solved.  The two ladies in the photo are Ted’s daughter Ina (Jim Simpson’s mother) and Ted’s wife Hilda as confirmed by grandson Jim.  The connection with Jimmie (aka Antioco Pinna) and Ted Warren is also confirmed, as both worked on the Mt Burr Forest, Jimmie as a POW labourer and Ted as a nursery man.

Pinna 5

Ina Simpson and Hilda Warren 1946

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

But there is more to this history…

Following many leads, Colleen has also found a gentleman who worked for the Mt Burr butcher when he was a young fellow. He remembers delivering to the camp and he told Colleen that the mess hut from the camp was later moved from the site into Mount Burr and used for a rec. hall.   Colleen’s 84 year old friend, “Remembers the POWs walking into Millicent from Mt Muirhead where the camp was for the Catholic Church meetings – they were called the Red Coats because they wore Red Jackets and berets. She said they sang in the choir and all had beautiful voices.”

Photos taken back to Sardinia from a Prisoner of War hostel at Mt Burr forestry in South Australia, not only survived the passage of time, but have helped an Australian community reconnect to its history and Luigi Pinna to write his father’s story.

In December 2018, Luigi Pinna wrote and published Arrastus in Sa Storia relating the journey of his father Antioco from Italy to Ethiopia… India… Australia… Italy.

Pinna Antico

Arrastus in Sa Storia by Luigi Pinna

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

No Regard for the Truth

Darren Arnott  grew up in Rowville in the 1970’s and 1980’s and had heard stories from some of the older residents about the Rowville Hostel which had always intrigued him. When he purchased a house in the 1990’s near a bush reserve with remanants of the Rowville camp he researched and documented the site and the local council used his research to place signage about the history of the site.

Darren also came across the details of ‘the shooting’ and the infamous Camp Commandant.  And with most history research, one document led to another then another…

Below is an edited extract from the forthcoming book No Regard for the Truth by Darren Arnott.

My most sincere appreciation to Darren for sharing his work.  I look forward to purchasing a copy of his book in 2019. For further details, Darren’s contact information can be found below.

NO REGARD FOR THE TRUTH

At 6:48PM on Saturday the 30th of March 1946 the Victoria Police Communications Centre, D24 received a phone call from Rowville Prisoner of War Hostel Camp Commandant, Captain Waterston requesting assistance at the camp. The call was broadcast to police cars in the area.

“Camp reports trouble among P.O.W.S. Requests that patrol be sent to assist. Contact Sergeant and Police on duty in street and instruct them to attend.”

Radio broadcast from Lt Maloney. “I will go to Rowville, please detail Sergeant Carroll in car 116 to attend and take any action necessary pending my arrival.”

Around 6:30 that evening as most prisoners were finishing their evening meal, Rodolfo Bartoli suffered a serious gunshot wound. Nearby prisoners who heard the gunshot and Rodolfo’s cries in Italian of “He has killed me”, ran to his aid. Rodolfo was carried to the camp hospital on a stretcher where he was treated by the Italian Camp Doctor, Joseph Galli. Rodolfo was losing a great deal of blood and Doctor Galli, realising that Bartoli’s condition was quickly deteriorating called for a camp car to rush Rodolfo to the Heidelberg military hospital.

Constable McAvoy, Constable Banks and Constable Hodge were the first police officers to arrive at the camp at shortly after receiving the call over the radio. They met Captain Waterston. Constable McAvoy documented in his notebook their brief discussion with Captain Waterston.

He asked Captain Waterston, “What is the trouble sir?”

“There has been some trouble here tonight. I threw a picket around the camp. I was walking through the camp myself when I saw a man moving through the wire. I called on him to stop and he did not stop. I then fired a shot. Later I found that a man had been injured in the groin, or shot in the groin, and he had been sent to the Heidelberg Military Hospital.”

“Do you want us to do anything now?”

“I would like you to come down with me around the camp. I am short staffed here.”

Constables McAvoy, Banks and Hodge walked with the Captain and the Italian interpreter through the camp. The Captain ordered a number of prisoners who were walking around to return back to their huts. The camp was quietened down, and all lights were turned out.

Version 2

Armed Search photograph from The Herald Monday 1st April 1946

 

The Rowville Italian Prisoner of War Control Hostel

Rowville is located in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne and was once a small farming community. The nearest major township at the time was Dandenong. The Rowville Italian Prisoner of War Control Hostel was an unguarded camp and was bounded by a simple wire and stump farm style fence. In 1946 there were approximately 250 prisoners interned at Rowville. The camp was overseen by Camp Commandant, Captain John Waterston.

Rodolfo died later that night from a gunshot wound. Rodolfo Bartoli was twenty-six years old when he died. His military record shows that he was from Florence and prior to the war had been employed as a Civil Servant. He was a Private in the Italian Infantry and was captured in Libya on the 10th of December 1940. Rodolfo arrived in Sydney aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the 15th of October 1941 and was interned at the POW camp in Cowra, New South Wales. In August 1944 he was relocated to Murchison in Victoria and then to Rowville in December 1944. Apart from one week at the Kooweerup Camp, Rodolfo spent the rest of his time at Rowville. Rodolfo was 5 feet 10 inches tall (178 centimetres) and was well liked by prisoners and staff in the camp. Rodolfo had been employed in the Camp Quartermaster Store at Rowville where prisoners could request uniforms or supplies when required. Rodolfo had met a young woman on a nearby farm who he was hoping to one day marry. A small number of the prisoners were aware that he had a bicycle hidden in some scrub by the bank of the Dandenong Creek just south of the camp and, on occasion, he used to leave to camp on his bike.

Rodolfo_Bartoli

Rodolfo Bartoli: back row, third from the right. 

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) 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. (AWM Image 030173/11 Photographer: Geoffrey McInnes)

Three days before the shooting, at the request of the Minister for Army Minister Forde, the Army commenced an investigation into the alleged mistreatment of Italian Prisoners at the Rowville Camp. This was in response to a written complaint about the treatment of prisoners at the Rowville Camp from a member of the public which had been forwarded to Minister Forde. With this inquiry already underway, the shooting of Rodolfo triggered a chain of inquiries and inquests which lasted until December 1946. There was a Military Court of Inquiry, a Police Homicide Squad investigation, a Coroner’s Inquest, an Independent Government inquiry into the shooting and the administration of the Rowville Camp and finally, two Court Martial trials. Some disturbing stories about the mistreatment of prisoners, abuse of prisoner’s rights, suppression of written complaints from prisoners, discrepancies in evidence in the number of shots fired at Rodolfo, disputes about where Rodolfo was standing when he was shot and a lack of clear understanding of the camp boundaries began to emerge.

These events took place after the end of World War Two as the Italian prisoners were awaiting to return home. Most of the prisoners from the Rowville Camp returned home to Italy in January 1947. Rodolfo is one of the 129 Italian’s who died in Australia during World War Two resting at the Ossario at Murchison.

Ossario1

The Ossario Murchison 11th November 2018

Ossario2

Rodolfo Bartoli’s Final Resting Place: The Ossario Murchison

Photographs by the author at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Ossario, Murchison Cemetery November 2018.

Darren Arnott

darren@metebelis3.com

Twitter @darrenarnott

References

NAA MP742/1 255/6/774 Parts 1 & 2

Justice Simpson Inquiry – Exhibits – D24 Transcript

Justice Simpson – Rowville Inquiry Transcript of Evidence

Justice Simpson Inquiry Final Report – Rowville Inquiry – Administration of Prisoners of War

Letter of Appointment – Appointment as investigating officer into the allegation of ill-treatment of prisoners of war at PWC Hostel, V.22 Rowville.

MP1103/2 PWI48833 Rodolfo Bartoli’s Prisoner of War Record

Herald Sun 1st April 1946 “Army Explains POW Shooting Case”

Photograph of Rodolfo Bartoli https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C345909

 

Made by his Hands

Made by his Hands

Antonio Arici was sent to Mukinbudin WA to work on the farm of  Norman Maddock.

A wooden box made by Antonio was too heavy for him to take home to Italy.  Or maybe he left it behind because the POWs had been issued instructions as to how much luggage they could take with them.  It is still lined with remnants of magazine pictures he decorated the inside of the box with.

Antonio's Wooden Box WA Open

It has been kept in the Maddock family for over seven decades. Bert Maddock who was a teenager at the time assumes that it was made from demolition timber sort from unoccupied houses in the area.  These houses were purchased by his father, dismantled and the timber used to construct a new home for the Maddock family.

Made from Jarrah timber,  the tongue and groove sections used by Antonio would have been walls of the derelict houses and possibly there were sections not used to build the new house.

Read more about the Maddock and Arici families: Antonio’s journey 

Antonio's Wooden Box WA closed

A Farm Diary

A voice down the phone line said, “I think you will be surprised with what I have.  I don’t think you will find another like it.”

Many thoughts flashed through my mind but I was not prepared for this treasure:

A Farm Diary

Neil Buchanan managed and ran Redslopes at Goomboorian via Gympie as part of a partnership between himself and three brothers.   Every day he wrote in the Redslopes diary.  He wrote about workers coming and going, about the weather, machinery breakdown, visitors to the farm, important milestones during the war AND he wrote about the four Italian prisoners of war who came to Redslopes to work the farm.

Redslopes Diary 2

Jim Buchanan was the voice at the other end of the phone and I am sure he could hear my excitement at being offered the opportunity to read this unique primary source.

Generalisations about this history were replaced with specifics.  No longer did the Italians undertake farm work, the diary revealed exactly what type of farm work they did.  No longer did the Italians rarely go into town except for church, the Italians at Redslopes took produce into town with their boss and they went to the barber for their monthly haircuts.

Jim and I talked at length about farming during World War 2.  They were different times:  when wooden crates for the produce were made on site and stamped, when spare parts for farm machinery were scarce, when horses were used to plough the fields and when farming was labour intensive.

There are few statements about the importance and value of the POW workforce. But finally, it was there… in the diary:

Dec 31 1945 Last day of old year.  Four men for half a day.  POW then finish up, much to sorrow of Boss.  Had final talk with Ities at night.

Jan 1 1946 New Year’s Day but a sad day at Redslopes.  Took the three POW to town and said goodbye. Farm is now badly understaffed with no prospects of further employees.

The Redslopes diary is rarely personal.  But while these final two entries might be brief, the words reveal how important the POW workforce was to the farmer.

Redslopes Diary 2.jpeg

 

 

War time is a busy time.  War time is a complicated time.  War time is often a time of irony.  Our young Australian workforce had joined the services leaving our agricultural industries severely understaffed.  Feeding a nation was paramount for both domestic and service requirements.

The Italian prisoners of war not only provided a much needed agricultural workforce but these men helped feed a nation and enabled farmers to be economically viable and sustainable.

Report Card

The Italian POWs at Q6 Home Hill were a mixed group.  Mr Bulcock, the director of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, had reported that out of 230 POWs at Home Hill, only 100 was of any value. Accordingly, that left 130 POWs with questionable work ethics.

Here is a smattering of comments about some of those 130 Italians:

Unfit for Hostel Control Conditions, poor worker, character: BAD, agitator, unsuitable for rural work, tired to get clothes and sandals to POW in detention to assist his escape, sullen, refuses to work, bad influence, insolent, insubordinate, trouble maker, connected to tunnel in No 8 Camp 1942, keen Fascist, dangerous, cunning, crafty, refused to be finger printed, bad influence on the moral of others, ardent Fascist, adopted a go slow attitude to work, inclined to be obstinate, joined a hunger strike for 48 hours while in detention.

Unfortunately for the ‘100 of any value’, there is scant information available about the hostel, let alone information on their ‘outstandingly co-operative behaviour’.

Following are extracts of records for three Home Hill Italian POWs who were considered ‘unfit’ or ‘unsuitable for rural work and were transferred to Murchison.

Report Card 1

(NAA: A7919, C100735)

Report Card 2

NAA: A7917, C103433

Report Card 3

NAA: A7917, C100723

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 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 courtesy of Reinhard Krieger)

Letter writer Francesco Martucci is seated second from the left.

Martucci, F 3980530

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 courtesy of Reinhard Krieger)

Letter writer Massimo Gatti is standing third from left.

Gatti, M 4110896

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.

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

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

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.”

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

IMG_2512

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

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)