Tag Archives: Italian POWs

Benair’s POWs

Q8 Kingaroy.Taabinga Village.Benair

 

Taabinga Village

(from the collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

Two of my uncles lived at Benair on the farm that my Grandfather selected in about 1907. My grandfather James McErlean was born in County Derry and sailed on the “Dorunda” in March 1887 to Australia, arriving in Brisbane on the 5th May 1887. He settled in the Benair district after land was opened up after the Taabinga Resumption.

My uncles, Peter and William, were asked by Government people of the day, as were other farmers, if they would plant a crop of cotton for the war effort as cotton was in short supply, they agreed to give it a try and I think they planted about five acres.

When it was ready to harvest the government or whoever were in charge brought some of these prisoners to their farm to hand pick the cotton. One of the uncles  didn’t think much of the idea as he had trouble trying to understand the Italians.

The farm was about 13 – 15 mile out of town and my uncle Peter Francis McErlean had two POWs billeted on his farm and I think they stayed on the farm because roads and cars weren’t the best in those days.  The records show that Leonardo Miresse from Montefalcone Valfortore and Rocco Poliseno from Castell Uccio Valmaggioce  were placed with PF McErlean on 7.8.44.

Apparently the cotton crop was not very successful, maybe dry weather or some other problem, I don’t think cotton had been planted as a crop in the Kingaroy district before that time.

Tom McErlean.

 

Pasta Drying Everywhere

 

Colin Wenck lives on Upson Downs, just outside of Gayndah, a property owned by his great-grandparents Walter and Martha Sauer during World War 2.  There were two properties run by the Sauer family: Upson Downs and across the river Banapan.  Running cattle and growing small crops, three Italian prisoners of war were employed to take on the work around the farms.

Sauer Gully (8)

 

Fred Sauer, owner of Gayndah Motors was the registered employer of the Italians, but Colin believes that the Italians lived in rooms behind Gayndah Motors until such times that a cottage was built by and for them on the farm.  Colin recalls, ‘The Italians were known to have built houses on Frankie Robinson’s citrus orchard. And mention is made that our cottage was built by them as well.  Apparently, they were only allowed to be employed with farm work, but there would have been a shortage of carpenters and if the Italians had the skills, then the farmers utilised their experience.’

Sauer.POW Cottage (1)

Colin grew up knowing the history of the cottage and has been firm that the building will not be pulled down.  The names of the three Italians have now emerged from the pages of the archives, adding a personal connection between POWs and the cottage.

Sauer.POW Cottage (5)

‘Granddad Colin remembers some stories about the POWs.  The Italians taught great-grandma how to make pasta dough.  And a fond memory is of the pasta hanging up around the kitchen drying. There was the story about one Italian who asked if he could use some spare timber and hardware in the shed to build a barber’s chair.  Antonio Iaccarino was the barber and he would cut hair for all the family.  They also asked to be taught how to fish.  They would bring home bags of fish which was then cooked up for dinner.  One POW wrote to the family after the war, to ask for a reference to assist him to come to Australia.  But we don’t know if he ever did,’ Colin says.

The other two POWs were Giovanni Farina, a farmer and Fortunato Franco, a mason. The Upson Downs cottage is an old, rustic, weatherboard and corrugated iron building with timber floors.  Walking through this building is like walking back in time and walking in the boots of the Italian POWs who called this place home seven decades ago.

Sauer.POW Cottage (15)

Not Happy

What was it like living as an Italian prisoner of war at Q6 PWCH Home Hill?

Sante Testa a farmer from Pomigliano D’Arco (Napoli) grew up in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius.  He was 20 years old when he was captured in Libya on 21st January 1941.  His date of capture suggests he was stationed at Tobruk when the Australian army attacked this Libyan stronghold. A private in the Italian army: 10 Artiglieria 7th Gruppo 2nd Batteria, he was one of 25,000 Italians captured at Tobruk.

By the time he arrived at Q6 Home Hill, his travels had taken him on a long and unexpected journey: Tobruk-Suez-Trinocomalee-Fremantle-Sydney-Hay-Cowra-Gaythorne-Home Hill. Unable to sign his name upon arrival in Australia, his ‘new’ world would have been very unfamiliar.

Testa was in the first group of Italian prisoners of war to arrive at Q6, which was still in its construction phase.  It was April 1944 and a month earlier a cyclone had crossed the coast between Bowen and Townsville with Home Hill recording 509 points (c. 130mm) in the last week of March.  The Burdekin had been in minor flood and on 31st March 1944, the Burdekin bridge had 2 ft 6 ins of water over the rails. The rain had delayed construction.

By the 14th May PW and AMF personnel were still in tents with no floor boards, they were sleeping on bush bunks.  Work completed to the Q6 facility included: QM Store, Canteen, AMF latrine – ¾ complete, AMF sleeping huts – stumps and bearers in, PW latrine – complete, PW ablutions- frame completed and floor concreted, PW sleeping huts – not commenced, chlorination pit for septic tank – not installed.

By August 1944 living conditions had improved and the camp was completed including hot water and septic latrines.

But for Sante Testa, his personal circumstances changed in August.  His testimony in his defence of a charge of ‘refusing to obey a military command’ provides a personal insight into his interactions with the army staff at Q6 Home Hill and his views including unjust treatment meted out to the Italian prisoners of war.

DEFENCE

The accused being duly sworn gives the following evidence:

On 2 August 44 in the afternoon I done my duty like all other prisoners of war. Sgt Gibson did not send me to prison because of the work.  He sent me to prison because he doesn’t like me, because I had asked him for a change of squad.  The same day in the evening at teatime while I was proceeding for a wash, Sgt Gibson called me.  He said, “Testa you come to the commandant”.  I replied “Yes”.  After I finished washing I went.  He took me to the Commandant.  The Commandant asked me why did I refuse to work.  I told him that I had not refused I had done my duty.  The commandant sent me to prison.  I told the Commandant “you are sending me to prison unjustly that to-day I did my duty”. On 3 August about quarter past eight the Lieut. Hamilton and Sgt Zappala came to the Compound and he told me “Testa why are you in the Compound”. I answered “Sgt Gibson sent me unjustly”. The Lieutenant told me “Testa you come to work”. I said “No”. Had the Lieutenant told me that I would have been paid I would have come out to work willingly.  After that he took me to the Commandant.  The commandant asked me if I would work that morning. I told him “Yes” but I asked for a change in squad.  He told me “No”.  And the Commandant declared me as having refused, but I had not refused.  Had the Commandant told me that I wold have been paid I would have gone out willingly because he on the 19 June had sent me to prison without any trial and I was awarded seven days detention. Three days bread and water and four days, Australian rations and worked without pay, and for this reason I said “No”.  I did not refuse for any other reason. A Prisoner of War with seven days detention, three days on bread and water, worked and no pay and forfeited his free issue of cigarettes.  If on 3 August he would have been told that he would have been paid he would have gone to work willingly.

I have now been 19 days in detention unjustly and have had no soap and no writing material and no free issue of cigarettes.  This morning was the first issue of soap I have received, because the Commandant knew that there was Officers coming. 

There will come a day at this camp that no Prisoner of war will go to work because the Camp Commandant he punish the men unjustly and if a Prisoner of War has an accident and that would be sick for a period of about 20 days the Camp Commandant does not allow him to make purchases at the canteen.

His evidence is read to accused.

I certify that the above Summary of Evidence was taken by my at HOME HILL on the Twenty-first day of August 1944, and that the requirements of Rules of Procedure 4  ( C) , (D), (E ),  (F) and (G) have been complied with.

 Nugent Wallman [Captain AIF Lawyer Stationed in Townsville]

(NAA:A11626, POW20)

A summary of Sante Testa’s record and detentions is as follows:

3.6.44 Q6 Home Hill 4 days detention by C/O

19.7.44 Q6 Home Hill 7 days detention

3.10.44 Q6 Home Hill 120 days detention by court martial ‘disobeying a lawful command

7.1.45 Hay Detention Barracks – 3 days No. 1 Diet, gave letter w/o permission to a POW

And so Testa’s journey continued: Q6 Home Hill-Gaythorne in transit-Hay Detention Barracks-Murchison-Naples

3936403 Testa 030228 13

Murchison, Australia. 1 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D1 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49374 A. Curcio; 48235 S. Nardea; 62062 A. Criscuolo; 48243 G. Olivares; 55953 G. Dinapoli. Front row: 64344 A. Fantetti; 56526 A. Picheca; 64339 P. Fabrizio; 46885 S. Testa; 63786 I. Buttarelli. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photo documentation suggests that names are listed, back row, front row, left to right.  (AWM Image 030228/13, Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

Journey Through Photos

Luigi Iacopini’s journey as a soldier and prisoner of war is told through the photos he kept.  His photos are like a diary recording major events in his early adult life.

Born 24.5.16  in Ponzano Di Fermo Ascoli Piceno, Luigi’s occupation was a barber.

In Italy

A reminder of his military service in the infantry is a photo of a young Luigi in full dress uniform.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__003 (1)

Luigi Iacopini

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

Craig Douglas from Regio Esercito History Group Australia  recognised the uniform and writes, “it looks like he belonged to the 115 Infantry Regiment, 62nd Infantry Division Marmarica. Destroyed 5 January 1941 at Bardia.”  And yes, Luigi was captured at Bardia on 3rd January 1941.

In Libya

Luigi and other young soldiers in Derna Libya. Derna is on the coast between Benghazi and Tobruk.  It was taken on 25.?.38. Luigi was 22 years old.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 (3) - Copy

Italian Soliders in Derna 1938

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

In India

The rattan matting, the socks and sandals, the shorts and trousers with a distinctive stripe down the sides are common to photos in the POW Camps in India. Luigi was 25-27 years old.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 (2) - Copy

A group of Italian prisoners of war in a POW Camp in India

(courtesy of Raffaele Iacopini)

In Australia

A group of Italian prisoners of war at a Gympie farm.  The photo was possibly on a Amamoor farm and taken on the day of departure from the farms in the first week of January 1946. Luigi was 29 years old.

Luigi Iacopini, Giovanni Meconi and Fortunato Gobbi went to the farm of JJ Parr at Amamoor on 5th August 1944.

Other Italian POWs who worked on the farm of JJ Parr were Vincenzo Licocci, Francesco Bevilacqua. Alessandro Di Placido, Costanzo Melino and Pasquale Di Donato.

Foto Luigi Iacopini

Italian Prisoners of War at a Gympie Farm

Alessandro Di Placido (?) first on left, Fortunato Gobbi second on left, Luigi Iacopini centre

(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)

 

Luigi was repatriated on the Alcantara on 23rd  December 1946.

1946 Dec Daily Advertiser

1946 ‘BACK TO ITALY’, Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW : 1911 – 1954), 25 December, p. 1. , viewed 07 Aug 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article145125911

A Portable Gramophone

Music.Singing.Gramophone.

This research opens many doors into the past.  For my generation, a record player was powered by electricity and was fitted into a well-made cabinet befitting a place in the family lounge room. I knew of gramophones cranked by a handle for operation.  But I had never thought of a gramophone as being portable.

Enter Luigi Pinna from Cagliari Sardinia.  Luigi sent me a photo of his father Antioco Pinna* and taking pride of place is a portable gramophone.  My eyes were focussed on the men, Italian prisoners of war in South Australia, so I had not noticed the crank handle.  And so much of what I have been told about Italian prisoners of war and music now makes sense. Portable gramophones gave easy access to music.

Pinna Antioco.jpeg

Antioco Pinna (left) with other Italian POWs and gramophone South Australia

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

A portable gramophone allowed soldiers to take their music with them, regardless of how many times they were moved or transferred.  I read about t Jim, an Aussie soldier, who had taken his with him from the deserts of Tobruk Libya to the rainforest of Milne Bay New Guinea. And similarly, the Italian soldiers would have taken their portable gramophone from Ethiopia to India to Australia.

Be taken back to those times and listen to Jealousy  and Conchita Marquita Lolita… songs which we know the Italian POWs listened to.

One 1941 newspaper article mentioned that the Red Cross was looking for donations to send to our soldiers. “If music hath charms to soothe a troubled mind,” then surely this is just what these men want, and a good portable gramophone is always a welcome.  To be able to listen to the latest dance tune, or even a symphony orchestra when one is miles from anywhere in the desert must be quite a thrill…”

Some of the newspaper headlines of the time read:

Red Cross Wants Gramophones

Gramophones Wanted for Soldiers

A.I.F. to Learn French (via gramophone)

Gramophone from Tobruk

Gramophone

(1943 ‘Gramophone Wanted For Men In New Guinea’, Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), 11 October, p. 2. , viewed 15 Jun 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article193056681)

* Antioco Pinna was from Palma Suergio (Cagliari Sardinia).  He was sent to South Australia and allocated to S13 PWC Hostel Mt Gambier-Penola-Mt Burr.  The search for information about his stay in South Australia is  ongoing. His son Luigi is hoping to find the South Australians in photos brought back to Italy by his father.

Friends of the Italians at Amamoor

 

Anna Eusebi and Raffaele Iacopini are researching their father’s and grandfather’s time as prisoners of war in the Gympie district from 1944-1945 and need the help of Gympie locals to fill in the missing details.

Anna’s nonno Fortunato Gobbi and Raffaele’s father Luigi Iacopini, together with Giovanni Meconi, all from the Ascoli Piceno province of Italy, began work on an Amamoor farm owned by J.J.Parr on 5th August 1944.

Anna says, “My nonno never talked much about this piece of his life after he returned to Italy and I would appreciate any help from people who can help me find out more.  If possible, I would like to contact someone from the Parr family at Amamoor to know if someone remembers my nonno.”

Anna has shared photos from Fortunato’s time at Amamoor in the hope that someone might remember something. “We always knew that these photos held special memories for my nonno.  But it wasn’t until I found the research project “Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland” that I began to understand some of nonno’s story.  The researcher, Joanne Tapiolas, told me the name of the farmer and where the farm was.  She also told me that the photos show the Land Army Girls and the Italian prisoners of war who worked together on many farms during the war. One of the photos shows a truck loaded up with sacks of potatoes.”

Scan0009

Amamoor Farm Gympie 1944-1945

Luigi Iacopini on the left and Fortunato Gobbi centre front.

Raffaele Iacopini is hoping that Gympie residents might recognise the people in one of his father’s photos.  Raffaele believes that the photo was sent to his father Luigi after the war and must be from someone that he knew. Possibly it was sent to Raffaele after he left a Gympie farm but was still in Australia.

The sender wrote on the back of the photo, You know who this is? Miss …cia and me, horses and fruit. “I hope that someone recognises the people in this photo and can tell me something more about my father when he worked in Amamoor and the people he met,” says Raffaele.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 - Copy

Pineapple Harvest Gympie District c. 1946-1947

Nicko’s Baskets

Anthony Brown reminisces about the Nicko and Pasquali who lived on the Brown farm via Kenilworth 1944-1945:
I remember Mum saying, “Boy can they eat!” They ate meals with us and were part of the family. Mum did all the cooking, she was a fantastic cook. Nicko and Pasquali slept on the verandah with my brother Craig and myself. My sister slept in her own room inside the house. The beds were canvas stretchers with a coir mattress (husk of coconuts). They were supplied with their own blankets which I recall were dyed red.

Nicko’s Baskets

(photo courtesy of Sharon Pearson [Brown])

The red coloured clothing was supplied by the army and was plentiful. The red dye came out in the wash tubs.  In those days you carted water from the creek and a wood fired copper was used to wash the clothes.  The clothes were wool and I remember them only wearing long trousers.

In those days, neighbours helped each other out.  There were two creek crossings into our farm which kept getting flooded.  The POWs from EV Kirk’s farm helped our two pick up rocks from the farmers’ paddocks to put in the creek crossings to dam the water way in preparation for concreting the crossings.  My dad contributed his POW workforce which meant he paid the wages for the job.  Another farmer paid for the cement and the council supplied the trucks, overseer and equipment such as a cement mixer.  The 1956 floods washed away the top of the causeway they made.

Our two POWs were different in nature.  I was 12 years old, and through my eyes, Nicko seemed more like a farmer and Pasquali more a ‘towny’ type.  Pasquali seemed more low key and spoke better English than Nicko.  My sister Dolores remembers that Pasquali sent a letter to us after they went back to Italy. She was nine years old at the time and thought Pasquali was good looking.

Nicko was short.  I was 5 foot six inches when I was 12 years old, and much taller than Nicko.  His record states that he was 4 foot 11 inches.  Once when a bag of potatoes came down from the Maleny butter factory dad kept them up in the dairy which was a way from the house.  Dad measured out about 40 pounds of potatoes and gave them to Nicko to take home; it was about 1 km from the dairy to the house.  Nicko took over ½ hour to get home with the potatoes.  When Nicko arrived home, he said to my dad as a way of excusing his lateness, “Mr Brown, you up there.  Poor Nicko down here.”  Dad was 6 foot tall and Nicko was 4 foot 11 inches.

Pasquali and Nicko helped in the dairy; milking morning and night.  So the farm routine was early to rise and to bed by 7pm.  On the farm, we had 32 volts electricity.  They did other jobs as needed.  Dad sent them down to brush away the rubbish from near the dairy.  He wanted the area cleaned up from the side of the hill leading down to the creek.  They cut down mum’s cumquart tree and left the other trees standing.  I remember Dad saying “The only tree you chopped down was the cumquart tree!”  It had prickles so I think they thought it was a rubbish tree.  The tree recovered and is still there on the farm today.

Nicko told Dad about his capture, “I flee! I flee!”  He was the more industrious one and made baskets from the lawyer cane.  One of the things they were required to do during their captivity was to learn crafts to keep them occupied.  I had the feeling that Pasquali was more of an academic as he didn’t seem to do too much of the physical work.

One of the baskets made by Nicko was called “The Egg Basket”.  It was used by to collect the eggs laid by the hens. My sister Dolores remembers that Nicko also made a laundry basket; used for collecting the clean clothes.  She also remembers how they loved their spaghetti and taught my mother how to cook it.  The first time mum made it, the big boiler was chockers with spaghetti.  One of them said, “We cook in copper next time.”

The Italians were always referred to as generally as ‘Dagos’ but I never knew why. At the time, I didn’t know if it was a term of endearment or derogatory.

Their names were Pasquale Mastrantonio and Nicola Fantetti and the records indicate that they came to the farm of AA Brown on 3rd August 1944.

My daughter Sharon has two baskets made by Nicko; a fond reminder of those days during the war.