Tag Archives: Italian POWs

POW Ricordo Cowra

Artefacts made by Italian Prisoners of War are rare. While there are many memories of the gifts made by the POWs such as rings, engravings and wooden objects, there are few items still in existence.

So an email from David Stahel in Brisbane is very exciting. David owns a boxed chess set made by Italian POWs in Cowra.  It is not only beautiful but it is special because of the story behind the board.

Cowra Chess

Badge on Chess Set

( from the photographic collection of David Stahel)

 

The Italian prisoners of war were making chess sets in 1944, when Geoffrey McInnes captured them on film.  And quite possibly David’s chess set was one such set made by the Italian POWs. The photo below shows five Italian POWs working on a lathe built from salvaged timber and metal to produce chess pieces. The sets were sold for 35/- to Army Amenities Section.

Cowra Chess AWM 4134226

(AWM Image 064356 Photo by McInnes, Geoffrey Cowra, NSW. 1944-02-07)

David’s chess sets adds detail to the history of the chess sets being made by Italian POWs at Cowra.  “My father had a chess board that he told me he bought from an Italian POW for some packs of cigarettes.  I grew up with this board and learnt to play draught and chess on it with my father… the painted watercolour scene (unsigned) is very reminiscent of the Italian countryside.  The workmanship of the board and pieces are of a very high standard. Inside is quilted with a satin like fabric. Pawns, rooks, bishops, kings, queens, draught have been turned on a lathe which the knights are carved from a turned base… My father was a lieutenant in the artillery, specifically in the anti aircraft arena,” writes David Stahel.

Cowra Chess Pieces

Boxed Chess Set

( from the photographic collection of David Stahel)

The concept of Italian POWs selling boxed chess sets for 35/- raises a few questions.  POWs were not allowed to have in their possession Australian currency, so what happened to the proceeds of sales.  Quite possibly funds were deposited into the canteen fund.  Profits from the canteen were used by POWs to purchase books for the camp library. Prisoners of war were allowed access to books and music to further their studies and libraries were established in camps. Additionally, access to books and music was a way for POWs to usefully occupy their leisure time.

 

Farmer Supports POW Scheme

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Life on the Farm

(photos courtesy of AWM and individual contributors)

In response to a negative newspaper report on the POW workforce, Mr Male in Western Australia submitted a letter to the editor in support of the POW farm placement scheme.

A question is often posed: How do you quantify the value of the Italian POW workforce?  Mr Male is able to provide the answer.

Italian POW.

Mr L B Male, of Redmond, in writing of his Italian prisoner to the ‘Albany Advertiser’ certainly boasts the Ities as workers, Mr Male says:-

“I have had a POW since the inception of the scheme, and am well satisfied.  In fact, I can honestly say he is the best worker I have had on the place.  he works voluntarily from 5 am to 7 pm, and if necessary I am prepared to give a detailed account of his work, day by day.  Only dissatisfaction I have heard is from farmers who haven’t got any Italian labourers.

“It is said that some farmers think the military authorities nurse them too much.  Well, such is not the case as far as my Control Centre is concerned.

“They are very firms with both POW and employer, but are exceptionally fair to each.

“In my particular case, I was unable to obtain labour for three years.  Result: Fences not kept in repair; grass paddocks overgrown; calves running with cows that should be milked; only half the potatoes planted previously; and the farm generally going into a decline.  I thought I was going into one too!

“Now I have the farm back to normal, or even better than it was before the rot set in, and it is solely due to the work done by a POW in less than 12 months, with the co-operation received from the POW control centre.

“I have conversed with at least 20 employers of POW between Mt Barker and Albany, and not one of them has ever mentioned being dissatisfied.”

(Beverly Times (WA: 1905-1977), Friday 17 November 1944, page 4)

1944 ‘Italian POW.’, The Beverley Times (WA : 1905 – 1977), 17 November, p. 4. , viewed 09 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202749325

Italian-Australian Family Reunion

Dall’ Australia a Bagnatica per riabbracciare l’ex prigioniero

Il giovane australiano non ha dimenticato il bergamasco che lavoro alle dipendenze della sua familiglia – Cordiale incontro con un altro ex prigioniero di Vigano S. Martino

Below is a translated copy of a 6th September 1960 newspaper article from “Eco di Bergamo”.  

 west wylong

Family Feast

Graydon Bolte (left) shares a meal with Angelo Airoldi and family

(from the collection of Graydon Bolte)

It tells the story of a Bergamose POW, Angelo Airoldi,  from the time he was captured in 1940 in Buk Buk, North Africa to the time a young Australian visited him on his farm in the commune of Bagnatica.

Today, the country men of “Portico” farm in commune of Bagnatica have suspended their work almost completely to stop in the large courtyard and keep company with an exceptional guest, from Australia. It is a question of a strong young mean bieng 23 years old, Mr. Graydon Bolte, from West Wyalong, New South Wales.

He arrived here three days ago and will stay here for some weeks, as a guest of Mr Angelo Airoldi who is the sole person not only at “Portico” but at Bagnatica able to understand and chat with young Graydon, who speaks in English language only.

Mr Airoldi went to the Bolte family in 1944 in Australia, where he was moved after being taken prisoner by the English soldiers in May 1940 in Africa.

Before reaching the fifth continent he had had a long ordeal from one concentration camp to another – from Africa to Bombay and Bangalore.

It was about the Easter day in 1944 when the American ship Mariposa discharged him in the Australian port of Melbourne, from where he was sent to Cowra camp.  Almost soon after his arrival the time of imprisonment had practically ended.  he was in fact … along with another Bergamose prisoner, Mr Ernesto Armati of Vigano San Martino, as agricultural workers by a rich Australian farmer, Mr Bolte senior.

The untiring work and the honesty of the two Italian men gained the Bolte’s sympathy, who began to treat them as members of the same family.  So as to entrust them with the direct custody of the farm, the breedings, the house, with an unlimited confidence, when the family who gave hospitality to them moved to town for the weekend.

Naturally the prisoners of war Airoldi and Armati took a seat at the same table as Mr Bolte and family.

They were very much friends with the children, amongst whom was Graydon, who was then 7 years old only and became attached deeply to Airoldi and Armati.

The ties of the friendship with the Bolte family did not discontinue when the two Italian men returned to their country after the war.  The frequent correspondence through which the respective families communicated one another, merry or sorrowful news was never interrupted.

The father before giving consent for the long trip, made Graydon promise he would visit the Airoldi family.  But it was not necessary for him to promise, because in place of stopping in Rome in order to see the Olympic Games, Graydon came direct to “Portico” farm of Bagnatica, where Angelo Airoldi the prisoner of war took him on his knees.

In these days he is happy to be able to make the same friendship with the little daughter of his friend.  it appears to him to give back a piece of affection and fondness which he received when he was still a little boy, and of which he conserved a deeply very congenial remembrance.

 

 

 

Everyday Memories

Janice Joyce (nee Pownall) has a keepsake, from the time that Italian prisoners of war worked on her father’s property Mahoon out Monto way.

Monto.DowlingWarren.Pace.Dunn Syd (10)

QG Spoon: Daily Reminder of Monto Italian POWs

(from the collection of Janice Joyce (nee Pownall))

“Ring barking was the main work that the Italians did.  They would work out on the property at a camp site as the work was a distance away from the house.  After the men moved on, Dad went out to the spot where their camp kitchen had been and found a tablespoon with QG engraved on it. I still have it and it is used every day in my kitchen! Isn’t that lovely?” (Memories from Mahoon)

The Italian POWs were most resourceful and Alan Fitzgerald in The Italian Farming Soldiers wrote:

“The Italians, like prisoners everywhere did not pass up an opportunity.  When nine were admitted to the Hay detention barracks from Yanco they were found to possess towels, pillowslips and tumblers bearing the New South Wales Railways brand.”

One wonders how many ‘interesting’ objects like government branded items made their way back to Italy.

Q10.9 Michael Joyce and Jan Joyce

Michael Joyce, Joanne Tapiolas and Janice Joyce at Croftby 2017

(from the collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

Cellophane Belt

Recycling is not a new concept.

Held in private collections, many amazing artefacts made by the Italian POWs have survived.  While, the Australian War Memorial has a number of items made or belonging to Italian POWs in their Heraldry Collection, research for this project has unearthed artefacts ‘unknown’ to public collections.

Basil Wyllie of Mooloo Gympie had three Italian prisoners of war on his farm: Alfredo Montagnini from Montefascone Viterbo, Raffaele Scrigno from Albanova Napoli and Pietro Verrengia from Cellole Napoli.

One of the items made by the Italians was a belt.  An example of war arts and crafts, it is fashioned from the cellephone wraps from cigarette packets.   Basil Wyllie has written on the inside of the belt: 1942 Egypt Italian.

A special thank you to Basil Wyllie’s daughter Noela White (Wyllie) for sharing this wonderful relic.

Belt.Wyllie.POW. Double

Belt made by Italian POWs on Basil Wyllie’s Farm Mooloo

(from the collection of Noela White (Wyllie))

Percy Miles from a neighbouring Mooloo farm,  remembered, “Some of the things they used to do to beat the boredom… One was to collect all the cellophane wrapping on cigarette packets and fold it up and plait it into a belt.”  

Alex Miles, son of Percy Miles, had telephoned me in 2017 about his families prisoners of war.  Alex told me about the belts the Italians made. Thinking leather, I was not prepared for the word ‘cellophane’.  I had no previous reference to belts made from cellophane.  I was intrigued.  Alex then sent me photos of the ‘belt’ and I was amazed.

This seemingly ‘fragile’ material, cellophane, has been prepared and fashioned in such a manner that one belt has survived.  While the white cellophane has yellowed with age, this double sided belt must have taken many many hours to make and comprises of hundreds of cigarette packet wraps.

Belt.Wyllie.POW.Mooloo

Close Up of Belt made by Italian POWs on Basil Wyllie’s Farm Mooloo

(from the collection of Noela White (Wyllie))

But this was not just an object of war.  Making belts from the cellophane wraps of cigarette packets and chocolate boxes was a new fashion in 1930’s.  Newspaper articles sing the praises of this fashion statement being made in Paris and London.

So how does one make a belt from cellophane… the full instructions can be found in the 1937 newspaper article as referenced below and available from Trove.

Belt Made from Cellophane.jpg

1937 ‘Belt Made from Cellophane’, The Maitland Daily Mercury (NSW : 1894 – 1939), 10 July, p. 3. , viewed 20 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article126512099

Recycling is not a new concept.

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.

Finding Ferdy

Finding Ferdy is like finding treasure…

Tim Dwyer had heard his father’s stories about the Italian prisoners of war on their property at Aratula during WW2. He knew their names and a little bit about them, but it wasn’t until he took over from his mum, as letter writer to one of the POWs, that he appreciated the bonds of friendship formed over 65 years before.

Ferdinando Young Man

Ferdinando Pancisi

(photo courtesy of Ferdinando Pancisi)

Tim continued to write to Ferdinando Pancisi (known as Ferdy) from 2010 but the ceasation of replies from Italy in recent years signalled the end of a era.

In a tribute to his parents and Ferdy, Tim while on holiday in Italy in 2017, decided to visit Ferdy’s village Civitella di Romagna.  With an envelope in his hand and very basic Italian, Tim asked a lady in the street for directions to the address written on the paper.

With much gesticulation and explanation,  Tim’s village guide understood he was “The Australian” and knocked on a door and roused 100 year old Ferdy.

Ferdy.Anna.Tim.Ferdy

Anna Pancisi, Tim Dwyer and Ferdinando Pancisi September 2017

(from the collection of Tim Dwyer)

Finding Ferdy was like finding treasure and Tim left Civitella di Romagna with a heavy heart.  There was much he wanted to say and questions he wanted to ask but his holiday schedule and language were against him.

Realising the importance of capturing the memories and stories of Ferdy, not only of his time with the Dwyer family, but also his time as a soldier and prisoner of war, Tim engaged the services of Tammy Morris, a Kiwi living in Tavarnelle, Chianti.

The legacy of friendship between an Italian POW and the Dwyer family, is the capturing and recording of this vital first hand account of the life of an Italian soldier and POW.  Read the full story: PANCISI Ferdinando.

Tammy and her husband Nicola Cianti arranged to visit Ferdinando, tape his memories, transcribe them then translate them.  Tammy said, “Ferdinando has an extremely fresh memory and is an energetic and jovial person!”

Ferdy walked back in time and explained about his time as a soldier and medic in Libya, his capture, working in the hospital in a POW camp in India,  his first impressions of his farm boss (Tim’s father), his return home and almost emigrating to USA and Ferdy sang  SOTTO IL CIEL DI BANGALORE.

Ferdy reflected about his return to Italy in 1947,

“They prepared my bed, heated it up for me.  I had a warm welcome, felt cozy, happy to be home. The only problem was that when I woke up in the morning, I felt kind of out of place! I was used to moving around and seeing the World. How was I going to make it here? I was feeling a bit like a fish out of water! This little village was too small for me!”

Even as a young man, Ferdy had a gift for wise words and in a letter he wrote to Pat Dwyer in 1946, he sends a message: ‘A cheer up to Pauline! Tell her she should be glad because youthness passes away like a wind and nobody can’t stop it’.

When talking about Tim and Cathy’s unannounced visit, Ferdy’s philosophy on life is revealed: “You see, this is the joy of living life -when you don’t know what kind of surprise is coming your way, making each day a pleasure”.

And quite possibly Ferdinando Pancisi’s philosophy and positivity guided him through those difficult war years.

I congratulate Tim on his efforts to co-ordinate a remarkable mission to capture Ferdy’s memories. I thank also Tammy Morris  and Nicola Cianti for realising the importance of Ferdy’s journey as a soldier and prisoner of war and their willingness to record this history.

Footsteps.Pancisi

Tammy Morris, Ferdinando Pancisi, Anna Pancisi and Nicola Cianti 2017

(photo courtesy of Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti)