Tag Archives: Italian POWs

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)

 

 

 

 

Cowra Chess Set

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 (1).jpeg

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.

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.

Wide Variety of Uniforms

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Photos are from the Australian War Memorial Collection taken at Cowra and Murchison 1944-1945

On 16th August 1941, the second transport of Italian prisoners of war arrived in Sydney on board the Queen Mary.  What caught the attention of the press was the odd assortment of clothing that the Italians wore.  There were 817 Italian prisoners of war consisting of 405 officers and 412 ordinary ranks.  German prisoners of war also arrived into Australia on this transport.

Italians Down Under is a newsreel film taken in 1941. Watch this clip as Italian prisoners of war alight from a Sydney ferry onto the wharf and then step onto trains.

Italian POW Rossi Pith Helmet

Italo Rossi M/E 68057 Photo taken in India

 

BIG BATCH OF ITALIAN WAR PRISONERS HERE

WIDE VARIETY OF UNIFORMS

from Sun (Sydney, NSW: 1910-1954), Saturday 16 August 1941, page 3

Clad in an amazing variety of uniforms and headgear, a big batch of Italian prisoners of war – officers, N.C.O.’s and other ranks – has arrived in Sydney.

The party presented a remarkable contrast to that which arrived a few months ago.

Many to-day were in high spirits, and their demeanour indicated that they were not at all reluctant to ‘take up residence’ on Australian soil.

Several laughed and joked as they boarded the train that was to take them to their internment camp. Two defiantly gave the Fascist salute.

All of the first party to land were officers and among them were several airmen and one wearing dark blue naval uniform.

Sartorial honours went to a tall Italian who walked nonchalantly along the wharf clad in a sweeping dark blue cloak with scarlet lining and frogs.

An Alpini wore a slouch Tyrolean hat with a long feather and a grey well-cut uniform with thick woollen socks.

QM August 1941 Italian POWs

Headgear ranged from orthodox military caps to pith helmets and from blue woollen berets to improvised black felt skull caps.  Some retained traces of smartness in high-fronted peak caps of the Nazi types.

Taste in knee boots inclined towards the exotic in some instances. One officer wore gaiter-like coverings on his legs of a beige tint.

Knickers and Sandshoes

At the other end of the scale was an Italian in plain grey knickerbockers with white sandshoes.  Two wore dark eyeshades.

Mufflers ran the gamut of the colour range contrasting strangely with battered pith helmets and war-stained uniforms.

Many of the prisoners grinned cheerfully at cameramen but one was camera-shy.

He walked the full distance from the disembarkation point to the waiting train with a cardboard carton draped around his head and shoulders.

On the wharf was a high pile of luggage.  The Italians had come well prepared for their stay in Australia.  Several portmanteau and tarpaulin sheets covering them were camouflaged.

The rangers carried blankets and tin panikins.  A number were only youngsters.

QM August 1941 Italian POW

Several carried improvised draught boards and two started a game with pieces cut from a broom handle.

Medical Precautions

Exhaustive precautions to guard against the prisoners bringing dysentery to Australia were taken before the ship arrived.  Medical officers went aboard and carefully examined the medical history of every prisoner.

Elaborate arrangements had been made to have the men quarantined if this had been found necessary.

The Army Director-General of Hygiene made a special trip to Sydney to study the health situation before the prisoners landed.  Arrangements were made for the prisoners to be given meals on the train and they were accompanied by their own medical officers, as well as by Australian army medical men.

Panniers of medical stores were taken on the train to guard against illness on the journey.

Half a dozen of the prisoners who were ill were taken direct from the wharf to an ambulance and then to hospital.

Italian POW Hospital Queen Mary 1941

The photo below was taken in summer at Cowra. It shows the men some two and half years later and the odd assortment of clothing they wore.  Footwear consisted of sandals (possibly hand made), boots and high boots.  Clothing varied with tee shirts, buttoned shirts and safari suit tops of various colours being part of the Italians’ wardrobes.

Ippolito 3917517

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.

(Australia War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes, Image 030173/11)

‘Bendles’ and Italian POWs

In Memory of Nicola Evangelista

Maxina Williams from the Buderim Garden Club has brought to light information about Italian prisoners of war in Buderim during World War 2.  While undertaking research for a book for the Buderim Garden Club, Maxina has linked a “well known landscape designer, author, artist, photographer and conservationist, Edna Walling” to “a little house in Buderim which once housed Italian POWs”.

Nambour.Bendells

Bendels Cottage

(Photograph courtesty of Maxina Williams)

Maxina writes, “Edna purchased the cottage, known as “Bendles”, which she considered ideal for her requirements. Bendles has an interesting history, having originally been built during the Second World War by the Beamish family as a hut to house three Italian prisoners of war who were working on their farm. After the war it was moved to its present location on the corner of Quiet Valley Crescent and Lindsay Road and renovated”.

According to the records, HE Beamish from Buderim had three Italian POWs work for him. Sebastiano Fresilli, Tommaso Mallozzi and Nicola Evangelista arrived on the Beamish farm on 3.3.44.

Nambour.Beamish.Sebastiano Fresilli

Italian Prisoner of War identity card – Fresilli, Sebastiano – PWI 57236

National Archives of Australia: NAA: J3118, 65

Additionally, another story emerges from the past. Nicola Evangelista was 28 years old when he died at Q2 Nambour Centre, Sydney Street on 30 April 1945. His burial took place at Nambour Cemetery 1 May 1945, attended by Captain Ryan and Evangelista’s employer Mr HE Beamish.

A farmer from Cassino Frosinone, Evangelista died from lobar pneumonia and acute pancreatitis.  He had spent four years as a prisoner of war since his capture on 27 March 1941 at Keren (Cheren) when he was a private with a guard unit: II Reggimento Granatieri di Savoia.  He arrived in Melbourne on Mooltan 29 December 1943 before transfer to Cowra No 12 (A) 30 December 1943 and then movement to Gaythorne. His time in Buderim was fourteen months.

Upon quiet reflection, a POW hut which was the final home for Evangelista became Edna Walling’s home until her death in 1973, and is now situated amongst quiet and reflective gardens of Bendles Cottages.

 

 

Special Memories

 

I was five years old at the time, but I have clear memories of the time when Domenico Masciulli lived and worked on our farm at Radford via Harrisville.  I was the chatterbox in the family; my eldest sister Judith was at school and my youngest sister Diana was a baby, so I think I had more time around and with Domenico than my sisters.

Christmas 1944: we went to Rosewood to be with my grandparents.  With my dad having cancer, this was to be his last Christmas.  Domenico and Frank (Uncle Roddie’s POW) were loaned a vehicle so that they could also join us there. The family photo captures those present: ‘The Hardings’ all my mother’s family and Domenico and Frank.  This was our last family photo taken with daddy; a special photo.

Rosewood Xmas 1944 Rackley Family -

Christmas 1944 Harding Family Rosewood

Standing: Bill Harding, Joyce Harding, Alice Harding, Connie Isles, Tom Isles, Margo McMillian, Robert McMillan, Edith Rackley (Mum), Judith Rackley (to the front), Cyril Rackley (Daddy), Diana Rackley (Baby) Francesco Pintabona, Domenico Masciulli, Dugald McMillan

Seated: Gran Harding with baby Nancy Harding, Alan Harding, Grandad Harding, Helen Rackley

(Photo courtesy of Helen Mullan [nee Rackley])

Daddy had a small crops farm with some cows for cream which we sold.  Our farm produced corn, lucerne, pumpkins, potatoes, watermelons, cream melon or Indian Cream I think they were called, carrots, beetroot, peas and tomatoes.  Daddy also had bee hives, so we always had honey.

Domenico’s lodgings was referred to as the ‘worker’s hut’.  It was similar to one on my Uncle Roddie Harsant’s farm and was probably a standard worker’s hut.  I remember Domenico sitting on the step and me looking into a small room with a bed; being told not to go into the hut and being a little five year old, that’s most likely all I could see. There was always a farm hand on our property, Mum used to say she always had work men to feed.

Domenico was like part of the family and ate with us.  Judith first, then while she was at school, I took the smoko, which was a billy of tea, cake or biscuits down to the men in the paddock, morning and afternoon. The most memorable meal we had with Domenico and Frank who was at Uncle Roddie’s farm, was a Sunday lunch.  We were all going to Church. Mum had a Rolled Beef Roast cooking, however Domenico asked if he could cook spaghetti for us as the canteen van had called that week and a box of spaghetti was purchased, the size of a half bushel case.  Domenico asked mum for a big vessel to cook the spaghetti.  Mum got him a saucepan. NO, not big enough to cook the spaghetti; so out came the boiler and off we went to church.  On arriving home, Domenico and Frank were in the backyard cooking the spaghetti in the copper.  Mum was flabbergasted!

Those plates coming out to the table still stay vividly in my memory…. piled high.  Spaghetti, tomato sauce with slices of Roast Beef and topped with cheese.  The following day Domenico was really sick, but he wouldn’t have it that he ate too much spaghetti.  There began my love of spaghetti.  He taught us how to use a spoon and fork to eat it and this I have passed down to my children and grandchildren.

The only words I can remember Domenico teaching us were ‘forchetta’ – fork which he used while teaching us to eat spaghetti; ‘bambina’ – baby, which Di was; and ‘bicheralia’ – he used when singing Di a lullaby.  Di called him ‘Manny’, part of ‘Domenico’ I guess.  She was only 22 months old when we parted.

Before he left the farm, Domenico gave me the needlework of “Madonna and Child”.  He had painstakingly worked on a men’s handkerchief, when in a prison camp in India, I believe.  It was kept folded in an envelope for many years.  It is my special treasure, a reminder of Domenico, and I felt I needed to share this treasure with everyone, so I had it framed.  It has pride of place in my China Cabinet. You can see that is a combination of needlework and drawing with a painted background.  I have often wondered if he ran out of cotton as there are sections which have not been embroidered like the feet and the arms of the angel. It looks like he copied the image because you can see his pencilled in grid pattern.  As an adult, I reflect upon what it must have been like in the POW camp in India and the hours he spent embroidering this “Madonna and Child”.

Domenico.Rackely

Madonna and Child: Domenico Masciulli

(courtesy of Helen Mullan [nee Rackley])

 

Other memories I have are of Domenico giving me an Italian coin and Salvital.  I treasured that coin which was about the size of a threepence, but over my childhood, I lost it.  Salvital was another first for us.  It was available on the Canteen Van.  Domenico would give us a drink now and then, not with chilled and iced water like it is used today though. There is also a letter that Domenico wrote to mum after he left the farm.  I found it in mum’s paperwork but for the time, it is ‘lost’.

Domencio shared a special Christmas with my family.  The photo of this Christmas in 1944 together with Domenico’s needlework gift to me, are fond reminders of the time our Italian prisoner of war worker lived on our farm.

Helen Mullan [Rackley]

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