Tag Archives: Italian POWs

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.


(NAA: MP1103/1 for DF)


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.

The following are some of the 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

The first 2000 Italian POWs

The first 2006 Italian prisoners of war arrived in Australia on the Queen Mary 25th May 1941.  The Queen Mary had been the jewel in Cunard White Star Line between wars making voyages across the Atlantic. Catering for 2332 passengers, the Queen Mary was berthed in New York at the start of hostilities.  The Queen Elizabeth joined her in New York before both ships were sent to Australia for use as troop transport ships.  On the return journey to Australia, Italian and German prisoners of war were embarked in the Middle East. The Queen Mary brought Italian POWs to Australia on three occasions during 1941, as did the Queen Elizabeth.  Military record cards use the reference “Q.M.” and “Q.E.”

With the entry of the USA into the war at the end of 1941, the Magnificent Queens: the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth were re-routed as  transports for American troops. They would transport between 12,000 to 15,000 armed personnel on these voyages.

The newspaper article below describes the arrival of Australia’s first 2006 Italian prisoners of war and the circumstances of their arrival.

Queen Mary Bunks

Queen Mary: The Swimming pool is now a troops sector, with tiers of bunks for men

(from the Imperial War Museum: Coote, RGG (Lt) Image A25931)


2000 Arrive in Sydney



(photo from Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 – 1954), Thursday 29 May 1941, page 1)

Sydney, May 26,- A large shipment of 2000 Italian prisoners of war captured in Libya has arrived in Sydney and the first trainload of about 500 have been sent off to an inland internment camp in New South Wales.

Unimpressive physically, wearing a nondescript mixture of  garments in which the greenish-grey Italian field uniform predominated, the prisoners were brought ashore by ferry and immediately issued with A.I.F. greatcoats, relics of the war of 1914-1918, which have been dyed a burgundy colour. At the prison camp they will be dressed completely in wool uniforms of this colour, which is so conspicuous that it should act as a strong deterrent against attempts to escape.

There was no sign yesterday, however of any wish among the prisoners to cause trouble.  Overshadowed by their Australian guards, they trooped ashore quietly with few smiles and only a little quiet talk among themselves.  Some scowled as press photographs were taken.  The ship guards described their behaviour on the voyage was docile.

first 2

(photo from The Courier Mail (Brisbane, Qld.: 1933-1954) Wednesday 28 May 1941, page 3)

Before they were disembarked, a number of them sought the senior officer and asked if they could not be allowed to stay and work until the end of the war on the ship, which has been engaged as a transport carrying Australian troops overseas.  Their offer was not accepted. On the voyage out, much of the scullery work was done by the prisoners, who also waited on the members of the A.I.F. who were returning after being wounded.

The only officers among the prisoners ware five medical officers and a priest.  one of the doctors was a distinguished surgeon in Italy, a professor of surgery at the University of Turin.  A doctor who came ashore yesterday was wearing black field boots, green-grey breeches and a khaki drill tunic with the gold braid insignia of a captain’s rank on his shoulder straps, three stars below a larger star, the device giving a general effect more like the shoulder badges worn by a brigadier in the British forces.  His batman followed him ashore laden with the baggage of both and wearing Red Cross arm and cap badges.

None of the prisoners speak English, but the medical officers almost all speak some French.  Corporal Craig, of the Eastern Command Records Staff, who speaks Italian, French and Greek, acted as the military interpreter.  After serving in the first A.I.F., he lived for nearly 20 years in Alexandria and spent a period in Italy in the service of an American motor firm, who established tractor assembly works there.

The medical captain, who came from Piedmont, explained through the interpreter that he was a civilian who had been called up from the reserve for service.  he had been in Libya eight months before he was taken prisoner.  When asked by an Australian officer what he thought of Australia, he replied briefly: “No opinion”. Then he smiled wryly and added, “Very nice, but I am a prisoner.” He said that the average age of the prisoners would be 24 or 25. They looked younger.  Most of them came from Southern Italy, though a few were taller men who looked though they might have come from the north.

Half a dozen wore sailors’ uniforms, but it was explained that they were not necessarily naval men as they used any clothes they could get hold of.  A number were in shorts.  There were several tropical helmets, one with Tobruk and Bardia painted on it.

As they filed ashore from the ferry in a double line between military police guards with fixed bayonets, they were handed their burgundy coloured coasts and a tin mug each.  A packet meal supplied by the railway refreshment service was given to them on the train.

first 4

(photo from Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.: 1872-1947), Tuesday 27 May 1941, page 9)

An assortment of moustaches and many beards, including one black spade Balbo model, adorned the swarthy faces, many of which looked as though their owners might have come from Alexandria or Port Said, rather than from Italy.  They carried untidy packs containing their belongings.  One man, when offered a burgundy coloured greatcoat, proudly gestured towards his pack to show that he already had a coat, an Italian model.  he looked puzzled as he walked on carrying his distinctive Australian garment.

All the prisoners were medically examined with great care before being sent ashore.  The official instruction is that anyone with any sign of infectious disease is to be quarantined rigorously to guard against the introduction of epidemic diseased from the Middle East.

(Kalgoorlie Mine (WA: 1895-1950), Wednesday 28 May 1941, page 1)

first 3

(photo from Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.: 1872-1947), Friday 30 May 1941, page 7)

Can you help me?

It started with a message from Italy via Facebook on 2nd December 2017:

Hi! I found these documents about my grandfather in the Australian Archives, but I can’t understand too much of the document. Can you help me?

And it has ended with a reunion* of the Arici family in Ghedi Brescia Italy with the Maddock family in Mukinbudin Western Australia.

Antonio Arici was 29 years old when as an Italian prisoner of war in Australia, he was transferred to the farm of Norm and May Maddock at Hill View via Mukinbudin. The writer of the above message is Antonio’s grandson Davide Dander, also 29 years old. As a tribute to his grandfather, he is retracing his grandfather’s footsteps in Australia. Davide’s research has lead him to Mukinbudin and Bert Maddock, son of Norm Maddock, who has clear memories of Antonio working on the family farm.

Step by step, the Arici family is finding Antonio’s footprints. Arriving in Melbourne Victoria on 26th April 1944, Antonio was one of 4069 POWs in a convoy of three transport ships from India.  Antonio spent time at Murchison PW & I Camp Victoria before being transferred to Marrinup PW Camp WA on 4th June 1944 along with 1099 other Italian POWs.

These 1100 were destined for farm work in several Prisoner of War Control Centres. Allocated to W19 Prisoner of War Control Centre Koorda, Antonio’s first placement was with Mr S Goodchild Mukinbudin from 16th July 1944 to 8th November 1944.  He was then transferred to the farm of Mr Norman Maddock on 8th November 1944 until 15th January 1946.

Antonio Arici PW Identity Card

Identity Card for Antonio Arici

(NAA:K1174 ARICI, Antonio)

Norman’s son Bert Maddock was a teenager when Antonio stepped onto the family farm. Bert’s wife, Jocelyn provides the backdrop to Antonio’s journey:

 “The farm at Hill View had been taken up by Norm Maddock in 1929 and had to be developed by cutting down the bush.  He did a small amount of cropping but livestock mainly sheep were his chief source of income, so Antonio would have been involved helping with these activities… Norman also had a few cattle and of course a milking cow… Bert, my husband would have been about 15 when Antonio worked on the farm and he recalls going out into the bush with Antonio to cut timber railings to build horse yards.  Antonio had a comfortable hut – made from corrugated iron and containing his bed, a cupboard, a fireplace, a couple of chairs, a small table and a bath tub.  He had all his meals with the family.  The hut had originally been built for another worker who enlisted when the War began.”

Jocelyn relates that Bert and his sister Doreen, “both of them remember separately a Sunday when Antonio and another POW from a neighbouring farm cooked the evening meal for the family and it was pasta.  This was the first time any of them had tasted pasta as it was then not a usual dish in Australia…They remember Antonio as a ‘good bloke’ which is high praise indeed and means pleasant, friendly, trustworthy, a reliable helper on the farm and respected.  Indeed most people who employed Italian POWs speak of them in these terms.  Bert has a wooden box which Antonio left behind in his Camp – it was probably too heavy to take.  It is not a large box and was empty.”

Government records further confirm Bert’s memories of Antonio.  Notated on one of these forms are the words: A good worker with a cheery disposition.  Highly regarded by employers. 

Antonio took home to Italy a few mementos of his stay in Western Australia.  Two of them take pride of place, displayed on a wall in a daughter’s home: a felt hat and a whip.  Jocelyn mentions that “we find the picture of the hat and whip intriguing.  All the men on farms wore similar felt hats as a general item of clothing in all seasons so it may be the one he [Antonio] had on the farm. Whips were not general use on the farm … Bert surmises the whip in your [Davide’s] photo is a sulky whip used by his Grandfather George Maddock as George’s possession were brought to the farm after he died.”

Antonio Arici. Hat and Whip from WA.JPG 

Hat and Whip belonging to Antonio Arici

(photo courtesy of the Arici family)

After leaving the Maddock farm, Antonio arrived at the Northam PW Camp on 21st January 1946.  It wasn’t until 17th October 1946 that Antonio boarded the SS Katoomba for his repatriation to Naples.

Antonio’s daughter Franca continues retracing her father’s footsteps: “…[he] arrived in Naples on 23rd November 1946, from Naples, with the train reached northern Italy, his hometown, Brescia and the village of Ghedi.  He resumed the activities left before the war, working in the countryside as a farmer and herdsman, helping the family and his brothers.  In November 1954 he married my mother, Agnese, and the next year his first daughter was born. Immediately and almost constantly, my father asks my mother to move to Australia.”

An extract from a letter written by another Italian POW, Donato Caruso, working on Oscar Miell’s farm in the Mukinbudin district explains the impressions the Italians had of Australia and the reasons why Antonio wanted to move to Australia:

“Here one lives well.  There is everything to eat that one wants.  I hope I can return here at the end of the war.  There is enough land for all ITALY to be lodged here.  Here the farmers could live till they reached a hundred.  There are no hoes, the ground is worked with horses and tractors.  The climate is good (better than there). There are all conveniences, and nothing is missing.  The country is flat plain and a lot of wheat is lost on the ground. Wheat which we badly want.  Nothing is missing as regards enjoyment.  There is everything that one desires.”

Franca Arici says that, “the years spent in Australia had remained in the heart of my father, who always told of the past moments with great nostalgia; life as a prisoner of war should not have weighed too much in his memories, instead leaving the place to stories of boundless landscapes, meeting with people who respected him and considered him positively even if he were in a subordinate position… it is a beautiful, serene, nostalgic memory of my father’s and the desire to return to Australia has always remained alive in him, it certainly owes to the good treatment received on the farm that hosted him [Maddock farm] and we are very grateful to your family [Maddock family].”

The other mementoes Antonio kept from his time in Australia are a few librettos. Italian prisoners of war working on farms were provided with a copy of Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War published by the Department of Army. It contained a list of common words and phrases relevant to life on a farm as well as pronunciation guides.  The other book was written specifically for Italian migrants but by the end of 1945, the Department of Army allowed for its distribution to prisoners of war considering migration to Australia: Piccola Guida  per gli Italiani in Australia. This handbook gives descriptions of Australia’s climate and geography with practicalities such as opening a bank account. As well, it included comprehensive English language instruction.

Franca Arici talks about her father’s librettos and “His [Antonio’s] passion for the English… he had brought and kept with love from Australia his notebooks of English and during the winter evenings he would often read from them to us [his daughters].”

Antonio Arici Piccola Guida per gli Italiani in Australia 

Piccola Guida per gli Italiani in Australia belonging to Antonio Arici

(photo courtesy of the Arici family)

Like many Italian POWs who had a dream to return to Australia, circumstances prevented their migration.  “My mother’s seamstress work, family ties, bureaucratic and economic difficulties have prevented my father to fulfil his life dream to bring his family to Australia,” Franca relates.

Antonio was only 57 years old when he died on 19th July 1973, leaving behind his wife and family of four daughters.  But through the decades, his daughters have remembered their father’s dream to return to Australia and now are visiting Australia and Antonio’s life on a Western Australian farm through the memories of the Maddock family and the government records.

Antonio Arici and Family 1964.JPG

Arici Family 1964

Back row: Agnese, Franca, Antonio and Elena

Front row: Maria Augusta and Luigina

(photo courtesy of the Arici family)

Franca reflects, “Now rediscovering you [Maddock family], allows us to ‘compensate’ our father for that desire which he had to give up and from heaven he will surely smile at us…”

Antonio Arici

Antonio Arici

(photo courtesy of the Arici family)

And the last words to this journey belong to Davide, Antonio’s grandson who at the same age as his grandfather took a journey* to Australia to walk in his grandfather’s footsteps.

Davide had started with the question ‘Can you help me?’ On receiving the news that the Maddock family had been found and that Antonio was remembered, David wrote:

“oh my god!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! scusa non riesco a scrive in inglese dall’emozione, spero che google translate faccia un buon lavoro.

grazie grazie grazie davvero,!!!!! grazie ancora con tutto il cuore

Grandson Davide Dander

Davide Dander, grandson of Antonio Arici

(photo courtesy of Davide Dander)

*Technology (Facebook, Google translate, email and internet searches) has enabled Davide and his family in Italy to ‘travel’ to Australia and retrace the footsteps of Antonio Arici: Italian Prisoner of War as well as ‘meet’ the Maddock family and be reunited with Antonio’s past.

They Did Know!

Did Burdekin locals know what was happening at the POW farms during those years.  YES they did.  They knew because the POW farms were relevant and had a context.

One of the puzzles about the Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill, was that very little is remembered by locals about a POW camp which housed 250 Italian prisoners of war.  My father said to me once, “Did no one see or hear 250 Italian prisoners of war in red uniform board a train in November 1945?  Did no one see the trucks carrying these men 22 mile from the hostel site to the Home Hill train station?  Why has this history been forgotten?”

Q Imagery Burdekin RiverAyr 14.4.1994  8358 Run 5 119-135    (The State of Queensland 2013 Natural Resouces and Mines Q Imagery)

Dad was 20 years old at the time and living in Jarvisfield on the Ayr side of the river, busy with farm work growing cane, cotton, pumpkins and potatoes.  Tractors were imprest items and farmers had to revert to the use of horses.  More work for my dad and his brother. The war years were a time when ears were tuned to the radio broadcasts about the war and people’s thoughts were with the possibility of a Japanese invasion and what an invasion would mean for those north of the Brisbane line.  As well, petrol rationing meant that fuel was kept for essentials.  In those times the Tapiolas family on the Ayr side of the Burdekin River did not visit the Tapiolas family on the Home Hill side. War time was a busy time.

Like many events in the past,  memories are brushed aside because they no longer have relevance.  Yes, there were POWs growing vegetables on the banks of the Burdekin River, but these Italians left, nothing remains of the buildings, so there is no reason to remember.  And sometimes a memory needs relevance and context.

Did Burdekin locals know what was happening at the POW farms during those years.  YES they did.  They knew because the POW farms were relevant and had a context.

Burdekin farmers and associated stakeholders wanted the facility to be converted into an agricultural college.  They wanted the research and development that was taking place on the POW farms to continue. These men wanted to retain the civilian supervisors who had capably trained the Italian POWs, to continue to teach and train the next generation of farmers.  What was happening at the POW farms was relevant. There were advancements in soil testing and varietal seed testing specific to a tropical climate. State of the art farming equipment was imported from USA  and different irrigation systems trialled.

Our grandfathers knew this, but their cause fell on deaf ears and the buildings were sold off.  No longer was this site important or relevant.

But the archived newspapers provides a context: 1945.  As early as  January 1945, an article in the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported that a submission had been made by the Agricultural, Pastoral and Secondary Industries Development Association for the Queensland Government to purchase the Commonwealth Farms at Home Hill and convert them to an Agricultural High School and College, similar to Gatton Agricultural College. My grandfather Mr B Tapiolas spoke at the meeting. Article mentions Burdekin war vegetable farms.

By May 1945, interested parties convened a meeting with three North Queensland Parliamentarians, Messrs. G. Keyatta (Townsville), T Aitkens (Mundingburra) and F.W. Paterson (Bowen). Burdekin locals mentioned are : Mr B Tapiolas, Mr A Coburn, Mr HV Sainsbury, Mr S Smith, Mr Reading, Mr R Gray, Mr WR Gist, Mr FJ Woods (Chairman of Ayr Shire Council) as well as Mr F Hely from the C.S.I.R who was the main adviser for the Commonwealth Vegetable Project.  There is mention of the ‘POW farm at Home Hill‘.

Further meetings reveal the names of more Burdekin men: Mr J J McDonald, Mr Wellington, Mr Beames, Mr Giffard, Mr Berryman, Mr Jackson, Mr Osborne, Mr Donavon, Mr Honeycombe and Councillor HW Irving.

By 28th August 1945, details of the POW farm at Home Hill are revealed.  “Mr Gist convened that – The facilities already existing in this area for an Agricultural College are located near Home hill which is situated on the southern bank of the Burdekin River. The present Commonwealth Vegetable farm unit which we propose should be acquired for use as an Agricultural College.  These farms have been leased by the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and development by it for the production of all classes of vegetables and some fruits by POW labour with civilian supervisors and expert assistance.  Improvements include buildings to accommodate 300 personnel with administrative, storage, canteen and recreational facilities.  Modern conveniences such as septic system, electricity, hot water systems and telephone are provided.  A workshop, machine sheds, packing sheds and several cottages are installed on this farm unit.  We submit gentlemen, that this POW farm in reality has been acting as such [Agricultural College] for the past 15 months.” (Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld.: 1907 – 1954), Tuesday 28 August 1945, page 3)

For me, the research on the  Home Hill Hostel was all about finding out ‘what had been forgotten’.  It has been about recording the history and sharing it. And should someone from Italy arrive in Home Hill looking for information about where their grandfather worked as a POW from 1944 to 1945, then they too can have their answers.

Walking in their Boots




Walking in their Boots

Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland 1943-1946

Walking in their boots JPEG.jpg

North Queenslander, Joanne Tapiolas, has been delving into the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland and slowly the stories and memories of this chapter in Queensland history have emerged.

Walking in their Boots incorporates the facts and the personal narratives  from the ten districts where the POWs worked and lived.  Queenslanders and Italians sharing their memories, artefacts, photos and letters have added a richness and diversity to this chronicle.

Walking in their Boots is a record of this history and a valuable reference to the background and context of Italian POWs in Australia.

Book now available

Pre-Orders Only

$25.00 plus postage and handling

200+ pages

English version only

For further details and to place an order:

contact Joanne Tapiolas e. joannetappy@gmail.com

Precis of Walking in their Boots

Over 1500 Italian prisoners of war, captured in the battlefields of North Africa, came to Queensland during World War 2.  The Italians provided a much-needed workforce for farmers throughout nine south-east Queensland districts.  Additionally, 250 Italians worked at the Commonwealth Vegetable Farm on the Burdekin River, to supply fresh produce to the north’s military forces.

Queensland farming families welcomed the Italians onto their farms and into their homes.  A temporary refrain from life behind barbwire fences, friendships were forged, and lasting memories remain clear over seven decades later.

The Italian prisoners of war left their footprints in the landscape and in the memories of Queenslanders. Walking in their Boots traces the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland and tells the stories of a time when POWs worked on our Queensland farms.

Q10 Boonah Italian Prisoner of War Miraglia Giuseppe and Niebling Ron









Footprints in Concrete

Farm of Ron Niebling Lake Moogerah via Boonah

(photo courtesy of Pam Phillips (nee Niebling)


Friendships Forged by War

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

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

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

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

G and M planting pineapples Lagoon Pkt

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

(from the collection of Barry Mason)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bern, Guido, Joe

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

(from the collection of Barry Mason)


Louie Made Me a Cap

Gordon Plowman remembers a cap made by an Italian POW for him. This one memory has helped tell the story of the Italian POWs at Flaxton.

Flaxton is a farming district between Mapleton and Montville on the Blackall Range in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Bananas, citrus fruit and later pineapples were the main crops of the district.  The other main industry was sawmilling.  Gordon’s father Ray in partnership with other locals set up a small mill making cases for the fruit and then later established a hardwood sawmill.  During the war, they also became charcoal producers, as charcoal was in demand for the charcoal burners to run vehicles. It was a small community, with a population of 155 in 1947.

Gordon relates, “I was born in 1940 and vaguely recollect ‘Louie’ who worked on a pineapple and citrus farm.  He made a little cap for me and I well remember the tassel which hung down the back.  He gave it to my mother and said, ‘For the Bambino’.  In later years I tried to find Louie through the National Archives but was told without his family name, this would be impossible.”

But this project Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland is about making the impossible, possible. And Gordon has now ‘found’ Louie.

Louie was Luigi Caputo a young farmer from Montagna di Basso Potenza. He is seated in the photo below, first on left.  His military record highlights he was married with a daughter.  Louie was sent to the farm of FW Potts and DB McHaffie Flaxton on 5th March 1944 together with Francesco Tozzi from Reino Benevento.

Q2 Nambour.Flaxton Caputo Luigi POW

AWM Image 30173/06 Geoffrey McInnes

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47904 M. Bello; 45091 C. Bono; 47434 F. De Venuto; 57496 G. Sinisi; 49432 S. Cristiano; 46264 N. Monteleone; 57291 M. Laricchia. Front row: 45349 L. Caputo; 57302 F. Liberto; 57414 A. A. Palladino; 57324 M. Macchia; 57210 A. Fato. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

“My brothers Harold (13) and David (16) would take these POWs swimming in Bon Accord.  They would come over of a Sunday afternoon, Mum would give them a drink and some cake and they would battle their way through the forest with my two brothers to cool off in Bon Accord rock pool.  In the 1940’s it was hidden away in thick scrub with no walking tracks,” Gordon adds.

Three other Flaxton farmers employed POWs and snippets of memories are remembered by Gordon and his brothers.  There is a memory of the wine made with pineapples by the Italians at Frank Mayne’s farm.  Quinto Bernacchi, Giuseppe Berrettini, Ippazio De Blasi and Carlo Maffei all worked on this farm.  Most likely Quinto and Giuseppe were the wine makers as they were on the farm for  seven months while Ippazio and Carlo had a one week placement.  Norm and Honour Mayne also welcomed the Italians onto their farm in Flaxton with Biagio Peluso and Pasquale Serafini spending eight months at Flaxton.

JR Perkins employed Guerrino Fregni, Giovanni Isopi and Guerino Lombardozzi.  Gordon adds another memory about Mr Perkins’s POWs: “I remember that a heavy hessian curtain at the end of his packing shed was out-of-bounds because this was the entrance to the POWs living quarters, which I imagine would have been very basic.  At that time we had no electricity, sewerage or reticulated water,” Gordon reminisces.

Another recollection of the Flaxton POWs is about church.  With no Catholic church at Flaxton, the Italians would be picked up by the authorities and taken to the Catholic church in Nambour.  Gordon mentions, “According to my brother, one of them was not a catholic and used to object most strongly at being taken to church.  The Italian POWs were respected and made generally welcome in the small Flaxton community and I recall by mother speaking highly of them.  I never forgot the little cap Louie made for me.”