Tag Archives: Italian POWs

Lasting Friendships

We lived on a farm 35 mile outside of West Wyalong, New South Wales. I would have been eight years old when Ernesto Armati and Angelo Airoldi came to stay with us. They became part of our family and to this day, I am in contact with their families.

Ernesto and Rosa Armati (married 1 January 1948)

Dad had sheep, wheat, pigs and milkers on the farm and the Italians did a lot of work around the farm.  They built chook yards, dams and horse yards and I suppose general farm work.

They lived in a hut built for them which was basic.  They ate with the family and became like brothers.  We had a big dining room table and they would jostle and joke with us kids and try to push us off the bench seats we sat on.  They cooked pasta meals for us.  Watching them ride horses was funny and they would sometimes have a bit of a race.  The closest church was 12 miles away and Dad bought a green and blue bike for them so that they could go to church.  My sister was very upset because Dad never bought her a bike. Both Ernesto and Angelo had fiances in Italy and upon return were married: Ernesto to Rosa 1 January 1948 and Angelo to Angelina October 1947.

I clearly remember the canteen truck visiting the farm.  They would get their cigarettes : three threes, brylcream, shaving cream stick and razors.

They had come to Australia on board “Mariposa” and arrived at Melbourne.  They were then transported in open cattle trucks to Cowra.

Dad was a staunch Methodist: no smoking, no drinking but Dad made exceptions for Angelo and Ernesto. Dad brought in a big barrel for them and they used the table grapes to make grappa.  They did it by stomping the grapes with their feet which became purple.

We cried when they left.  I don’t know why they didn’t leave the POWs on the farms until they were taken back home, but they had to wait a long time in the POWs camps and it would have been better for them to stay with us.

Dad kept in contact with them over the years and when I was in my twenties I went to Italy for the Olympics: 1960.  Dad encouraged me to go visit Ernesto and Angelo which felt awkward because 15 years had passed since I last saw them.  They welcomed me into their homes with open arms.  Lavish meals were prepared and eaten and I was taken around and shown the sites.  I travelled a little of Europe and then returned to spend Christmas with them.

Angelo and Angelina Airoldi and family Bagnatica 1960

Years later, Ernesto’s granddaughter came to Sydney for her honeymoon.  I felt very privileged to take her and her husband around for 5 weeks showing them the sights.

Memories from West Wyalong

Graydon Bolte

Brisbane

February 2017

 

 

Cara Mamma

I am very grateful to Reinhard Krieger, a collector of military post, who has shared with me letters and postcards, written by Queensland Italian POWs to their families in Italy.

POW mail was censored but these letters to families still have much to tell us about the men who wrote them.

On 23.10.45, Umberto Liberto wrote a letter to his mother, from a farm in the Q1 Stanthorpe area.  Umberto was one of the youngest POWs who made their way to Queensland.  Born in 1922, he was 19 years old when captured in Libya in February 1941 and 23 years old when he wrote this letter. He had been working on a farm/farms in the Stanthorpe area since 27th October 1943.

Q1 Stanthorpe Liberto Umberto

 

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49731 A. Olivieri; 45651 A. Fazio; 49632 D. Mocchetti; 49373 U. Liberto; 46913 G. Villa; 49942 L. Volonteri. Front row: 45782 L. Gardini; 49884 I. Paniccia; 49436 L. Casinelli; 49792 A. Alessi. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(AWM, Lewecki, Image 030149/21)

23.10.45

Dear Mum

A couple of lines so as to not leave you without any of my news that thanks to God is good, as I hope is the same for you.  Last week my work employers sent you two packages.  I hope that they arrive there.  I have also sent you my photo and eight pounds Stirling but as yet have not receive a reply. Dear Mum, by now the worst has passed but there are still some months and then all will be finished.  Your mail takes 5 to 6 months to arrive and not so often just now and then some letters.  Anyway as for now it is not so important because all of this is coming to an end.  You will not recognise your son – five years has been a long time.  However, it could have been worse.

Finally hugs and kisses to share around.

Yours Berto.

(translation by Morwenna Arcidiacono, Stanthorpe)

Liberto, Umberto

Letter from Umberto Liberto to his mother in Italy 23.10.45

(kindly contributed by Reinhard Krieger, Brisbane)

 

 

Stepping back in time

It was almost 73 years to the day, when Nino Cippola stepped back in time to retrace his father’s journey in Queensland. Nino’s father, Francesco (Ciccio) Cippola was an Italian prisoner of war captured in Libya on 4th January 1941.  While in Melbourne on holiday from Taormina in Sicily,  Nino thought he would try to find details about the “Q6 Home Hill” written into his father’s POW Service and Casualty Form.

Cipolla Francesco Cipolla Photograph April 1939.jpg

Francesco Cippola: Roma 10.4.1939

(photographic collection of Nino Cippola)

A flurry of messagess via Messenger and emails, a flight to Townsville and Nino found himself on the railway platform of Home Hill. Francesco Cippola would have stepped onto the same platform. Not much changes in small country towns in Queensland.

Home Hill Railway Station: 1944 and 2017

Nino Cippola tracing his father’s footsteps

(NAA: M1415, 434, photographic collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

With only 1 three ton truck available the 115 Italian prisoners of war would have walked a short distance to the Home Hill Showgrounds.  Many of the buildings there had been leased by the Army and it would have taken more than one trip to transport the Italians over a muddy dirt track 22 miles up river Home Hill.

It was the 30th April 1944 and the Q6 PWC Hostel, to accommodate 255 Italian POWs and A.M.F. staff, had not been completed.  Wet weather, a tropical cyclone and delays with the septic tank, meant that the Italians ‘roughed it’ in temporary tents, without floor boards. The POWs were there to grow vegetables to supply to the Allied forces in North Queensland.

Little remains of the hostel buildings and the farming sheds. The concrete foundations were dug up years ago and the buildings sold off to Main Roads.  What does remain are the traces of ‘settlement’ found on the banks of the Burdekin: a lone banana tree, a cluster of custard apple and lemon trees. Using a hand drawn plan of the hostel complex, Nino could envisage the extent of what was Ciccio’s  home for 15 months.

 

1944.camp layout

Layout Plan POW Camp Homehill

(NAA: J153, T1542B, 1944)

As he stood  at the Q6 Hostel site, Nino could also make sense of the many stories his father had told him. He could also make sense of Francesco’s (Ciccio’s) obsession with growing vegetables.  Ciccio was not a farmer. He did not come from a farming background. Ciccio was a ‘carabinieri’. But time spent on the Home Hill farms had made an impression on Ciccio. His family said, he was fanatical about seeds and tomatoes. Nino explains that:

“my father’s interest in growing crops was substantial and almost at an industrial scale – he would return home from the farm with 150 kg of tomatoes in the back of the car, or grow wheat and have it ground for flour, bags and bags of it, he would have 100s of kilos of eggplants, capsicums or pumpkins. He was always asking his family about which fruit or vegetables tasted best and he would dry and save seeds of the best tasting.  He often had seeds in his pockets. He would give away his excessive volumes of fruit and vegetables to neighbours, family and friends. I never fully understood my father’s passion in this area until I visited the POW site on the Burdekin River and learnt about the work my father and other POW were doing.  My father did not come from a farming background.  Most people have a small vegetable plot, but my father grew crops on a grand scale.  I believe his time on the Commonwealth Farm at Q6, gave him this lifelong interest”.

The backdrop to this story is the purpose and operations of the Commonwealth Vegetable Project Farms: to grow vegetables for service requirements, to develop means and ways to select and grow crops suited to good yields and the tropical climate, to run seed trials and soil testing to improve productivity. Regarding tomatoes,  barrels on the Commonwealth farms were filled with tomatoes, to decompose and then be treated to extract the seeds and so began a lifelong passion of Ciccio’s centring around tomato growing and seed selection.

Ciccio’s dislike for bananas also seems to have stemmed from his time at Q6.  His children heard the recurring comment ‘I don’t eat bananas’ from their father.  If bananas were in the fruit bowl, he would reiterate his disdain for bananas.  The Home Hill Italian POWs were responsible for the cultivation of nine acres of bananas and used ground safes to ripen the hands.  Likely, the best bananas went to the armed forces and the overripe bananas, in abundance, became part of the POW daily menu.

2017 Q6 1

Nino Cippola and Christine Morriss at Q6 Site

(photographic collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

The landscape of the Burdekin is in contrast to that of Taormina.  A mountain range rises high in the background at the end of Kirknie Road as opposed to an active Mount Etna viewed through the archways of the Ancient Greek Amphitheatre.

Contrasting Landscapes of Taormina Sicily and up river Home Hill Queensland

(Trip Advisor: Taormina, photographic collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

Up river Home Hill is a long way from Taormina and the contrasts are striking. But Nino’s step back in time, to the time his father Ciccio grew vegetables on a Commonwealth Vegetable Farm up river Home Hill, offered up an understanding of his father’s years as a prisoner of war in Australia.

Parcels to Italy

World War 2 affected Australians directly in many ways.  We had rationing of essentials such as petrol, food items and clothing. There were numerous attacks on our shores: Darwin, Townsville and Mossman. Children of the time remember air raids, air raid shelters and drills, reduced school hours or doing lessons by correspondence.

For Italians living in invaded and bombed areas of Italy, life was one of deprivation. Food shortages, roads and railways destroyed, rumble littered streets, disappearance of residential areas  and displacement of people.

Young Boy in Naples July 1944 Lt Wayne Miller

A young boy, dressed in tattered clothes and bearing a poignant smile, in war-torn Naples Italy July 1944. Photo by Lt Wayne Miller

A Western Australian farmer who had employed Italian POWs wrote to the Western Mail, encouraging other Australians to send parcels to their Italian POW families and explaining  their circumstances.

Helping former P.O.W. farm workers

… I have been sending frequent parcels to an Italian P.O.W. who worked for us…

Many farmers in this State were appreciative of the help given by prisoners of war during a period when labour was scare and I am sure that if they knew the tragedy of these men’s lives on their return to Italy many farmers would gladly send assistance to them now.

Most of the parcels take as long as six months to reach Italy and the quickest delivery of all those that I have sent was just over three months.  Two parcels I posted in April reached Naples at the end of October. Our G.P.O. informed me that there are three groups of parcels, namely food, toilet articles and clothing and these goods must not be mixed.  Clothing must we secondhand or if new duty must be paid by the receiver in Italy.  Toilet articles can include soap, shaving gear, toothbrushes etc and food which seems to be the most appreciated is spaghetti in tins, vermicelli, baked beans, milk and jam, dipping, dried fruits, tinned cheese and tinned meat.  Clothing is very badly needed as the winter is commencing in Italy and clothing of all kinds is very scarce.

Girl Holding Toddler Italy. Naples 1944 Lt Wayne Miller

Girl holding a toddler, Naples, Italy 1944. Photo by Lt Wayne Miller

My P.O.W.s family had not seen toilet soap for five years until they received my parcel and they had not had an egg for three years. Incidentally they consider themselves among the more fortunate Italians despite the fact that they often receive only one meal a day.

The weights of parcels can be 3, 7 or 11 lb. each including the wrappings. I pack mine in light cartons and sew them up in unbleached calico and so far they have arrived in good condition. The 7lb. parcel seems to be the best size.

APPRECIATIVE.

(Western Mail (Perth, WA: 1885-1954), Thursday 27 November 1947, page 67)

Refugees, Italy 1946 UNICEF Romagnoli

In 1946, in Italy, children carry rocks from a war destroyed building to help rebuild their town. UNICEF/Romagnoli

A Father’s Love

Liborio Bonadonna was a private in the Italian Army, serving with the 231 Legion Militia when he was captured at Buq Buq on 11th December 1940. The Battle of Sidi Barrani was the opening battle of Operation Compass and 38,300 Italians were captured at Sidi Barrani and Buq Buq from 10 – 11 December 1940.

Bonadonna, Liborio

Liborio Bonadonna

(NAA: A7919 C101539 Buonadonna, Librio)

A young farmer from Gela Caltanissetta, Liborio was living in Tripoli along with his wife and his parents when he joined Mussolini’s war.  His father, desperate for his son’s safety, fell prey to unscrupulous agents who, for a sum of money, promised the repatriation of their family members who were prisoners of war.

In a letter sent to Liborio, his father Carmelo Bonadonna wrote on 21st December 1943:

Dear son, here it was said that prisoners who are sons of farmers, were to be repatriated on the payment of six thousand lire, and I, for the great affection I bear you, was one of the first to pay; in fact they asked us for one of your letters in order to have your address.  Up to the present, we have seen nothing.  Imagine, dear son, how happy we all in the family were for just then I did not know what I could do for the love of you.

Liborio had spent almost three years in camps in India and would not arrive in Italy for another three years. The actions of his father however highlight how anxious the family were to ensure a safe and early return of Liborio.

From Cowra, Liborio was assigned to work on farms at N8 PWCC Orange and N24 PWCC Lismore. Suffering on-going health issues, he was sent to local and military hospitals and was eventually transferred to Murchison for consideration for early repatriation on the basis of medical grounds.

Such was his health,  he was on the list to embark on the Andes which left Australia on 3rd August 1945. Unfortunately, on 16th July 1945 he was sent to 28 Australian Camp Hospital at Tatura which was part of the Murchison POW complex.  He missed early repatriation and was to stay in hospital for two and a half months.

Liborio 28 ACH

28th Australian Camp Hospital Tatura

(AWM Image 052452)

The irony of his situation was that while he was approved for early medical repatriation he was too unwell to travel.  His medical condition had deemed him ‘medically’ unfit to work and gave him priority for repatriation on medical grounds. During 1946, several transports for special circumstance cases, left Australia for Naples but Liborio was overlooked.

While he considered himself to be well enough to travel, he was identified as having need for specialist medical attention during the voyage to Italy. He could only be repatriated once as specially fitted out ship became available.

On 10th September 1946, in a letter to the Camp C.O. he presented his case:

Just at the time when the repatriation of the sick was to take place I was in the Waranga military hospital whence I was discharged early in September…

The present repatriation lists from which I have been exclude because repatriation is to be effect by ordinary means (i.e. in ships not especially adapted for transport of the sick) include nearly all the sick who, like me, were then considered as needing attention during the voyage.

Today I will to inform you that, notwithstanding a year’s stay in camp without any special treatment, my condition is such as to enable me to stand the possible discomforts of the trip home; I therefore request to be reinscribed on the above mentioned list, taking upon myself the full and complete responsibility in the event of any possible deterioration of my health.

My family live in Tripolitania and it is my urgent wish to rejoin it in the shortest possible time.  To the above I can only add the prayer that you will kindly consider my request.

The Empire Clyde* returned Liborio to Italy. It was a Royal Navy Hospital Ship which departed Sydney for Naples on 12th December 1946. There were 226 Italian prisoners of war on board who had embarked at Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle.

But Liborio’s return to his family in Tripoli was further delayed. Once he arrived in Naples, he required an operation.  Fighting bureaucracy, he tried to gain permission several times to reach Libya and his wife and parents.

Liborio’s grandson, Liborio Mauro says that “He told her [my grandmother] if I’m not able to join you, I would like to go back in Australia. After 3 times, he finally joined my grandmother in Libya where my father Carmelo was born in Tripoli in 1949.

Tracing Liborio’s journey as a prisoner of war has not been an easy on. His grandson  explains that his records have his name spelt incorrectly: BUONADONNA instead of BONADONNA, LIBRIO instead of LIBORIO.

But passion and determination on the part of grandson Liborio has ensured that Liborio Bonadonna’s story is told and his records and photographs of his time as a prisoner of war in Australia are with the family.

Liborio Mauro says, “All my family are happy and my father is crying for happiness. My grandfather was the most important person in my family.  He was a true gentleman, well-educated and everyone fell in love with him.  He was a strong and simple man.”

*The Empire Clyde was a British Navy war prize from the Abyssinian campaign. It was formerly an Italian passenger liner Leonardo da Vinci.

 

Leonardo Da Vinci-07

 

Liborio and Liborio - Copy

Liborio Bonadonna with his family c 1979, grandson Liborio Mauro on his grandfather’s lap

(photograph from the collection of Liborio Mauro)

 

 

 

 

Captured at Bardia

Melino family 3 - Copy

Costanzo Melino: Italian Soldier: 20 years old

(from Anzaro: The Home of my Ancestors)

Costanzo Melino’s memoirs are part of ANZANO – The Home of my Ancestors, written by his daughter Rosa Melino.  From Anzano he was conscripted and sent to Libya to fight Mussolini’s war. His recollections are invaluable in providing the personal experiences of a shepherd who was captured at the Battle of Bardia and shipped to Australia as a prisoner of war.

Special thanks to Rosa Melino for allowing for her work and the words of Costanzo  to be reproduced here as part of this project. Her assistance is invaluable as these memories provide depth and perspective for this history.

Costanzo Melino was captured at Bardia 4th January 1941

I didn’t want to fight.  I always wondered ‘Why me?’ We were rounded up and taken to army barracks where we were given our uniforms…. I was appointed to the 21st Artillery Regiment of the Army Corps and then we were sent to the front.  You can imagine the effect upon a young man who had never seen or learnt much.  I was taken out of school aged seven and sent to look after the sheep with my grandfather.  My grandfather died in March 1935, but in 1921 Mussolini had made a law that all children had to go to school until the age of 15, (that’s one good thing the dictator did), but it was too late for me. 

 We were sent along with other boys from my class in Anzano on the Julius Caesar to Bengazi in Libya. This took us two days at sea.  Bengazi was an Italian colony in those days.  We had to drink sterilized sea water which was salty and hot.  I was very sick. I was called up on 2nd February 1940 and sent to fight in Benghazi in Libya.  Our Commander was Annibalo Bergonsoli.  He used to have a long beard and we nicknamed him ‘Barba Elettrica’. We certainly met war and we did not recover from the shock.

 We ate bread and water and were covered in fleas and sand from the Sahara Desert.   I had to learn to wash my own clothes once a week.  We were woken and were marched and exercised and then we were lined up and given coffee at 7 a.m. in the morning.  We were instructed until lunch time and then we were line up for lunch at 1 p.m. Then we were instructed again until 4 p.m. and again we were lined up and given our meal of ‘pasta asciutta’ or ‘minestrone’ or ‘risotto’.  We were also given some meat, half a litre of wine and two rolls of bread per day.  We had to be respectful to our superiors, and if we weren’t we were placed in confinement by our Colonel Commander.  Water was rationed.  From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. we were free and we could go to the city of Bengazi.  We would go and look at the shops and if any soldier had some money he would buy what he needed. We were always watched by other soldiers doing the rounds – usually in groups of three.  We could not speak with the Arabs and we had to return at the right time.  We had to salute our officials.  Italo Balbi was the Italian Governor at the time.

Bardia P05182.051

North Africa: Western Desert.  Developed from a film taken from captured Italian prisoners at Bardia. c. 1940

(Australian War Memorial, Robert Otto Boese, Image P05182.051)

When the war broke we were commanded by Colonel Mario Bombagli to go to the Egyptian border between Bardia and Tobruk. One hundred thousand Italian soldiers of the various Infantry, Bersaglieri, Engineering and Artillery were killed there.  It was called the ‘Front Cerinaico’. There were so many men and so little equipment.  It was a desert with no water. It was hot during the day and freezing at night.  Bombs fell frequently upon us from overhead planes.  We were given orders to attack only when the enemy fired first.

In August 1940, we were given the order to advance into Egyptian territory. The Italian forces won ‘Siti Barrani’ in Egypt, but that too was a desert.  The desert winds would blow the sand and we could not even see.  We had to stay until the tempest passed.  At night we slept in the ‘trincee’ or tunnels that we built ourselves to protect us from the enemy bombardments.  We were given two litres of water and little food.

In October 1940, we were surrounded by the English and we lost ground and had to return to Bardia where after many battles we were defeated.

Bardia 0084113

Two captured Italian carro veloce CV22 tankettes on the road overlooking Bardia Harbour. Bardia can be seen on the far hill. (Negative by B.M.I.)

(Australia War Memorial, Image 0084113)

Tinned Peaches

Montville Pineapples

Pineapple farm at Montville

(Picture Queensland, State Library of Queensland)

Much of the history of the Montville district has been lost as the farms have disappeared to make way for progress.

I was a young teenager during the war and remember well the Italian Prisoners of War on Cliff Dart and Artie Glover’s farms.  I am not sure if the Italians were billeted with Cliff Dart and then loaned to Artie Glover, but there were a number of them during that time.

Pineapples were farmed there and the Italians were good workers.  I suppose they did all the jobs around the farm including picking and packing.

I remember the Italians as being decent fellows.  They were docile and peaceful and never any trouble. Cliff Dart had a spare house on his farm so the Italians lived independently.  They had their beds and everything set up for cooking.  So they had it pretty good.  One fellow, I remember as being short and fat, probably the cook.  Sometimes, at night, they would come down to our farm. They seemed to be able to move around freely.

They liked to tell stories. I remember there were many conversations and the Italians made it clear that they did not like the war.  They were interested in learning about the history of the district and they would tell us stories about life in Italy. There was never a feeling that they were dangerous.  When the war ended and peace declared, they were very excited to tell us that the war had finished. They were good singers too.  It was like they were trained opera singers with their tenor voices.  You could hear their singing and music  from our farm.

Cliff Dart would take them to the Catholic Church in Nambour as there wasn’t a church in Montville.  I remember the orange coloured uniforms they had to wear and the Army Supply Truck that would come around to the farms about once a month.  The Italians could get lots of items that we couldn’t buy what with food rationing.  They would always say after canteen day, “we give you some” as they offered and shared chocolate with us kids.  The idea that Italian POWs could buy items like tinned peaches, did not sit well with the locals.  They had more than they could eat, so we would swap tinned peaches for bananas we grew on our farm.

I can’t remember exactly when they arrived, but it was almost like one day they were there and then they were gone.  It was a bit like that when the army set up camp with new recruits on the sports ground.  There was a lot of military activity during the war in the district.  An army camp would be set up, the soldiers would undergo their training and then overnight, they would disappear.  All tents and equipment just gone.

Montville had four guest houses at the time and army and air force personnel would come up to Montville for R & R.  They would come up with their girlfriends and then after they left, the pilots would fly over or buzz over Montville to say goodbye to their girlfriends.  I have the Yankees to thank for not becoming a smoker.  A couple of my mates and I obtained a packet of Camel or Lucky Stripes from the Yankees.  Between us, we smoked the whole packet.  I was crook.  I never had a cigarette again.  My parents didn’t say anything, but I am sure they knew what I had been up too.

The war had an impact on schools as well.  Slit trenches were built in the school yard and air raid drills were held.  There were about 70 pupils at the school and the younger kids would go in the morning and the older kids would go to school in the afternoon.  It might have had something to do with us going from two teachers to one teacher during that time.

Les Farmer

Montville Guest House

Manjalda Guest House outdoor pool and tennis court – Montville, 1930 – 1959

(Queensland State Archives Digital Image ID 23235)