Tag Archives: Italian POWs

Del-Bo the painter

A portrait painted with house paint, hangs pride of place in the foyer of Janette Ratcliffe’s home at Thorndale.  The portrait is special because it tells the story of the time, Riccardo Del Bo captured the image of a young Janette on canvas.

The year was 1943, and Janette and Dorothy’s father Herbert Markham Jones from Rural Retreat Severnlea had employed Italian prisoners of war to help work his fruit orchards.  Janette remembers, “Riccardo Del-Bo was a sergeant and a painter.  He did three paintings of our family: a pastel of my father in the orchards with a young relative; one of me and one of my sister.”

Jones.Janette.Painting.

Janette Ratcliffe (nee Jones) with her portrait painted by Riccardo Del Bo

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Dorothy Barraclough (nee Jones) remembers, “Mum didn’t like the painting that Del Bo did of me.  She said that it made me look like an Italian girl.  But I had dark hair and I suppose that is how I looked.  Interesting the things you remember.  I also recall an incident regarding Bread and Butter Pudding.  One day, Mum and I came around the back of their accommodation and we saw a pile of Bread and Butter Pudding thrown into the bush. I suppose they were too polite to complain that they didn’t like the dessert. Mum stopped cooking for them after that.”

Sisters Dorothy and Janette both remember the rabbits trapped by the POWs and the beautiful rabbit stew they cooked. “They trained a pet cat Mena to catch rabbits.  It was a black and white cat and they loved that cat dearly, one would carry it around giving it cuddles.  Every morning it would go out and catch a rabbit.  The rabbits had a burrow under a tree.

When the Italians left, the cat would still go and catch a rabbit each day.  My sister and I would cuddle the rabbit and play with it, until we were tired of doing so and would let it go.  The next day, Mena would catch another rabbit,” Janette recalls.

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Janette and Dorothy Jones in front of Prisoner of War Accommodation

at Rural Retreat Severnlea 2018

(Photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

The POWs lived in a separate accommodation to the family home.  It was a room which was adjacent to the packing shed. It was lined and had floorboards, a stove, table, chairs and a row of beds. They cooked for themselves and Mr Jones had a substantial vegetable plot with seasonal crops such as asparagus, cabbage, potatoes. Dorothy recalls, “A striking memory of those times is that Orlando played with me.  Janette was at school and boarded in town during the week, so I suppose this is why I remember Orlando.  When I read his POW Service Card, I realised that during that time he was probably missing his children.  His card states that he had two daughters and one son.  The men liked the draught horses, they are very calm animals.  Dad said that they were good workers and just happy to be out of the war.”

Del Bo 3933648Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47841 A. Albertin; 48923 C. Dell Antonio; 48340 G. Tadini; 48210 P. Marcon; 48234 G. Noal; 48199 M. Mancini. Front row: 48251 G. Oldani; 48055 C. Fossati; 48106 R. Del Bo; Unidentified (name cut off list). Note: The number is an assigned POW number

(Australian War Memorial, Image 030149/22, Photographer: Lewecki)

Dorothy and Janette remember some of the many rules the farmer and POWs had to abide by. The Italians had to wear maroon coloured clothes, could not go to dances and were able to buy items from the canteen truck.  But one regulation, stood out as a little harsh and that was the instruction that the farming families were not allowed to give the Italians presents.  “The officials said that anyone who was found with presents, would have them taken away and burnt. Dad after the war though, sent them a suit each.  He felt that a civilian suit would help them in life once they returned home,” Janette recollects.

Gaythorne PW & I Camp

The first Queensland Italian prisoners of war arrived in Gaythorne PW & I Camp 13th October 1943. These men were sent to work on Stanthorpe district farms 16th to 21st October 1943.  The control centre was Q1 Prisoner of War Control Centre Stanthorpe (Q1 PWCC Stanthorpe or Q1 Stanthorpe).

Official records offer up little information about the Gaythorne Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.

Gaythorne PW & I Camp, had a capacity of 1800.  Nationalities held were: PW – Italian, Japanese, Korean, Formosan, sundry and Internees – Italian, sundry.  It operated from 1940-1946.  It had 3 compounds each of 300, 1 compound of 400 and 1 compound of 500.

The Gaythorne Camp  was under the command of Camp Commandant JW Hinschen, 2 Aust. P.W. Guard Company and later Camp Commandant Captain J Todd. It was situated at Bliss and Newman Streets, Gaythorne just north of today’s  Enoggera Barracks’ precinct.

The Gaythorne PW & I Camp is illustrated in the aerial photograph below.  The buildings of the complex are situated below the residential blocks of Newman, Ludlow and Ernest Streets which are bordered by Bliss Street in the south and Grays Road to the north.

Gaythorne PW & I Camp BCC000134877 (2)

1946 Aerial View of Gaythorne

(QImagery Department of Natural Resources and Mines Film BCC1, Frame 34877)

A little snippet of information written by N.T.Boast for “Cobbers” is titled The Singing Italians.  Boast worked with the 7 Base Ordinance Depot at Enoggera camp and the Italians were collected to work at the 7 B.O.D and “to assemble them in the afternoon they would play John Charles Tomas singing Tiritomba, then march them back to their compound.

Eric Behrendorff from Mt Alford near Boonah visited his POW George Ragusa at the Gaythorne Camp to say his goodbyes.  Eric remembers that the compound was dreadful: hot, sparse and surrounded by barb wire. The guards were abrupt and officious and Eric was only allowed to see George through the barb wire.  Eric could never reconcile the actions of the army to take POWs off farms and imprison them in camps, when a better situation was leave them on the farms until repatriation.

Initially used as an Internment Camp,  Queensland Italian Internees were trained from Queensland towns to Gaythorne and then for onward movement to Loveday SA. From October 1943 to March 1946, Italian Prisoners of War were accommodated at this site.

While the following extract, details the memories and experiences of Peter Dalseno a Queensland Italian internee, it provides an account of Gaythorne camp which would have been similar to the experiences of the Italian POWs.

“The train was motionless.  The hissing and pulling was more audible, as it normally happens on cool early mornings. No sound from without, no sound from within.

Suddenly the world was bathed in artificial light, and life stirred almost as artificially.  Weary bodies rose and weary eyes peering through the carriage bars.  The train had been surrounded by army trucks covered with tarpaulins, dwarfing the soldiers like so many ants defending their quarters.  There were voices. There were commands.  A struggle with luggage and a jump to the gravelled ground.  The human cargo was shepherded into the waiting trucks.  Soldiers to the right, to the left and to the rear, all bathed in an eerie light as if the earth was invaded by another planet.

“Where on earth are we?” Peter asked one of the soldiers rostered to guard the read.

“Gaythorne, mate!” answered an army recruit.  “The staging camp is not too far away. Only a matter of minutes”.

…Arrival at Gaythorne staging camp was as energetic as the the arrival at the railway siding.  Voices and commands emanated from every quarter…

Several hundreds stood huddled together, some standing listlessly, others sitting on luggage and some on their haunches…Above there glared the harsh and unforgiving search lights.

“Attention! Attention!” commanded an officer with an array of stripes on his sleeve… “Each and every one of you is required to lodge particulars with personnel.” He indicated a row of army mess tables behind which sat a member of the Australian Military Forces. “Present your luggage.  It will be searched and any article classified as a threat to security, either national or to your person, will be confiscated and catalogued. You will receive some form of receipt.  Any money on your person must be surrendered.  Again a receipt….

Peter gazed at the army barracks, sheds and tents that loomed against the receding darkness.  So this is Brisbane…

The Gaythorne staging camp was an area of restriction, an area of concentration.  it served as a subsidiary to the Army Headquarters where the activity was as vast as it was purposeful, function as a recruiting base and as a centre for training.  There was nothing gay about the atmosphere… drab tints of army environment.  The buildings were few but of ample proportions specifically designed for army requirements – a mess-hall on one side and quarters for baths and toilets on the other.  The tents were arranged in rows.  the dirt underfoot…

Men carrying palliasses and ground sheets, some carrying personal belongings over their shoulders and suitcases..

The two men on the platform… passed on the benefit of their experiences at the Gaythorne staging camp.  Evidently they had been selected by the Army Authorities to act as ‘Camp Leaders’.  … deliberated with petty instructions – the whereabouts of the ablutions, the mess-hall, the first-aid tent, and the obligatory bi-daily parade at roll-call…”You will be permitted to write two letters a week, and each letter will be of one-page length. Paper provided. No sealing. The contents will be censored and any matter found objectionable will suffer the scissors, or the letter returned altogether, and you will lose entitlement for the week.  the same thing applies to all mail you receive. So do not be alarmed if your wife’s letter has as many holes as a spaghetti colander”.

…The air now overwhelmed with silence was rent by the sound of a bugle. The ‘last post’ announced the army was about to sleep”.

(from Sugar, Tears and Eyeties by Peter Dalseno)

L’Amico del Prigioniero

It is thanks to Costanzo Melino that I know about L’Amico del Prigioniero. His daughter Rosa wrote Anzaro: The Home of my Ancestors which included her father’s memoirs of his time as a prisoner of war.

Costanzo said, “In 1943, Italy surrendered but we had to go to Australia [from India] to work on the farms.  We boarded an English ship which took us to Melbourne and then eventually by train to Cowra and Hay.  At that time we had an Apostolic Delegate who was from Lecce, also Pugliese, and he gave all the prisoners a book that I still have called the ‘Amico del Prigioniero’ (‘Friend of the Prisoner’’).”

The Apostolic Delegate was Monseigneur Giovanni Panicio and he published this book through Pellegrini, Sydney, 1943.  It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.

Holy Days.jpeg

The book being written in Italian and Latin is significant.  As mass was said in Latin until Second Vatican 1965, ensuring that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian was a significant show of concern for  their spiritual welfare.

Also, while the Italians had access to books in Italian in the libraries of Hay and Cowra, when they were on the farm, a book in Italian was an important gesture on behalf of Giovanni Panico.

L'Amico.jpeg

There are six copies of L’Amico del Prigioniero are held in museums and libraries in Australia.  I spent a morning in the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW and felt honoured to view this special relic pertaining to Italian prisoners of war and internees.

To understand the importance of this prayer book in Latin and Italian, a little background is necessary, “…the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (also called Vatican II) to discuss how the Catholic Church would face the modern world. Until 1965, all Catholic Mass was said in Latin, and the Church realized that may alienate parishioners who spoke Latin only in church. So the Church had to translate the Catholic Mass into a variety of different languages. from http://www.dictionary.com/e/catholic/

(photos courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

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

Stefano Lucantoni: In his spare time

Marco Lucantoni from Napoli has a special collection of items belonging to his father Stefano Lucantoni.  As a prisoner of war in Australia, Stefano kept himself occupied in several ways.

Lucantoni Libya.jpeg

He had a lot on his mind: his family. His wife Egle was pregnant when he had last seen her in 1939.  His son was seven years old before father and son met.

A special thank you to Marco and his brothers for sharing Stefano’s treasured keepsakes.  Relics like these give credence to the historical accounts. They tell the personal history of Italian prisoners of war in Australia.

CHESS

Stefano took home with him a beautiful chess set made in Cowra. Featuring the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the image was a reminder of Stefano’s arrival in and departure from Sydney: 1941 and 1946.

Lucantoni (8)

PLAYS

In Cowra on the 28th June 1946, a group of Italians staged L’Antenato a Commedia in 3 Alli. Stefano played the part of Egidio.

The carefully designed and produced programme highlights the efforts the men made for their production. The play was written by Guerrino Mazzoni, the sets created by Eliseo Pieraccini and Carlo Vannucci. Montaggio by Stefano Lucantoni, Renato bianchi, Felice di Sabatino, Luigi Proietti, Armano Mazzoni and Cesare Di Domenico.  Performers were Bruno Pantani, Guerrino Mazzoni, Carlo Vannucci, Tarcisio Silva, Bruno Dell Amico, Guigi Giambelli, Renato Bazzani, Marcello Falfotti, Alvise Faggiotto, Stefano Lucantoni. Suggestore was Giuseppe Carrari.

They were men from all walks of life: electrical engineer, butcher, clerk, mechanic, plumber, butcher, decorator, policeman, farmer, blacksmith, carpenter.

Lucantoni (2)

Lucantoni (3)

EDUCATION and LANGUAGE CLASSES

Lucantoni (1)

It was considered imperative that POWs occupied their leisure time usefully and the policy was to provide opportunities for POWs to further their studies.  Libraries in the camps were established and canteen profits used to purchase additional text books relevant to courses undertaken. Books from overseas were allowed in the areas of banking and financial, medical, scientific, art, economics, music, agriculture, religion, trade and commerce as well as periodicals of a general literary nature. Grammatica – Italiana – Inglese is Stefano’s exercise book from these language classes and shows his meticulous notes.

Lucantoni (9)

The book, Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War was specifically published and given to Italian POWs being allocated to farm work under the Prisoner of War Control Centre: Without Guard scheme.  Some of the sections were: Tools, Machinery, Farm Produce, Animals, Hygiene and Medical, Family, House and Conjugation of Verbs.

Lucantoni (6)

Stefano’s third book, Piccola Guida per Gli Italiani in Australia was written by Padre Ugo Modotti December 1944.  He worked closely with the Italian migrant community in Melbourne from 1938 to 1946.  He wrote this booklet for the Italian migrants.

On 9 March 1945, the Directorate of Prisoners of War was aware of this booklet and on 31 March 1945 approval was granted to distribute Picolla Guidi per Gli Italiani to the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.

By 1945, there was a relaxation in how the Italian POWs were viewed.  While they were still POWs, they were not considered a high security risk.  It was also a time when the Italians were thinking about life in Australia after the war and requesting permission through their farmers to stay in Australia and not be repatriated.

A guide for Italian migrants to Australia, this book gave the Italian POWs information to prepare for the time when they would return to Australia as migrants and free men.

METAL WORK

A story of love and a story of imprisonment.

The ring shows the intials E and S entwined and signifies the love of Stefano and his wife Egle.  Made in silver and another metal, the silver was obtained from Australian coins eg florins and shillings. Although it was forbidden for POWs to have Australian currency in their possession, necessity and ingenuity always find a way around the rules.

Lucantoni (7)

The emblem is carefully crafted with the words: Ricordo Campo 12 A Cowra and entwined initials POW. It was the badge for the chess set.

Lucantoni (4)

LETTER WRITING

Lucantoni (5)

This card was printed and distributed for Natale 1944. A bucolic Australia landscape of sheep, gum trees and space.  Despite processes in place for prisoners of war to send postcards for Notification of Capture and Transfer of Prisoner, Stefano’s wife believed him dead and asked the Red Cross to try to locate some information about him.

In September 1941, Egle received a letter from the Red Cross telling her that her husband was a prisoner of war in Australia. Instructions were given to send mail to: Posta per prigionieri di Guerra, Australia.

Any wonder why mail was lost and months and sometimes years passed before mail was received.  The image on this postcard was very foreign to Stefano’s family, but its arrival conveyed love and hope.

Lucantoni Stefano and Egle

Stefano and Egle: Happier Times

A special thank you to Marco Lucantoni for the photographs used in this article.

In their spare time…

What isn’t written into the records is how the Italian prisoners of war kept themselves occupied during their many hours of idleness.  It just wasn’t the hours spent on board the transport ships to India and Australia that needed filling, but also the Sundays on farms and the days and nights in Cowra, Hay and Murchison.

Snippets of information from newspapers, oral histories and letters, when combined with images from photos deliver an insight into the pastimes of our Italian POWs.

CARDS and BOARD GAMES My nonno taught me how to play card games.  I have always thought that this is how he wiled away his spare hours during the ‘slack’ in the cane cutting communities of north Queensland during the 1920s and 1930s.  Briscola and scopa are two Italian card games which no doubt the Italian POWs played while in Australia.  A newspaper photographer captured two Italians playing cards onboard the train taking them to Hay.  A pack of cards is portable and cheap.

Mention is made in a newspaper article of an ‘improvised draughts board’ carried by an Italian POW when he landed in Sydney. The draught pieces had been cut from broom handles. Official photos taken at Hay and Cowra, had Italian POWs playing chess and making chess sets (from lathes constructed by the POWs).

Italian POWs Playing Cards

(The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954) Thursday 16th October 1941, page 10)

EDUCATION and LANGUAGE CLASSES Costanzo Melino wrote that whilst in India, he attended Italian and English classes.  Having minimal formal education in Italy, he seized opportunities to undertake classes in Italian and English. It was considered imperative that POWs occupied their leisure time usefully and the policy was to provide opportunities for POWs to further their studies.  Libraries in the camps were established and canteen profits used to purchase additional text books relevant to courses undertaken. Books from overseas were allowed in the areas of banking and financial, medical, scientific, art, economics, music, agriculture, religion, trade and commerce as well as periodicals of a general literary nature.

METAL WORK CLASSES Rosemary Watt (Bury) is caretaker of a carved artefact made in Cowra by Angelo Capone.  Most like mass produced in a mould, the Italians then finished the carving with adornments of their choosing.  Interestingly, the Australia War Memorial has a similar arefact in their collection and one is left to ponder “how many other carved arefacts are their in homes in Australia and Italy?”

LEATHER WORK  Australian children recall the shoes and sandals made by their Italian POWs.  The leather would be produced from hides and crafted into practical items such as coin pouches, belts and footwear.  In POW group photos taken at Cowra, Hay and Murchison, many Italians can be seen wearing sandals, which were certainly not standard issue.

EMBROIDERY The origins of the elegant sewing prowess of Italian POWs is hard to locate.  Personal memories are that the Italian POWs had learnt the skill in India and embroideries completed by Italian POWs in India can be found from time to time on EBay. Two beautifully embroidered works are keepsakes of Colleen Lindley (a gift from Domenico Petruzzi to her mother Ruby Robinson of Gayndah) and Ian Harsant (a gift from Francesco Pintabona to the Harsant family of Boonah). An interesting interpretation of the word ’embroidery’ is offered by Alan Fitzgerald in his book ‘The Italian Farming Soldiers’. Used in letters written by Italian POWs,  the word ’embroidery’ was code  for ‘fascist propaganda’.

ART and MUSIC and PLAYS Musical performances and stage plays were performed in the camps.  The wigs of theatre as illustrated below were captured on film at Cowra.
V-P-HIST-01882-02.JPG

Cowra 12D 2 7.43 Wigs of Theatre V-P-HIST-01882-02

(International Committee for the Red Cross)

Instruments and art supplies were provided to Italian prisoners of war. The photo below shows a wall of the barracks at Hay which had been decorated as well as the musical instruments acquired for use by the Italians.  Furthermore, Queenslanders remember the mandolins, guitars and banjos that were played on the farms and Nino Cipolla has the music for songs his father Francesco notated while in Q6 Home Hill and Cowra PW & I Camp.

Hay.Art.Music

HAY, AUSTRALIA, 1943-09-09. GROUP OF ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR INTERNED AT NO.6. P.O.W. GROUP, WHO HAVE FORMED THEMSELVES INTO THE CAMP ORHESTRA.

(Australian War Memorial Image 030142/02)

Cowra Council have an interpretive display on a number of themes at various points around the precinct.  The Italians is once such display and under the title Members of the Family, the following is recorded: “Their great love of music, food and art endeared them to the community.  They formed bands and produced musical events which would attract local people to sit outside the camp and listen to their beautiful singing”.

FOOTBALL, TENNIS and BOXING

It is not surprising that just as football is a passion for Italians today, it was also a passion back in the 1940’s.  Group photos of Italian prisoners of war were taken in 1944, among them photos of the Football Teams.

Murchison.Football Team

MURCHISON, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA. 1944-05-20. SOCCER TEAM OF ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR OF NO. 13A COMPOUND, MURCHISON PRISONER OF WAR GROUP.

(Australian War Memorial: Image 066766)

Hay.Football

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Soccer teams from No. 15 Prisoner of War (POW) Camp lined up on the ground before commencement of play. All Italians, some have recently transferred from Hay. The match was played in temperatures over 109 degrees F.

(Australian War Memorial: Image 063921 Geoffrey McInnes)

Official photos in the Australian War Memorial collection also show the Italians playing tennis at Hay and boxing competitions at Cowra.

GARDENS and STATUES and FOUNTAINS  One would be hard put to find a piazza in Italy that doesn’t have a statue or fountain. Group photos taken at Cowra have the Italians seated in front of this prominent fountain.

V-P-HIST-01881-01.JPGo

Guerre 1939-1945 Nouvelle – Galls du Sud. Camp du Cowra Fontaine.

(International Red Cross V-P-HIST-01881-01)

Reflecting their history and culture, the Italians keenly constructed statues like the replica Colosseum  at Hay and just to the right of the photo is a tank atop a plinth. Italian POWs grew their own vegetables as is evident by the photo below. Between the barracks at Hay, gardens were dug and crops grown.   Ham Kelly told his grandson that the Italian POWs at Q6 Home Hill Hostel grew the most amazing vegetables outside their barracks.

Hay.Gardens.Statues

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. THE CRAFTSMANSHIP OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR IS ILLUSTRATED BY THIS GARDEN AT THE 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. NOTE THE MODEL OF THE COLISEUM IN THE FOREGROUND.

(Australian War Memorial Image 063365)

LETTER and JOURNAL WRITING

For the Italian POWs, there were two main regulations regarding the sending of mail:

Prisoners were not to send letters other than through official channels.

Prisoners were allowed to send two letters or two postcards or one letter and one postcard every week on approved Service of Prisoners of War Notelopes and postcards.

Unfortunately, postal services to and from Italy were unreliable. Italians became despondent at not receiving mail from family.  In a letter written by Giuliano Pecchioli, he writes on 12/1/45 that he was in receipt of his sister’s letter dated 3/6/1943.  Communication with family was difficult.  Before Christmas, POWs were given cards with Australian scenes to send home to Italy. Below is a page of a booklet of scenes produced for Christmas 1941.

Card 1941 Xmas

Di sotto la “cartolina” dell’YMCA distribuita per il Natale del 1941

(From the collection of Enrico Dalla Morra)

A number of journals survive, written by Italian soliders and prisoners of war.  For some Italians, it was a way of recording the events of the lives, over which they had little control.  From Tobruk to Clare  is the story of Luigi Bortolotti as recorded in his diary. The “Libbretta” of “Corporal Cofrancesco Umberto” is the basis for “Umberto’s War” . Recorded are details of his journey as a soldier and prisoner of war which took him to Australia.  Another journal “Diario di Guerra” by Francesco D’Urbano was found in  the sands of north Africa by an Australia soldier.  In time, the soldier asked the assistance of CO.AS.IT to trace D’Urbano.  Laura Mecca researched the Italian archives and found that he had spent time in India before returning to Italy.  A copy of the diary was presented to his wife.

CRAFT

While this photo is of Italian POWs in an Egyptian camp, it illustrates the type of craft work POWs engaged in and similar projects would have been undertaken in Australian camps.

NZ Italian Prisoners of War Craft Work

Italian prisoners of war with items of their carved handiwork at Helwan POW Camp, Egypt. One prisoner shown chiselling portrait features of a roundel. Taken 1940-1943 by an official photographer.

John Oxley Library from the collection of New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs Image DA-00736-F

Camp Food: November 1941

A common memory that Queenslanders have about their Italian prisoners of war focuses on food: a dislike for pumpkin, considered in Italy to be livestock food; a love of watermelon; dislike for bread and butter pudding; relishing bacon and eggs; a yearning for spaghetti; learning how to twirl spaghetti with a fork and spoon; the copper full of spaghetti; hand made spaghetti; rabbit stew. Doug Wilson, once the Italians left his parents’ farm at Lagoon Pocket, refused to eat spaghetti and to this day does not eat pasta.  He ate ‘far too much spaghetti’ during those war years.

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Fullerton Pumpkin Crop 1947 Glasshouse Mountains

(photo courtesy of Yvonne Derrington[Fullerton])

Jim Fullerton from Glasshouse Mountains sent this photo to Paolo Santoro in 1947. It explains a little about the Italians’ views on what was put on the Aussie dinner plate.  Paolo replied in his letter of 25th December 1947, “I told them some good story you know, about the pumpkins, you had a good crop, but you know I don’t like to [too] much to eat them.”

The diet of the Italian was very different from the good old Aussie meat and 3 veg.  Theirs was a diet of little meat, pulses, pasta, rice and vegetables of the season.

This difference is explained in an extract from We Never Forgot Domenico. Thea Beswick [Robinson] recalls:

“There was one young man, Domenico, who understood a little English so he became the spokesperson for the men.  The first hurdle was the food.  Copious
amounts of meat, eggs and milk, potatoes and pumpkin were served.
Domenico approached Dad and said the men were sick, ‘Too much meat.
We need pasta.” Of course pasta and rice were not available during war
time so Mum had to come up with a more varied meal plan.  I think a
few of the chooks may have ended up in a pot and an effort was made to
catch fish from the river.”

The menu below is from November 1941 for Cowra Prisoner of War Camp.  The camp appears to have been provisioned according to those for Australia armed forces as the diet is overloaded with meat and mashed potatoes.  The daily ration for 100 men for Tuesday was 150 lbs beef, 95 lbs potatoes, 40 lbs cabbage…

The camp cooks were Italians and I am sure they would have been scratching their heads as to how to use the daily rations. The cooks would have been grateful for such generous supplies and so set to, to utilise all produce provided.  With five meals on offer a day, the POWs would have felt that they spent most of their day eating. After meagre rations as soldiers in Libya, the abundance of food must have seemed like ‘food heaven’. No longer were they eating one month old bread scraps and tinned bully beef.

This menu also makes sense of something Nino Cipolla said about his dad Ciccio Cipolla who spent time in both Hay and Cowra Camps.  Nino said, “When I saw the photo of my father which was taken at Cowra Camp, this was the heaviest he weighed in his life!”  And no wonder, after having to eat 1 lb of potatoes a day.

A newspaper report from November 1942, supports Nino’s observation, “Italian prisoners-of-war in camps in south NSW have gained on an average nearly a stone in weight since they reached Australia.” (Western Mail, 12 November 1942 page 8).  Another reason for the weight gain would have been the sedentary life and idleness associated with life in a POW camp.

However by July 1943, weekly provisions for 100 men show a considerable change away from meat, potatoes and cabbage as it now included rice, spaghetti, split peas, prunes, puree tomatoes, vinegar, oil, an increase in bread rations, a decrease in meat rations. By this time, Italian prisoners of war at Cowra Camp had 140 acres under cultivation, growing primarily crops for their own use.

Menu for Cowra Camp 10th November to 16th November 1941

Cowra Menu 1941