Tag Archives: Italian POWs

Bomb Blast kills 5

I was working with the granddaughter of Nicola Capitummino to trace the journey of her grandfather in Australia when I read about the bomb blast at N33 Bathurst Hostel in June 1946.

There were a number of POW hostels set up at Australian military complexes in 1946.  The role of the Italian prisoners of war was to assist with ‘general duties at AMF
Camps and Schools, clearing and maintenance of ammunition depots etc.’

One such hostel was at Bathurst where 3 Australians and 2 Italians were killed by a bomb blast.  Adelmo Rondinini’s legs were severed above the knees and he also lost his left eye in the explosion.

In reference to the burial of Sapper Michael Freeman in Bathurst,  the following was written:

The Italian prisoners of war from the Bathurst Army Camp on Limekilns Road made a large V-shaped wreath of greenery which was placed at the Military Cemetery. Their card read: “Michael Freeman from your Italian friends. For the kindness and understanding shown to us”…There was a single cortege for both the soldiers and the Italian prisoners.

 

Bathurst

Solemn: Sapper Michael Freeman’s Funeral passes onto Steward Street from Keppel Street on June 5, 1946.

(www.westernadvocate.com.au/story/4004852/yesterday-today-alan-mcrae/)

5 Die in Bathurst Camp Explosion

Bathurst, Monday. – Three Australian soldiers and two Italian prisoners of war were killed in the Bathurst military camp today when a fragmentary mortar bomb exploded amongst a working party of Australians and Italians.

At Bathurst Hospital to-night doctors were battling to save the life of a third Italian who lost both legs and has little chance of survival.

The victims of the explosion were: –

Sgt. Thomas Dickenson, AIF

Sapper Arthur Murray, AIF

Sapper Michael Joseph Freeman, AIF

Pietro Monfredi, POW

Stefano Mola, POW

The injured man is Adelmo Rondinini a POW.

Sgt. Dickenson, Freeman and Stefano Mola were killed instantly while Murray and Monfredi died in hospital hours later.  Ronlinini’s legs were severed above the knees and he was rushed in a critical condition to hospital, where blood transfusions were given him throughout the day and to-night in an effort to save his life.

Luck favoured Cecil Snudden, of Bathurst, who was standing about 10 yards from the working party when the explosion occurred.  Fragments of metal passed between his legs, carrying away portions of his trousers near the knees, but he was not injured.

Bathurst police investigating the tragedy have been told the explosion occurred at 10.30 a.m. while the six victims were working on the site of an ash dump at the camp. 

The bomb, it is believed, lay hidden under some ashes and according to one report the explosion resulted when an Italian cutting wood struck the bomb with his axe.

“5 DIE IN BATHURST CAMP EXPLOSION” Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954) 4 June 1946: 1. Web. 11 Oct 2018 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article99118261&gt;.

 

No More Pasta

Doug Wilson was a child when his father, Vernon Wilson at Lagoon Pocket took on two Italian prisoners of war.  The farm grew beans, tomatoes, bananas and beetroot and as well, had a dairy which was leased to another farmer. It was war time, and labourers had gone off to fight in the war, so the Department of Manpower promoted the employment of the Italians.

Doug’s memories of that time centre mainly on food and children.  Doug recalls, “Living on a farm, the Italians were well fed.  Mum would have a leg of ham hung up and the POWs took a liking to having a thick piece of ham with their eggs.  Eggs was another luxury, but because we had chooks, we had lots of eggs.  There was also fresh milk.  Two buckets of milk would be collected from the dairy each morning as part of the lease arrangement dad had. These items were in short supply in town and there were also ration cards.”  But Doug’s most memorable food story is about pasta.  His mum would cook up the pasta as that is what they were used to.  Doug says, “I was so sick of pasta, that after the war I refused to eat pasta.  To this day, I still won’t eat pasta.”

The two Italian prisoners of war were family men. Francesco Nicoli had a son and a daughter and Bernardino Patriarca had three sons. “I remember the men treated us very well.  They treated us like their own.  They were always around us and played with us.  One of the funny memories is how they were worried that mum bathed the baby every day. ‘Why wash bambini day?’  I suppose things were different in Italy,” Doug muses.

Treasured letters from the Italians explain the bond they formed with children.  It has been suggested that Italian POWs were more settled when there were little children on the farm and the words of these men tell of the special memories they would carry with them to Italy.

Bernardino wrote on 4th May 1946, “…Glad to hear that your children have not forgotten us yet.  You can’t imagine how hard it is for us to leave this country without seeing your lovely children once again.  Last night in my dream I was with your children to play to, but it was a dream only.”

Wilson.Bernardino.Francesco with children 1

Vernon Wilson Farm Lagoon Pocket Gympie

Men: Bernardino Patriarca, Vernon Wilson, Francesco Nicoli

Children: Wayne Choy Show, Leonie Choy Show, Douglas Wilson, Myra Wilson, Frances Wilson

(from the photographic collection of Doug Wilson)

Francesco wrote from Hay on 29th May 1946, “…thank you so much to your children for their remembering to us.  Please, will you send me some photos of your children and family as I want to see you and keep them as a remembrance of my Australian friends. When I get back to Italy I will send you some of mine too.”

Written by camp interpreters, Francesco and Bernardino wrote letters of their time at Gaythorne Camp, the delay in departing for Italy, the weather at the Hay Camp and the special connection between themselves and the Wilsons. The letters also tell of wanting to be free men once more.  Unfortunately, these men were taken off the farms on 4th January 1946 but it was almost a year before they boarded Alcantara on 23rd December 1946 to return to Italy. They were prisoners of war for over five years.

 

 

 

No Regard for the Truth

Darren Arnott  grew up in Rowville in the 1970’s and 1980’s and had heard stories from some of the older residents about the Rowville Hostel which had always intrigued him. When he purchased a house in the 1990’s near a bush reserve with remanants of the Rowville camp he researched and documented the site and the local council used his research to place signage about the history of the site.

Darren also came across the details of ‘the shooting’ and the infamous Camp Commandant.  And with most history research, one document led to another then another…

Below is an edited extract from the forthcoming book No Regard for the Truth by Darren Arnott.

My most sincere appreciation to Darren for sharing his work.  I look forward to purchasing a copy of his book in 2019. For further details, Darren’s contact information can be found below.

NO REGARD FOR THE TRUTH

At 6:48PM on Saturday the 30th of March 1946 the Victoria Police Communications Centre, D24 received a phone call from Rowville Prisoner of War Hostel Camp Commandant, Captain Waterston requesting assistance at the camp. The call was broadcast to police cars in the area.

“Camp reports trouble among P.O.W.S. Requests that patrol be sent to assist. Contact Sergeant and Police on duty in street and instruct them to attend.”

Radio broadcast from Lt Maloney. “I will go to Rowville, please detail Sergeant Carroll in car 116 to attend and take any action necessary pending my arrival.”

Around 6:30 that evening as most prisoners were finishing their evening meal, Rodolfo Bartoli suffered a serious gunshot wound. Nearby prisoners who heard the gunshot and Rodolfo’s cries in Italian of “He has killed me”, ran to his aid. Rodolfo was carried to the camp hospital on a stretcher where he was treated by the Italian Camp Doctor, Joseph Galli. Rodolfo was losing a great deal of blood and Doctor Galli, realising that Bartoli’s condition was quickly deteriorating called for a camp car to rush Rodolfo to the Heidelberg military hospital.

Constable McAvoy, Constable Banks and Constable Hodge were the first police officers to arrive at the camp at shortly after receiving the call over the radio. They met Captain Waterston. Constable McAvoy documented in his notebook their brief discussion with Captain Waterston.

He asked Captain Waterston, “What is the trouble sir?”

“There has been some trouble here tonight. I threw a picket around the camp. I was walking through the camp myself when I saw a man moving through the wire. I called on him to stop and he did not stop. I then fired a shot. Later I found that a man had been injured in the groin, or shot in the groin, and he had been sent to the Heidelberg Military Hospital.”

“Do you want us to do anything now?”

“I would like you to come down with me around the camp. I am short staffed here.”

Constables McAvoy, Banks and Hodge walked with the Captain and the Italian interpreter through the camp. The Captain ordered a number of prisoners who were walking around to return back to their huts. The camp was quietened down, and all lights were turned out.

Version 2

Armed Search photograph from The Herald Monday 1st April 1946

 

The Rowville Italian Prisoner of War Control Hostel

Rowville is located in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne and was once a small farming community. The nearest major township at the time was Dandenong. The Rowville Italian Prisoner of War Control Hostel was an unguarded camp and was bounded by a simple wire and stump farm style fence. In 1946 there were approximately 250 prisoners interned at Rowville. The camp was overseen by Camp Commandant, Captain John Waterston.

Rodolfo died later that night from a gunshot wound. Rodolfo Bartoli was twenty-six years old when he died. His military record shows that he was from Florence and prior to the war had been employed as a Civil Servant. He was a Private in the Italian Infantry and was captured in Libya on the 10th of December 1940. Rodolfo arrived in Sydney aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the 15th of October 1941 and was interned at the POW camp in Cowra, New South Wales. In August 1944 he was relocated to Murchison in Victoria and then to Rowville in December 1944. Apart from one week at the Kooweerup Camp, Rodolfo spent the rest of his time at Rowville. Rodolfo was 5 feet 10 inches tall (178 centimetres) and was well liked by prisoners and staff in the camp. Rodolfo had been employed in the Camp Quartermaster Store at Rowville where prisoners could request uniforms or supplies when required. Rodolfo had met a young woman on a nearby farm who he was hoping to one day marry. A small number of the prisoners were aware that he had a bicycle hidden in some scrub by the bank of the Dandenong Creek just south of the camp and, on occasion, he used to leave to camp on his bike.

Rodolfo_Bartoli

Rodolfo Bartoli: back row, third from the right. 

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49115 C. Trentino; 49354 G. Ippolito; 49592 A. Poggi; 49107 G. Zunino; 48833 R. Bartoli; 49212 R. Papini; 48863 S. De Micco. Front row: 48939 A. Leto; 49172 A. Mandrini; 57531 B. Protano; 49923 F. Carlone; 45196 A. Ciofani. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030173/11 Photographer: Geoffrey McInnes)

Three days before the shooting, at the request of the Minister for Army Minister Forde, the Army commenced an investigation into the alleged mistreatment of Italian Prisoners at the Rowville Camp. This was in response to a written complaint about the treatment of prisoners at the Rowville Camp from a member of the public which had been forwarded to Minister Forde. With this inquiry already underway, the shooting of Rodolfo triggered a chain of inquiries and inquests which lasted until December 1946. There was a Military Court of Inquiry, a Police Homicide Squad investigation, a Coroner’s Inquest, an Independent Government inquiry into the shooting and the administration of the Rowville Camp and finally, two Court Martial trials. Some disturbing stories about the mistreatment of prisoners, abuse of prisoner’s rights, suppression of written complaints from prisoners, discrepancies in evidence in the number of shots fired at Rodolfo, disputes about where Rodolfo was standing when he was shot and a lack of clear understanding of the camp boundaries began to emerge.

These events took place after the end of World War Two as the Italian prisoners were awaiting to return home. Most of the prisoners from the Rowville Camp returned home to Italy in January 1947. Rodolfo is one of the 129 Italian’s who died in Australia during World War Two resting at the Ossario at Murchison.

Ossario1

The Ossario Murchison 11th November 2018

Ossario2

Rodolfo Bartoli’s Final Resting Place: The Ossario Murchison

Photographs by the author at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Ossario, Murchison Cemetery November 2018.

Darren Arnott

darren@metebelis3.com

Twitter @darrenarnott

References

NAA MP742/1 255/6/774 Parts 1 & 2

Justice Simpson Inquiry – Exhibits – D24 Transcript

Justice Simpson – Rowville Inquiry Transcript of Evidence

Justice Simpson Inquiry Final Report – Rowville Inquiry – Administration of Prisoners of War

Letter of Appointment – Appointment as investigating officer into the allegation of ill-treatment of prisoners of war at PWC Hostel, V.22 Rowville.

MP1103/2 PWI48833 Rodolfo Bartoli’s Prisoner of War Record

Herald Sun 1st April 1946 “Army Explains POW Shooting Case”

Photograph of Rodolfo Bartoli https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C345909

 

Artistic and Romantic

The story of Tito Neri began with two photos sent to me by Luigi Pinna from Cagliari Sardinia. They were a puzzle.  Why did Luigi’s father, Antioco Pinna have in his possession two photos of a sculpture created in South Australia by Tito Neri?    What was the story behind these photos?  Where was this sculpture of Adam and Eve created?  Did this sculpture or any record of it still exist?#

Who was Tito Neri?

Tito Neri was a talented and well-respected sculptor from Villa Casone di Cesena (Forli). But for a time, he was an Italian prisoner of war living and working on South Australian farms.

While Neri’s Australian Service and Casualty Form records his occupation as bricklayer his biography relates that from a young age, he had a natural talent for art.  He went on to train at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. For further details of his work: Neri Tito

In 1939, he was sent to Libya as a soldier in the 11th Artillery Division, 202 Regiment and was captured at Alam El Tumar 9th December 1940. Sent to prisoner of war camps in India, Neri found time to sculpture with some of his memorable works being: Il Barbaelettrica, Il Duce, Il Re e L’Aquila Imperial, Don Bosco in marble, Il Re di’Ingheiterra Girogio IV, I Re Magi.*  Word spread amongst the English of his talents.

From his Australian POW record, he arrived in Melbourne, onboard the Mariposa and sent to Murchison for processing before a transfer to Sandy Creek POW Camp in South Australia.  Farm placement on farms in the S2 Willunga POW Centre and S1 Mt Barker POW Centre, left him with little time to pursue his art. A comment made by one of his employers was, “This man is a clever sculptor and all spare time is given to this. Works well otherwise.”

Neri Tito PWI 58694

Tito Neri

(NAA: A367, C85639)

He worked on a farm owned by Hartley Roy Moulds of Ashbys Road Inman Valley where he fell in love with the farmer’s daughter, Hazel who left an impression on the ‘sculptor’s soul.‘ An S2 PWCC Willunga report records, “This man is a good type, above average intellect, but romantic… Not necessarily bad but would be better employed away from women.”

 Neri was transferred to the Usher farm near Meadows and also worked for six weeks at Mr MS (Maurice Samuel)  Pearce’s farm Doringa at Paris Creek.  He also worked Mr FS Evans farm at Aldgate Stirling which was his most serene and welcoming placement.

“For his art, the years lived in Australia are much less prolific than those in India and that is due to the hard and unceasing work in the ‘farms’. In fact, Neri only sculpts a few subjects: a kangaroo, a large snake in cement, a bust of a Boss and above all, an Adam and Eve which nevertheless appears even in an Australian magazine,” as is explained in his biography by Dott. Andrea Antonioli, Commune di Cesena.

Puzzling however, is how did Antioco Pinna have in his possession two photos of Adam and Eve and the serpent, which could possibly be the sculpture mentioned in his biography.

Tito Neri. Adam and Eve

A Puzzle: Is this Tito Neri with his sculpture Adam and Eve?

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

Antioco Pinna from Cagliari Sardinia and Tito Nero from Villa Casone Forli were in different theatres of war: Pinna Wolkefit Ethiopia and Neri Alam Et Tumar Libya.  What they do have in common is time in the POW Camps in India, arrival in Australia on the Mariposa 5th February 1944, time at Loveday POW Camp in 1946 and their repatriation on Strathmore 7th November 1946.  While Pinna was assigned to work in Prisoner of War Control Hostels on government projects: forestry, Neri worked on individual farms.

Still a puzzle: where in South Australia did Neri create his Adam and Eve?  Does this sculpture still exist?  What Australian magazine was his work featured in?

#The sculpture was created at Loveday Prisoner of War Camp during 1946.  It was said that Tito Neri destroyed his work before leaving the camp for repatriation to Italy.

*Dott. Andrea Antonioli, Ufficio Topomostica Commune di Cesena,  is the writer of TITO NERI: A Biography.

Gift to Farmer

Angelo Capone’s gift to his employer and friend George Bury was an ornament he carved while in Cowra Prisoner of War & Internment Camp. It is a treasured Bury family memento from the time Italian prisoners of war lived on their Beerwah farm 1944-1945.

Rosemary Watt, daughter of George Bury has always wanted to know more about her dad’s eagle and the ringed insignia at the bottom. Angelo said that the ornament had been carved with a six inch nail as were the words: Cowra 21-4-42 Australia.

It wasn’t until Rosemary found a similar object in the Australian War Memorial that a more complete history of such objects was revealed.  The AWM relic is more expertly crafted as the pictures below attest, but the description reveals, ” The eagle is made from thin sheet lead or alloy taken from used toothpaste tubes.”

The Italian prisoners of war were resourceful and were known to repurpose and recyle items in the most unusual ways.  The cellophane belts made from the cellophane wraps from cigarette packets is another example of their resourceful abilities.

Fascist Eagle Desk Ornament

(Australian War Memorial Relic 33406)

Click on the link to read the description of the above Eagle from the Australian War Memorial

The Italian POWs left a number of reminders and/or political statements in the camps in Australia.  Italians made many statues at Hay PW Camp which included  the Colosseum, the she wolf with twins Romulus and Remus, an army tank and a fascist eagle sitting atop a plinth.

V-P-HIST-01881-16B.JPG

Statue of Fascist Eagle at Hay Prisoner of War Camp

Letters from the Past

Many letters written by Italian prisoners of war are held in private postal history collections and Queenslanders’ family history collections. I am grateful and honoured that these letters have been shared with me and have become a comprehensive dossier of prisoner of war letters.

Letters written by the Italian POWs after they left the farms, talk of the health of the family, the state of the harvest and farm work,  the POWs that they were still grouped with, news that they would be going home soon, or that they are still waiting to go home, reflections on the kind treatment given to them by the farming families and reflections on leaving Australia and returning home. Two cousins, wrote a thank you letter to their farmer apologising for some of their bad behaviour which was never aimed at the farmer, but more at their situation.  They closed with gratitude for the kindness the family had shown them and the gifts they were given.

If there had been children in the family, there is a request for the farmer to send a photograph of the children, words about how much they missed the children, questions about how the children were going or growing, and wishes of being back on the farm with playing with the children instead of being in camp.

Angelo Capone wrote to Mr Bury on 16th January 1946 from Gaythorne. Written with a beautiful hand, the sentiments are simply worded but heartfelt.

Letter to George &amp; Gwen Bury, from Angelo Capone 1946 (1)

 

Letter Written to Mr Bury Beerwah from Angelo Capone 1946

(letter courtesy of Rosemary Watt)

Letters written by the Italians to their families are interesting.  While the men had to be careful of what they wrote (due to censorship), their words are always about concern for their families.  One Italian’s wife must have had a disagreement with her sister-in-law, which she had communicated to her husband, because his reply to her was that they would have to sort it out because he could do nothing about it.  There were always questions about sending news of the situation in their home towns, questions about who had died and comments as to the length of time it has taken for mail to reach them.  Other common messages were: longing to see the family again, the years of separation will be forgotten once they reach home, and  five years of separation might mean mums and children might not recognise them.

A lovely sentiment of the day is ‘I close with the pen, but not the heart’.

A summary of the relevant regulations regarding prisoner of war mail is as follows:

Four types of stationery were approved for the use of a prisoner of war in Australia.

  1. Notelopes which was a combined notepaper and envelope
  2. Postcards
  3. Parcel Acknowledgement cards
  4. Address Cards

Italian POWs were entitled to mail 2 letters or 2 postcards or 1 letter and 1 postcard per week.  Protected personnel could send 2 letters and 2 postcards per week.

From 1942 the YMCA provided  Christmas cards for the prisoners of war.

CArd 1944 natale

1944 Christmas Card

Post cards and letters could be sent airmail, at the expense of the POWs.

‘Express Messages’ could additionally be sent through the International Red Cross services.  This service was reserved for POWs who had had no communication from their next-of-kin in three months.

Monthly messages not exceeding 25 words could be sent via His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.

Address Cards (Capture Cards) were made available to POWs to send not later than one week after arrival at their camp an/d or in the case of sickness.

Censorship of POW mail ceased from 10th November 1945 but camp commandants had discretionary powers.

A Chance Find

And a journey of discovery begins…

I received an email from Giulia Musini recently. Giulia wrote,

“Today I found this fabric napkin embroidered from a soldier prisoner in India. This little historical treasure was in an op shop in Western Australia. I was hoping to find the family of Antonio Fracasso, the soldier that embroidered this. Maybe through your page I can reach some experts or people related to Bangalore prisoners.”

Fracasso. Embroidery A XIX EF

Embroidery by Antonio Fracasso

(Photo courtesy of Giulia Musini)

Giulia had visited a second-hand charity shop in Witchcliffe Western Australia. “I was digging in the op shop and I saw the Savoia flag and the Italian writing … it was so touching I couldn’t leave it there forgotten in a pile of other stuff,” Giulia wrote.

After a little digging and emails to and fro, Antonio’s story emerges.

There were two Italian prisoners of war named Antonio Fracasso. Both were from Lecce region in Italy and both had spent time in prisoner of war camps in India.  One Antonio worked on farms in New South Wales while Giulia’s Antonio worked on farms in Western Australia. The first piece of the puzzle emerged.

The next part of the puzzle was how did Antonio’s embroidery end up in an op shop at Witchcliffe!

Captured at Bardia on 6th January 1941, 24 year old Antonio Fracasso was sent to India until his arrival in Melbourne onboard Mount Vernon 27th April 1944. The date on the embroidery, June 1941, indicates that his time in prisoner of war camps in Egypt was brief.

From Melbourne, Antonio was sent to Murchison Victoria for processing before being sent to Marrinup Western Australia on 14th June 1944.

Antonio Fracasso’s Service and Casualty Form highlights that he worked on farms in the district of W11 Prisoner of War Control Centre (PWCC) Kellerberrin (29th July 1944 to 8th December 1944) and W8 Margaret River (21st January 1945 to 14th November 1945).

And here is another piece of the puzzle, the proximity of Witchcliffe to Margaret River: 7 – 8 kms.  We know from other farming families, that the Italians gifted hand-crafted objects to members of the farming families as a gesture of gratitude.  Probably, 73 years ago, Antonio gave this napkin/handkerchief to his W8 Margaret River farming family.  Subsequent generations of the family did not realise the historical importance of the embroidery and its connection to the family and along with other linen, donated it to charity.

The significance of Giulia’s chance find is more poignant as Antonio Fracasso was never to return home to Italy.  Antonio died on 20th December 1945 while swimming in a dam on a farm at Corrigin.

Fracasso nla.news-page000003772085-nla.news-article44836696-L3-411333eda8c04fd18bd70e831559d833-0001

“DROWNED IN DAM.” The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) 26 December 1945: 7. Web. 1 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44836696&gt;.

Giulia is now trying to locate a family member of Antonio.  A stumbling block is the places recorded as his residence in Italy: Canaleuco Lecce and Casalano Lecce.  Unable to find either places on a map, Casarano Lecce might be the town.  Giulia has already made contact with the shire office of Casarano and surprisingly her email reached a gentleman named… Antonio Fracasso.

Giulia is hopeful she will find her Antonio’s family as she says, “I wish to bring this piece of Antonio home. We are moving there soon in Puglia, so close to where he was born. I feel he can finally, some how, go back home.”

Antonio’s embroidery was meant to be ‘rescued’ by Giulia. Her passion for history, Antonio’s story and Giulia’s return to Italy and the region of Antonio’s birth means that this chance find couldn’t be in safer hands.

Further information….

  1. A missing piece in the puzzle is what was Antonio doing on a farm at Corrigin, when his record has his last known whereabouts as Marrinup POW Camp. While there was no prisoner of war control centre at Corrigin, there were centres at W17 Kondinin and W15 Yearlering. It is likely that the farm of Mr WJ Keays was in one of these centres, where Antonio was transferred to work but he died before his record card could be updated.
  2. The newspaper article has Antonio’s surname as Saldato. Soldato = soldier. Someone only had half the story or was misinformed.
  3. Antonio Fracasso rests in The Ossario at Murchison Victoria.
  4. Givgno 1941 A XIX EF = Anno 29 Era Fascista. The Fascist Calendar began on 29 October 1922 and is written with Roman numerals.
  5. eta piu bella; giorni piu tristi = most beautiful age;  most sad days