Tag Archives: Italian Prisoner of War in Australia

Friends of the Italians at Amamoor

Anna Eusebi and Raffaele Iacopini are researching their father’s and grandfather’s time as prisoners of war in the Gympie district from 1944-1945 and need the help of Gympie locals to fill in the missing details.

Anna’s nonno Fortunato Gobbi and Raffaele’s father Luigi Iacopini, together with Giovanni Meconi, all from the Ascoli Piceno province of Italy, began work on an Amamoor farm owned by J.J.Parr on 5th August 1944.

Anna says, “My nonno never talked much about this piece of his life after he returned to Italy and I would appreciate any help from people who can help me find out more.  If possible, I would like to contact someone from the Parr family at Amamoor to know if someone remembers my nonno.”

Anna has shared photos from Fortunato’s time at Amamoor in the hope that someone might remember something. “We always knew that these photos held special memories for my nonno.  But it wasn’t until I found the research project “Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland” that I began to understand some of nonno’s story.  The researcher, Joanne Tapiolas, told me the name of the farmer and where the farm was.  She also told me that the photos show the Land Army Girls and the Italian prisoners of war who worked together on many farms during the war. One of the photos shows a truck loaded up with sacks of potatoes.”

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Amamoor Farm Gympie 1944-1945

Luigi Iacopini on the left and Fortunato Gobbi centre front.

Raffaele Iacopini is hoping that Gympie residents might recognise the people in one of his father’s photos.  Raffaele believes that the photo was sent to his father Luigi after the war and must be from someone that he knew. Possibly it was sent to Raffaele after he left a Gympie farm but was still in Australia.

The sender wrote on the back of the photo, You know who this is? Miss …cia and me, horses and fruit. “I hope that someone recognises the people in this photo and can tell me something more about my father when he worked in Amamoor and the people he met,” says Raffaele.

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Pineapple Harvest Gympie District c. 1946-1947

Nicko’s Baskets

Anthony Brown reminisces about the Nicko and Pasquali who lived on the Brown farm via Kenilworth 1944-1945:
I remember Mum saying, “Boy can they eat!” They ate meals with us and were part of the family. Mum did all the cooking, she was a fantastic cook. Nicko and Pasquali slept on the verandah with my brother Craig and myself. My sister slept in her own room inside the house. The beds were canvas stretchers with a coir mattress (husk of coconuts). They were supplied with their own blankets which I recall were dyed red.

Nicko’s Baskets

(photo courtesy of Sharon Pearson [Brown])

The red coloured clothing was supplied by the army and was plentiful. The red dye came out in the wash tubs.  In those days you carted water from the creek and a wood fired copper was used to wash the clothes.  The clothes were wool and I remember them only wearing long trousers.

In those days, neighbours helped each other out.  There were two creek crossings into our farm which kept getting flooded.  The POWs from EV Kirk’s farm helped our two pick up rocks from the farmers’ paddocks to put in the creek crossings to dam the water way in preparation for concreting the crossings.  My dad contributed his POW workforce which meant he paid the wages for the job.  Another farmer paid for the cement and the council supplied the trucks, overseer and equipment such as a cement mixer.  The 1956 floods washed away the top of the causeway they made.

Our two POWs were different in nature.  I was 12 years old, and through my eyes, Nicko seemed more like a farmer and Pasquali more a ‘towny’ type.  Pasquali seemed more low key and spoke better English than Nicko.  My sister Dolores remembers that Pasquali sent a letter to us after they went back to Italy. She was nine years old at the time and thought Pasquali was good looking.

Nicko was short.  I was 5 foot six inches when I was 12 years old, and much taller than Nicko.  His record states that he was 4 foot 11 inches.  Once when a bag of potatoes came down from the Maleny butter factory dad kept them up in the dairy which was a way from the house.  Dad measured out about 40 pounds of potatoes and gave them to Nicko to take home; it was about 1 km from the dairy to the house.  Nicko took over ½ hour to get home with the potatoes.  When Nicko arrived home, he said to my dad as a way of excusing his lateness, “Mr Brown, you up there.  Poor Nicko down here.”  Dad was 6 foot tall and Nicko was 4 foot 11 inches.

Pasquali and Nicko helped in the dairy; milking morning and night.  So the farm routine was early to rise and to bed by 7pm.  On the farm, we had 32 volts electricity.  They did other jobs as needed.  Dad sent them down to brush away the rubbish from near the dairy.  He wanted the area cleaned up from the side of the hill leading down to the creek.  They cut down mum’s cumquart tree and left the other trees standing.  I remember Dad saying “The only tree you chopped down was the cumquart tree!”  It had prickles so I think they thought it was a rubbish tree.  The tree recovered and is still there on the farm today.

Nicko told Dad about his capture, “I flee! I flee!”  He was the more industrious one and made baskets from the lawyer cane.  One of the things they were required to do during their captivity was to learn crafts to keep them occupied.  I had the feeling that Pasquali was more of an academic as he didn’t seem to do too much of the physical work.

One of the baskets made by Nicko was called “The Egg Basket”.  It was used by to collect the eggs laid by the hens. My sister Dolores remembers that Nicko also made a laundry basket; used for collecting the clean clothes.  She also remembers how they loved their spaghetti and taught my mother how to cook it.  The first time mum made it, the big boiler was chockers with spaghetti.  One of them said, “We cook in copper next time.”

The Italians were always referred to as generally as ‘Dagos’ but I never knew why. At the time, I didn’t know if it was a term of endearment or derogatory.

Their names were Pasquale Mastrantonio and Nicola Fantetti and the records indicate that they came to the farm of AA Brown on 3rd August 1944.

My daughter Sharon has two baskets made by Nicko; a fond reminder of those days during the war.

God sent Carmello and Laurie

Carmello and Laurie have always been mentioned in our family prayers.

Written and contributed by Carmel King (nee Lutvey)

My name is Carmel King.  I was born in 1939 and my brother John was born in 1940.  My parents were Michael and Freda Lutvey, Michael being the fourth child of Russia and Eva Lutvey.  “Raschid” (Richard in English) was born in Lebanon.  When he landed in Australia in 1879 a Government Official incorrectly registered his name as “Russia” which explains the name change.

Lutvey Family

Lutvey Family Gayndah

(photo courtesy of Carmel King nee Lutvey)

Gayndah is a small town in the Central Burnett district of South East Queensland.  It is a District rich in Agriculture, the growing of Stock and Citrus Orchards.  When I was growing up the population of Gayndah was approximately 1500.

When scrub land was opened for selection in 1934, Michael purchased two portions and became a farmer in the “Woodmillar” District, preferring farming to his family’s storekeeping.  Over the years other properties were purchased by Russia until it became quite a large holding.

Much of the land had to be cleared of prickly pear.  There were 120 milking cows and dairying was carried out until 1945.  Picking up “stones” continued to add new paddocks for the growing of crops.  The land then became used for greater agricultural production and for the fattening of stock.  At one time Michael planted 100 Citrus trees.  The area was too dry and the experiment failed.

The farm-house at “Woodmillar” was on high blocks with rooms underneath.  The family bedrooms were upstairs and downstairs was the kitchen, the utility room and other rooms which were used to house the single workers on the farm.  The married men had separate accommodation or resided in the district or the township of Gayndah.

Michael continued to reside in Gayndah and drove the 15 miles to and from the farm every day.  When he married Freda Kayrooz in 1938 they came to live on the farm.  This is the farm where Camello and Laurie came to live during the war years and gives a picture of the type of farm work they would be expected to do.

The knowledge of Camello and Laurie comes from the memory of my mother Freda often talking about them during the years of my growing up in Gayndah.  Freda’s brother Peter Kayrooz, was a Gunner serving with the Australian Forces in the Middle East.  She always said that God sent Carmello and Laurie for her to care for so that there would be another family on the other side of the world who would do the same for her brother.

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Freda Lutvey

(photo courtesy of Carmel King nee Lutvey)

Michael and Freda , with my brother and me, moved to live in town (Gayndah) during the  1940’s.  Dad’s brother Herbert Lutvey moved with his family to live on the farm.  Once again Michael drove the 15 miles each day and continued to manage the farms until they were sold in 1970.

The Wash House (or Laundry as it is now called) was a small lean-to on the side of the house outside the Kitchen.  As a fire precaution, the Copper for boiling the clothes was about 10 metres away from the house.  A very small building called the Outhouse (Toilet) was a little further on from the Copper.  The working men would have also helped with the heavy lifting and transfer of wet work clothes and washing from the copper to the laundry tubs.

Freda hated and was very frightened of snakes.  The first night the “boys”, as         Carmello and Laurie were called, spent on the farm was a very traumatic experience for them.  When Freda came downstairs to cook breakfast the following morning, the boys were very excited and looked awful.  They had sat on top of their beds and not slept all night.  They were very frightened and tried to explain the hissing noises they heard and what they had seen.  This happened again the following night.

The milk from the large bowls which were left out for the dogs and cats had been disappearing.  Freda thought that Carmel and John (both small children) were playing with and spilling it, or, maybe there might be a snake around.  Because the boys were looking and feeling so frightened Michael decided to pull up the floor boards in the kitchen and do some checking.  He found and killed nearly 20 snakes.  The snakes had been coming out at night looking for food.  It was little wonder that the boys were so terrified with poisonous snakes slithering around the floor at night.  I do think they had had any experience or knowledge of snakes beforehand.  For this reason, which prompted Michael to pull up the floor boards, Freda said they saved John and Carmel from being bitten and dying from snake bite.

Michael would drive the boys to Gayndah to attend Mass on Sundays.  This trip       extended to spending the day with the large extended family at Russia’s home.  The family business interests also included a number of shops and Russia’s home was on land behind, and attached to the main shopping centre.  On many occasions, Michael was in trouble with the law for taking the boys away from the farm, taking them to town and most of all when he allowed the boys the freedom of going for a walk up and down the main street to look in the shop windows.

When Carmello and Laurie left Gayndah to return home after the war, they promised Freda they would stay in touch and would write.  Freda felt a very close connection to them, and she was always of the opinion that something happened to their ship and they never reached home.

I am very familiar with their names as they have always been mentioned in our family prayers.  If there is an opportunity I would love to meet, or be in touch, with a member of their families.

A Hard Day’s Work

Anna Eusebi from Ancona Italy is the granddaughter of Fortunato Gobbi.  In her quest to find out more information about her Nonno Ernesto (as he was known), she found this project’s research and website.

Anna mentioned that she had some photos of her grandfather when he was on a farm in Australia and that her family only had a few stories about Ernesto’s time in Australia.  Ernesto told his family that in Australia there were many snakes and that he cultivated potatoes.  He also told of the frustration of the Italian POWs who were taken off the farms but then had to wait almost a year before boarding a ship for Italy.  Together, we pieced together Ernesto’s journey as an Italian soldier and prisoner of war.

Every photo that is shared with me is special:  photos of the Italians posing on horse back, family photos which include the Italian prisoners of war.  Each is special because every photo has a story to tell.

Ernesto’s photos however are extraordinary.

His photos are a first for this Queensland research. While there is written documentary evidence confirming that the Italian prisoners of war worked side by side with the Land Army Girls, this practice was a rather contentious issue: Itye POWs fraternising with our Aussie girls! A newspaper headline: DAGOES PESTER LAND ARMY GIRLS sums up a commonplace viewpoint.

Ernesto’s photo talks to us about the workforce on JJ Parr’s Amamoor farm during WW2.  These photos are a unique snapshot of the combined POW and LAGS workforce at Amamoor via Gympie.  While the prisoner of war workforce was employed on a permanent basis on most Queensland farms, the Australian Women’s Land Army (LAGS) workforce tended to be used for short periods during the hectic harvest seasons.

The Fourth Service by Mary Macklin is an excellent resource chronicling the services of the Land Army in Queensland during World War 2.  There are two mentions of the LAGS picking potatoes, “It was hard work picking up potatoes, filling the bags, sewing them up, then tow of us loading them onto the trucks…” and “May Higgins picked and bagged sixty five bags of potatoes in one day, three bushel bags each, an amazing worker…”

In the photo below, the truck is loaded with bagged potatoes.  Nonno Ernesto is sitting third from the right, and Luigi Iacopini, a friend from the same village as Ernesto is sitting first on the left.

Gobbi and LAGS and Potatoes

A Hard Day’s Work

Italian Prisoners of War and Land Army Girls Amamoor via Gympie

(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)

Mention of Land Army girls working at Amamoor is made in Mary Macklin’s book: “A group of four girls went to work on pineapple harvesting and later will be harvesting beans.  The number is now six.  LAGS of this group are B Cedergreen, A Cedergreen, G [Gloria] Pattison, C [Clarice] Keyworth, C Burroughs, E Bonning and Mrs Cedergreen does the cooking for the girls.”

From the archives, we know that J.J. Parr employed POWs and LAGS on two properties: The Golden Mile Orchard near Gayndah/Mundubbera (Q4 PWCC) and Amamoor (Q3 PWCC). One LAG, Cecily Gourley (nee Brennan) wrote about her memories of these times.  Cecily worked on both properties of J.J. Parr.

Cecily wrote:

The next property was the Golden Orange [The Golden Mile Orchard] at Mundubbera.  It was Christmas time, rockmelon harvest for the southern market and potato crop. Wages were two pounds, four shillings weekly and keep. When the season finished we left for Amamoor, Kadanga – same owners [J.J. Parr] as above property.

Contract potato pickers machine dug up to surface, with us picking up along rows with two kerosene tins.  These tins were four gallons and square in which was commercial dispensed kerosene, for lighting and various needs.  In one tin we collected small potatoes for the domestic market and in another, larger potatoes for Defence Forces. At the end of the rows, bags were filled and sewed across the top, but forming left and right “EARS” for grip handling. 

Lunch time was taken at the nearby creek, in a beautiful atmosphere listening to the magnificent bell birds call and sounds of other birds, tranquillity so long ago…

On this property also six to eight Italian P.O.W.’s working as directed by Overseer [Manager].  Due to circumstances, the Overseer was absent, personal reasons and arrangements.  A car arrived on the property with four male officials and no Overseer.  The four men returned to Gympie.  An hour later, Army M.P.’s arrived in a military truck and took the POW’s away.

The AWLA members were given instructions by phone to pack up and return by train to H.Q. Brisbane… (From The Fourth Service)

The authorities did not abide by a situation where the POWs and the LAGS worked together without appropriate supervision.

It is unlikely that Cecily and Ernesto’s paths crossed.  Cecily appears to have been at the Amamoor property early 1944 and Ernesto did not arrive at Amamoor until July 1944. But Cecily’s memories and Ernesto’s photos sit side by side to tell us a story of the Amamoor workforce.

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Morning Tea for the Workers and young boy

Luigi Iacopini far left and Nonno Ernesto centre front

Italian Prisoners of  War and Land Army Girls Amamoor via Gympie

(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)

Ernesto also told his family that he “regretted not being able to stay in Australia because he said he was well looked after and that there was so much work”. Other poignant memories were: living in tents, making gnocchi when he took care of the kitchen, a terrible journey from India to Australia when Italians died from dysentery and were thrown into the sea and Italians committing suicide in the camps because they could not cope with the emotional stress of waiting and waiting to return home to Italy.

I thank Ernesto and his family for keeping these photos safe for over seventy years.

They are extraordinary because of the history they reflect. They tell us about a war time workforce, a potato harvest, Italian prisoners of war, Australian Women’s Land Army girls, life on the farm during World War 2, farming life at Amamoor via Gympie:

 a hard day’s work.

So far from home and family…

Geographic dislocation was tolerable and bearable as a prisoner of war in Australia, but the physical separation from wives and children must have been at times, almost unbearable.

Nicola Micali was 27 years old when he arrived in Gayndah*. As a soldier in an artillery unit, he had been captured on the first day of the Battle of Bardia 3rd January 1941.  The deserts of North Africa were replaced with the tropical climate of India where he spent up to four years. He had a brief two month stay at Cowra NSW before  a two week stay at Gaythorne PW & I Camp, Queensland.

Geographic dislocation was part of the life of the Italian soldier and prisoner of war. Nicola’s home was San Pietro Vernotico which is close to the Adriatic Sea and is known for olive and grape growing.  His new home in Gayndah however is situated 2 hours from the coast specialising in citrus production.

Swapping artillery and desert sand for farm tools and citrus scented breezes was idyllic in a physical sense, however the separation of Nicola from his wife and daughter was far from a perfect existence.

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Nicola Micali and friends: Libya (Nicola seated right)

(Photo courtesy of Samuele Micali)

Nicola’s grandson Samuele recently discovered a letter written by his grandfather to his grandmother Giovanna. Dated 4-6-1940 et XVIII, Nicola wrote about his movements in Libya but also these endearing words:  “La nostra bambina come se la passa, voglio sapere tutto.” Nicola’s daughter would be 7 years old when he returned.  War fractures family life with children growing up without knowing their father and wives having to survive economic hardship without the families’ breadwinner.

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Letter from Nicola Micali 4-6-1940

(Photo courtesy of Samuele Micali)

*Gayndah Queensland is the centre of the state’s citrus orchards and it was on orchards owned by Frank Charles Robinson and Frank William Robinson that five young Italian prisoners of war lived and worked from July 1944 to the end of 1945.

On 8th July 1944, from an office at Gayndah, an army truck would have taken the five young men to the property of Mr Frank Robinson and his son Frank Robinson.

The young men who made their home at Glen Ellen were Domenico Petruzzi from Lizzanello, Lecce; Nicola Micali from San Pietro Vernodi (Vernotico) Brindisi and Giuseppe Vergine from Castrignano Dei Greci, Lecce.

Antonio Colomba from Nardo, Lecce and Antonio Alfarno from Supersano, Lecce and worked on Glen Olive.

Lagoon Pocket’s Macadamia Trees

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Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card, Mercuri, Mario PWI 57376

(National Archives of Australia J3118, 119)

Allan Blackman from Gympie recalls a macadamia farm at Lagoon Pocket where he worked during the 1970s  and how he had been told about a few hundred seedling trees that had been planted by the Italian POWs during WW2.  Combining local knowledge with archival research, a more complete picture emerges.

Mario Mercuri and Guido Vaccarini worked on Bernard Mason’s farm at Lagoon Pocket and “they would all search in the scrub above Calico Creek for wild macadamias with thin shells which were used to establish Bernie’s orchard.” This species of macadamia ‘integrifolia’ is also known as ‘papershell’ macadamia because of its thinner shell.  As a native species, it is now listed as vulnerable.

While initially, the relationship between farmer and POWs would have been of one boss and worker, a friendship of mutual respect would have been emerged as Guido and Mario were credited with saving the lives of Bernie Mason’s daughters.  The connection between Bernie Mason and Guido Vaccarini continued with Guido visiting Gympie to visit Bernie, after he had migrated to Australian in 1951.

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Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card Vaccarini, Guido PWI 57514

(National Archives of Australia J3118, 119)

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)

 

A Voice from the Past…

In a beautiful tribute to his nonno, Damiano Lumia recorded the voice of Antonino Lumia telling his story as a soldier and a prisoner of war.

Lumia Antonio Lumia Hay II

Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 46032 Raffaele Lomonaco; 46627 Giuseppe Restivo; 46007 Antonio Lumia (front row second left); 45586 Isidoro De Blasi; 46206 Gaetano Mineo; 45360 Giuseppe Cannata; 45103 Leonardo Barbera; 45997 Pietro Lomonte; 46221 Antonio Rondi and 47999 Leonardo Ciaccio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(Australian War Memorial Lewecki Image 030143/33)

Antonino’s  journey begins in Sicily and listening to his voice, we follow in his footsteps from his home town of Bompensiere to Toburk and Benghazi, then Australia. Finally, Antonino takes us back to Italy and his family.

Antonino Lumia begins his story with,

My dear grandson, I had a lot of trouble. When they called us…”

and ends with…

I saw your grandmother. I came down. I came home. I rushed to your father. Here is my story, dear grandson. The sufferings were severe, dear grandson”.

Damiano’s video Antonino Lumia POW in Australia 1941-1946  combines images of Bompensiere with photographs and documents from Australian War Memorial and National Archives of Australia  to take the viewer on an intimate journey through time.

Antonino’s memories are told with humour and melancholy. English subtitles combined with Antonino’s voice, makes this accessible for those who only speak English. More importantly for those Queenslanders who have memories of ‘their’ Italian POW, it brings back to life their voices: the timbre and musicality of the Italian language.

“Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland” has always been about connectivity between people, with the past, between Italians and Australians, with memories and history.

I am honoured and humbled that Damiano Lumia’s video has become part of this project for the oral histories of Italian prisoners of war are paramount to adding depth and perspective to this project.

Another aspect of the project has been to connect people with information. Research has provided Damiano with details about Antonino’s time in Queensland.  Antonino Lumia was assigned to Q3 PWCC Gympie along with Giovanni Adamo.  They were employed by Mr R – Mr Kevin John Rodney of North Deep Creek from 14 March 1944 to 4 January 1946.  Miss Gloria, mentioned by Antonino is Miss Gloria Davis from Auchenflower.  Mr R and Miss Gloria were married in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Brisbane on 6th May 1944.

Antonino remembers with clarity when he first met Miss Gloria. “The farmer was back. You could hear the horn of his car in the distance.  His wife was with him.  I had planted very beautiful flowers near the hut. I mad a bouquet of flowers.  When they arrived near us… I offered flowers to his wife.  He introduced us to his wife: Miss Gloria. They went home. For us the work continued. The next morning Madame served us the meal.  A very nice woman. Every morning I brought wood to this woman for cooking”, speaks Antonino.

Antonino Lumia’s testimony is not only a voice from the past but also an important window into the past.  Click on the above link and take a walk with Antonino through history.

Lumia Antonio Lumia Hay

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR HAVING A MEAL IN THEIR MESS AT NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. PICTURED ARE: 46007 ANTONIO LUMIA (1); 45824 BRUNO GALLIZZI (2); 46734 ALMO STAGNARO (3); 48355 GIUSEPPE ARRIGONI; (4); 45087 ANTONIO BACCIGALUPO (5); 46620 MICHELE RIZZO (6); 46626 EMILIO RUOCCO (7); 46635 FRANCO RONDELLI (8); 45900 ALESSANDRO IANNOTTA (9).

(Australian War Memorial, Geoffrey McInnes Image 063371)

 

Sticking Together

Cousins Nicola Del Vecchio and Pasquale Falcone from Roseto Valfortore were so well regarded by farmer Henry Stey of Harveys Siding via Gympie, that he assisted them to return to Australia in 1951. While the military records provide invaluable information about Nicola and Pasquale, the personal stories about these men, can only be told by the farming family.  Thanks to Faye Kennedy (Stey) the story of Pat and Mick emerge.

There were 40,000 Italians taken prisoner of war at the Battle of Bardia, but somehow, somewhere in the deserts of North Africa, Nicola and Pasquale found each other.  Nicola was with the Infantry and Pasquale with the Artillery and were both taken prisoner of war on the first day of this battle, 3rd January 1941.

By the time they arrived in Geneifa Egypt for processing, there were together.  Their Middle East Numbers (M.E. No.)  indicate that they were close in line: Nicola M.E. 69698 and Pasquale M.E. 69701.  From Egypt they spent time in POW camps in India and arrived in Australia onboard the Mariposa into Sydney 1st November 1943. They are photographed together in Cowra 6th February 1944 six weeks before they were sent to Gaythorne in Queensland for farm placement.

Del Vecchio Falcone.JPG

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Shown here are: 56135 Nicola Del Vecchio; 56192 Pasquale Falcone; 56427 Michele Verrelli; 56428 Virginio Verrelli; 56424 Giacomo Veloci; 56026 Vincenzo Austero; 56226 Giovanni Italia; 56279 Amedeo Morrone; 56464 Riccardo Zingaro; 56483 Antonio Knapich; 55066 Giovanni Bianofiore; 55848 Michele Placentino. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(AWM Image 030175/05, Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)

Together they were sent to Q3 Gympie and placed on the farm of JH Sargeant at Wilsons Pocket on 6th April 1944. Together they were transferred to the farm of HJ Stey at Harveys Siding on 4th May 1944.  Henry Stey’s granddaughter Faye Kenney relates the memories of her family: “Nicola and Paquale befriended Henry and became close to his family.  At the time, Henry’s wife became pregnant and the honour of naming the baby girl was given to these two men.  My aunty was named Ventris in 1946. Henry’s family called the men Pat and Mick.  There is the story of an incident at the farm, involving another POW worker who was going to attack Henry with a machete.  But another worker close by, stepped in and held the worker until the police or military staff came out from Gympie and took him away.  Apparently, Henry started proceedings with the Immigration Department to get them back to Australia.  Henry’s application was successful as they both arrived in Sydney from Naples onboard the Assimina in February 1951.  The destination on the ship’s register is noted as Harveys Siding via Gympie.  My family told me that when they’d returned to Harveys Siding, sadly Henry was deceased.  He had died in November 1962.  Maybe they had not come straight to Queensland.  I found a listing for Pasquale at Leichardt Sydney and one for Nicola in Ascot and Albion in Brisbane.”

While the only photo the Stey family have of Pat and Mick is a little blurry, it clearly tells a story.  Together Pat and Mick lived on Henry Stey’s farm at Harveys Siding.  They worked side by side with the farmer.  They enjoyed the company of children and being part of a family.  They earned the respect of Henry and were given the honour of naming the Stey’s daughter.  And together with the assistance of Henry, they returned to Australia.

Stey.Gympie.Cousins

Pat and Mick and a Stey son c 1944-45

(from the collection of Faye Kennedy [nee Stey])

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

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.

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.