Tag Archives: Italian Prisoners of war Australia

A Day in the Life of…

 

Buchanan Brothers purchased land on Webster Road and established ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian outside of Gympie in 1937. The partnership consisted of Malcolm (Boy), Neil, Eric and Ivon but by 1944, Malcolm was a pilot with the RAAF based in England, Eric had joined the AIF and was serving in New Guinea, Ivon had moved to East Palmerston and Neil was responsible for keeping the farm going.

Gympie (10)

Redslopes 2017

A remarkable insight into farming during World War 2 is written in the hand of Neil Buchanan who wrote daily entries into the farm diary.  This diary offers up the details of a day in the life of: a war time farm, a farmer and his family, the Italian POWs and the Land Army girls (LAGS).  Each page reveals invaluable first hand information written of the time.

Gympie.Buchanan.1962.Margaret and Neil

Margaret Goodall (nee Buchanan) and Neil Buchanan 1962

Time fades the memory, but the Redslopes diary offers a window into the past.  It recounts daily life on a farm during war time: the list of jobs, rationing, the arrival and departure of Italian POWs and LAGS, the hardships, machinery breakdowns, the weather, important war time events.

The first two Italian prisoners of war to arrive at Redslopes were Angelo Amante and Vincenzo Cannavo on 7th March 1944.  Antonio Ruscio joined them on 5th April 1944.  The diary tells of trouble amongst the POWs and Antonio left and was replaced by Salvatore Scicchitani (Schichitano) on 26th September 1944. Vincenzo (Vince) became lead hand at catching the horses and ploughing as the diary mentions this many times.

 

Gympie.Buchanan.Redslopes.Irrigation

Irrigation at Redslopes 1944-1945

The POWs routine was guided by the seasons of farming life.  They attended to the jobs of chipping, hoeing, hilling, thinning, pruning and propping. They thrashed and graded seed, they planted seedlings and they made cases.  Papaws, beans and cucumbers were the main crops, but they also tended tomatoes, pineapples, a trial of bananas.  They shifted irrigation pipes and cleared fence lines.  They assisted with packing and loading crates and going to town to unload produce and get haircuts. Their home ‘Coogoolum’ looked out onto the red dirt slopes of Goomboorian in a quiet and idyllic setting.

The Italian POWs arrived at Redslopes on 7th March 1944 and departed on 1st January 1946. And because of Neil Buchanan’s daily entries during this time, a detailed picture emerges about ‘A Day in the Life of an Italian Prisoner of War on a Queensland Farm’.

March 7 1944

Spent half a day preparing Coogoolum for reception of POWs. Made trip to Gympie, taking in parts of tractor for repairs, & bringing out a load of empty case in addition to POWs.  The new men are causing great confusion so far and no headway has been made in grasping their language. Hot fine day.

Gympie (4)

 Redslopes looking out from the site of the POW Home Coogoolum 2017

March 8 1944

Boss & two new men chip most of new papaws near mangoes.  Two men make fair impression, but are obviously very soft after years off work.  Language difficulty partly overcome.  Fine & warm, clouds. Started up irrigation engine. Luc brought down cows  & took some home.

March 9 1944

Today broke rainy & activities had to be confined to case making & reassembly of tractor. Two POWs prove quite satisfactory on case making. Tractor now ready for service again.  Turned off irrigation engine when tanks were nearly full.  Perrys put in about 7 hours again doing can enclosed area and parts of six acre.  Measured 21 pts rain.

March 10 1944

Perrys put in another six hours ploughing but were paid off, thus finalising a very costly experiment £12-9 for practically nothing. One POW continues case making, 48 cases for the day. Other introduced to disc plough, proving fairly satisfactory.  Boss does some ploughing, puts tractor over proposed sec 1 beans, but a mishap real or imaginary caused returned to shed.  Fine, measured 11 pts.

March 11 1944

Further attempts to have ploughing done by POW prove his inability to use mouldboard so Boss used same half day.  POWs finish chipping mango, papaws make cases and use pole disc on site of possible section 3 beans.  Boss reassembles tractor, proving trouble imaginary.  Hosed out radiator tubes and did 2 acres of ploughed ground in, tractor not boiling and being greatly improved. Westerly wind.

March 12 1944

Sabbath. Spent hour or so conferring with POWs. Visit from Blackwoods occupied most of day.  Also visit from Rosslynites and from F Hinds to purchase circular saw. Still hot and dry, high drift presaging rain.

March 13 1944

Furrowed nearly an acre of ground for tomatoes and more than an acre for beans.  Fertilised much of same. POWs ploughing & case making. Visit from POW Control with interpreter.  Fine and very hot and dry.

March 14 1944

Finished fertilising 56 rows of beans to be planted in a week or so.  Dragged rolled and started to plant half an acre of carrots.  Vince does another half day on plough, Angelo on case making, two on chipping during evening.  Fine, dry & very hot.

The diary continues… work… allocation of jobs… coming and goings of casual staff and LAGs…visits to town… quantity of produce taken to town… trouble with the POWs… LAG demands and unrest… POWs requiring medical attention… crops grown…irrigation and machinery breakdowns…

Major events are also recorded

April 7 1944  Good Friday. Correctly observed by POWs

April 12 1944 … Men continue and finish chipping papaws.  Unloaded truck of case timber brought out yesterday.  Visit from POW control, men start to batch with some repercussions on their behaviour…

June 20 1944… Redslopes diary is being written by electric light at last.

July 21 1944 Signed up for a new 3 ton V 8 truck

Sept 1 1944… Had enjoyable half hour of cricket at POW headquarters.  Took delivery of new diesel engine.

Sept 11 1944 Reached 2000 cases of beans for season.

Sept 20 1944 had a lamentable row with a couple of girls (LAGS) following last night’s trouble.  After a shake up all around things seems to be okay.

Oct 9 1944… 90 cases papaws, 42 beans, 20 cucumbers, the biggest tonnage ever sent in produce

Nov 25 1944 … news of brother’s death

Dec 4 1944 Highest papaw price 50/- per case

Jan 14 1945 Eclipse of the sun…

Jan 17 1945 Shifted radio from Dwyers house to PWs…

Feb 16 1945 Bought shirts for prisoners

March 7 1944 PW Birthday today, second year…

March 16 1945 prisoners day in town marred by being left at barbers shop too long.

March 17 1945 Boss & one POW spent whole day assembling and erecting pump head at well.  Captured a porcupine for benefit of Ities.

May 8 1945 Day of great announcement of cessation of hostilities in Europe

May 9 1945 VE Day. Today we observed a holiday in honour of VE Day.

July 5 1945 News of PM John Curtin’s death this morning

Aug 7 1945 Dramatic news today of first ‘Atomic Bomb’ being dropped on Japan.

Aug 10 Made 2 trips today for first time in history

Aug 14 1945 Japan is still keeping the world guessing.

Aug 15 1945 The great day that has been waited for for years.  Japan announced acceptance of surrender terms early this morning and all Australia has gone wild today. 2 days holiday has been declared.

Sept 24 1945 … POWs in town today for monthly haircut, unpleasant experience of getting caught with them in restaurant…

Nov 26 1945 Took in load as usual, PW going as well.  Canteen day for latter, news of departure for Italy being made public.

Dec 25 1945 Xmas Day. Made presentation of watches to POWs

Dec 28 1945 Took Ities for last haircut.

Dec 31 1945 Last day of old year.  Four men for half a day.  POW then finish up, much to sorrow of Boss.  Had final talk with Ities at night.

Jan 1 1946 New Year’s Day but a sad day at Redslopes.  Took the three POW to town and said goodbye. Farm is now badly understaffed with no prospects of further employees.

Gympie.Buchanan.Salvatore.Vincenzo.Angelo

Goodbye to Redslopes

1st January 1946: Salvatore, Vincenzo and Angelo

Louie Made Me a Cap

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

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

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

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

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

Q2 Nambour.Flaxton Caputo Luigi POW

AWM Image 30173/06 Geoffrey McInnes

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

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

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

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

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

 

Resourceful

Resourceful is an apt description of Mario Marino.  A stone mason from Pentone Catanzaro, as a prisoner of war in Australia, he nominated his occupation as ‘bricklayer’, a more versatile job.  Throughout his life, he continued to work with concrete, stone and bricks in the construction industry in Morwell Victoria owning his own business and operating as Marino Bros.

Among the first 2000 Italian POWs to be shipped directly from Libya to Sydney onboard Queen Mary, from Sydney he was trained to Hay. He travelled with two compatriots also from Pentone, Salvatore Tarantino and Graziano Mustari.

As a ‘skilled’ POW, Mario was put to work in construction at Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.  Put to work making clay bricks, Mario spent over two and a half years at Hay before being sent to Cowra. He also had experience in surveying and did surveying for clearing and road building while at Hay. Salvatore was sent to Murchison and then V4 Leongatha while Mario and Graziano stayed together in Cowra then Gaythorne.  Their Queensland farm allocations had them sent in different directions: with Mario going to the farm of R Brown at Bapaume in Q1 Stanthorpe area and Graziano to Q3 Gympie area.

Marino, Hay

Hay, NSW. 1944-01-13/14. Sergeant M. Marino an Italian prisoners of war stacking freshly made clay bricks in the drying shed at the 16th Garrison Battalion Prisoner of War Camp

(Australia War Memorial Image 062932)

It appears that Mario’s resourcefulness had him reallocated to a Victorian farm in the V4 Leongatha area.  Interestingly, Salvatore also was at V4 Leongatha at the time and they both spent time together at V22 Rowville.

Repatriated to Italy in January 1947, it wasn’t long before he married Marietta and made plans to return to Australia. He left Italy onboard the Toscano in June 1949 and his first son Antonio was born in July 1949.  It would be three years before he would meet his first born child, when his wife and child arrived in Melbourne in 1953.

The  Carmody family of Leongatha had been Mario’s POW employer and sponsored his return to Australia. Settling in Leongatha, Mario was joined by his brothers Giuseppe and Angelo. All three brothers worked at the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine in the latter part of 1951.  Giuseppe drove the horse and cart which took coal out of the mine on railway lines, Mario was a seamer, lying on his stomach in cramped confines shovelling out the coal and Angelo would stack the coal tightly in the kibbles. Vince Moranti was a family friend who also worked with the Marino brothers in the coal mine.

Built between 1953 and 1954, the Traralgon Hospital construction site became Mario’s new workplace.  Continuing working in construction and concrete, he then established himself as a concrete contractor and won council contracts such as footpath building.  By 1954, Mario applied for naturalization and in 1955 his naturalization was reported in the newspaper.

Not forgetting his POW compatriots, Mario sponsored Salvatore Tarantino in 1955 and in 1956 Graziano Mustari also migrated to Morwell. Graziano however returned to Italy in 1964.

A growing migrant community in the district opened an opportunity for Mario to branch out into a food emporium  in Church Street Morwell, selling salamis, coffee, cheeses and other continental goods.  He diversified further by taking his shop to the farmers of the district and his children remember the box of juicy fruit chewing gum kept in the truck.

Returning to construction, Mario continued to work in the industry until his retirement. A supporter of the local football club, the Morwell community held him in high regard and he would always be asked to join the trainer and coach at home games.

And of those days as a prisoner of war, Mario told his family that as soldiers in the sands of Libya, Mussolini gave them little hope and only a pistol with one shot and a rifle with another.  The soldiers were half starved and they didn’t have a chance. But his time as a prisoner of war in Australia opened the door to a new start in life for his family.

Resourcefulness and optimism were trademarks to Mario’s life.

 

Marino, Mario 1955

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1849-1957) Thursday 17 November 1955

 

 

 

 

 

A Father’s Love

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

Bonadonna, Liborio

Liborio Bonadonna

(NAA: A7919 C101539 Buonadonna, Librio)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liborio 28 ACH

28th Australian Camp Hospital Tatura

(AWM Image 052452)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Leonardo Da Vinci-07

 

Liborio and Liborio - Copy

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

(photograph from the collection of Liborio Mauro)

 

 

 

 

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.

Jones.Janette.Dorothy

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.

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.

Fullerton.Glasshouse Mtns.jpeg

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

Cowra 1941 – A Snapshot

Cowra is probably the most recognised Prisoner of War and Internment Camp due the memory and history of the  Japanese outbreak in 5th August 1944.

For many Italian families who find the word Cowra on the Service Card of their relative, it is also a name they remember from the stories their fathers and grandfathers told them.

A little of Cowra’s establishment and history….

The first prisoners of war to be accommodated at Cowra Prisoner of War and Internment Camp arrived in camp on 14th October 1941. While the camp has been established in June 1941, facilities had to be put in place before the first intake’s arrival.

On 11th and 12th November 1941, an independent international delegate visited the Cowra Camp to inspect the conditions and make his report.  This report offers a unique snapshot into Cowra Camp life and the Italian prisoners of war residing there.

Cowra Camp was divided into four groups: Camp A, Camp B, Camp C and Camp D.  Only Camp C and Camp D were in operation in November 1941.

The group of Italian prisoners of war consisted of 964 – Army, 367- Navy, 1 – Airforce, 453 Health Personnel (medics, doctors, orderlies), 3 – priests = 1788.

Daily routine

Cowra November 1941 Daily Routine

With the camp still in its construction phase, barracks with galvanised sheeting and windows had been constructed for the following purposes: dining room, detention block, ablutions, toilets, laundry, administration, kitchens, infirmary  and canteen.

V-P-HIST-01880-31 Section C Ablutions.JPG

Cowra November 1941 Camp C: Ablutions

Until barracks were constructed for dormitories, the Italians lived in tents. The tents sat atop  a base of wooden planks with impermeable canvas separating the mattress and floor and also used for sides and roof. A mattress and three covers were provided for each man.  The tents slept six men and they were swept daily and three times a week cleaned with soap.

V-P-HIST-01879-25Tents Section D.JPG

Cowra November 1941 Camp D: Tents

Camp Leaders were assigned for Camp C and Camp D. Camp C: Sgt Major Ugo Porta (Medical), Sgt Major Alfonso Angeli (Combatant).  Camp D: Sgt Major Giovanni Fimiani (Combatant). The two camps were separated by a barbed wire fence and contact between camps was not allowed. Each tent had a tent leader and each group of 28 tents had a company leader assigned.

There were four refectories for each camp, with each refectory set up for 250 men.  They were furnished with long tables and bench seats.

V-P-HIST-01879-30B Section D Dining Hall.JPG

Cowra November 1941 Camp D: Dining Hall

The canteen was well provisioned with items available for purchase such as food, treats, chocolate, condensed milk, jams.  The men were issued with coupons to use at the canteen.

V-P-HIST-01880-04B.JPG

Cowra November 1941 Camp C: Canteen

The Italian prisoners of war were offered work outside the camp eg building roads, irrigation and collecting wood or inside the camp eg as butchers, barbers, tailors, cooks.

The men also kept busy building a chapel, altar and making musical instruments such as guitars, violins, tambourines and cymbals. A school barracks had been built but classes were yet to be set up, but would offer a range of courses.

V-P-HIST-01882-34 Section D Orchestra.JPG

Cowra November 1941 Camp D: Orchestra

Both camps had a sports ground where football and handball was played.  New sport and gym equipment consisted of footballs, basket balls, medicine balls.  Camp C established a marionette theatre while Camp D set up an orchestra with 12 musicians.

V-P-HIST-01882-26 Handball.JPG

Cowra November 1941: The Play of Handball

Rapport between the garrison soldiers and officers was reported to be cordial, treatment of the Italian prisoners of war excellent.  In general, the Italians did not know English, but Australian military interpreters are attached to each camp.  Each morning at inspection, Camp Leaders present their requests to the Commandant of each camp.

A number of requests made by the Italian POWs were noted: purchase of harmonium for church services, books to start a library, daily newspapers, gramophone and records eg lessons in Italian/English, purchase of indoor games eg cards, chess, checkers,  transfer of money relinquished in Egypt to Australian accounts.

Objections were made regarding the burgundy colour of their clothes.

Most importantly, the Italian prisoners of war expressed their concerns for their families as they wait anxiously for news from Italy. 

 

The first 2000 Italian POWs

The first 2016* Italian prisoners of war arrived in Australia on the Queen Mary 25th May 1941.  The Queen Mary had been the jewel in Cunard White Star Line between wars making voyages across the Atlantic. Catering for 2332 passengers, the Queen Mary was berthed in New York at the start of hostilities.  The Queen Elizabeth joined her in New York before both ships were sent to Australia for use as troop transport ships.  On the return journey to Australia, Italian and German prisoners of war were embarked in the Middle East. The Queen Mary brought Italian POWs to Australia on three occasions during 1941, as did the Queen Elizabeth.  Military record cards use the reference “Q.M.” and “Q.E.”

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

The newspaper article below describes the arrival of Australia’s first 2016 Italian prisoners of war and the circumstances of their arrival.

Queen Mary Bunks

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

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

ITALIAN PRISONERS

2000 Arrive in Sydney

INLAND INTERNMENT CAMP

first

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Nominal Roll for the Queen Mary identify 2016 Italian POWs.  Other sources record 2006 and the newspapers rounded off the numbers to 2000.

Captured…On the Move

NorthAfrica.India.Australia

Once captured, Italian prisoners of war were impounded in temporary caged compounds in the deserts of North Africa.  They were then taken to Egypt and processed.  Each prisoner of war was given a M/E number (Middle East) and a card was sent to the families notifying them that their son or husband or father was a prisoner of war. From Egypt they were sent around the world: South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada and USA.

Costanzo Melino’s journey took him to India and then to Australia.  He worked on a farm in the Gympie district before being repatriated to Italy.  He returned to Australia post-war, sponsored by his Gympie employer,  his family joined him  and eventually they settled in northern NSW.

Costanzo Melino was captured at Bardia on 4th January 1941.

Costanzo Melino remembers:

Forty-seven thousand Italians were taken prisoner of war by the 8th Battalion of English under General Wavell. Our General at that time was Annibale Bergonzoli. My captain was Alberto Agostinelli.  We were taken to internment camps by foot.  We were given little to eat or drink.

Water 4159600

Italian prisoners Mersa Matruh getting their water tank filled. They were allowed half a gallon per man per day.” Image from a large album of 86 pages containing 1858 photographs associated with the service of Lieutenant Robert Otto Boese

(Australian War Memorial, Image P05182.012)

In February 1941, we were sent to Port Said in the Suez Canal and the following month to Bombay where the heat was unbearable and many Italians died of heat exhaustion.

These camps were well run by the English.  We were given baths and we had Indian cooks.  There were toilets and we were fed well although we all got sick as we were not used to the English diet.  After this the English asked us to cook our own meals which we did gladly, making our own tagliatelle and gnocchi from the flour.  There were at least three thousand prisoners divided ingroups of one hundred. We were counted twice a day. We were fenced in and surrounded by armed guards so that we could not escape.

V-P-HIST-03469-24

Original tent camp 1941 Bangalore Italian Prisoners of War

(Maddy’s Ramblings maddy06.blogspot.com.au )

Having nothing else to do, a lot of prisoners devoted their time to study.  I studied Italian and English.  We didn’t stay in the one place for long in India.  We were constantly moved and constantly guarded by Indian soldiers.  The German prisoners were kept separate to us.  When the Italians surrendered to General Dwight David Eisenhower we were sent to Australia to work on farms. It appeared that the two million U.S. servicemen in Australia needed food.  The U.S. headquarters was in Brisbane commanded by General Douglas MacArthur.  It was the U.S. who commanded us in Australian as they had civil and military control.

The English in India said to us: “Now you’ve surrendered we are allies so now you’ll have to go to work to feed yourselves.  You’ll be free in Australia and they’ll even pay you for your work”. Of course we were all happy, leaving the camps singing.  However, as soon as we boarded the train we found the Indian soldiers hidden in the train and at the next stop we got off in our usual manner as prisoners of war.  We were really only free when we got to Naples in 1947.

Capture.Surrender.Imprisonment

North Africa.QueenMary.Australia

The North African Campaign began in June 1940. The Italian soldiers were in the main conscripted who had undergone the most basic of training.  Not only were food and water in short supply by weaponry was inferior to that of the  Allies, tactical attacks not supported by aerial and navy divisions and provision of armaments was slow to appear.

Antonino Lumia has had his memories of being a soldier in the Italian army and prisoner of war in Australia recorded for posterity.   Lumia’s words were recorded by his grandson Damiano and can be heard via YouTube,  Antonino Lumia POW in Australia 1941-1946.

This recording is an invaluable insight into the personal experiences of the ordinary men who were caught up in the politics of war.  Lumia had his 28th birthday in the north African desert and was captured at Tobruk.

Special acknowledgement to Damiano Lumia for allowing for his work and the words of  Antonino to be reproduced here as part of this project.  His  assistance is invaluable as these memories provide depth and perspective for this history.

Antonino Lumia was captured at Tobruk 22nd January 1941

Antonino Lumia reminsices :

We took a white sheet. Sign of surrender. We hijacked our guns. Unlike the enemy.

Very soon after the tanks …… we could hear: “come! Come! Come! We are there, prisoners!

Everyone took his things. One can. A piece of bread. The captain shared the stocks.

They surrounded us like sheep. A tank in front of us … another behind. And we all, prisoners, in column. When the English and the Australians arrived … … to our captain … … they confiscated the watch, its binoculars …… his belt, his weapon. All our watches were confiscated.

To some soldiers their wallets, personal photographs. We walked towards their lines.

We were locked up in an airport. Not food. No water.

POW cage 3955959

Tobruk, Libya. 1941-03 to 1941-06. Originally an Italian ammunition storage area this section was converted into a prisoner of war cage after the first battle.  It held as many as 15,000 prisoners at a time.  Litter in the picture includes cast-off clothing and empty ‘bully-beef’ tins.  Two members of the ‘Olds and Bolds’, 1st Australian Corps Guard Battalion, in their temporary camp in the area.

(Australia War Memorial, Image 020079)

Encircled by tanks …

… if one of our soldiers approached the barriers he risked being killed. When we walked … dead on the side of the road. Close to me a corpse. Lying on the side of the road. Forbidden to approach it.

If we dared to do it, from the top of their tanks … a shot …… our turn to be killed.

They shut us in at this airport. 140000 men. No place to sleep. 140000 men … 140000 men …

No food. No water. The next day, some cried. Others said, “I shall never see my wife again.”

“I will never see my daughter again.” Discouraged. One of our Sergeant Major …… only son …

… born in Vittoria …… his mother treated him like a young lady. He was crying. “If my mother knew it.”

“In what condition I am”. He was wearing a scarf. Sand everywhere on him.

There the sand flew very high. When some of us started dying … … the British collected seawater in petrol cans. The drinking-water cisterns had been destroyed by us, Italian.

They were all made to explode, so as not to give them to the enemy. They brought sea water.

They lined the barrels of oil, full of sea water. A hundred barrels. Threatened by their weapons, they were grouped together. “First line, kneeling!” We walked on our knees.

“Line number two, on your knees!” They formed about fifty lines. I did not have a container.

I got near the barrels. In my throat bits of sand. I began to drink despite the oil that floated on the sea water. An armed Australian was looking at me. “No good! No good!”

Not good … I just stood up. Regardless of oil, sea water … … I had a saucepan … … I fill it and go back to those who had drunk. I detached my military insignia. Two green and red bands.

I made a cross on my clothes with the insignia. I wanted to make them believe I was a nurse.

“This one can pass …” “He will help us, transport the sick …”

POW medical station6053463

Bardia, Libya. 1941-01-04. An Italian prisoner of war (POW) posing with a stretcher bearer at a dressing station operated by the 6th Division. (Original housed in AWM Archive Store)

(Australian War Memorial, Image P02038.080)

I crossed their lines thanks to the badge of the red cross. Again I approach the barrels. I take an Italian soldier over me. “Pretend to be dead”

We’ll drink again! I lifted this stranger on my shoulders. With this stratagem, I made several round trips. I drank and gave drink to the “sick”. I made three trips.

I’ve never had so much water. I was overjoyed. Despite the traces of oil.

At night we lay down on the ground. If it was raining or cold … … with a blanket we gathered to four …

… our breaths warmed us. Eight days of this life. Bitter as the poison. Lice … … our clothes were filled …… our flesh were bloody … scratching lesions.

One morning, very early, they woke us up with their weapons. I said to my cousin, “Standing, let’s see where they take us.” A group of 2,000 soldiers came out. Again a march, framed by soldiers.

Head towards the port of Tobruk. In the port there were their kitchens. On the ground there were orange peel. Lemon peel.I fill my pockets.It’s always there to feed me. From time to time I ate a peel.

I ate everything. The sand, the bark of fruit. On a boat, we joined the ship, 20 soldiers at a time.

It was a food transport ship. They grouped us in 3 holds. No water. No toilets.

Everyone went to the toilet in front of the others. Luckily they kept the light. The ship went away.

arrival in Egypt. Ready to disembark.

We were on deck. The Egyptians insult us: “Mussolini … Mussolini .. to death!” The English intervened. They beat them with their truncheons. “Leave them alone … they are hungry, are full of lice …”. We got off the ship.On trucks, we traveled inside the country. They grouped us in tents.

Near the sea. Meat arrived in their kitchen. Their military doctor said: “This meat is infected …

… forbidden to share with the prisoners “.They buried everything. I and my cousin have observed everything. A semi-raw meat, potatoes … That night, cousin … At nightfall, kneeling, in the sand, …

A potato was found. It’s here, cousin. We filled our towels, headed for the tent.

The next day, it was washed 20 times. Sand …It was cooked with a little water …

We mixed everything with our daily pasta. That was delicious.

I had received 35 cigarettes for a week. I am not a smoker. You smoke? Here’s this. Give me your bread.

After 8 days, in Egypt, passage to the baths.The goal was to decontaminate us. We changed clothes.

We went back to the canal. Mussolini paid very dearly for the passing of his people. Indian soldiers arrived.

Indian soldiers

An Indian soldier guards a group of Italian prisoners near El Adem aerodrome, during the pursuit of Axis forces westwards after the relief of Tobruk.

(Imperial War Museum, Image E7180)

8 of us had been designated to clean up their garrison. Clean the toilet, pass the brush, collect garbage …I say to my cousin: “Let’s go …… maybe we could eat. I took a big wipe. Around my belt. Cousin, let’s see if there is food.

When we had finished cleaning, the guard gave us a cigarette each. As I did not smoke, I gave it to my cousin. We observed that they threw their waste into a barrel. I stretched my wipe.

I plunge my hands into their trash. I plunge my hands, and lifts this mud. Very acid.

He was warmed up between soldiers. We were hungry. Each day eight pasta and a piece of bread were received. I ran away with the towel. The guard said, “That’s not good!” … Shut up.

For you it is not good. For me it is excellent. In the tent I cut this mud with my knife.

I stirred up all this with our meal.

After eight days. Head towards the Suez Canal. We embarked (Queen Mary)

I asked, “Where are we going?” … “we do not know, perhaps in the United States, or in India …”.

I’ll see where we’ll end up. On this ship they ate.

A ship carrying 15,000 men. Each had his bed.I got on deck. I was walking. When my cousin came. He wore a towel filled with bread.He had cleaned the beautiful walls of the boat. He took all the loaves. I saw him on the deck of the boat: “come cousin …”We sat on the floor. And we ate.

Order was given to walk barefoot on the boat.The shoes damaged the floor.

It was a luxury ship. A captain came to meet us. “Come, come.” What does this man want? Lets go see… We needed follow-up. We went down the stairs. A commander was waiting for us, as well as an Italian interpreter.

The commander tells us: “I have ordered you to walk barefoot, and you, abusively, wear your shoes!”

But I can not walk barefoot. Give us sandals … The sergeant major thought I was standing up to the interpreter. He shouted, “Shut up!”

 

Queen Mary

In the main mess hall on board the SS QUEEN MARY (formerly the First Class dining saloon) where more than 2,000 troops can be fed at one sitting. In peacetime it used to take 800 First Class passengers but now sittings go on from 6 am till 9 pm.

(Imperial War Museum, Coote, R.G.G. (Lt) Image A25924)

Give us our sanction. If it’s impossible to express why we drove here? We were following the sentinel. They gave us white blankets. Beautiful covers with silk edges. He leads us to the front of the ship, where the chimney is. He locked us in a room full of soot. We lay down on our blankets.

We’ll see tomorrow morning … The next morning they brought us a half bucket of coffee.

No bread, nothing else.We split the bucket.

After 24 hours of confinement … … we went out …

My cousin looked at me and said, “you are blackened from head to toe”

My dear cousin, if I am blackened, you are in a totally indescribable state!

We slept in the soot.The blankets had become black …We went back to our beds.

One day a prisoner died on board. They packed it in a bag and thrown it into the water.The priest took his papers. Queen Mary.

We arrived in Australia.

POW boat

Italian Prisoners of War – Italian prisoners of war bound for a prisoner-of-war camp, disembarking following their arrival in Australia.

(National Archives of Australia, NAA: A11663, PA 189)