Tag Archives: Italian Prisoners of war Australia

Finding Nonno

The history behind nonno’s stories

Robert Perna from Detroit Michigan writes, “Many years ago my grandfather told me about his time as a POW from Italy. He surrendered in North Africa and was first shipped to Iraq. Then he was shipped to Australia and worked on a cattle farm. He told me it would take weeks to walk the fence and repair it. He said the owner owned a territory. 

I’m looking for any way to find out who he lived with. He passed many years ago, but his memory of his time there was always very clear. He did end up going back to Italy because that’s where his family was.”

And so the journey begins for a grandson to meld a grandfather’s stories with historical fact.

Using the guide Finding Nonno, Robert found with ease his grandfather’s Australian records which confirmed a few details: his nonno Arcangelo was captured in North Africa: Amba Alagi on 5.5.1941; he was sent to India (not Iraq); he was shipped to Australia: onboard the SS Uruguay in 1943 which docked at Sydney; and he was assigned to farm work: in the N11 Prisoner of War Control Centre Glen Innes.

Robert recounts the details of Arcangelo’s conscription and war service, “My grandfather went to Rome to go pay the taxes on his property. While there, they recruited him off the streets* and sent him to Africa. He could not say goodbye to his family.

From there he was sent to Northern Africa where he was in charge of a platoon. They found out they were being attacked at dawn. So they hunkered into a hill waiting for the African army to attack. Once they ran out of bullets, everyone surrendered, so no one would get killed.” 

The piecing of history continues giving credence to Arcangelo’s memories of the day he was captured 5th May 1941:

1 May 1941 Viceroy of Italian East Africa Duke of Aosta and 7,000 troops were trapped at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia by Indian 5th Indivision to the north and South African 1st Brigade in the south.

3 May 1941 Allied and Italian troops engaged in heavy fighting at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia.

4 May 1941 29th Brigade of the Indian 5th Division launched another attack at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia, capturing 3 hills between 0415 and 0730 hours.

5 May 1941 3/2nd Punjab Battalion advanced toward the Italian stronghold at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia at 0415 hours. They were pinned down by 12 Italian machine guns for the most of the day. The attack was called off at dusk.

British Pathe footage captured the Italians after the surrender of Amba Alagi. Another detail from this battle comes from Craig Douglas at Regio Esercito History Group in Brisbane: “When the Italian troops surrendered at Amba Alagi, the British commander allowed them to surrender with the full honours of war. In tribute to their tenacious defence right to the end.”

The battle for Amba Alagi, the last Italian stronghold in Eritrea. Italians who surrendered Fort Toselli seen marching down the road from the fort. c. June 1941

(AWM Image 007945, Photographer: Unknown British Official Photographer)

From Amba Alagi, Arcangelo would have been sent to POW camps in Egypt to be processed and assigned a M/E number: 289564 [Middle East].  From Suez he would have been transported to India.

Critical Past footage gives a window into the past; the arrival of Italian prisoners of war in Bombay India.

The next stage of Arcangelo’s journey is his arrival in Australia which was reported in the newspapers.  Two ships from India arrived together in Sydney 4th October 1943 with 507 Italian POWs on each ship (one medical officer, 5 medical other ranks and 501 other ranks: MV Brazil and SS Uruguay.

ITALIANS FOR FARMS” Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954) 10 October 1943: 5. Web. 22 Jun 2019 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59187793

1000 Italian War Prisoners Arrive” Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) 7 October 1943: 4. Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95630892&gt;

 

Arcangelo Perna’s arrival is documented on the Nominal Rolls Cowra 12 (c) POW Camp arrival from overseas 5th October 1943. He is assigned his Australian POW number : PWI 55833. Notice that his rank is Corporal though his other documents have his rank as Italian and Private; somethings are lost in translation.

Nominal Rolls of Italian Prisoners of War to Cowra

(NAA: SP196/1, 12 PART 2, 1943-1944 Sydney)

Within two months of his arrival in Australia, Arcangelo is assigned to farm work N11 C.C. Glen Innes.

Robert has a clear memory of his nonno’s recollections of Australia, “ He told me he worked on a cattle farm there. First thing he had to do was mend the fence with the owner. So they packed up the cart and took off. It took over 3 weeks to walk the fence. After that he worked there for a few years. Once it was time to go, the owner begged him to come back and live there. My grandfather said no, he had a farm in Italy. He never said anything bad about being there in Australia. He said they were a nice family who treated him wonderfully.”

Arcangelo’s Service and Casualty Form provides the details of his time between leaving the Glen Innes farm and his repatriation.  A documented four day stay in the Glen Innes hospital and his transfer from the farm to Murchison suggests ongoing medical concerns.  Those Italian who were medically unfit were sent to Murchison. And it is while Arcangelo was at Murchison, official group photos of the Italians were taken. 

A search of the Australian War Memorial collection did not turn up a match for Arcangelo. And Arcangelo’s photo could have been missed because, not all photographs taken of the POWs include the names of the men in the photos.

With this information and a chance at finding his nonno, Robert set to looking through all the group photos taken at Murchison March 1945. And there he was: seated second from the right.

A special moment for Robert: he had found Nonno in Australia.

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 No. 13 POW Group.

(AWM Image 030229/13, Photographer: Stewart, Ronald Leslie)

Arcangelo was repatriated on Chitral  from Sydney on 24th September 1946. These early repatriations were for special consideration, medical or compassionate reasons. This was one of the early repatriation ships which boarded 300 POWs in Sydney and another 2900 in Fremantle Western Australia. The majority of Italian POWs held at Northam Camp WA were repatriated on Chitral.

 Robert continues, “When he came home, my grandmother wasn’t even home when he got there! One of my aunts were born while he was away. Plus, my dad was born about 9 months after he came home.”

These memories [of my nonno] have been a part of my life since he’s told me the story. It has been told hundreds of times. Now I have proof, pictures and info to back up my story,” Robert reflects.

No title” The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954) 24 September 1946: 3 (LATE FINAL EXTRA). Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231583722&gt;

*This is not the first time I have heard about this method of recruitment. A group of young men from the Lecce region, told a similar story to their Queensland family in Gayndah.

A Travesty…

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One of the questions often asked, is ‘why were the Italian POWs taken off farms to then sit idle in Prisoner of War and Internment Camps for over 12 months?’

Another often asked question is ‘how valuable was the contribution of the Italian POWs to agricultural production?’

The following ‘Letter to the Editor’ addresses both of these questions…

Italian P.O.W.

To the Editor

Sir- some of us can raise a lot of sympathy for those of the Indonesians who have co-operated with the Japanese but what of that poor underdog, the Italian POW? Six months ago two POW (Sicilians) assisted by an old man harvested, without tractor, 140 tons of hay, besides routine jobs of milking, tending sheep &c. One of these men was so outstanding that I left him in charge of my farm and took an extended rest in Melbourne.  On my return everything was in order – house painted, winter’s wood supply split and stacked, &c. On March 13 most POW were again barbed in, a precaution recognised as necessary before repatriation: but the call-up was because of AWU pressure.  Many are married and my two have families not seen for over six years.  Their greatest worry is the dreariness of the dragging days of enforced idleness after the free busy life on a farm.  War against Italy ceased 18 months ago, so maintenance of torture to men’s souls at this stage is a travesty of British justice. In spite of the AWU attitude, farm labor in the Naracoorte district is unavailable, through either the RSL and stock firms, and I am being forced off the land.  My neighbor has been without help since his POW was taken away, and was so run down that his doctor insisted on his going to the seaside with his wife and three children, leaving over 1,000 ewes uncared for in the midst of lambing.

I am, Sir, &c.

H.S. Naylor

Kybybolite S.E.

from Advertiser (Adelaide, SA: 1931-1954), Thursday 27 June 1946, page 8

For Queensland farmers, withdrawing Italian POWs from farms resulted in an acute shortage of workers for the summer harvest….

Disbandment Queensland

 

“FARMS HIT BY P.O.W. TRANSFER” The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954) 12 November 1945: 3. Web. 21 Oct 2018 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50269952&gt;.

No More Pasta

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

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

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

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

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

Wilson.Bernardino.Francesco with children 1

Vernon Wilson Farm Lagoon Pocket Gympie

Men: Bernardino Patriarca, Vernon Wilson, Francesco Nicoli

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

(from the photographic collection of Doug Wilson)

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

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

 

 

 

The Story in a Photo

In April 2017, Luigi Pinna sent me some photos belonging to his father Antioco Pinna who was a prisoner of war in South Australia.  They were photos of children, families and friends and while there were names on the back of each photo: AE Warren, John, Milton, Ross, Terry and Mark the identities of these South Australians remained a mystery. Antioco Pinna’s story can be read at : Exceptionally Good and A Portable Gramophone 

To help solve this mystery, Luigi and I needed the assistance of someone on the ground in South Australia, and in the vicinity of Millicent and Mt Burr. Colleen Hammat: Researcher for South East Family History Group was up to the challenge. Many phone calls, visits and follow ups by Colleen and slowly a little of the history of the Mt Burr Italian prisoners of war emerges.

Pinna 6

Greetings for Jimmie (Antioco Pinna)  from AE Warren (Ted)

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

A bit more digging and Colleen located a biography of Ted and Hilda (nee Bowering) Warren in the Meyer History Book:

“After being married Ted and Hilda living in Millicent where sons John and Ben and daughter Ina were born.  Ted went to work on the Mt Burr Forest.  He worked in the nursery growing pines for the plantation.  A piece of uncleared land was bought between Rocky Camp and Mt Muirhead.  The family built a house on this block and the children attended the Mt Muirhead School.  Reta, Ronald and Keith were all born while the Warrens living at Mt Murihead.  Most of the land was sold to the Forests Department for the plantation and Ted bought another uncleared block the other side of Mt Muirhead.  He retained the house.

Ted and Hilda lived at this home until all the family married.  During the time of the Second World War they cared for daughter Ina and her daughter, also John’s wife Audrey and their son.  John served overseas in the army. Ted and Hilda retired to Millicent selling the house block to the Forest Department.”

The mystery of the photo from AE Warren is solved.  The two ladies in the photo are Ted’s daughter Ina (Jim Simpson’s mother) and Ted’s wife Hilda as confirmed by grandson Jim.  The connection with Jimmie (aka Antioco Pinna) and Ted Warren is also confirmed, as both worked on the Mt Burr Forest, Jimmie as a POW labourer and Ted as a nursery man.

Pinna 5

Ina Simpson and Hilda Warren 1946

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

But there is more to this history…

Following many leads, Colleen has also found a gentleman who worked for the Mt Burr butcher when he was a young fellow. He remembers delivering to the camp and he told Colleen that the mess hut from the camp was later moved from the site into Mount Burr and used for a rec. hall.   Colleen’s 84 year old friend, “Remembers the POWs walking into Millicent from Mt Muirhead where the camp was for the Catholic Church meetings – they were called the Red Coats because they wore Red Jackets and berets. She said they sang in the choir and all had beautiful voices.”

Photos taken back to Sardinia from a Prisoner of War hostel at Mt Burr forestry in South Australia, not only survived the passage of time, but have helped an Australian community reconnect to its history and Luigi Pinna to write his father’s story.

In December 2018, Luigi Pinna wrote and published Arrastus in Sa Storia relating the journey of his father Antioco from Italy to Ethiopia… India… Australia… Italy.

Pinna Antico

Arrastus in Sa Storia by Luigi Pinna

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Longevity and Letter Writing

life and lifelong connections

Dedicated to Ferdinando Pancisi

I would like to introduce you to 101 year old Ferdinando Pancisi. Ferdinando (Ferdy) has lived a full life; in more ways than one. Life events saw him journey from his home in Italy to Libya to Egypt to India to Australia and then home to Italy. Like the majority of Italian prisoners of war sent to Australia, they were absent from Italy for seven years.

Ferdy settled in the village of Civitella di Romagna with his wife Anna; both work in their small convenience shop. With age comes wisdom, and his sage insights were shared in 2017, when he was interviewed .

Longevity also relates to the duration of a special friendship between Ferdy and his Boonah family: The Dwyers. A bachelor, Pat Dwyer applied for prisoner of war workers and Ferdy was sent to his Fassifern farm. Ferdy left the farm on 2nd February 1946 and Pat Dwyer wrote to him soon after. And so began a correspondence that has continued through the decades. Ferdy’s response to Pat’s first letter is typed below…

(Letter courtesy of Tim Dwyer)

Ferdy’s first letter to Pat Dwyer was written on 11th February 1946. From the records it is known that Pauly and Peter were on the farm of Pat’s brother Jack and Nicola and Cosmo were on the farm of Mr TM McGrath.

Ferdy and Pat shared their family news throughout the decades. Pat’s wife Joie took on the role of letter writing after Pat died and then son Tim has taken on this role in recent years.

For over 73 years Ferdy and the Dwyer family have sent letters, cards and photos back and forth across the decades and across the miles. I would think that their situation might be unique.

Seventy three years is a long time: a special connection between farmer and Italian POW; a tangible link between two men from different walks of life; a personal history of war and friendship; a heartwarming story of Ferdy and the Dwyer family; a connection that goes beyond the backdrop of war.

a unique friendship in many ways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Del Bo!

Jennifer Ellis stumbled across a portrait of a lady and so began her journey to understand the history behind the portrait and painter…

Jennifer writes, “It was purchased in a second hand shop in Smythesdale Victoria for the sum of two dollars. It’s not framed . On canvas . On back is branded 1943 on the canvas. In red writing it has Riccardo del.bo Parma Italy. The front is signed like the picture in [your Del Bo] article and dated 1946. Pow . The detail is beautiful.”

Signature of Riccardo Del Bo 1944 and 1946

(photos courtesy of Janette Ratcliffe (Jones) and Jennifer Ellis)

It is with thanks to Janette Ratcliffe (Jones) that we know a little about Del Bo and his time on the Jones farm at Severnlea via Stanthorpe. Riccardo Del Bo was from the Parma region in Italy and had been captured in Greece on 24th January 1941. He arrived in Australian on ‘Queen Mary’ 13th October 1941 and was sent to Cowra PW & I Camp until his transfer to Stanthorpe via Gaythorne PW & I Camp in Mid October 1943.

On 7th February 1945 he was transferred to Murchison PW & I Camp in Victoria until his repatriation to Italy on the ‘Otranto’ on 10th January 1947.

It would appear that Jennifer’s ‘Del Bo’ was painted while he was in Murchison PW & I Camp. The answers to the questions: who is the lady in the painting? how did the painting get from a prisoner of war camp to a second hand shop? what is this painting’s story? Did Del Bo continue painting? will probably never be known. Shortly after Del Bo’s arrival at Murchison, he was photographed: he is the last man standing on the right.

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 61970 N. Bruni; 48039 P. De Carlo; Unidentified; 49913 Q. Spognetta; 48016 R. Del Bo. Front row: Unidentified; 57177 G. De Vita; 57536 P. Rizzelli; 48145 P. Landolfi; 46993 H. Zirafi; 48153 M. Lo Cantore. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.  (AWM Image 030230/04 Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

Jennifer’s keen eye and interest in the history of her second hand bargain, means that another small part of the history of Italian prisoners of war in Australia has been pieced together.

Jennifer reflects, ” I am also happy that I have found some history of this picture. The man I purchased it from can’t remember where he got it from as its been hidden away… When I told him about the history he was amazed. He is an antique/junk seller, and when I mentioned the pow under the signature he was surprised that he missed it. As I said it’s still probably only worth two dollars- but worth more in the history of it. I don’t think it has ever been framed. I’d say perhaps he [Del Bo] made it as a gift for someone and they kept it in a draw rolled up. It would be great to see if he continued his art. “

Portrait of a Lady by Del Bo

(photo courtesy of Jennifer Ellis)

Permission to Marry

While there are number of documented cases of Italian prisoners of war marrying Australian women, the official stance was framed around the British Government’s policy, that being : REFUSAL FOR PERMISSION FOR CO-OPERATORS TO MARRY BRITISH WOMEN.

Buried deep in the National Archives is the story of one family who sought permission for an Italian POW to marry a young Australian woman.  EJ was a Land Army Girl and AM was a POW. They met at Goolagong while EJ was picking tomatoes with the Land Army.

An honourable man, AM wanted to marry EJ and support her and their son. As the extracts from letters highlight:  AM had sought and obtained permission from his family in Italy, the catholic priest at Cowra had baptised the baby and HA, EJ’s mother had arranged work for AM.

“My darling, after so much waiting I got a letter from you. It gave me so much happiness. My dearest, you said that mum rang up the officer at Cowra, well they did not yet call me to ask me anything about it however when they want me, I’m always ready to tell them the truth and I’ll tell them that I want to be free and marry you straight away.  I’m glad that you will send your photo to my mother, she will be happy to get it.” AM 15 May 1945

“I have had his baby baptised at the Catholic Church here in Cowra and told Father the priest all about my trouble and he is preparing me for our marriage… at the Church here I would keep it secret” EJ 7 June 1945

“My daughter is very anxious to marry an Italian prisoner of war… he [the baby] is very sick now has a very bad chest and took convulsions last night… the prisoner is also anxious to marry my daughter he is a good man and we can get him work in the back country trapping with my son  who has all the outfit and is willing to do something to help them when they get married.” HA (mother of EJ) 20 June 1945

Unfortunately, the government response was : “Although there appears to be no law in existence which would affect the validity of such marriages if performed it was decided that they would not be permitted.” So while the government would not sanction marriages or give couples permission to marry, there was little authorities could do, should an Australian woman and an Italian POW marry. Unfortunately, EJ and AM did not see this ‘loophole’.

AM and EJ did however seem to have spent 4 to 6 weeks together in early 1946 after AM escaped from custody.  He returned willingly to camp and surrendered himself to the guards. On 10th January 1947, AM was repatriated to Italy and there is no record of his return to Australia.

EJ and AM made one mistake, and that was to ask permission to marry from the authorities.  Had they married, their story might have had a happier ending.

The relationship between Italian POW FN and  HM, was dealt with the full force of the law.  On 20th April 1945, FN was sent to Detention Barracks at Hay (NSW) for 12 months by order of a Military Court.  FN was charged with “conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline among PW (Between Dec 43 and Feb 44 having sexual intercourse with a female).”  A harsh penalty considering other similar cases were dealt with differently and with more compassion. FN wanted to marry HM and HM said that she was prepared to marry him. Their liaison had resulted in the birth of a son.  FN served his 12 months detention but never returned to the state of his placement nor to Australia after the war.

A softening of the official directive regarding marriage of Australian women to Italian prisoners of war, is however highlighted by this notation from 18 December 1946:

Approval by the Minister has been given in principle to marriages between Italian prisoners of war and Australian Women. ( War Diary AWM52 1/1/14/15 July to December 1946)

One wonders if Italian POWs AM and FN were notified of this change in policy regarding marriages between Italian POWs and Australian women and given the opportunity to marry EJ and HM and be reunited with their sons.

Two stories with happier endings can be found at: Colleen and Mick and Francesco and June 

Records reveal the following statement on POW marriages:

It became apparent that 2 PW had been married to Australian women whilst escapees in Australia, and 4 others, 3 of whom had been escapees, desired to contract marriages; the remaining PW had been for a long period in rural employment.  The bona fides of the applications of these latter 4 PW were given full consideration and approval was finally given for their marriages, and where necessary leave was granted to them to enable marriages to be effected. (NAA: A7711)

And another happy ending is that of Mr and Mrs Auciello.  Nicola Auciello was photographed before he boarded the Alcantara to return to Italy. The attached report states: “Nicola Auciello, Italian sailor, became a prisoner in the Mediterranean Sea when the Sydney sank his cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni, said he was engaged to an Australian girl who lived at Orange and wanted to get back Australia to marry her.  Asked if any other Italians had become engaged Auciello smiled and said, “Plenty.”

Nicola

1946, The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 23 December, p. 3. (LATE FINAL EXTRA), viewed 13 Apr 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page24562456

He was repatriated to Italy and then his fiancee made the journey to Italy to marry before returning to Australia.

POW Marry 1

The Sun (Sydney, NSW: 1910-1954) Friday 3 December 1948