Tag Archives: Italian Prisoners of war Australia

A Special First

Alex Miles from Mooloo via Gympie visited me in Townsville in September 2018.  He brought with him two special items associated with the Mooloo Italian prisoners of war.  His childhood neighbour Noela White (nee Wyllie) had a cellophane belt made by one of the POWs and Alex had a coin which Francesco Ciaramita had started to shape into a ring.  Both Noela and Alex felt that the items needed a ‘home’ where they could be appreciated as part of the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland.  A decision was made to dontate them to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and I had the honour of beginning the process.

Mooloo 1

While the AWM had similar items in their collection, these items were made by Australian soldiers.  An application was made to the AWM to see if members of the acquistion team were interested in the items, this is stage one of the donation process.

Stage 2 was the sending of the items with historical details to the acquistion team for further investigation and evaluation.

Stage 3 followed with the  items being formally accepted into the AWM collection.

22nd November 2018

Dear Joanne,

Thank you kindly for returning the Deed of Gift. I am glad to let you know that the items you have donated are now officially part of the National Collection.

Thank you for your generous support of the Australian War Memorial.

Yours sincerely,

Aiden Silvestro

Acquisitions Officer | Registration

A special first

Voices from the Past

At the beginning of this project, I had a wish list.  It was a simple list: to find one Queenslander who remembered the Italian prisoners of war and to double the number of photos of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland.  The only three photos in the public domain which feature our Queensland POWs  are housed in the John Oxley Library.

My wish list  for one story and three photos has been exceeded many times over.

BUT  I had never expected to find the testimonies of Italians about their time as prisoners of war. This project is honoured to have these testimonies as part of its collection.

 Antonino Lumia’s  story is told in more depth in A Voice from the Past, Fighting in North Africa and Capture.Surrender.Imprisonment .  His grandson Damiano Lumia recorded his grandfather’s memories over 40 years ago ensuring that the voice of the Italian soldier can be heard and that his experiences are not forgotten.

Lumia.JPG

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).

(AWM, Image 063371 McInnes, Geoffrey)

Costanzo Melino’sstory is part of a book written and published by his daughter Rosa Melino “Anzaro: The Home of My Ancestors”.  Captured… On the Move and Captured at Bardia share the everyday details of life as a young Italian soldier.  Costanzo returned to Australia after the war with his family following later. Life as a soldier was difficult but life as a ‘new’ Australian presented many challenges for the Melino family.

Q3 Gympie Italian prisoner of war Melino Costanzo

Costanzo Melino c 1940

(photo courtesy of Rosa Melino)

Ferdinando Pancisi is 100 years old and living and working in a tiny village Civorio in Alta Romagna.  Tim Dwyer (ex Boonah) arranged for Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti to visit Ferdinando (Ferdy) in October 2017.  His memories were recorded on 21st October 2017. They offer a stoic perspective on life, war, death and imprisonment.  Ferdy had worked on the farm of Pat Dwyer Fassifern via Boonah and for over 70 years the Dwyer family have corresponded with Ferdy.  At first it was Pat Dwyer, then his wife Joie and recently son Tim.  This is a special family connection and legacy.  Against all odds, Tim arranged for Ferdy to be interviewed so that his ‘voice’ will never be silenced.

Ferdy.Anna.Tim.Ferdy

Anna Pancisi, Tim Dwyer and Ferdinando Pancisi

(photo courtesy of Cathy Dwyer)

Angelo Valianteis a well known and much respected resident of the Stanthorpe district.  His story is recorded in a book, newspapers and a mural painting.  Seizing an opportunity and an offer to have an interview filmed, I travelled with Ann Megalla to Stanthorpe in October 2017 to talk with Angelo about his time as a prisoner of war.

Stanthorpe.Valiante

Angelo Valiante – Mural by Guido van Helten : Stanthorpe

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

It started with George

VALE: Eric Charles BEHRENDORFF

Aged 97

15th November 2019

This story started with George aka Giovanni Ragusa, Italian Prisoner of War on Eric Behrendorff’s farm outside of Boonah.  At 94 years old Eric had clear memories of George that he shared with me for this project.  In 1944, Eric was  a young farmer of 22 years while George, slightly older at 32 years was also a farmer from Calascibetta on the island of Sicily.

Giovanni Ragusa

Giovanna Ragusa aka “George”

(from the Collection of Antonio Ragusa)

Fast forward 72 years and the story entitled His Name was George has connected Australians and Italians once again.  Antonio Ragusa, son of Giovanni has shared this father’s memories as a thank you to the Behrendorff family.  Antonio writes, “Dad never spoke of his imprisonment.  We knew he had been captured in North Africa and then sent to India and finally to Australia.  He worked in what he called ‘British labour camps’.  He learnt a little English and also to  strum the guitar.  He never played the guitar at home, but every so often he would say an English word.  We understood that he had a great nostalgia for Australia and the children.  Dad returned to Calascibetta and to his life as a farmer.  He married my mum in 1953 and then my brother and I were born.  In the mid 1960’s we moved to northern Italy where dad worked as a labourer until retirement.  He died in 1999, a month and a half after my mum died.  He had just turned 87 years.  In his personal papers, he have a small number of photos taken at the time he was working on a farm.  We did not know who the people were in the photo but we knew that that dad had a special connection to this family”.

Giovanni Ragusa Italy

Giovanni Ragusa

(photo courtesy of Antonio Ragusa)

After 72 years, Antonio Ragusa now knows the names of the people in the photos, thanks to Eric Behrendorff’s son David.  Antonio also now has details about his father’s movements between North Africa and Italy.

Giovanni Ragusa Eric Berhendorff

The Behrendorff Extended Family

George, John and Mary Schultz, Winifred, Bruce Abbot (boy in shorts) Nell Behrendorff (lady in hat), Phyllis, Eric Behrendorff (man in hat with tie) Rose and David Wieland (Eric’s parents in law)  Taken in John Street Boonah

(from the Collection of Antonio Ragusa)

Antonio says, “Grazie a te, mi hai fatto conoscere ancora meglio mio padre… thanks to you, I know my father better”.  Once upon a time language was an insurmountable barrier, but translation programs has aided the Ragusa and Behrendorff families  to communicate and exchange stories and memories of a time when an Italian POW nicknamed George worked on the farm of Eric Behrendorff.

Eric and Joanne.jpeg

Eric Behrendorff and Joanne Tapiolas October 2017

In October 2017, I had the pleasure of spending time with Eric. Eric spoke with melancholy of those war time years.  A time when you were scorned because you had a German surname, a time when you had charcoal burners fitted to your trucks to ‘power’ them and a time when ‘George’ was brought to a farm out Boonah way.

Eric said that sometime after George left the farm, he planted an avenue of olive trees.  Maybe George had  told him they would grow well or maybe they were a gentle reminder of a time when Italian prisoners of war worked on Queensland farms.

Italian-Australian Family Reunion

Dall’ Australia a Bagnatica per riabbracciare l’ex prigioniero

Il giovane australiano non ha dimenticato il bergamasco che lavoro alle dipendenze della sua familiglia – Cordiale incontro con un altro ex prigioniero di Vigano S. Martino

Below is a translated copy of a 6th September 1960 newspaper article from “Eco di Bergamo”.  

 west wylong

Family Feast

Graydon Bolte (left) shares a meal with Angelo Airoldi and family

(from the collection of Graydon Bolte)

It tells the story of a Bergamose POW, Angelo Airoldi,  from the time he was captured in 1940 in Buk Buk, North Africa to the time a young Australian visited him on his farm in the commune of Bagnatica.

Today, the country men of “Portico” farm in commune of Bagnatica have suspended their work almost completely to stop in the large courtyard and keep company with an exceptional guest, from Australia. It is a question of a strong young mean bieng 23 years old, Mr. Graydon Bolte, from West Wyalong, New South Wales.

He arrived here three days ago and will stay here for some weeks, as a guest of Mr Angelo Airoldi who is the sole person not only at “Portico” but at Bagnatica able to understand and chat with young Graydon, who speaks in English language only.

Mr Airoldi went to the Bolte family in 1944 in Australia, where he was moved after being taken prisoner by the English soldiers in May 1940 in Africa.

Before reaching the fifth continent he had had a long ordeal from one concentration camp to another – from Africa to Bombay and Bangalore.

It was about the Easter day in 1944 when the American ship Mariposa discharged him in the Australian port of Melbourne, from where he was sent to Cowra camp.  Almost soon after his arrival the time of imprisonment had practically ended.  he was in fact … along with another Bergamose prisoner, Mr Ernesto Armati of Vigano San Martino, as agricultural workers by a rich Australian farmer, Mr Bolte senior.

The untiring work and the honesty of the two Italian men gained the Bolte’s sympathy, who began to treat them as members of the same family.  So as to entrust them with the direct custody of the farm, the breedings, the house, with an unlimited confidence, when the family who gave hospitality to them moved to town for the weekend.

Naturally the prisoners of war Airoldi and Armati took a seat at the same table as Mr Bolte and family.

They were very much friends with the children, amongst whom was Graydon, who was then 7 years old only and became attached deeply to Airoldi and Armati.

The ties of the friendship with the Bolte family did not discontinue when the two Italian men returned to their country after the war.  The frequent correspondence through which the respective families communicated one another, merry or sorrowful news was never interrupted.

The father before giving consent for the long trip, made Graydon promise he would visit the Airoldi family.  But it was not necessary for him to promise, because in place of stopping in Rome in order to see the Olympic Games, Graydon came direct to “Portico” farm of Bagnatica, where Angelo Airoldi the prisoner of war took him on his knees.

In these days he is happy to be able to make the same friendship with the little daughter of his friend.  it appears to him to give back a piece of affection and fondness which he received when he was still a little boy, and of which he conserved a deeply very congenial remembrance.

 

 

 

The Hand of Friendship

Monto.DowlingWarren.Pace.Dunn Syd (5)

Adolfo D’Addario

(from the collection of Assunta Austin)

Adolfo D’Addario was a resourceful man.  Life decisions were always made in the interest of his family and his work ethic ensured his children and family learnt the importance of respect and seizing opportunities. Upon his death, Roy Theodore from Saturday News Mail wrote that Adolfo D’Addario was “a distinguished, courteous and industrious man.”

Born in Salle Pescara, Adolfo worked as a barber and married Assunta Lattanzio. With a family of three children in an economically unstable pre-war Italy, Adolfo took the opportunity to go to Abyssinia.  Italy needed a presence there after Abyssinia’s occupation by fascist Italy in 1935 and employment  in this colonial outpost offered a good wage and a promise of adventure.

Escalation of war saw Adolfo fighting in Eritrea and being captured in Asmara, its capital, on 29 April 1941.  Adolfo’s memory of that time is that the Italian soldiers were afraid of the unrelenting fighting and they thought it was a wise move to surrender to the ‘obliging’ British.

As a prisoner of war, Adolfo spent time in Sudan, contracted malaria and was imprisoned in India for almost four years.  He was one of 2076 Italian prisoners of war who made their way to Melbourne on the General William Mitchell. Arriving in February 1945 this was to be the last transport of POWs to Australia. From Melbourne, Adolfo was transferred to Cowra for processing and onward movement. Within a month of his arrival in Australia, Adolfo was sent to Gaythorne in Queensland, spent time in hospital and volunteered for farm work. He had to wait five months before he was sent to Q9 Monto in August 1945 for allocation to Tecoma, the property of Geoffrey Pownall.

Ring barking on the cattle property was hard but friendships were formed with farm workers, Les and Pat. Together they worked at an outpost camp.  As well, a special connection was made with Peter Pownall the only child in this isolated part of Queensland. Most likely, Peter reminded Adolfo of his own children back home in Italy. Peter Pownall’s memories of that time are clear, “I was called ‘Pietro’ and received birthday cards and Christmas cards once they (the POWs) left the district.  Letters from Adolfo D’Addario to my parents were always signed off with “a great kiss to my little friend Peter” or “a big hug to Peter”.  From Hay, 12.8.1946 Adolfo wrote, “Dear Peter, I express you my best wishes for your birthday. Sincerely Yours Adolfo.” I was looked after and carried around by the Italians.  Adolfo cut my hair. They made trinkets and little toys for me and I have a memory of sweets they gave me, like a boiled lolly in the shape of fruit. The Italians became my ‘playmates’ especially as they were such great family men and had had to leave their children when war started.” 

Adolfo had learnt English in India, so communication with the Pownalls was easier than other farmers would have experienced. A story about language is remembered well by Peter Pownall,”There  was the time that we left the property to go on holidays for a week.  The Italians and our Aussie workers were left to care take.  There were pigs to attend to, cows to be milked and they would ride the horses to check on the windmills.  Dad and Mum returned to a note from Adolfo, “Pig is death. Possible eat snake.”

The Pownalls treated him as one of the family and included him at the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Repatriation to Italy on board Alcantara, returned Adolfo to an Italy devastated by the war.  There were no jobs, little food and little hope for the future for him or his family.

Hard work earned Adolfo not only the respect of the Pownall family, but also an offer of sponsorship to return to Australia in 1951. Jan Joyce (nee Pownall) remembers when Adolfo returned to Uncle Geoffrey’s property:  “My sister Barbara remembers that Adolfo had a spaghetti maker. Adolfo would teach us how to pick up spaghetti to eat it the Italian way.  The spaghetti and sauce was in a dessert or porridge plate and using a fork and a soup spoon he would roll the spaghetti on the fork, using the soup spoon to hold it safely and then we could get it to our mouths without losing everything! I clearly remember my younger cousin Suzanne, Peter Pownall’s sister, helping Adolfo with English pronunciation.  She would say, “spoon Dolfo, similar moon” obviously copying the way her parents helped him. She would have been 4 or 5.”

Within two years, Adolfo had saved enough money to pay for his sons, Mario and Attilio, to join him in the Monto district.  Work opportunities at the Fairymead Sugar Cane Mill took the D’Addarios to Bundaberg.

By 1956, his wife Assunta and daughter Aminta had arrived in Australia and the family was finally reunited. Home became a well known property at Targo Street Bundaberg, with a street front adorned by a breath-taking Poinciana.

Adolfo’s road to success was rocky and unpredictable due to economic hardship, war, imprisonment, separation from his family and malaria. He had negotiated many obstacles on the road to own his home and a 130 ha cane farm at Hollands Road Meadowvale, opportunities and a future he could only have dreamed of.  But dreams do come true. Adolfo believed in his dream that  Australia would provide wonderful opportunities.

Assunta Austin, granddaughter of Adolfo, explains that her nonno spoke of Geoffrey Pownall as a very respected person in their lives and remembers with great fondness the family trips to Monto to visit the Pownalls. Reflecting on her family’s story, Assunta relates, “It is thanks to the hand of friendship that he (Geoffrey Pownall) extended to my grandfather, Adolfo, that changed the course of my father’s life and gave his future family the opportunities he could never have dreamed possible back in post-war Italy.”

Monto.DowlingWarren.Pace.Dunn Syd (7)

Adolfo D’Addario

(from the collection of Assunta Austin)

Lasting Friendships

We lived on a farm 35 mile outside of West Wyalong, New South Wales. I would have been eight years old when Ernesto Armati and Angelo Airoldi came to stay with us. They became part of our family and to this day, I am in contact with their families.

Ernesto and Rosa Armati (married 1 January 1948)

Dad had sheep, wheat, pigs and milkers on the farm and the Italians did a lot of work around the farm.  They built chook yards, dams and horse yards and I suppose general farm work.

They lived in a hut built for them which was basic.  They ate with the family and became like brothers.  We had a big dining room table and they would jostle and joke with us kids and try to push us off the bench seats we sat on.  They cooked pasta meals for us.  Watching them ride horses was funny and they would sometimes have a bit of a race.  The closest church was 12 miles away and Dad bought a green and blue bike for them so that they could go to church.  My sister was very upset because Dad never bought her a bike. Both Ernesto and Angelo had fiances in Italy and upon return were married: Ernesto to Rosa 1 January 1948 and Angelo to Angelina October 1947.

I clearly remember the canteen truck visiting the farm.  They would get their cigarettes : three threes, brylcream, shaving cream stick and razors.

They had come to Australia on board “Mariposa” and arrived at Melbourne.  They were then transported in open cattle trucks to Cowra.

Dad was a staunch Methodist: no smoking, no drinking but Dad made exceptions for Angelo and Ernesto. Dad brought in a big barrel for them and they used the table grapes to make grappa.  They did it by stomping the grapes with their feet which became purple.

We cried when they left.  I don’t know why they didn’t leave the POWs on the farms until they were taken back home, but they had to wait a long time in the POWs camps and it would have been better for them to stay with us.

Dad kept in contact with them over the years and when I was in my twenties I went to Italy for the Olympics: 1960.  Dad encouraged me to go visit Ernesto and Angelo which felt awkward because 15 years had passed since I last saw them.  They welcomed me into their homes with open arms.  Lavish meals were prepared and eaten and I was taken around and shown the sites.  I travelled a little of Europe and then returned to spend Christmas with them.

Angelo and Angelina Airoldi and family Bagnatica 1960

Years later, Ernesto’s granddaughter came to Sydney for her honeymoon.  I felt very privileged to take her and her husband around for 5 weeks showing them the sights.

Memories from West Wyalong

Graydon Bolte

Brisbane

February 2017

 

 

Parcels to Italy

World War 2 affected Australians directly in many ways.  We had rationing of essentials such as petrol, food items and clothing. There were numerous attacks on our shores: Darwin, Townsville and Mossman. Children of the time remember air raids, air raid shelters and drills, reduced school hours or doing lessons by correspondence.

For Italians living in invaded and bombed areas of Italy, life was one of deprivation. Food shortages, roads and railways destroyed, rumble littered streets, disappearance of residential areas  and displacement of people.

Young Boy in Naples July 1944 Lt Wayne Miller

A young boy, dressed in tattered clothes and bearing a poignant smile, in war-torn Naples Italy July 1944. Photo by Lt Wayne Miller

A Western Australian farmer who had employed Italian POWs wrote to the Western Mail, encouraging other Australians to send parcels to their Italian POW families and explaining  their circumstances.

Helping former P.O.W. farm workers

… I have been sending frequent parcels to an Italian P.O.W. who worked for us…

Many farmers in this State were appreciative of the help given by prisoners of war during a period when labour was scare and I am sure that if they knew the tragedy of these men’s lives on their return to Italy many farmers would gladly send assistance to them now.

Most of the parcels take as long as six months to reach Italy and the quickest delivery of all those that I have sent was just over three months.  Two parcels I posted in April reached Naples at the end of October. Our G.P.O. informed me that there are three groups of parcels, namely food, toilet articles and clothing and these goods must not be mixed.  Clothing must we secondhand or if new duty must be paid by the receiver in Italy.  Toilet articles can include soap, shaving gear, toothbrushes etc and food which seems to be the most appreciated is spaghetti in tins, vermicelli, baked beans, milk and jam, dipping, dried fruits, tinned cheese and tinned meat.  Clothing is very badly needed as the winter is commencing in Italy and clothing of all kinds is very scarce.

Girl Holding Toddler Italy. Naples 1944 Lt Wayne Miller

Girl holding a toddler, Naples, Italy 1944. Photo by Lt Wayne Miller

My P.O.W.s family had not seen toilet soap for five years until they received my parcel and they had not had an egg for three years. Incidentally they consider themselves among the more fortunate Italians despite the fact that they often receive only one meal a day.

The weights of parcels can be 3, 7 or 11 lb. each including the wrappings. I pack mine in light cartons and sew them up in unbleached calico and so far they have arrived in good condition. The 7lb. parcel seems to be the best size.

APPRECIATIVE.

(Western Mail (Perth, WA: 1885-1954), Thursday 27 November 1947, page 67)

Refugees, Italy 1946 UNICEF Romagnoli

In 1946, in Italy, children carry rocks from a war destroyed building to help rebuild their town. UNICEF/Romagnoli