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.
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. “
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.
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.
(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.
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.
With a handful of photos, Paolo Zulli is looking for information regarding his uncle, Sebastiano Di Campli, prisoner of war in Australia. Sebastiano was sent to work on farm/farms in the N13 Moss Vale district in New South Wales from 10.4.44 to 30.3.45. The government records indicate that some 110 Italian prisoners of war worked on farms in this area from March 1944 to November 1945.
Italian prisoners of war assigned to farm work, were issued with a ‘Bag, kit universal’ which was supposed to be withdrawn when rural workers returned to camp. Not so for Sebastiano whose bag is still coloured with the red used to dye clothing and other items issued to prisoners of war and internees. Sebastiano’s kit bag still bears his Australian prisoner of war number: 57181.
Kit Bag: Sebastiano Di Campli
(photo courtesy of Paolo Zilli)
Sebastiano’s photos tell more of his journey as a soldier and prisoner of war. Sebastiano was serving with the 44 Regiment Artiglieri Division Marmarica when he was captured on 3rd January 1941. A group photo taken in Libya was one of the treasured mementoes which returned to Italy with him.
Libya: Sebastiano Di Campli and friends
(photo courtesy of Paolo Zilli)
From their capture at Bardia, Sebastiano and a friend Nicola Costantino (also from Ortona a Mare), were together when they were processed at Geneifa Egypt. How is this known: Sebastiano’s M/E prisoner of war number is 71770 while Nicola’s M/E number is 71768. Special bonds of friendship are confirmed by a family story that Nicola saved Sebastiano’s life in Libya.
From Egypt they were both sent to camps in India. On the reverse of Nicola’s photo is inscribed: 26.4.1942 Ricordo di Costantino Nicola. In 1943, they arrived in Australia, within two months of each other, then Nicola was sent to South Australia while Sebastiano stayed in New South Wales.
India: Sebastiano Di Campli and Nicola Costantino
(photo courtesy of Paolo Zilli)
Two months before being sent to Moss Vale and farm work, Sebastiano Di Campli was captured by the lens of Geoffrey McInnes at Cowra POW Camp on 6th February 1944. He is standing third from the right and was immediately recognised by his nephew Paolo.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57040 G. Angelozzi; 57413 G. Palladinetti; 57422 D. Pasquini; 57168 D. Del Romano; 57181 S. Di Campli; 57277 R. Iacobucci; 57448 V. Pizzica. Front row: 57235 L. Fresco; 57195 M. Di Prato; 57224 G. Flacco; 57420 A. Paolucci; 49872 P. Morelli. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.
Glimpses of information about N13 Prisoner of War Control Centre Moss Vale can be found in the newspapers of the day. An article in the Picton Post on 11 May 1944 mentioned, “Sixty four prisoners of war employed on farms in Moss Vale district are said to be rendering excellent service.” Another article mentions Mr C McInnes owner of New South Wale’s largest piggery- “The Yedman”, which had 1400 pigs. The piggery was run by Mr McInnes, one employee and two prisoners of war and there was concern as to how to staff his piggery with the Italians being recalled in November 1945.
Another article mentions the strong affinity between a Moss Vale farmer and his family and ‘the men in their prisoner garb’, as well as the ongoing communication between farmer and an Italian post-war: An Italian Ex-P.O.W. Who Died from Grief
Along with his photos and kit bag, Sebastiano returned to Italy with a holy card for Maria S.S. della Libera. The picture of Holy Mary was kept with him while in Libya, Egypt, India and Australia, a source of comfort and a tangible and personal link to his home in Ortona a Mare Chieti.
Holy Card belonging to Sebastiano Di Campli
(photo courtesy of Paolo Zilli)
Paolo knows that his wish to find Sebastiano’s farming families in and around Moss Vale is unlikely to happen, but he would at least like to know a little more about this district and primary industries in those times.
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.
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.
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.
Ross Di Mauro’s dad had the farm on Block 182 Home Hill. Ross remembers his father’s story about how in the middle of the night, two Italian POWs who had escaped from the Home Hill POW camp came to their farm.
Ross’s dad gave them a meal, a bit of money and food and sent them on their way. But before they left, he did ask them why they thought that his house was a ‘safe’ house to visit. They replied that they saw clothes on the line and felt that the stitching had been done by Italians. There were a number of unsuccessful escapes from the Q6 Prisoner of War Hostel Home Hill. The furthest afield the escapees were found was at Bowen.
Another memory associated with prisoners of war is from the Stanthorpe district. Ross and his family spent some time during the war at a farm at Ballandean via Stanthorpe. One of the stories about the POWs there was that there were a number of POWs in the district and they would get together on a Sunday and this was against the rules. If a suspicious vehicle would be seen coming down the road, they would all scatter, hiding amongst the grape vines and fruit trees
Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49354 A. Biagioni; 46612 P. Rossi; 49906 B. Rodofile; 45671 S. Felici; 45091 C. Bono; 48923 F. Carlone. Front row: 48942 G. Filippelli; 46085 D. Martinuzzi; 45627 B. Falchi; 46807 M. Salvini. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030147/14, Photographer: Lewecki)
Ross says of the Ballandean POWs, “There was this one fellow that stood out. He was quite imposing, he had a shaved head and a big beard and he had a stick/baton in his hand. It seemed like he kept the others in line, like he was a policeman.” Tracking down this POW was not difficult. Sesto Felici was from Pieve Sant Giovanni Arezzo and his occupation was ‘Military Police’. From February 1944, Felici was working on the farm of the Colvin Bros at Ballandean. The Cowra photo of Sesto Felici did not surprise Ross as this is exactly how he remembered the Ballandean ‘policeman’.
Ross also remembers that there was some trouble between the farmer and his POWs and it was written about in the newspapers. The words the Italian said stuck in Ross’s memory, “No like Calaboose”. As reported in a newspaper, Attilio Corgiolu spoke these words after he and his friend, Antonio Perduto emerged from a Military Court hearing held in Stanthorpe in January 1945.
(Truth (Qld.: 1900-1954) Sunday 28 January 1945, page 24)
It is interesting what one remembers and remarkable when a memory is given a context. Ross’s childhood memories highlight that the children of those times, have accurate memories which can be validated by photos, newspaper reports and government documents.
Ruby Robinson (at back) and Olive Munro (Robinson) (in front)
Who is Who? Antonio Colomba, Antonio Alfarano or Giuseppe Vergine
(from the Collection of Avis Hildreth)
“Glen Olive” and “Glen Ellen” in Gayndah were farmed by father and son Francis Charles Robinson and Francis William Robinson who employed Italian prisoners of War to help work their citrus orchards. Five young Italians, all in their early 20s and from farming backgrounds, arrived at the Robinson’s property on 8 July 1944: Domenico Petruzzi, Nicola Micali, Antonio Colomba, Antonio Alfarano and Giuseppe Vergine.
Avis Hildreth granddaughter of Frank Senior relates with fondness family memories of Domenico Petruzzi: “My late mother, Ruby Robinson, remembered him as being very young. He was well regarded by the Robinson family and according to family accounts, he did not want to return to Italy when the war ended… Domenico gave some needlework to my late mother. It is an arrangement of Australian wildflowers. My mother gave it to my sister”.
Domenico Petruzzi’s Gift to Robinson Family
(from the Collection of Colleen Lindley)
Colleen Lindley, granddaughter of Frank Robinson Senior, is now the custodian of this special gift and her mother also entrusted her with its story. She says, “I only tell you the history of this piece as I was told by my Mother. My Mother had this needle work sent out to her by mail order. She intended to do the needle work herself. Domenico asked her if she had any needle work that he could do to fill in the time of a night. My Mother decided to give it to Domenico as a gift, never thinking that in time, it would become his thank you and farewell gift to her. It was to be a cushion cover, but I was not willing to use it this way as I felt that it should be preserved. Mum had kept it wrapped up in a cloth with her linen until the day that she gave it to me. The lettering at the bottom was Domenico’s doing. He had put the lettering on the bottom and told her what the letters stood for: Remember Domenico Petruzzi Prisoner of War”.
Before Domenico left the Gayndah orchard, Mr Robinson had discussed with him the possibility of sponsorship so that he could return to Australia. The Robinson family could not locate or contact Domenico in Italy and letters sent to him possibly did not find him.
Over the years, family members thought often about Domenico. An ABC documentary in the early 2000s reignited Ruby Robinson’s interest in finding Domenico and so daughter Colleen took up the challenge. She contacted local historical societies and the Australian War Memorial but there were no answers nor leads.
There were many complications in the search: AWM requested a Prisoner of War Number; Ruby Robinson had never seen Domenico’s name written down so spelt it as she remembered it: Dominico Pertruse; and even if the family found his record, his home town was written as Nizzanello Lecce rather than Lizzanello Lecce. Such are the many brick walls that Queenslanders have hit when trying to locate information on their Italian POWs.
Domenico Petruzzi’s gift is an enduring memory of his time working on a citrus orchard outside of Gayndah. It is beautifully crafted and a treasured memento from the time Italian prisoners of war worked on Queensland farms.
More importantly, Domenico has had his wish come true. His story had been embroidered into his gift and the sentiments of the words have ensured that he has not been forgotten. Domenico Petruzzi’s Australia family will continue to remember him as this gift is passed down through the generations.