Tag Archives: Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland

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.

 

 

 

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)

Gift to Farmer

Angelo Capone’s gift to his employer and friend George Bury was an ornament he carved while in Cowra Prisoner of War & Internment Camp. It is a treasured Bury family memento from the time Italian prisoners of war lived on their Beerwah farm 1944-1945.

Rosemary Watt, daughter of George Bury has always wanted to know more about her dad’s eagle and the ringed insignia at the bottom. Angelo said that the ornament had been carved with a six inch nail as were the words: Cowra 21-4-42 Australia.

It wasn’t until Rosemary found a similar object in the Australian War Memorial that a more complete history of such objects was revealed.  The AWM relic is more expertly crafted as the pictures below attest, but the description reveals, ” The eagle is made from thin sheet lead or alloy taken from used toothpaste tubes.”

The Italian prisoners of war were resourceful and were known to repurpose and recyle items in the most unusual ways.  The cellophane belts made from the cellophane wraps from cigarette packets is another example of their resourceful abilities.

Fascist Eagle Desk Ornament

(Australian War Memorial Relic 33406)

Click on the link to read the description of the above Eagle from the Australian War Memorial

The Italian POWs left a number of reminders and/or political statements in the camps in Australia.  Italians made many statues at Hay PW Camp which included  the Colosseum, the she wolf with twins Romulus and Remus, an army tank and a fascist eagle sitting atop a plinth.

V-P-HIST-01881-16B.JPG

Statue of Fascist Eagle at Hay Prisoner of War Camp

Letters from the Past

Many letters written by Italian prisoners of war are held in private postal history collections and Queenslanders’ family history collections. I am grateful and honoured that these letters have been shared with me and have become a comprehensive dossier of prisoner of war letters.

Letters written by the Italian POWs after they left the farms, talk of the health of the family, the state of the harvest and farm work,  the POWs that they were still grouped with, news that they would be going home soon, or that they are still waiting to go home, reflections on the kind treatment given to them by the farming families and reflections on leaving Australia and returning home. Two cousins, wrote a thank you letter to their farmer apologising for some of their bad behaviour which was never aimed at the farmer, but more at their situation.  They closed with gratitude for the kindness the family had shown them and the gifts they were given.

If there had been children in the family, there is a request for the farmer to send a photograph of the children, words about how much they missed the children, questions about how the children were going or growing, and wishes of being back on the farm with playing with the children instead of being in camp.

Angelo Capone wrote to Mr Bury on 16th January 1946 from Gaythorne. Written with a beautiful hand, the sentiments are simply worded but heartfelt.

Letter to George & Gwen Bury, from Angelo Capone 1946 (1)

 

Letter Written to Mr Bury Beerwah from Angelo Capone 1946

(letter courtesy of Rosemary Watt)

Letters written by the Italians to their families are interesting.  While the men had to be careful of what they wrote (due to censorship), their words are always about concern for their families.  One Italian’s wife must have had a disagreement with her sister-in-law, which she had communicated to her husband, because his reply to her was that they would have to sort it out because he could do nothing about it.  There were always questions about sending news of the situation in their home towns, questions about who had died and comments as to the length of time it has taken for mail to reach them.  Other common messages were: longing to see the family again, the years of separation will be forgotten once they reach home, and  five years of separation might mean mums and children might not recognise them.

A lovely sentiment of the day is ‘I close with the pen, but not the heart’.

A summary of the relevant regulations regarding prisoner of war mail is as follows:

Four types of stationery were approved for the use of a prisoner of war in Australia.

  1. Notelopes which was a combined notepaper and envelope
  2. Postcards
  3. Parcel Acknowledgement cards
  4. Address Cards

Italian POWs were entitled to mail 2 letters or 2 postcards or 1 letter and 1 postcard per week.  Protected personnel could send 2 letters and 2 postcards per week.

From 1942 the YMCA provided  Christmas cards for the prisoners of war.

CArd 1944 natale

1944 Christmas Card

Post cards and letters could be sent airmail, at the expense of the POWs.

‘Express Messages’ could additionally be sent through the International Red Cross services.  This service was reserved for POWs who had had no communication from their next-of-kin in three months.

Monthly messages not exceeding 25 words could be sent via His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.

Address Cards (Capture Cards) were made available to POWs to send not later than one week after arrival at their camp an/d or in the case of sickness.

Censorship of POW mail ceased from 10th November 1945 but camp commandants had discretionary powers.

Just 19

Umberto Liberto was just 19 years old when he was taken prisoner of war on 7th February 1941 at Benghazi Libya.

These photos were taken in 1941 and 1943.  The photos combined with Umberto’s letter to his mother, gives credence to his words “You will not recognise your son – five years has been a long time.”  Umberto Liberto’s  mother last saw her son when he was 18 years old.  By the time he returned to Italy, he was almost 26 years old.

Umberto’s letter is shared in the article Cara Mamma

Listen to his letter:

Follow Berto’s journey as a soldier and prisoner of war: Berto Liberto

Tribute: The Ossario

During World War II 4,000 Italian, German and Japanese POWs were detained at Murchison. Those who died at Murchison were buried in the local cemetery but floods in 1956 did major damage to the graves.

The Italian families in the municipality were persuaded by Luigi Gigliotti to pay for the building of a mausoleum – the Ossario. Luigi also convinced authorities to bury all the Italian POWs and detainees who died in Australian prison camps in the mausoleum. The Ossario is a fitting tribute to those Italians who were never to return home from Australia and each year on Remembrance Day there is a mass and service in recognition of these men.

The Ossario, as is shown below, is also the final resting place of the five Italians who died in Queensland:  Giovanni Ciccocioppo (Q1 Stanthorpe); Nicola Evangelista (Q2 Nambour); Agostino Naibo (Q3 Gympie); Francesco Leone (Q4 Gayndah) and Francesco Primiano (Q7 Kenilworth). They were reburied at the Ossario on 6 September 1961.  (National Archives of Australia NAA: A8234, 13A, 1915-1961)

Ossario.jpg

Ossario Murchison 

(Murchison and District Historical Society Inc., 2014)

A special thank you to Kay Ball from Murchison and District Historical Society. Kay lay the wreath for the Evangelista family from Cassino Italy at the ceremony and service 11th November 2018.

IMG_7202.JPGKay Ball Murchison: Laying Wreath for the Evangelista Family

(photo courtesy of Kay Ball)

 

 

Remembrance Day 11th November 2018

Ossario Murchison

(photos courtesy of Kay Ball)

Musical Memories

The Music Book of Franco (Ciccio) Cipolla

The government documents give us the rules and regulations, transport movements, roles and responsibilities but it is the personal souvenirs that provide us with a grass roots understanding of life as a prisoner of war.

Nino Cipolla, Ciccio’s son remembers how his father told him he gifted his guitar to his ‘farming’ family. While Ciccio was attached to Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill, Ciccio along with 52 other POWs were sent to the Atherton Tablelands for the 1945 maize harvest. Ciccio was on the Atherton Tablelands when peace was declared after the dropping of the bombs on Japan.  Maybe, the maize farmer was the receiver of the guitar.

There are other stories of banjos, mandolins and gramophones being in the possession of the Italian prisoners of war and many stories about their beautiful singing voices.

Ciccio’s Music Book however offers a unique insight into the music of the day.

Meticulously notated are ‘Valtzer’ ‘Tango Fox Trot’ ‘Rumba’ ‘One Step’ ‘Mazurka’ ‘Valtzer Lento’ and ‘Tango Argentine’.  Unexpectedly Ciccio’s music features an interesting mix of Italian folk music, Italian popular music and American Big Band music.

It is easy to ‘dance’ back in time to Ciccio’s music. Fox trot to Violino Tzigano . Enjoy a waltz to The Missouri Waltz and Speranze Perdute. Try a tango to Play to Me Gipsy or rumba to La Paloma.  Be taken back to Italy with Non Me Ne Importa Niente and Tra Veglia e Sonno. Travel to America with Begin the Beguine and SouthAmerican Joe.

With thanks to Ciccio Cipolla we have an invaluable personal reference and insight into the life of a POW in Queensland.

On the cover of the music book, Ciccio wrote Home Hill.  Ciccio arrived at Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill in April 1944 and departed in November 1945.  He was one of 272 Italian prisoners of war who called the hostel on the banks of the Burdekin River home.  Farmer, Kent Fowler from up river Home Hill, remembers his father and uncle talking about the concerts they attended at the POW camp.

A special thank you to Ciccio’s son Nino and grandson Jack for sharing the music and songs of the Italian prisoners of war.

Music Book Cover Franco Cipolla Home Hill IMG_2243

(photo courtesy of Jack Cipolla)

Music has a healing power.  It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.

Elton John