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.

patriarca letter.png

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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 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, Angelo and Vincenzo

Dear Claude

Letters written by Italian prisoners of war are precious keepsakes for their Queensland families.  Written after the Italians left the farms and before their repatriation, they ask about the children and the crops, the weather and news, and they talk of their time of departure from Australia.  There are humble words of gratitude to the farming Queensland families and hints as the special friendships formed.

Claude Colley was an army interpreter at Q1 Stanthorpe and Q4 Gayndah.  As an interpreter, he was a go between for the army and the Italians but his fair treatment was appreciated by the Italians as this letter, penned by Aldo Cerdini attests.

A special thank you to Adrian Azzari-Colley for sharing Cerdini’s letter and his father’s story.

Q4 Gayndah.Colley Claude

Army Interpreter Attached to Q4 Gayndah: Claude Colley

(NAA: B884 W81143 Colley, Claude)

Cerdini’s departure from Australia was just ten days after he wrote this letter to Claude Colley.

Cowra

Dicembre 13th 1946

Dear Claude

 Being proxcimate to sail for Italy I wish to drop you a few lines to let you know that both I and Lewis are in the very best of health and trust this note will find you and your family the same.  Yes, Claude, the time we have been longing for so many years has come and telling you the truth I am looking forward more than any word could express to see again the land of my birth and those whom I love.

I am fully aware of leaving a country where everything concerning the standard of life is by far easier than that I shall find in a country like Italy where a stressing poverty is continuing to increase after the outrages of so devastating a war.  Anyhow this is my lot and I have to follow it whatever thing it may have in store for me.  Have you been getting any mail from Gayndah of late? I heard from Mrs Quinn and her son a couple of weeks ago telling me they was all well and that Mr Quinn and his son are working out on the farm owing to the fact that they sold their shop just a few days before we left, you knew that, didn’t you? How are you getting on? And how is the weather like out there?  Down here it is very trying and irksome, dusty and windy days as it was the Sahara desert.  I am still with Lewis, Liscio, Caradonna, Carlucci and many others whom you knew while you were acting as interpreter and all of them wish you to be remembered for the very kind and human way you were use to deal with us.  I hope you will drop me a few lines from time to time, even when I shall be in Italy. I think we shall set out on the 13th of next month but I couldn’t tell you the truth, anyhow we shall wait and see.  I conclude my letter sending you on behalf of my friends and on my own our very best regards and the best of everything to you and your family from your fond friend

Aldo (Cerdini),  Creatura Luigi, Liscio Marco

Q4 Gayndah Cerdini.Aldo

Letter Writer Aldo Cerdini: Prisoner of War Identity Card

(from National Archives of Australia J3118/200)

Pasta Drying Everywhere

 

Colin Wenck lives on Upson Downs, just outside of Gayndah, a property owned by his great-grandparents Walter and Martha Sauer during World War 2.  There were two properties run by the Sauer family: Upson Downs and across the river Banapan.  Running cattle and growing small crops, three Italian prisoners of war were employed to take on the work around the farms.

Sauer Gully (10)

Fred Sauer, owner of Gayndah Motors was the registered employer of the Italians, but Colin believes that the Italians lived in rooms behind Gayndah Motors until such times that a cottage was built by and for them on the farm.  Colin recalls, ‘The Italians were known to have built houses on Frankie Robinson’s citrus orchard. And mention is made that our cottage was built by them as well.  Apparently, they were only allowed to be employed with farm work, but there would have been a shortage of carpenters and if the Italians had the skills, then the farmers utilised their experience.’

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Colin grew up knowing the history of the cottage and has been firm that the building will not be pulled down.  The names of the three Italians have now emerged from the pages of the archives, adding a personal connection between POWs and the cottage.

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‘Granddad Colin remembers some stories about the POWs.  The Italians taught great-grandma how to make pasta dough.  And a fond memory is of the pasta hanging up around the kitchen drying. There was the story about one Italian who asked if he could use some spare timber and hardware in the shed to build a barber’s chair.  Antonio Iaccarino was the barber and he would cut hair for all the family.  They also asked to be taught how to fish.  They would bring home bags of fish which was then cooked up for dinner.  One POW wrote to the family after the war, to ask for a reference to assist him to come to Australia.  But we don’t know if he ever did,’ Colin says.

The other two POWs were Giovanni Farina, a farmer and Fortunato Franco, a mason. The Upson Downs cottage is an old, rustic, weatherboard and corrugated iron building with timber floors.  Walking through this building is like walking back in time and walking in the boots of the Italian POWs who called this place home seven decades ago.

Sauer.POW Cottage (15)

A Beautiful Lesson of Life

The emotionally moving story of Frank and Ian is a special story of a friendship between an Italian POW and an Aussie toddler that spans over seven decades.  Not only has Ian’s grandson proudly presented a power point presentation to his school class about Frank, a distant relative of Frank’s, has visited Ian and renewed contact between the two families.

Pintabona

 Francesco Pintabona, Ian Harsant and Salvatore Mensile or Vincenzo Nocca

(from the collection of Ian Harsant)

 

Ian Harsant’s life-long friendship with Francesco Pintabona, an Italian POW stationed at Boonah is a beautiful story of a little boy’s memory of his Italian friend and his search to find him in the post war chaos. Letters were exchanged but rarely received and contact was lost. By the time Harsant found any news of Pintabona, he had passed away 20 years previous.

Francesco Pintabona of Taviano, Lecce was captured in Bardia.  He came to the Harsant farm, Warrill View Boonah 4th August 1944. Records indicate that he was evacuated to 67 ACH 8th December 1945 and then moved to Gaythorne 27 December 1945, which is probably the reason why Harsant has no memory of saying ‘goodbye’ to his friend.

Ian Harsant as a toddler called him Hank, short for Frank and many childhood photos are of Frank and Ian. Photos taken by Ian’s mother capture  memories of a day’s work on a farm and a lifelong bond.  Frank and Ian’s friendship was special as Di Morris wrote: “Little careful acts were noticed, like putting his (Frank) own handkerchief over the boy’s face when the flies were bad.  Once he even rushed him back to the farmhouse for a nappy change when it became obvious he had soiled his pants…There was another language they shared; the language of lollies, cordial and biscuits which Frank obtained with his little friend in mind when he patronised the visiting truck from Boonah with his small POW wage”. (Morris, 2015) 

Ian reflects that the Italians were non-Fascist, fit and healthy. Not one to wax lyrically, Ian recalls an incident between his dad and Santo Murano, who had been transferred from Frank Sweeney’s farm to Warrill View. Roderick Harsant was a firmer boss than Sweeney.  The incident involved a lot of shouting and a threatening lifting of a shovel toward the farmer.  Mr Collins, the officer in charge of the Boonah centre was called. On Santo’s record in June 1945, is the awarding of 28 days detention: conduct prejudicial to good order, no doubt for this incident.  There were other Italians who worked on the farm but they were a good mob. Domenico Masciulli was billeted with Ian’s uncle Cecil Rackley but then went to Warril View when Rackley died toward the end of 1945. Salvatore Mensile and Vincenzo Nocca worked for Wallace Roderick another relative who lived a couple of mile away and either visited Frank or also worked on the Harsant farm.

Memories of music are paired with this time in Ian’s life. The Italians were musical.  Domenico had a mandolin and Sundays, their day of rest, was the time you would hear them singing and the mandolin being played. Sunday was the day the Italians from the farms around would get together.

Ian Harsant’s journey to find Frank, culminated in being in contact with Fausto Pintabona, a relative of Frank.  Fausto summed up Ian and Frank’s friendship as ‘a beautiful lesson in life’.

Watch the video to hear more about Ian and Frank.

Written and produced by Billy Jack Harsant

…Don’t Run Away

 

Our Italian prisoners of war arrived at night, or close on dark and they were scared silly. I suppose they really didn’t know where they were going and the Queensland bush was very different from the camp at Gaythorne. We lived at Aratula.  Once they saw my brother Michael, who was about two years old at the time, they were happy to see the ‘bambino’. Paolo De Propertis and Pietro Romano were from Tocco Cassauria. I was only eight years old at the time but I have clear memories of the men.

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Dwyer Family 1945

Back: Paolo De Propertis, Des Dwyer, JJ Dwyer, Pietro Romano

Front: Laurie Dwyer, Michael Dwyer

(from the collection of Carmel Peck (Dwyer))

One of our family photos from that time was taken on the day my brother Des was going off to boarding school.  He was dressed up in his suit, as was the way in those days.  Des was tall for his age and Peter was convinced that dad was sending Des off to enlist as a soldier.  He told dad, ‘no fight, no soldier’.  I think his face and the tone of his voice said more than the words. They were peaceful men who didn’t want to be involved in the war.  And they didn’t want Des involved in war either.

While Michael never learnt any Italian words, he certainly could understand Paul and Peter.  The canteen truck came to the farm to bring them supplies and they would buy lollies.  They would hide the lollies and Michael would always find where the lollies were hidden.  It was a game they played with Michael.

Paul and Peter lived in separate quarters about 50 yards from the house.  Mum did the cooking and one lunch, she served them up pumpkin.  In Italy, pumpkin was cattle feed and so they would toss the pumpkin out the window.  One day, they saw mum feeding Michael pumpkin. Mum explained that the bambino ate pumpkin as a way to encourage them to eat it.  “Propaganda” they said.  Eventually when they did try it, they loved pumpkin.

When they were to leave the farm, they took it upon themselves to take some seeds with them.  They sewed pumpkin, watermelon and cucumber seeds into the lining of their clothes.  In a letter Paul wrote, he told mum and dad how all the seeds were cut out of the clothing.

There are many stories about Peter and watermelons.  Peter would ‘steal’ watermelons from our neighbours.  A neighbour George Steffens chased Peter once with a whip in hand.  Peter managed to get some distance away but the hid behind a big log.  Steffens apparently stood atop the log, cracking the whip as a warning, not knowing how close Peter was.  Another time Oliver Hill was out in his potato fields and could see Peter on the edge of a field of watermelons.  It became a bit of a stand off: Oliver would stop and watch. Peter would pretend to do nothing. Oliver would start work again, Peter would creep closer. Peter always managed to ‘steal’ a watermelon without Oliver seeing him in the act. Peter would defiantly stand at a distance and lift the watermelon onto his shoulder. I think there was always laughter afterwards.  Peter was big and strong and could easily carry a bag containing three watermelons.

Paul used the dictionary to try to improve his English but decided that English was stupid.  There were a lot of problems with miscommunication. Paul would wait for me to return home from school and then get out the yellow book they had for English.  Pronunciation was mainly the problem. Paper and pepper sounded the same. He also had difficulty with tree and the.  They had trouble with slang like ‘give it a burl’. One morning dad and the Italians were doing some fencing.  It was time to go home for lunch so dad told them to leave the crowbar there.  The word leave was a problem and they thought dad wanted them to carry it away with them.  Dad would have raised his voice and they thought that he was angry with them.  Paul told the interpreter the next day, ‘boss got mad, I got mad’.  He thought that he would be taken away.  Things were sorted. Another time, the Fordson tractor wouldn’t start so dad went to get the draught horses.  The horses wouldn’t get into the yards and dad would have blown off steam and whatever he said, or it might have been the way he said it, Paul and Peter thought they had done something wrong.  They had a great deal of respect for dad and they didn’t want to get into trouble.  So the next time the interpreter came to the farm, they asked to find out ‘what they did wrong’.  They would explain what had happened and the interpreter would explain what had happened.  They would always refer to mum as ‘Madame’ and my grandmother lived with us and they called her ‘extra Madame’, very respectful.  Sometimes we would call grandma ‘extra Madame’ and she would get cranky with us.

Paul had a sister who had come out to Australia in the 1920’s. Somehow Dad made contact with her. She lived in Victoria and Dad visited her and her family.  She sent back a gift for Paul and dad brought it back on the TAA flight. ‘Olives’- they were a real treat for the men. I also remember Dad bringing back a tin of whitebait from a business trip to South Australia.  I am not sure if it was for Peter and Paul, but I remember that there was no way that us kids were going to try whitebait, not with all these little eyes staring out at us as the can lid was peeled back.

Another food story had to do with the chooks.  A chook had died and Peter asked if he could take it and use if for a meal.  Dad had a bit of trouble convincing Peter that he didn’t have to use the ‘dead’ chook and that dad was happy for him to catch a live chook and prepare it for a meal.  They did trap hares from time to time for meals as well.

Dad was going to paint the house and he asked Peter if he could paint.  “Yes sir,” was his answer.  Dad gave him the paint and brushes and Peter was making a mess of it.  Dad found out that the only painting he had done was painting a pipe line in India.  Dad had to teach him how to paint with even brush strokes, up and down, up and down.

Peter hated the pink coloured clothes they had to wear.  He would go down the creek and wash the clothes within an inch of their lives to fade away the colour.  Just when he had the clothes a decent colour, the canteen truck would come out and he would be given a new set of pink clothes.

Dad knew this was against the rules, but dad took Peter and Paul to Brisbane.  Dad had business in Brisbane so he found some civvies for them to wear.  Dad is of Irish descent so he had a respectable disdain for authority.  Once in Brisbane he had a meeting to go to, so he left Peter and Paul to go off and wander on their own.  He told them ‘don’t you go run away’ to which they replied ‘Italy, too far to swim’.  Dad said that there were a couple of ships in the Brisbane harbour and the sailors were Maltese, so that a couple of extra foreigners with stilted English would not draw extra attention to them.  Only problem was that when dad and the men where in Brisbane, the army captain came around home to do his visit.  The rules were that the POWs couldn’t leave the property. Mum had to think quickly on her feet.  Dad had a cattle property about 10 miles away up on a mountain and so mum told the captain that dad had taken the men to muster cattle.

Peter and Paul could turn their hand to most things.  They could ride horses and operated the farm machines.  Once when mum was in hospital, Peter became chief cook.  He made us spaghetti and these most delicious potato cakes.  There were five of us kids and as fast as he could make these potato cakes, they were eaten and we were asking for more.  Peter also made shoes.  We butchered our own meat, so he would take the hides and turn them into leather.  And then he would make shoes.  He was resourceful.

Dwyer Pietro

Pietro Romano

(from the collection of Carmel Peck (Dwyer))

On a Sunday, dad would take them to church.  There was a mission priest, Dr Dwyer who would hold services around the district.  He had spent some time in Rome and spoke fluent Italian.  We would all be taken off to church at Kalbar. I thought that I went to church too many times in those days. One of these times there was special lunch after church.  Tables were set up and the meal served. My sister Carmel thinks that it might have been a special ‘farewell’ lunch for the Italians.  Church was also a time for all the POWs in the area to get together.  On a Sunday afternoon, Paul and Peter with other Italian POWs would go sit up on the hill.  You would hear them laughing and talking and at times the conversations sounded quite volatile.

I remember we received a letter from Paul.  We took it to a Dutch priest who knew Italian. He translated the letter as best he could. It was written in dialect, which is different from Italian.

I remember that farmers who were of German descent weren’t allowed to have POW labour.  There were also farmers who tried to save money by keeping their POWs for a short period of time.  After POWs had been with a farmer for a time, the farmer had to pay more money for their wages. So these farmers would ask for a new roster of POWs.

There was a young POW on the Kelly’s farm. I remember that he returned after the war, and he would say, “I not work as a POW no more. I work as a free man”.  His name was Benedetto Ierna.

Laurie Dwyer

21 June 2017

Peter and Paul

I have a couple of wonderful photos of my family with Peter and Paul our Italians POWs. I would have been ten years old when they came to our farm to help dad with the farm work.  There was a shortage of farm labourers during the war and we grew potatoes.  Dad was involved with the Potato Board and would travel around Australia attending meetings and conferences.

We also had soldiers and Land Army girls help with the farm work and the harvest.  Some of the soldiers were USA soldiers. One Negro solider stayed on the farm and took over cooking for mum.  I think he was then sent to New Guinea.

Then came Peter and Paul who stayed with us for about 18 months. Language was a problem especially between dad and Peter and Paul.  It was more that dad would tell them to do something, they were eager to please and follow instructions but they would get the wrong idea and then voices were raised.  They called our grandmother Extra Madame, mum was Madame, but Grandma Kelly hated the reference. I think it was because she was a big lady. But I don’t think they meant anything other than being respectful. Sometimes we would call Grandma Kelly, Extra Madame and she would get very irate with us.

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Dwyer Family Photo 1945

Back: JJ Dwyer, Margaret Dwyer, Des Dwyer, Grandma Kelly

Front: Laurie Dwyer, Pietro Romano, Carmel Dwyer, Michael Dwyer, Paolo De Propertis

We loved Peter. He was outgoing and friendly.  Once when Mum and Dad were away, Peter came and slept in the house and looked after the family.  And 70 years later we still talk about Peter’s potato cakes.  We were introduced to rice and spaghetti by Peter and Paul.  They would teach us how to twirl the spaghetti with a fork and spoon. My first pair of sandals was given to me by Peter.  I used to get hand me downs from my sister Margaret, but Peter made me my very own sandals.  He used to cure the hides and make leather. They would have made us trinkets and toys, probably from pieces of wood or corn cobs. Another time, Mum, Grandma and Michael went to the coast for about two months for a holiday.  Peter would do everything and looked after the house.  My parents trusted the Italians.   I remember he would wash my hair on a Sunday afternoon and plait it.  For the first few days of school, my hair remained neat and tidy.  By the end of the week, the teacher would be telling me to ‘do something about my hair’.

Peter loved watermelons. The story goes that at night, Peter would cut a watermelon in half and then munch on it throughout the night.  He would also cut a small triangle into the watermelons to check to see if they were ripe.

Paul was much quieter than Peter.  He enjoyed milking the cows and doing the dairy farm work.  Reg and Molly were share farmers and neighbours.  There was some confusion with language and Paul tried to explain this by saying “I like Molly. But I don’t like a Molly”.

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Paolo De Propertis

On canteen truck day, we would race home from school because we knew that Peter and Paul would buy something for us.  We went to Tarome school and from school we would see the canteen truck  drive past on the road.  We would race across the paddocks, creek and a swamp to get home. It was mainly a lolly they would give us, but they were a real treat.

On a Sunday, the other POWs from around the area would congregate on our farm.  This was against the rules but because we lived out of town, they didn’t get noticed.  In those days you knew local cars and who owned them.  If there were any strange cars coming up the road, the Italians would disperse and take cover. Their meetings were often rowdy. Dad would be concerned that there was a fight happening and would go over to see what was going on.  One minute they were talking angry and the next they were laughing.  Dad said that they would mimic the mannerisms of their bosses.  They would walk and talk like their bosses and they found it hilarious.  Dad said they were very true with their interpretations.

My brothers had more to do with Peter and Paul than I did.  As was appropriate in those days, mum kept Margaret and I at a distance from the Italians.  She felt that the girls shouldn’t be around them.  We used to get letters from Peter and Paul but because of the language issue, this stopped. They couldn’t understand our letters and we couldn’t understand their letters.

They must have talked about their homes and families because I remember a couple of things about the differences between life in Australia and life in Italy.  They thought that Australian women were very lonely.  They lived on the farm, a long way from other women and the town.  In Italy, families lived in villages.  The men left the village to go to work during the day but the women had the company of the people in the village.  The other difference was to do with twilight.  When they first arrived, they had this idea that after dinner they would go walking.  Dad had to try to explain that our twilight in Queensland was short.  The sun would set and it would turn dark quickly.  It is different in southern states and also in Europe when it is still light close to 10pm in some places.

When Peter and Paul left our farm, we took them into town.  Upon our return home, we saw that they had painted their addresses on a wall of the house. I travelled to Italy and asked the tour guide if we went close to Tocco Cassauria and explained my memories.  Unfortunately, this was not on the tourist route.

Many people today, do not have a knowledge of this history.  I have told the story of Peter and Paul many times to people I meet and they always are puzzled by a scheme which placed Italian prisoners of war on farms to live with Queensland families.  While there were many benefits for the Italians to be on farm, the scheme had reciprocal benefits.

Peter and Paul enriched our lives.

Carmel Peck (nee Dwyer)

July 2017