Tag Archives: Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland

Tommy and Johnny

This is the story of a farmer, his wife and  two Italian POWs Tommy and Johnny. 

One of the rewarding parts of this project is making connections.  With photos, phone calls, You.Tube video, government documents and archived newspapers, the story unfolds of a time in 1944 and 1945 when two Italian POWs made their way to the farm of Mr Kevin Rodney at North Deep Creek.

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1. The farmer and his wife

Mrs Joyce Rodney (nee Davis) has clear memories of Tommy and Johnny and her son Patrick Rodney of Goomeri has related the following:

Mum is now 96 years old and lives in Bundaberg.  She remembers the Italians as decent men. They were pacifists.  We had a dairy, and my dad wasn’t a farmer, he had inherited the farm but never wanted to be a farmer.  So the Italians would have been a great help to dad.  The POWs helped in the dairy and there was a lot of manual work to do on the land like tree felling and grubbing.  All done with hand tools.  Mum remembers that the elder of the two had his own family.  The men would come up to the house for meals and the older fellow would pick the baby up.  I was born in October 1945, so this baby was me.  One of the POWs wrote to dad to sponsor him after the war but by that time dad had moved to Brisbane. They were gentleman. Johnny was Giovanni Adamo and Tommy was Antonino Lumia.

2. An Italian POW called Johnny

Records indicate that Giovanni Adamo was from Rosolino Siracusa on the island of Sicily.  Like Antonino Lumia he had travelled on the Queen Mary to Australia. Giovanni is in this photo: he was 5’10” and 150lbs. Unfortunately, photos taken in Hay do not specifically identify the men in the photo.  

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Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 45017 Giovanni Adamo; 46583 Mario Ricciardello; 45638 Michele Fodera; 45516 Giuseppe Di Giovanni; 45275 Salvatore Cali; 45494 Angelo Drago; 45952 Rosario La Spina; 45753 Antonino Grammatico; 45897 Luigi Iannitto; 46870 Antonino Tuccitto and 46462 Gaetano Penna. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(Australian War Memorial: Lewecki, Image 030145/11)

3. The Italian POW named Tommy

Damiano Lumia recorded  the story of his grandfather Antonino Lumia in 1976.  In 2014, he put together a You.Tube video to preserve his grandfather’s story. Antonino had been sent to the Q3 Gympie centre with Giovanni Adamo.

Prisoners of War were sent to farms as pairs or group of three and Antonino talks of his friend Giovanni, their journey in Queensland and their time at the farm of Mr R.

Antonino Lumia died in 1984 in Bompensiere Sicily but thanks to his grandson, we know Antonino’s story of the time he worked on a farm outside of Gympie:

We left, Giovanni and me. Stop at a station. The guards descended on the track. We were forbidden to move from the train. I met an American soldier who was going to war in Japan. An officer. He came to us: “Are there people from Catania on the train?” There are Sicilians from all over here, sir. We put him in touch with a resident of Catania. They talked together. The guard moved away, so that he could approach. We told him: “the war is over”

“They send us to the Australian families, what do they have in mind? Are we slaves?” I did not understand. The war was over. And we had to go to work … This man was great. He went to a store. He brought us 20 travel bags. Have fun, gentlemen. Have courage. The day will come when you will return home.

Another day of travel by train. We went down and a man, Mr. R, came to get us. An imposing man, single. He lived with his sister. His brother-in-law was a pilot officer in Japan. On his farm, 5000 cows. He chose us, Giovanni and me. He stopped at a butcher’s shop to buy a huge piece of meat. We stay in a wooden hut, Giovanni and I. 2 beds, sheets, our cushions. The roof was pierced. When it was raining frogs were visiting us. Our job was to milk the cows. The cows were grouped together on horseback.

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Life was pretty sweet. We ate at the same table. This man shared with us what he had. One day he became engaged. A girl from the city. He left a month in order to get married. An old man stayed with us. Work continued. Milk, butter … The old man went to the village to buy what we needed. We did not lack anything. One of their hens was singing at every moment. One Sunday we were free. I plunge my hand into the chicken coop and found more than 20 eggs. I managed to get them all back. We had a feast of omelettes. Later we cut wood. The eggs were with us. This man respected us. We did not lack anything. Every day around 3 pm the old man offered tea and cake.

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The farmer was back. You could hear the horn of his car in the distance. His wife was with him. I had planted very beautiful flowers near the hut. The old man had warned me: “Tonight Mr. R. will be back”. I made a bouquet of flowers. When they arrived near us …… I offered flowers to his wife. He introduced us to his wife: Miss Gloria. They went home. For us the work continued.

The next morning Madame served us the meal. A very nice woman. Every morning I brought wood to this woman for cooking. Every morning I put down wood to him, then joined my friends and the boss. And I went to work. Tear off trees, …

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North Deep Creek Landscape

Photographs from the collection of Joanne Tapiolas

Cellophane Belt

Recycling is not a new concept.

Held in private collections, many amazing artefacts made by the Italian POWs have survived.  While, the Australian War Memorial has a number of items made or belonging to Italian POWs in their Heraldry Collection, research for this project has unearthed artefacts ‘unknown’ to public collections.

Basil Wyllie of Mooloo Gympie had three Italian prisoners of war on his farm: Alfredo Montagnini from Montefascone Viterbo, Raffaele Scrigno from Albanova Napoli and Pietro Verrengia from Cellole Napoli.

One of the items made by the Italians was a belt.  An example of war arts and crafts, it is fashioned from the cellephone wraps from cigarette packets.   Basil Wyllie has written on the inside of the belt: 1942 Egypt Italian.

A special thank you to Basil Wyllie’s daughter Noela White (Wyllie) for sharing this wonderful relic.

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Belt made by Italian POWs on Basil Wyllie’s Farm Mooloo

(from the collection of Noela White (Wyllie))

Percy Miles from a neighbouring Mooloo farm,  remembered, “Some of the things they used to do to beat the boredom… One was to collect all the cellophane wrapping on cigarette packets and fold it up and plait it into a belt.”  

Alex Miles, son of Percy Miles, had telephoned me in 2017 about his families prisoners of war.  Alex told me about the belts the Italians made. Thinking leather, I was not prepared for the word ‘cellophane’.  I had no previous reference to belts made from cellophane.  I was intrigued.  Alex then sent me photos of the ‘belt’ and I was amazed.

This seemingly ‘fragile’ material, cellophane, has been prepared and fashioned in such a manner that one belt has survived.  While the white cellophane has yellowed with age, this double sided belt must have taken many many hours to make and comprises of hundreds of cigarette packet wraps.

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Close Up of Belt made by Italian POWs on Basil Wyllie’s Farm Mooloo

(from the collection of Noela White (Wyllie))

But this was not just an object of war.  Making belts from the cellophane wraps of cigarette packets and chocolate boxes was a new fashion in 1930’s.  Newspaper articles sing the praises of this fashion statement being made in Paris and London.

So how does one make a belt from cellophane… the full instructions can be found in the 1937 newspaper article as referenced below and available from Trove.

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1937 ‘Belt Made from Cellophane’, The Maitland Daily Mercury (NSW : 1894 – 1939), 10 July, p. 3. , viewed 20 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article126512099

Recycling is not a new concept.

eBook Walking in their Boots

Walking in their Boots in now an eBook.

Published through kobo.com  copies are now available for purchase.

Prices are: €9.49 and AUD $14.99

At present Walking in their Boots is only available in English.

Read more about the book: Walking in their Boots

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A Beautiful Lesson of Life

Vale: Ian Roderick HARSANT

15.7.42 to 9.7.18

It was on Ian’s Warrill View farm that I felt closest to this history.  Ian walked me back to 1944 and introduced me to his playmates: Francesco Pintabona, Salvatore Mensile,  Vincenzo Nocca, Domenico Masciulli.

Through Ian, I could see Ian as a toddler sitting on Frankie’s shoulder, I could hear the Italians singing to the strumming of a mandolin, I caught a glimpse of Domenico walking through the paddocks from Cyril Rackley’s farm  and I could feel the emotion and nostalgia of those days.

I met Ian in July 2017 after many phone calls and discussions about this history. We continued our conversations, as Ian honestly understood my passion for this history and the importance of recording it. With his dry sense of humour and gravely voice, Ian taught me much about life and family.

Ian was taken too soon from his family. 

My sincere condolences to Carmel and family. 

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Ian Harsant and Joanne Tapiolas : Warrill View 13th July 2017

*** I have reposted this story, in memory of Ian Harsant***

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.

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 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

Finding Ferdy

Finding Ferdy is like finding treasure…

Tim Dwyer had heard his father’s stories about the Italian prisoners of war on their property at Aratula during WW2. He knew their names and a little bit about them, but it wasn’t until he took over from his mum, as letter writer to one of the POWs, that he appreciated the bonds of friendship formed over 65 years before.

Ferdinando Young Man

Ferdinando Pancisi

(photo courtesy of Ferdinando Pancisi)

Tim continued to write to Ferdinando Pancisi (known as Ferdy) from 2010 but the ceasation of replies from Italy in recent years signalled the end of a era.

In a tribute to his parents and Ferdy, Tim while on holiday in Italy in 2017, decided to visit Ferdy’s village Civitella di Romagna.  With an envelope in his hand and very basic Italian, Tim asked a lady in the street for directions to the address written on the paper.

With much gesticulation and explanation,  Tim’s village guide understood he was “The Australian” and knocked on a door and roused 100 year old Ferdy.

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Anna Pancisi, Tim Dwyer and Ferdinando Pancisi September 2017

(from the collection of Tim Dwyer)

Finding Ferdy was like finding treasure and Tim left Civitella di Romagna with a heavy heart.  There was much he wanted to say and questions he wanted to ask but his holiday schedule and language were against him.

Realising the importance of capturing the memories and stories of Ferdy, not only of his time with the Dwyer family, but also his time as a soldier and prisoner of war, Tim engaged the services of Tammy Morris, a Kiwi living in Tavarnelle, Chianti.

The legacy of friendship between an Italian POW and the Dwyer family, is the capturing and recording of this vital first hand account of the life of an Italian soldier and POW.  Read the full story: PANCISI Ferdinando.

Tammy and her husband Nicola Cianti arranged to visit Ferdinando, tape his memories, transcribe them then translate them.  Tammy said, “Ferdinando has an extremely fresh memory and is an energetic and jovial person!”

Ferdy walked back in time and explained about his time as a soldier and medic in Libya, his capture, working in the hospital in a POW camp in India,  his first impressions of his farm boss (Tim’s father), his return home and almost emigrating to USA and Ferdy sang  SOTTO IL CIEL DI BANGALORE.

Ferdy reflected about his return to Italy in 1947,

“They prepared my bed, heated it up for me.  I had a warm welcome, felt cozy, happy to be home. The only problem was that when I woke up in the morning, I felt kind of out of place! I was used to moving around and seeing the World. How was I going to make it here? I was feeling a bit like a fish out of water! This little village was too small for me!”

Even as a young man, Ferdy had a gift for wise words and in a letter he wrote to Pat Dwyer in 1946, he sends a message: ‘A cheer up to Pauline! Tell her she should be glad because youthness passes away like a wind and nobody can’t stop it’.

When talking about Tim and Cathy’s unannounced visit, Ferdy’s philosophy on life is revealed: “You see, this is the joy of living life -when you don’t know what kind of surprise is coming your way, making each day a pleasure”.

And quite possibly Ferdinando Pancisi’s philosophy and positivity guided him through those difficult war years.

I congratulate Tim on his efforts to co-ordinate a remarkable mission to capture Ferdy’s memories. I thank also Tammy Morris  and Nicola Cianti for realising the importance of Ferdy’s journey as a soldier and prisoner of war and their willingness to record this history.

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Tammy Morris, Ferdinando Pancisi, Anna Pancisi and Nicola Cianti 2017

(photo courtesy of Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti)

 

 

 

 

Italian Family Needs Boonah’s Help

Luigi Tommasi is researching his grandfather’s journey as an Italian soldier and prisoner of war during WW2 and his search has brought him to Boonah.

Luigi’s grandfather Salvatore Morello together with Pietro Pepe, both from Castri di Lecce were captured in the Battle of Bardia: 3 – 5th January 1941.  Together on 29th July 1944, they were sent to the Q10 Prisoner of War Control Centre for allocation to farm work.

Their first placement was on the farm of G. Bartholomew.  In the first week of September 1944, both men were sent to the Boonah Hospital. It is possible that Salvatore and Pietro were reassigned to another farmer after their release from hospital.

Luigi remembers, “My grandfather said he had worked at a large farm in Boonah, which used the tractor to reap the hay and a horse to gather the cattle. If I remember correctly the horse was white, to which he was very fond of. His work also included milking dairy cows and raising cattle, sheep and pigs. He also told us that the owner of the farm was lame.”

Salvatore’s time on Boonah farms was barely eight months as due to ongoing medical issues and chronic appendicitis he returned to Hay Prisoner of War Camp and further hospitalisation.  “My grandfather spoke with fondness about his time working on Australian farms, I always thought that he was on farms for much longer.  I think he was well treated because he had good memories.  We had no idea where in Australia he was sent, but with thanks to Joanne Tapiolas, we now know this place was Boonah,” Luigi said.

 Morello India - Copy

Pietro Pepe, unknown, Salvatore Morello c. 1942

British POW Camp in India

Salvatore and Pietro spent three years in POW Camps in India and the only photos of Salvatore and Pietro during their time as prisoners of war were taken in India. Possibly the photo above combined with Salvatore’s memories of farm life, might jog the memories of a few Boonah locals.

Luigi has contacted researcher Joanne Tapiolas, to assist him with his quest.  “This journey is an emotional one for Salvatore’s daughter, Antonia.  Her father left home in 1939 and did not return until 1947. Eight years, is a very long time for a little girl.  Helping Luigi and Antonia is an extension of the research project into the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland.  There is an increase in the number of people in Australia who are tracing their family history, so it comes as no surprise that Italian families are also interested in the history of their family members,” explains Tapiolas.

If Boonah locals can assist Luigi Tommasi  in any way, Joanne Tapiolas can be contacted at joannetappy@gmail.com  Further information on the research project can be found at italianprisonersofwar.com

 

 

 

 

‘Bendles’ and Italian POWs

In Memory of Nicola Evangelista

Maxina Williams from the Buderim Garden Club has brought to light information about Italian prisoners of war in Buderim during World War 2.  While undertaking research for a book for the Buderim Garden Club, Maxina has linked a “well known landscape designer, author, artist, photographer and conservationist, Edna Walling” to “a little house in Buderim which once housed Italian POWs”.

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Bendels Cottage

(Photograph courtesty of Maxina Williams)

Maxina writes, “Edna purchased the cottage, known as “Bendles”, which she considered ideal for her requirements. Bendles has an interesting history, having originally been built during the Second World War by the Beamish family as a hut to house three Italian prisoners of war who were working on their farm. After the war it was moved to its present location on the corner of Quiet Valley Crescent and Lindsay Road and renovated”.

According to the records, HE Beamish from Buderim had three Italian POWs work for him. Sebastiano Fresilli, Tommaso Mallozzi and Nicola Evangelista arrived on the Beamish farm on 3.3.44.

Nambour.Beamish.Sebastiano Fresilli

Italian Prisoner of War identity card – Fresilli, Sebastiano – PWI 57236

National Archives of Australia: NAA: J3118, 65

Additionally, another story emerges from the past. Nicola Evangelista was 28 years old when he died at Q2 Nambour Centre, Sydney Street on 30 April 1945. His burial took place at Nambour Cemetery 1 May 1945, attended by Captain Ryan and Evangelista’s employer Mr HE Beamish.

A farmer from Cassino Frosinone, Evangelista died from lobar pneumonia and acute pancreatitis.  He had spent four years as a prisoner of war since his capture on 27 March 1941 at Keren (Cheren) when he was a private with a guard unit: II Reggimento Granatieri di Savoia.  He arrived in Melbourne on Mooltan 29 December 1943 before transfer to Cowra No 12 (A) 30 December 1943 and then movement to Gaythorne. His time in Buderim was fourteen months.

Upon quiet reflection, a POW hut which was the final home for Evangelista became Edna Walling’s home until her death in 1973, and is now situated amongst quiet and reflective gardens of Bendles Cottages.