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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.
*** 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com Further information on the research project can be found at italianprisonersofwar.com
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”.
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.
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.
My research into Italian prisoners of war in Queensland has a number of public faces: the book Walking in their Boots, the website: italianprisonersofwar.com and the facebook page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia
It was through the facebook page that I received notification from Nino Amante in Italy. On 23rd March 2018, Nino wrote, “Sono il figlio di Angelo Amante, il più alto nella foto.” Nino had not only found a photo of his father on the facebook page but he then found the website’s article, A Day in the life of … and comments about his father’s time working on a farm ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian via Gympie 72 years ago.
This was an accident. Nino had been searching the internet for an article about his son, named for his grandfather, Angelo Amante, and instead found his father. Nino was overwhelmed.
I believe that things happen for a reason. I do not know the chances of bringing together the son of an Italian prisoner of war and the son of a Goomboorian farmer. But a google search and a phone call* has brought together the two sides to this history.
Nino Amante’s words and contact has brought this story ‘full circle’. “E’ stata per me una grande emozione avere delle informazioni da aggiungere a quelle raccotle dall sua viva voce, quando mi parlava del period della sua prigionia,” Nino reflects. Nino not only has knowledge about his father’s time on this farm, but he has a connection to Jim and John Buchanan who were young boys at the time and who have fond memories of Angelo.
More importantly, Angelo’s story before and after ‘Redslopes’ emerges. At 19 years old, Angelo Amante began his military training, first in Turin and then in Bolzano. He was a member of the 7th Reggimento Bersaglieri(marksmen). He was then transferred to Taranto and in 1941, he left Italy by ship for Libya. He was lucky to survive the journey to Libya, as many soldiers died after the fleet was bombed by the British.
Angelo was captured at Gialo, a Libyan oasis town on 25th November 1941. Gialo was taken by British and Punjabi troops on 24th November 1941, but a small group of Italian soldiers continued fighting in the north east El Libba sector. After four hours of combat, two Italian had been killed and 27 Italian soldiers were taken prisoner.
Possibly the photo below of a relaxed Angelo was taken at Benghasi, his first experience of Libya. Like many of his generation, Angelo spent ‘his youth’ in foreign and difficult circumstances. He returned home to Italy when he was 25 years old. Nino explains, “Sei dei suoi anni piubelli trascorsi fra guerra e prigionia.”
Angelo’s journey is like many of his peers. Italy to the battle field to Egypt to India to Australia to Italy. Angelo arrived in Melbourne Australia 29th December 1943. The next day he was in the Cowra PW & I Camp. His time there is recorded in a group photo Cowra 6th February 1944. Ten days later, Angelo was sent to Gaythorne Queensland 16th February 1944.
Before Nino’s internet search, he had one photo and the stories about his father’s time in Australia, but he did not know dates or places. Nino says, “Sapevo che mio padre era stato in Australia, ma in quale parte di Australia? Che era vissuto in una fattoria, ma quale fattoria?” But his time in Australia was always remembered with fondness, a place to which Angelo wanted to return. In 1956, Angelo made preparations to emigrate to Australia with his wife and family. During a medical visit, it was discovered he had a small heart problem and his dreams of going to Australia ended. But his family kept safe a small photo of three men and two boys, knowing that it was an important part of Angelo’s memories of Australia.
For over seven decades, this photo did not have a context. Nino knew that the photo was from his father’s time on a farm, but he did not know where in Australia this farm was located. Angelo told his family a story about chilli plants he had grown on this farm and now he knows it was Jim, a little boy who tasted the chilli with severe repercussions. Angelo told his family about a trip to the city, to undergo a medical visit at the hospital and the wonder of seeing so many kangaroos on the way.
Jim’s memories and Angelo’s stories to his family are being slotted together. Nino writes that his father arrived in Australia from POW camps in India with very poor health. Angelo had contracted malaria and Nino remembers the story of an old lady on the farm who realised the seriousness of his condition and encouraged him to eat and the need for him to regain his strength. Jim knows exactly who this lady was, his Aunty Mag [Margaret], who was the matron (supervisor) for the Land Army girls on the farm. Angelo’s visit to the Gympie Hospital is recorded in the farm diary: August 21 1944 – Angelo going to hospital. And the stories travel back and forth between Italy and Australia and across the decades.
Upon Angelo’s return to Italy, he made his way home to Fiumefreddo di Sicilia and his widowed mother. Angelo married in 1953 and moved to Mascali, his wife’s home town. He continued to work the land and raised his family: Nino and Giuseppina. In 1984, Angelo passed away at the age of 63.
The sharing of stories and memories, the answering of questions and the ‘Miracoli di Internet!’ is like finding those missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle and finally being able to put them in place.
*In September 2017, I telephoned Jim Buchanan in Gympie. I had been told that he was the person to speak to about some of the Italian prisoners of war in the Gympie district. Jim’s words to me were, “I think you will be surprised with what I have to tell you. I don’t think you will have found another one like this.” And surprised I was!
Jim’s father Neil Buchanan had kept a farm diary for ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian. Peppered through the entries from 7th March 1944 to 1st January 1946 are references not only about farm life, but also to the Italian prisoners of war at ‘Redslopes’. This diary offers a very unique and firsthand account about the employment of Italian prisoners of war.
On 24th March 2018, I telephoned Jim again. I told Jim that I had some extraordinary news for him. Angelo’s son had sent me an email. It took a few minutes for the news to sink in. Jim is rarely lost for words. I said to Jim, I wonder if Angelo took any photos home to Italy with him. Nonplussed, Jim felt that this is not probable as very few photos were taken in those days. Like Nino Amante, this journey for the Buchanan family is emotional and remarkable.
I was five years old at the time, but I have clear memories of the time when Domenico Masciulli lived and worked on our farm at Radford via Harrisville. I was the chatterbox in the family; my eldest sister Judith was at school and my youngest sister Diana was a baby, so I think I had more time around and with Domenico than my sisters.
Christmas 1944: we went to Rosewood to be with my grandparents. With my dad having cancer, this was to be his last Christmas. Domenico and Frank (Uncle Roddie’s POW) were loaned a vehicle so that they could also join us there. The family photo captures those present: ‘The Hardings’ all my mother’s family and Domenico and Frank. This was our last family photo taken with daddy; a special photo.
Christmas 1944 Harding Family Rosewood
Standing: Bill Harding, Joyce Harding, Alice Harding, Connie Isles, Tom Isles, Margo McMillian, Robert McMillan, Edith Rackley (Mum), Judith Rackley (to the front), Cyril Rackley (Daddy), Diana Rackley (Baby) Francesco Pintabona, Domenico Masciulli, Dugald McMillan
Seated: Gran Harding with baby Nancy Harding, Alan Harding, Grandad Harding, Helen Rackley
(Photo courtesy of Helen Mullan [nee Rackley])
Daddy had a small crops farm with some cows for cream which we sold. Our farm produced corn, lucerne, pumpkins, potatoes, watermelons, cream melon or Indian Cream I think they were called, carrots, beetroot, peas and tomatoes. Daddy also had bee hives, so we always had honey.
Domenico’s lodgings was referred to as the ‘worker’s hut’. It was similar to one on my Uncle Roddie Harsant’s farm and was probably a standard worker’s hut. I remember Domenico sitting on the step and me looking into a small room with a bed; being told not to go into the hut and being a little five year old, that’s most likely all I could see. There was always a farm hand on our property, Mum used to say she always had work men to feed.
Domenico was like part of the family and ate with us. Judith first, then while she was at school, I took the smoko, which was a billy of tea, cake or biscuits down to the men in the paddock, morning and afternoon. The most memorable meal we had with Domenico and Frank who was at Uncle Roddie’s farm, was a Sunday lunch. We were all going to Church. Mum had a Rolled Beef Roast cooking, however Domenico asked if he could cook spaghetti for us as the canteen van had called that week and a box of spaghetti was purchased, the size of a half bushel case. Domenico asked mum for a big vessel to cook the spaghetti. Mum got him a saucepan. NO, not big enough to cook the spaghetti; so out came the boiler and off we went to church. On arriving home, Domenico and Frank were in the backyard cooking the spaghetti in the copper. Mum was flabbergasted!
Those plates coming out to the table still stay vividly in my memory…. piled high. Spaghetti, tomato sauce with slices of Roast Beef and topped with cheese. The following day Domenico was really sick, but he wouldn’t have it that he ate too much spaghetti. There began my love of spaghetti. He taught us how to use a spoon and fork to eat it and this I have passed down to my children and grandchildren.
The only words I can remember Domenico teaching us were ‘forchetta’ – fork which he used while teaching us to eat spaghetti; ‘bambina’ – baby, which Di was; and ‘bicheralia’ – he used when singing Di a lullaby. Di called him ‘Manny’, part of ‘Domenico’ I guess. She was only 22 months old when we parted.
Before he left the farm, Domenico gave me the needlework of “Madonna and Child”. He had painstakingly worked on a men’s handkerchief, when in a prison camp in India, I believe. It was kept folded in an envelope for many years. It is my special treasure, a reminder of Domenico, and I felt I needed to share this treasure with everyone, so I had it framed. It has pride of place in my China Cabinet. You can see that is a combination of needlework and drawing with a painted background. I have often wondered if he ran out of cotton as there are sections which have not been embroidered like the feet and the arms of the angel. It looks like he copied the image because you can see his pencilled in grid pattern. As an adult, I reflect upon what it must have been like in the POW camp in India and the hours he spent embroidering this “Madonna and Child”.
Madonna and Child: Domenico Masciulli
(courtesy of Helen Mullan [nee Rackley])
Other memories I have are of Domenico giving me an Italian coin and Salvital. I treasured that coin which was about the size of a threepence, but over my childhood, I lost it. Salvital was another first for us. It was available on the Canteen Van. Domenico would give us a drink now and then, not with chilled and iced water like it is used today though. There is also a letter that Domenico wrote to mum after he left the farm. I found it in mum’s paperwork but for the time, it is ‘lost’.
Domencio shared a special Christmas with my family. The photo of this Christmas in 1944 together with Domenico’s needlework gift to me, are fond reminders of the time our Italian prisoner of war worker lived on our farm.
Helen Mullan [Rackley]