Tag Archives: Italian Prisoners of War South Australia

Legacy: Rabbit and Spaghetti

It is 70 years now since Italian Prisoners of War who worked and lived in Australia for up to six years, left Australia for their homes in Italy. Their legacy is lasting in many ways and a poignant tribute is “Rabbits & Spaghetti” as is highlighted by the label below.

“Rabbit & Spaghetti” is a wine label from the vineyards of South Australia. This wine pays tribute to the Italian Prisoners of War who worked in the grape growing industry in the state.

The label reads: “As WWII swept across Northern Africa, the idyllic landscape of Australia’s wine regions must have seemed a strange place of incarceration for a prisoner of war. And yet this is where scores of captured Italian soldiers found themselves labouring on farms and vineyards in place of a generation of young men far away at war.  Without this help many a grape grower could not have endured these times.  In return for their labour, the farmers shared their homes and tables with their ‘prisoners’. Rabbit and spaghetti was a staple and from those shared meals, traditions and friendships were born that have outlasted the war.” (Naked Wines Australia Limited, 2014)

 rabbits-and-spaghetti

 Rabbit & Spaghetti Label

(Naked Wines Australia Limited, 2014)

 

Rabbit and spaghetti was a well remembered meal made by the Italian prisoners of war on farms.  Rabbit was also referred to as ‘underground mutton’.

Artistic and Romantic

The story of Tito Neri began with two photos sent to me by Luigi Pinna from Cagliari Sardinia. They were a puzzle.  Why did Luigi’s father, Antioco Pinna have in his possession two photos of a sculpture created in South Australia by Tito Neri?    What was the story behind these photos?  Where was this sculpture of Adam and Eve created?  Did this sculpture or any record of it still exist?

Who was Tito Neri?

Tito Neri was a talented and well-respected sculptor from Villa Casone di Cesena (Forli). But for a time, he was an Italian prisoner of war living and working on South Australian farms.

While Neri’s Australian Service and Casualty Form records his occupation as bricklayer his biography relates that from a young age, he had a natural talent for art.  He went on to train at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. For further details of his work: Neri Tito

In 1939, he was sent to Libya as a soldier in the 11th Artillery Division, 202 Regiment and was captured at Alam El Tumar 9th December 1940. Sent to prisoner of war camps in India, Neri found time to sculpture with some of his memorable works being: Il Barbaelettrica, Il Duce, Il Re e L’Aquila Imperial, Don Bosco in marble, Il Re di’Ingheiterra Girogio IV, I Re Magi.*  Word spread amongst the English of his talents.

From his Australian POW record, he arrived in Melbourne, onboard the Mariposa and sent to Murchison for processing before a transfer to Sandy Creek POW Camp in South Australia.  Farm placement on farms in the S2 Willunga POW Centre and S1 Mt Barker POW Centre, left him with little time to pursue his art. A comment made by one of his employers was, “This man is a clever sculptor and all spare time is given to this. Works well otherwise.”

Neri Tito PWI 58694

Tito Neri

(NAA: A367, C85639)

He worked on a farm owned by Hartley Roy Moulds of Ashbys Road Inman Valley where he fell in love with the farmer’s daughter, Hazel who left an impression on the ‘sculptor’s soul.‘ An S2 PWCC Willunga report records, “This man is a good type, above average intellect, but romantic… Not necessarily bad but would be better employed away from women.”

 Neri was transferred to the Usher farm near Meadows and also worked for six weeks at Mr MS (Maurice Samuel)  Pearce’s farm Doringa at Paris Creek.  He also worked Mr FS Evans farm at Aldgate Stirling which was his most serene and welcoming placement.

“For his art, the years lived in Australia are much less prolific than those in India and that is due to the hard and unceasing work in the ‘farms’. In fact, Neri only sculpts a few subjects: a kangaroo, a large snake in cement, a bust of a Boss and above all, an Adam and Eve which nevertheless appears even in an Australian magazine,” as is explained in his biography by Dott. Andrea Antonioli, Commune di Cesena.

Puzzling however, is how did Antioco Pinna have in his possession two photos of Adam and Eve and the serpent, which could possibly be the sculpture mentioned in his biography.

Tito Neri. Adam and Eve

A Puzzle: Is this Tito Neri with his sculpture Adam and Eve?

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

Antioco Pinna from Cagliari Sardinia and Tito Nero from Villa Casone Forli were in different theatres of war: Pinna Wolkefit Ethiopia and Neri Alam Et Tumar Libya.  What they do have in common is time in the POW Camps in India, arrival in Australia on the Mariposa 5th February 1944, time at Loveday POW Camp in 1946 and their repatriation on Strathmore 7th November 1946.  While Pinna was assigned to work in Prisoner of War Control Hostels on government projects: forestry, Neri worked on individual farms.

Still a puzzle: where in South Australia did Neri create his Adam and Eve?  Does this sculpture still exist?  What Australian magazine was his work featured in?

*Dott. Andrea Antonioli, Ufficio Topomostica Commune di Cesena,  is the writer of TITO NERI: A Biography.

There, In Black and White

Jynette Brumpton of Banana Queensland was going through some paperwork of her parents and found old black and white negatives.  To her delight and amazement, two photos were of the Italian prisoners of war that had worked on her parents’ dairy farm at Ponde near Murray Bridge in South Australia.

Jynette’s mother Grace remembered that one fellow’s name was Paolo Bernardi but that Grace and her husband Ernest had difficulty pronouncing his name so asked if they could call him Bernard, which they did.  Also remembered is Giuseppe.  The Sneaths were going to sponsor Giuseppe to return to Australia but economic circumstances prevented this.  The third man was Giuseppe’s brother-in-law.

Sneath Murray Bridge

Giuseppe Pagano, Domenico La Torre and Paolo Bernardi at Sneath Farm Ponde SA 1944/45

(photo courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

And so began Jynette’s journey to discover the stories of her parents’ POWs.  A NAA request gave the name of the third man: Domenico La Torre. “My mum at 96 is a bit sketchy about things that long ago but still remembers some things clearly.  A clear memory is that Giuseppe always wore a tie. Mum says that when they received a letter from Giuseppe asking for sponsorship dad went to see the relevant authorities in Adelaide to see what was involved.  After much soul searching and shuffling the money around dad felt that he just wasn’t in a secure enough position financially to sponsor someone,” explains Jynette.

All three were captured at Bardia on 4th January 1941.  From Nocelleto (Napoli), brothers-in-law Giuseppe Pagano and Domenico La Torre stuck together as when they were processed at Geneifa in Egypt the Middle East Numbers issued were 70004 and 70006.  With 40,000 Italians surrendered/captured at Bardia, staying together was no easy task.  Paolo Bernardi came from Terracina Littoria.

An additional document which sheds light on farming life in 1944 is the farm ledger kept by Ernest Archibald Sneath.  This ledger offers a window in past farming practices.  It tells of the small crops grown through the seeds purchased, the income from milk production, the cost of screws, nails, steel wool, oil, petrol and diesel.  Before Jynette found the negatives and began her search about her family’s Italian POWs, the meaning of the notation PWCC would have eluded her.  Now Jynette knows that the 9 was paid to the prisoner of war control centre (PWCC) at Murray Bridge: S4 PWCC Murray Bridge.  The labour cost was £1/week per Italian indicating that the canteen truck would have visited the farm on a three-week cycle.

Sneath Murray Bridge Farm Ledger

Farm Ledger for Ernest Sneath’s Farm at Ponde SA

(courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

Jynette noticed that only £7 was paid in one cycle, but when cross-referenced with the Service and Casualty Forms, Domenico La Torre had left the farm to go to hospital between 17-11-44 and 30-11-44.  Jynette comments, “This history is like one big giant puzzle.  The photos are part of the puzzle, as are dad’s ledgers and the Italian Service Forms.”

Another piece of the puzzle emerges about a fruit and vegetable shop in Mannum. Jynette explains, “My parents ran a fruit and veg shop during part of the war years. I knew that and can remember going into it when I was small. It was in Mannum the local shopping centre. My maternal grandmother ran it for dad. But what I didn’t know until recently when mum and I were having one of our POW chats is that she said it was Giuseppe who made the suggestion to dad in the first place.  My father was a great veg gardener and Giuseppe noticing that, asked dad why he didn’t sell to the people in Mannum. So after some discussion that’s what they decided to do. The POWs would grow the vegetables, dad would go weekly to Murray Bridge to procure fruit and Nan would run the shop. My Nan kept the books and the shop paid £3/week for the POW wages [reimbursement to dad].  I should imagine that once the Italians left dad wouldn’t have been able to keep growing veg as well as maintain the irrigation and dairy etc. The list of veg is interesting as some of those varieties like Greenfeast peas are still being grown so it’s nice to think that some things stay the same,” explains Jynette.

Sneath Veg Shop Mannum

Mannum Shop Notebook

(courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

Another important find for Jynette are other farm records kept by her family, revealing a little more of Australia’s agricultural history.  The pages reveal what was planted and when the crops should be ready to harvest as well as the different varieties of vegetables grown seven decades ago.  Today, most people would not know the difference between a triamble and gramma pumpkin or Chatenay or Manchester Table carrots.

Sneath family

The Sneath Family May 1947.  Back: Dad’s mother Ina, Grace, Ernest with Carol Front:  Jynette, cat Sadie, Dennis with George Fletcher dad’s stepfather.

(photo courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

This is more than just the story of three prisoners of war on a South Australian farm.  These three Italians were part of a group of 13,500 Italian prisoners of war working on Australian farms from 1943-1946. This is also the story of farm diversity during war time; the hospitality of Australian farmers; the Italians who are remembered seven decades later and whose footsteps are found in black and white photos, on the pages of farm ledgers and in the memories of Australians. Jynette Brumpton’s black and white negatives have added ‘colour’ to this history.

PS Grace Sneath also remembered that there was another Italian POW who didn’t stay long.  After further research, a document reveals Silvio Pellacani was transferred from EA Sneath at Ponde to EB Brand at Ponde on 3rd May 1944.  He was sent to S4 PWCC Murray Bridge on 18th March 1944.  He was likely to have been replaced with Paolo Bernardi who arrived at S4 PWCC 2nd May 1944.

 

Exceptionally Good

Luigi Pinna from Cagliari  Sardinia is on a mission.  Luigi wrote “Buongiorno, scrivo dalla Sardegna. Mio padre nato il 19 aprile 1915 San Giovanni Suergiu prov. Cagliari. io non ho molte notizie, so che era prigioniero in India poi trasferito in Australia, mi piacerebbe sapere della sua vita di prigionierro militare.” With a handful of photos, Luigi wanted to trace his father’s journey as a prisoner of war in Australia.*

Pinna Africa

Antioco Pinna : Distaccamento Autonomo Autocentro in Gondar

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

Luigi explains a little about his father’s military service: “In 1935 he was a soldier until his discharge in 1937. In 1939, he was recalled to arms, embarked and left for East Africa and assigned to the Autonomous Detachment Autocentro in Gondar. This picture [below] is dated October 23, 1940, my father is the first on the left.”

Pinna Africa 1940

Antioco Pinna [first left] in Ethiopia October 23 1940

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

Antioco’s Australian Service and Casualty Form, fills in some of the missing details.  He was captured at Uolchefit 22nd September 1941 which is to the north east of Gondar. Before his arrival in Australia, Antioco was a prisoner of war in India from 1941 – 1944.

Luigi now knows his father better, with thanks to the army officials who kept these records.

Antioco was allocated on paper to S13 Mt Gambier-Penola-Mt Burr.  His assignment was to the Mt Burr forestry sub-camp and hostel.  He had been part of the first group to set up this hostel and Vincent Healy, a forestry worker at Mt Burr said, “… and anyhow the army had a  whole heap of Italian Prisoners of War from the Middle East who had been in India and they’d, when the Japs looked like taking over India, they stuck them all on a boat and sent them out to Australian and landed… landed them, so we got landed with a camp full of those.  But er … they  didn’t cut any wood at all, oh they’d cut a few hundredweight that’s all they’d cut a few hundredweight a day and then knock off, it was too hot.  It was run by the army, I had no authority over that, that was an army camp.  It was our camp and we were to get the wood but er… we got very little wood out of them.  See the first week they were there, they put them in this camp and I went out to see the bloke in charge of the camp and I said, “When are we going to get some wood?” he said, “When we get the camp ready,” He had these blokes all painting white stones to make nice pathways round the camp and all this sort of business.” from Vincent M. (Vin) Healy J.D. Somerville Oral History Collection State Library of South Australia

But this memory does not apply to Antioco.  Basil Buttery, Captain of S13 Hostel wrote: “An excellent worker and a steadying influence and leader of other P.W…  This P.W. is needed again in this hostel on completion of [dental] treatment.  His return is requested… Excellent type. Desirous of remaining in Australia.”

Luigi says, “I never heard my father say he wanted to go back to Australia.  He was too many years away from his family and had great nostalgia for his land and his friends.” But Antioco’s photos of local residents indicates that the hospitality of locals and the respect he gained from Aussie workers left an impression on him. While Luigi understands more about his father’s time in Australia, he would like to know something more about the people in these photos.

 

 

To Jimmy Man from John

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

Another record in the National Archives highlights that Antioco had an exceptionally good character, was an excellent worker who was industrious and ‘by far the best type in S13 hostel’.  Possibly AE Warren from Millicent worked with Antioco in forestry or Antioco worked on the Warren’s farm.  With every question answered, there is another question left unanswered.

 

 

To Jimmie from AE Warren Millicent

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

My father returned to Italy and he has always been a farmer.  He worked the vineyard and made wine and also produced tomatoes, aubergines, watermelons and melons.  On 25th April 1950 he married my mother GiacominaTrincas,” reflects Luigi.  Antioco died of a heart attack in 1976.  He was 61 years of age.

Click on the link to read more: Journey of Antioco Pinna

Pinna Family 1956

Pinna Family Photo 1956: Antonio, Antioco, Luigi, Giacomina and Lucia

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

 

*All prisoners of war have two files available for viewing online at the National Archives of Australia.  The documents contain valuable information about movement, places and basic personal details.

Some states of Australia eg Western Australia and South Australia have additional archived documents.  The stumbling block for Italians doing research is the process of obtaining copies.  It is easy if you read English, but extremely difficult and confusing if Italian is your only language.  Following the guides linked in Finding Nonno: Finding Nonno and How to Order NAA Luigi has unlocked a file containing information about his father.

 

A Portable Gramophone

Music.Singing.Gramophone.

This research opens many doors into the past.  For my generation, a record player was powered by electricity and was fitted into a well-made cabinet befitting a place in the family lounge room. I knew of gramophones cranked by a handle for operation.  But I had never thought of a gramophone as being portable.

Enter Luigi Pinna from Cagliari Sardinia.  Luigi sent me a photo of his father Antioco Pinna* and taking pride of place is a portable gramophone.  My eyes were focussed on the men, Italian prisoners of war in South Australia, so I had not noticed the crank handle.  And so much of what I have been told about Italian prisoners of war and music now makes sense. Portable gramophones gave easy access to music.

Pinna Antioco.jpeg

Antioco Pinna (left) with other Italian POWs and gramophone South Australia

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

A portable gramophone allowed soldiers to take their music with them, regardless of how many times they were moved or transferred.  I read about t Jim, an Aussie soldier, who had taken his with him from the deserts of Tobruk Libya to the rainforest of Milne Bay New Guinea. And similarly, the Italian soldiers would have taken their portable gramophone from Ethiopia to India to Australia.

Be taken back to those times and listen to Jealousy  and Conchita Marquita Lolita… songs which we know the Italian POWs listened to.

One 1941 newspaper article mentioned that the Red Cross was looking for donations to send to our soldiers. “If music hath charms to soothe a troubled mind,” then surely this is just what these men want, and a good portable gramophone is always a welcome.  To be able to listen to the latest dance tune, or even a symphony orchestra when one is miles from anywhere in the desert must be quite a thrill…”

Some of the newspaper headlines of the time read:

Red Cross Wants Gramophones

Gramophones Wanted for Soldiers

A.I.F. to Learn French (via gramophone)

Gramophone from Tobruk

Gramophone

(1943 ‘Gramophone Wanted For Men In New Guinea’, Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), 11 October, p. 2. , viewed 15 Jun 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article193056681)

* Antioco Pinna was from Palma Suergio (Cagliari Sardinia).  He was sent to South Australia and allocated to S13 PWC Hostel Mt Gambier-Penola-Mt Burr.  The search for information about his stay in South Australia is  ongoing. His son Luigi is hoping to find the South Australians in photos brought back to Italy by his father.