Tag Archives: Italian Prisoners of War

The Footprints Project

Join the journey and follow the footprints of the Italian prisoners of war

Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War Project is a community project supported by Australians in five states and Italian families in ten countries.****

Background

What started out as a personal journey to read about the Italian POW Camp outside of Home Hill has resulted in a comprehensive, diverse and rich collection of stories, letters, photographs, testimonies, artefacts, music, newspaper articles spanning 79 years: the battles on the Libyan/Egyptian border December 1940 to the present.

Over the past four years, I have heard these words many times over, “but you have it wrong, there were no Italian prisoners of war in Queensland”.

And this became a focal point for the research: to record this chapter in Queensland’s history before it was completely forgotten.

But like ripples in a pond,  Queensland’s history of Italian POWs expanded across and was part of a greater history and so the project extended and expanded: to other Australia states and to Italian families in ten countries across the world.

 

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What makes this research unique and diverse?

Perspective.

Contributions have come from far and wide:  farmers, farmers’ wives, farming children, the town kids, families of Australian Army interpreters, children of Italians who were prisoners of war, Italians who were prisoners of war, the local nurse, the mother of an ex-POW, government policy.

What does the research encompass?

Website: italianprisonersofwar.com

Facebook Page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia

Music Book: Notations for songs and dance music by Ciccio Cipolla.

Farm Diary: daily notations regarding farm life during war time including information on Italian POWs and Land Army Girls.

Discussion about our Queensland research at conference in Catania Sicily May 2019 on prisoner of war experiences.

Memories in Concrete: Giuseppe Miraglia from Enna Sicily and Adriano Zagonara from Bagnara di Romagna Ravenna.

Donations to the Australian War Memorial of two artefacts made by Gympie Italian prisoners of war

Two publications: Walking in their Boots and Costanzo Melino: Son of Anzano (in collaboration with Rosa Melino)

Journey of two Italian families from Italy to visit Queensland and ‘walk in the footsteps of their fathers’: Q1 Stanthorpe and Q6 Home Hill

POW Kit Bags: Adriano Zagonara and Sebastiano Di Campli

The Colour Magenta

Handbooks: L’Amico del Prigioniero, Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War, Piccolo Guido per gli Italiani in Australia

Voices from the Past: five testimonials from Italian soldiers who worked on Queensland farms.

Letters written by Italian prisoners of war to family in Italy, to their Queensland farmers and to the children of farmers, written by mother of an Italian POW to a Queensland nurse, written by the Italians to their interpreter, Queensland farmer to Italian.

Photographs of Italian soldiers in full dress uniform, Italian soldiers in Libya during training, Italians as POWs with their Queensland families, Italians on their Wedding Day and with their families, Italians in POW camps in India.

Handmade items: embroideries, wooden objects, cellophane belt, silver rings, paintings, cane baskets, metal items, chess sets, theatre programs.

Contributions by ten Italian families whose fathers and family returned to Australia as ‘new Australians’.

Identification of five buildings used as prisoner of war accommodation.

Publication of three guides for Italian families to assist in their search for information about their fathers and grandfathers.

Collaboration with numerous Italian and Australian families; local museums and family history associations; journalists; translators; collectors of historic postal items; local libraries.

Did you know?

The website operates as a ‘virtual’ museum and library.

The website has a wide reaching readership to 118 countries!

150 articles have been written for the website.

My Wish List

In the beginning:

I had one wish, to find one Queensland family who remembered the Italians working and living on their farm. Thank you Althea Kleidon, you were the beginning with your photos and memories of Tony and Jimmy.

My adjusted wish list, to find three photographs of Italian POWs on Queensland farms. Then came Rosemary Watt and Pam Phillips with their collection of photos, a signature in concrete and a gift worked in metal.

….

Now:

To have the three Finding Nonno guides translated into Italian.

If I win Gold Lotto, to have Walking in their Boots translated into Italian.

 

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****What does the future hold… After four and a half years of research, over 150 website articles, two publications, thousands of emails, visits, interviews, cataloguing etc …

I plan to go at a slightly slower pace.  I will continue to work offline and in the background answering questions, assisting families and adding to this historical collection.

I have republished articles in a chronological order starting with the soldiers and their battles. And I will slot in new articles and add new information along the way. Hopefully this will convey ‘the journey’ of the Italian soldiers from capture through to repatriation and for some Italians, a return to Australia.

Join the journey and follow the footprints of the Italian prisoners of war.

 

 

 

A Special First

Alex Miles from Mooloo via Gympie visited me in Townsville in September 2018.  He brought with him two special items associated with the Mooloo Italian prisoners of war.  His childhood neighbour Noela White (nee Wyllie) had a cellophane belt made by one of the POWs and Alex had a coin which Francesco Ciaramita had started to shape into a ring.  Both Noela and Alex felt that the items needed a ‘home’ where they could be appreciated as part of the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland.  A decision was made to dontate them to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and I had the honour of beginning the process.

Mooloo 1

While the AWM had similar items in their collection, these items were made by Australian soldiers.  An application was made to the AWM to see if members of the acquistion team were interested in the items, this is stage one of the donation process.

Stage 2 was the sending of the items with historical details to the acquistion team for further investigation and evaluation.

Stage 3 followed with the  items being formally accepted into the AWM collection.

22nd November 2018

Dear Joanne,

Thank you kindly for returning the Deed of Gift. I am glad to let you know that the items you have donated are now officially part of the National Collection.

Thank you for your generous support of the Australian War Memorial.

Yours sincerely,

Aiden Silvestro

Acquisitions Officer | Registration

A special first

Walking in their Boots

 

Walking in their Boots

Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland 1943-1946

Walking in their boots JPEG

North Queenslander, Joanne Tapiolas, has been delving into the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland and slowly the stories and memories of this chapter in Queensland history have emerged.

Walking in their Boots incorporates the facts and the personal narratives  from the ten districts where the POWs worked and lived.  Queenslanders and Italians sharing their memories, artefacts, photos and letters have added a richness and diversity to this chronicle.

Walking in their Boots is a record of this history and a valuable reference to the background and context of Italian POWs in Australia.

Book now available

$25.00 plus postage and handling

200+ pages

English version only

For further details and to place an order:

contact Joanne Tapiolas e. joannetappy@gmail.com

Precis of Walking in their Boots

Over 1500 Italian prisoners of war, captured in the battlefields of North Africa, came to Queensland during World War 2.  The Italians provided a much-needed workforce for farmers throughout nine south-east Queensland districts.  Additionally, 250 Italians worked at the Commonwealth Vegetable Farm on the Burdekin River, to supply fresh produce to the north’s military forces.

Queensland farming families welcomed the Italians onto their farms and into their homes.  A temporary refrain from life behind barbwire fences, friendships were forged, and lasting memories remain clear over seven decades later.

The Italian prisoners of war left their footprints in the landscape and in the memories of Queenslanders. Walking in their Boots traces the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland and tells the stories of a time when POWs worked on our Queensland farms.

Boonah.Niebling1

Footprints in Concrete

Farm of Ron Niebling Lake Moogerah via Boonah

(photo courtesy of Pam Phillips (nee Niebling)

 

Voices from the Past

At the beginning of this project, I had a wish list.  It was a simple list: to find one Queenslander who remembered the Italian prisoners of war and to double the number of photos of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland.  The only three photos in the public domain which feature our Queensland POWs  are housed in the John Oxley Library.

My wish list  for one story and three photos has been exceeded many times over.

BUT  I had never expected to find the testimonies of Italians about their time as prisoners of war. This project is honoured to have these testimonies as part of its collection.

 Antonino Lumia’s  story is told in more depth in A Voice from the Past, Fighting in North Africa and Capture.Surrender.Imprisonment .  His grandson Damiano Lumia recorded his grandfather’s memories over 40 years ago ensuring that the voice of the Italian soldier can be heard and that his experiences are not forgotten.

Lumia.JPG

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR HAVING A MEAL IN THEIR MESS AT NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. PICTURED ARE: 46007 ANTONIO LUMIA (1); 45824 BRUNO GALLIZZI (2); 46734 ALMO STAGNARO (3); 48355 GIUSEPPE ARRIGONI; (4); 45087 ANTONIO BACCIGALUPO (5); 46620 MICHELE RIZZO (6); 46626 EMILIO RUOCCO (7); 46635 FRANCO RONDELLI (8); 45900 ALESSANDRO IANNOTTA (9).

(AWM, Image 063371 McInnes, Geoffrey)

Costanzo Melino’sstory is part of a book written and published by his daughter Rosa Melino “Anzaro: The Home of My Ancestors”.  Captured… On the Move and Captured at Bardia share the everyday details of life as a young Italian soldier.  Costanzo returned to Australia after the war with his family following later. Life as a soldier was difficult but life as a ‘new’ Australian presented many challenges for the Melino family.

Q3 Gympie Italian prisoner of war Melino Costanzo

Costanzo Melino c 1940

(photo courtesy of Rosa Melino)

Ferdinando Pancisi is 100 years old and living and working in a tiny village Civorio in Alta Romagna.  Tim Dwyer (ex Boonah) arranged for Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti to visit Ferdinando (Ferdy) in October 2017.  His memories were recorded on 21st October 2017. They offer a stoic perspective on life, war, death and imprisonment.  Ferdy had worked on the farm of Pat Dwyer Fassifern via Boonah and for over 70 years the Dwyer family have corresponded with Ferdy.  At first it was Pat Dwyer, then his wife Joie and recently son Tim.  This is a special family connection and legacy.  Against all odds, Tim arranged for Ferdy to be interviewed so that his ‘voice’ will never be silenced.

Ferdy.Anna.Tim.Ferdy

Anna Pancisi, Tim Dwyer and Ferdinando Pancisi

(photo courtesy of Cathy Dwyer)

Angelo Valianteis a well known and much respected resident of the Stanthorpe district.  His story is recorded in a book, newspapers and a mural painting.  Seizing an opportunity and an offer to have an interview filmed, I travelled with Ann Megalla to Stanthorpe in October 2017 to talk with Angelo about his time as a prisoner of war.

Stanthorpe.Valiante

Angelo Valiante – Mural by Guido van Helten : Stanthorpe

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

The Hand of Friendship

Monto.DowlingWarren.Pace.Dunn Syd (5)

Adolfo D’Addario

(from the collection of Assunta Austin)

Adolfo D’Addario was a resourceful man.  Life decisions were always made in the interest of his family and his work ethic ensured his children and family learnt the importance of respect and seizing opportunities. Upon his death, Roy Theodore from Saturday News Mail wrote that Adolfo D’Addario was “a distinguished, courteous and industrious man.”

Born in Salle Pescara, Adolfo worked as a barber and married Assunta Lattanzio. With a family of three children in an economically unstable pre-war Italy, Adolfo took the opportunity to go to Abyssinia.  Italy needed a presence there after Abyssinia’s occupation by fascist Italy in 1935 and employment  in this colonial outpost offered a good wage and a promise of adventure.

Escalation of war saw Adolfo fighting in Eritrea and being captured in Asmara, its capital, on 29 April 1941.  Adolfo’s memory of that time is that the Italian soldiers were afraid of the unrelenting fighting and they thought it was a wise move to surrender to the ‘obliging’ British.

As a prisoner of war, Adolfo spent time in Sudan, contracted malaria and was imprisoned in India for almost four years.  He was one of 2076 Italian prisoners of war who made their way to Melbourne on the General William Mitchell. Arriving in February 1945 this was to be the last transport of POWs to Australia. From Melbourne, Adolfo was transferred to Cowra for processing and onward movement. Within a month of his arrival in Australia, Adolfo was sent to Gaythorne in Queensland, spent time in hospital and volunteered for farm work. He had to wait five months before he was sent to Q9 Monto in August 1945 for allocation to Tecoma, the property of Geoffrey Pownall.

Ring barking on the cattle property was hard but friendships were formed with farm workers, Les and Pat. Together they worked at an outpost camp.  As well, a special connection was made with Peter Pownall the only child in this isolated part of Queensland. Most likely, Peter reminded Adolfo of his own children back home in Italy. Peter Pownall’s memories of that time are clear, “I was called ‘Pietro’ and received birthday cards and Christmas cards once they (the POWs) left the district.  Letters from Adolfo D’Addario to my parents were always signed off with “a great kiss to my little friend Peter” or “a big hug to Peter”.  From Hay, 12.8.1946 Adolfo wrote, “Dear Peter, I express you my best wishes for your birthday. Sincerely Yours Adolfo.” I was looked after and carried around by the Italians.  Adolfo cut my hair. They made trinkets and little toys for me and I have a memory of sweets they gave me, like a boiled lolly in the shape of fruit. The Italians became my ‘playmates’ especially as they were such great family men and had had to leave their children when war started.” 

Adolfo had learnt English in India, so communication with the Pownalls was easier than other farmers would have experienced. A story about language is remembered well by Peter Pownall,”There  was the time that we left the property to go on holidays for a week.  The Italians and our Aussie workers were left to care take.  There were pigs to attend to, cows to be milked and they would ride the horses to check on the windmills.  Dad and Mum returned to a note from Adolfo, “Pig is death. Possible eat snake.”

The Pownalls treated him as one of the family and included him at the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Repatriation to Italy on board Alcantara, returned Adolfo to an Italy devastated by the war.  There were no jobs, little food and little hope for the future for him or his family.

Hard work earned Adolfo not only the respect of the Pownall family, but also an offer of sponsorship to return to Australia in 1951. Jan Joyce (nee Pownall) remembers when Adolfo returned to Uncle Geoffrey’s property:  “My sister Barbara remembers that Adolfo had a spaghetti maker. Adolfo would teach us how to pick up spaghetti to eat it the Italian way.  The spaghetti and sauce was in a dessert or porridge plate and using a fork and a soup spoon he would roll the spaghetti on the fork, using the soup spoon to hold it safely and then we could get it to our mouths without losing everything! I clearly remember my younger cousin Suzanne, Peter Pownall’s sister, helping Adolfo with English pronunciation.  She would say, “spoon Dolfo, similar moon” obviously copying the way her parents helped him. She would have been 4 or 5.”

Within two years, Adolfo had saved enough money to pay for his sons, Mario and Attilio, to join him in the Monto district.  Work opportunities at the Fairymead Sugar Cane Mill took the D’Addarios to Bundaberg.

By 1956, his wife Assunta and daughter Aminta had arrived in Australia and the family was finally reunited. Home became a well known property at Targo Street Bundaberg, with a street front adorned by a breath-taking Poinciana.

Adolfo’s road to success was rocky and unpredictable due to economic hardship, war, imprisonment, separation from his family and malaria. He had negotiated many obstacles on the road to own his home and a 130 ha cane farm at Hollands Road Meadowvale, opportunities and a future he could only have dreamed of.  But dreams do come true. Adolfo believed in his dream that  Australia would provide wonderful opportunities.

Assunta Austin, granddaughter of Adolfo, explains that her nonno spoke of Geoffrey Pownall as a very respected person in their lives and remembers with great fondness the family trips to Monto to visit the Pownalls. Reflecting on her family’s story, Assunta relates, “It is thanks to the hand of friendship that he (Geoffrey Pownall) extended to my grandfather, Adolfo, that changed the course of my father’s life and gave his future family the opportunities he could never have dreamed possible back in post-war Italy.”

Monto.DowlingWarren.Pace.Dunn Syd (7)

Adolfo D’Addario

(from the collection of Assunta Austin)

Parcels to Italy

World War 2 affected Australians directly in many ways.  We had rationing of essentials such as petrol, food items and clothing. There were numerous attacks on our shores: Darwin, Townsville and Mossman. Children of the time remember air raids, air raid shelters and drills, reduced school hours or doing lessons by correspondence.

For Italians living in invaded and bombed areas of Italy, life was one of deprivation. Food shortages, roads and railways destroyed, rumble littered streets, disappearance of residential areas  and displacement of people.

Young Boy in Naples July 1944 Lt Wayne Miller

A young boy, dressed in tattered clothes and bearing a poignant smile, in war-torn Naples Italy July 1944. Photo by Lt Wayne Miller

A Western Australian farmer who had employed Italian POWs wrote to the Western Mail, encouraging other Australians to send parcels to their Italian POW families and explaining  their circumstances.

Helping former P.O.W. farm workers

… I have been sending frequent parcels to an Italian P.O.W. who worked for us…

Many farmers in this State were appreciative of the help given by prisoners of war during a period when labour was scare and I am sure that if they knew the tragedy of these men’s lives on their return to Italy many farmers would gladly send assistance to them now.

Most of the parcels take as long as six months to reach Italy and the quickest delivery of all those that I have sent was just over three months.  Two parcels I posted in April reached Naples at the end of October. Our G.P.O. informed me that there are three groups of parcels, namely food, toilet articles and clothing and these goods must not be mixed.  Clothing must we secondhand or if new duty must be paid by the receiver in Italy.  Toilet articles can include soap, shaving gear, toothbrushes etc and food which seems to be the most appreciated is spaghetti in tins, vermicelli, baked beans, milk and jam, dipping, dried fruits, tinned cheese and tinned meat.  Clothing is very badly needed as the winter is commencing in Italy and clothing of all kinds is very scarce.

Girl Holding Toddler Italy. Naples 1944 Lt Wayne Miller

Girl holding a toddler, Naples, Italy 1944. Photo by Lt Wayne Miller

My P.O.W.s family had not seen toilet soap for five years until they received my parcel and they had not had an egg for three years. Incidentally they consider themselves among the more fortunate Italians despite the fact that they often receive only one meal a day.

The weights of parcels can be 3, 7 or 11 lb. each including the wrappings. I pack mine in light cartons and sew them up in unbleached calico and so far they have arrived in good condition. The 7lb. parcel seems to be the best size.

APPRECIATIVE.

(Western Mail (Perth, WA: 1885-1954), Thursday 27 November 1947, page 67)

Refugees, Italy 1946 UNICEF Romagnoli

In 1946, in Italy, children carry rocks from a war destroyed building to help rebuild their town. UNICEF/Romagnoli

Gentilissima Signorina Irma

A trainee nurse, Irma Vettovalli was working at the Ayr General Hospital during 1944 and 1945 when Italian prisoners of war from Q6 Home Hill Hostel were admitted to the hospital. While the military rule was that Italian prisoners of war were not to fraternise with women, Irma was not about to let military regulations get in the way of her nursing duties.

Pane Irma.jpeg

Trainee Nurse: Irma Vettovalli

(photo courtesy of Pina Vettovalli)

Agostino Leto was admitted to the hospital for chronic appendicitis 29th May 1944.  The story goes that the senior doctor at the hospital refused to operate on a prisoner of war, but the junior doctor, Dr Kelly had no hesitation in acting according to the ethical obligations of his profession.

Once he was admitted to the ward, Irma Vettovalli, realising Agostino had little English, went out of her way to speak with this patient. The Matron ordered Irma to cease her contact with this prisoner and under no circumstance was she to talk to or nurse Agostino again.  A plucky 18-year-old, Irma offered her resignation to Dr Kelly, without reason.  Upon questioning Irma, Dr Kelly identified the issue and told Irma to continue as before.

Agostino spent one month at the Ayr Hospital before returning to Q6 Hostel on 29th June 1944  but he did not return home to Prizzi Italy until January 1947. Upon his return to Italy, his recount of his one month hospital stay to his mother, prompted her to write a letter to Irma. Irma’s care and ability to speak Italian, was remembered and retold with great affection and appreciation by Agostino.

Prizzi 20 February 1947

Gentilissima Signorina Irma,

…As a mum it softened by heart and I feel an ache in which I must thank you through this sheet of paper.  I hope you accept my poor letter writing… [my son] says that yours [your visits] as a nurse were special.  He found you and only you will remain in my heart and you will be unforgettable to my dear son.  I wish that I could see you in person so I can tell you all that my poor heart feels, that I cannot put on paper.

And so my most gracious Miss, this is a small token of my esteem and from all my family to pass on to your dear ones.  I wish you good fortune and every kind of good.  Consider me your unknown friend. Rosa Leto.”

Pane, Irma Envelope

 

Mail from Rosa Leto to Irma Vettovalli

(photo courtesy of Pina Vettovalli)

Held in high regard, Dr Kelly, the medical superintendent wrote in December 1945, “she [Irma] gave eminent satisfaction, on account of her obedience, application to duty and intelligence.”

In 1992, Irma Vettovalli (now Mrs Irma Pane) received an award from the Alpini and Friends Group “expressing their profound gratitude for Irma’s ‘Noble gesture of Human Dedication for Italian Prisoners of War recuperating in hospital during the war period’.”

Irma wrote about those times, “Because of my dedication to Nursing in Ayr, I came in contact with people from all walks of life, colour and creed and having had respect and compassion for all during their illness, I too gained their respect.  Re- the war years, on some occasions only the ignorant would make hurtful remarks…”

Those war years were complicated years for Irma’s family.  Enrico Vettovalli, Irma’s father, was interned in February 1942 and sent to Gaythorne for processing and then to Loveday Internment Camp.  He was a naturalised British Subject and had been resident in Australia since March 1922.  Enrico was interned until May 1943 when he was released to work for Manpower SA.  In November 1943, he returned to Queensland.

Adding to the complexity of war, Irma’s brother Donato had in January 1942, been called to duty in the Australian Army. He was released for discharge in May 1945. Born in Italy, he was three years old when he migrated to Australia with his mother 1924.

Agostino Leto is seated first on the left.

 

Leto 3

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49115 C. Trentino; 49354 G. Ippolito; 49592 A. Poggi; 49107 G. Zunino; 48833 R. Bartoli; 49212 R. Papini; 48863 S. De Micco.

Front row: 48939 A. LETO; 49172 A. Mandrini; 57531 B. Protano; 49923 F. Carlone; 45196 A. Ciofani. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/11)