Tag Archives: Italian Prisoners of War

Finding Nonno

The history behind nonno’s stories

Robert Perna from Detroit Michigan writes, “Many years ago my grandfather told me about his time as a POW from Italy. He surrendered in North Africa and was first shipped to Iraq. Then he was shipped to Australia and worked on a cattle farm. He told me it would take weeks to walk the fence and repair it. He said the owner owned a territory. 

I’m looking for any way to find out who he lived with. He passed many years ago, but his memory of his time there was always very clear. He did end up going back to Italy because that’s where his family was.”

And so the journey begins for a grandson to meld a grandfather’s stories with historical fact.

Using the guide Finding Nonno, Robert found with ease his grandfather’s Australian records which confirmed a few details: his nonno Arcangelo was captured in North Africa: Amba Alagi on 5.5.1941; he was sent to India (not Iraq); he was shipped to Australia: onboard the SS Uruguay in 1943 which docked at Sydney; and he was assigned to farm work: in the N11 Prisoner of War Control Centre Glen Innes.

Robert recounts the details of Arcangelo’s conscription and war service, “My grandfather went to Rome to go pay the taxes on his property. While there, they recruited him off the streets* and sent him to Africa. He could not say goodbye to his family.

From there he was sent to Northern Africa where he was in charge of a platoon. They found out they were being attacked at dawn. So they hunkered into a hill waiting for the African army to attack. Once they ran out of bullets, everyone surrendered, so no one would get killed.” 

The piecing of history continues giving credence to Arcangelo’s memories of the day he was captured 5th May 1941:

1 May 1941 Viceroy of Italian East Africa Duke of Aosta and 7,000 troops were trapped at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia by Indian 5th Indivision to the north and South African 1st Brigade in the south.

3 May 1941 Allied and Italian troops engaged in heavy fighting at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia.

4 May 1941 29th Brigade of the Indian 5th Division launched another attack at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia, capturing 3 hills between 0415 and 0730 hours.

5 May 1941 3/2nd Punjab Battalion advanced toward the Italian stronghold at Amba Alagi, Abyssinia at 0415 hours. They were pinned down by 12 Italian machine guns for the most of the day. The attack was called off at dusk.

British Pathe footage captured the Italians after the surrender of Amba Alagi. Another detail from this battle comes from Craig Douglas at Regio Esercito History Group in Brisbane: “When the Italian troops surrendered at Amba Alagi, the British commander allowed them to surrender with the full honours of war. In tribute to their tenacious defence right to the end.”

The battle for Amba Alagi, the last Italian stronghold in Eritrea. Italians who surrendered Fort Toselli seen marching down the road from the fort. c. June 1941

(AWM Image 007945, Photographer: Unknown British Official Photographer)

From Amba Alagi, Arcangelo would have been sent to POW camps in Egypt to be processed and assigned a M/E number: 289564 [Middle East].  From Suez he would have been transported to India.

Critical Past footage gives a window into the past; the arrival of Italian prisoners of war in Bombay India.

The next stage of Arcangelo’s journey is his arrival in Australia which was reported in the newspapers.  Two ships from India arrived together in Sydney 4th October 1943 with 507 Italian POWs on each ship (one medical officer, 5 medical other ranks and 501 other ranks: MV Brazil and SS Uruguay.

ITALIANS FOR FARMS” Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954) 10 October 1943: 5. Web. 22 Jun 2019 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59187793

1000 Italian War Prisoners Arrive” Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) 7 October 1943: 4. Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95630892&gt;

 

Arcangelo Perna’s arrival is documented on the Nominal Rolls Cowra 12 (c) POW Camp arrival from overseas 5th October 1943. He is assigned his Australian POW number : PWI 55833. Notice that his rank is Corporal though his other documents have his rank as Italian and Private; somethings are lost in translation.

Nominal Rolls of Italian Prisoners of War to Cowra

(NAA: SP196/1, 12 PART 2, 1943-1944 Sydney)

Within two months of his arrival in Australia, Arcangelo is assigned to farm work N11 C.C. Glen Innes.

Robert has a clear memory of his nonno’s recollections of Australia, “ He told me he worked on a cattle farm there. First thing he had to do was mend the fence with the owner. So they packed up the cart and took off. It took over 3 weeks to walk the fence. After that he worked there for a few years. Once it was time to go, the owner begged him to come back and live there. My grandfather said no, he had a farm in Italy. He never said anything bad about being there in Australia. He said they were a nice family who treated him wonderfully.”

Arcangelo’s Service and Casualty Form provides the details of his time between leaving the Glen Innes farm and his repatriation.  A documented four day stay in the Glen Innes hospital and his transfer from the farm to Murchison suggests ongoing medical concerns.  Those Italian who were medically unfit were sent to Murchison. And it is while Arcangelo was at Murchison, official group photos of the Italians were taken. 

A search of the Australian War Memorial collection did not turn up a match for Arcangelo. And Arcangelo’s photo could have been missed because, not all photographs taken of the POWs include the names of the men in the photos.

With this information and a chance at finding his nonno, Robert set to looking through all the group photos taken at Murchison March 1945. And there he was: seated second from the right.

A special moment for Robert: he had found Nonno in Australia.

Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 No. 13 POW Group.

(AWM Image 030229/13, Photographer: Stewart, Ronald Leslie)

Arcangelo was repatriated on Chitral  from Sydney on 24th September 1946. These early repatriations were for special consideration, medical or compassionate reasons. This was one of the early repatriation ships which boarded 300 POWs in Sydney and another 2900 in Fremantle Western Australia. The majority of Italian POWs held at Northam Camp WA were repatriated on Chitral.

 Robert continues, “When he came home, my grandmother wasn’t even home when he got there! One of my aunts were born while he was away. Plus, my dad was born about 9 months after he came home.”

These memories [of my nonno] have been a part of my life since he’s told me the story. It has been told hundreds of times. Now I have proof, pictures and info to back up my story,” Robert reflects.

No title” The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954) 24 September 1946: 3 (LATE FINAL EXTRA). Web. 22 Jun 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231583722&gt;

*This is not the first time I have heard about this method of recruitment. A group of young men from the Lecce region, told a similar story to their Queensland family in Gayndah.

Arrival in Naples 1946

Col. A.W. Sandford, the son of Sir Wallace Sandford wrote an article Naples – when Italian Prisoners Return Home  which was published in November 1946.  While on his way to Hamburg to re-joining the British Army of occupation, he travelled in a ship transporting returning Italian POW.

The repatriation ship was most likely Chitral which had left Australia in September 1946 with over 2700 Italian prisoners on board.

Chitral.httppassengersinhistory.sa.gov.aunode922876

Chitral

(passengersinhistory.sa.gov.aunode922876)

From Advertiser (Adelaide, SA: 1931-1954), Thursday 21 November 1946, page 6.

...From the decks below a constant murmur of hushed excited voices could be heard – over three thousand prisoners, straining their eyes to catch their first glimpse through the grey mists of the docks where they hope to find parents, wives, children, friends, lovers or at worst the attentions of the Italian Red Cross and a rail warrant to freedom.

The light grew slowly more intense as we approached the entrance to the harbor, and one could discern dimly the shaped of buildings in the distance and shipping nearer at hand.  Quite suddenly as the pilot clambered aboard from this ramshackle launch, the first rays of morning struck a cluster of white and pink villas on the headland, away to port – Posilippo, the ‘garden suburb’ of the town.  The city itself shielded by Vesuvius was still plunged in grew gloom, but these scattered villas and palaces on their romantic terraced cliff glittered fiercely in the sun.

By this time more passengers had begun to appear and were standing in tows and threes on the boat deck leaning over the rail.  They watched the sun strike the ancient castle on Capodimonte as we slipped into the harbour mouth and stared in surprise at the city which began to appear, like a stage effect through the dissipating mist.

Battered Harbour

The harbour was impressive.  The carved stone arms of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies still stand on the western mole, as they stood in Nelson’s day and between the pillars could be seen among the trees towards Posilippo, the glittering white cube of the Villa Emma, where Lady Hamilton held court.

The massive Castel Nuovo still dominates the docks but the splendid new quays built of reinforced concrete by the Fascists have stood far less well than solid Bourbon stone masonry the effect of high explosive bombs.

Naples Castell.jpg

The Fort of Castell Dell’ Ovo 1944 Naples

(Photo from Imperial War Memorial)

The murmur of the returning prisoners of war had grown to a loud babble as they saw the Italian warships huddled ingloriously against the naval mole and two large liners burned out and rusted lying on the bottom of the city Side.  Another liner had capsized just beneath the eastern mole, and in the centre of the docks, an American troopship was discharging across the hull of another capsized and rusting casualty.  This they observed in a second and then all eyes were turned to the nearest quay which was clearly made ready to receive us.  Stevedores were busy trundling gangways, there were lines of trucks drawn up, lines of carabinieri and here and there the scarlet caps of British military policemen.

Then all at once the prisoners seemed to see in the shadow of the damaged gallery rows and rows of dark-clothed men and women, and a good many children too.  These struggled and shouted and gesticulated from beyond the police cordon in the shadows striving to make themselves heard above the yelling of soldiers and stevedores and the raucous braying of a brass band which struggled on to the quay without a conductor and burst at once into a rendering more vigorous than accurate of “Funiculi, Funicula”.

The complete story is available here: Naples – when Italian Prisoners Return Home

Following are two video links: Italian Prisoners of War Return to Naples  and  View of buildings near Naples 1946

Chitral 2

1946 ‘No title’, The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 10 October, p. 24. , viewed 19 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75342761

Escaped to Queensland

In May 1947 there were 100 escaped prisoners of war in Australia: 4 German and 96 Italian. Interestingly 92 had escaped in 1946 (and 8 in 1947).

The background history is that the Italians were taken off farms late 1945/early 1946 and told that they would be going home ‘soon’.  It wasn’t until December 1946/January 1947 that the majority of POWs were repatriated.

For young men who had already given 8 years to military service and as a POW, thoughts of delaying a ‘start of a new life’ back in Italy versus starting a new life in Australia would have been debated. Some would have wanted to start their new life in Australia sooner than later and thought repatriation would be a waste of another two valuable years of their working life.

Four escaped prisoners of war ‘hid out’ in Queensland: Harry Lugsch (Innisfail), Alberto Bandiera (Ingham), Giovanni Brisotto (Poziers) and Giuseppe Volpato (Poziers).  The authorities advertised the escapes in government and police gazettes.

Lugsch Harry 1947

Victorian Police Gazette Special Circular No. 7

NAA:A373, 11638D, 1946-1952

The journey of Harry Lugsch is an interesting one.  He was one of the sailors onboard the German raider Kormoran which sank the HMAS Sydney on 19th November 1941.  The 318 Germans who survived were captured off the coast at Carnarvon WA. Harry was captured 23rd November 1941. Once interrogated at Harvey WA, they were sent to Murchison and then a satellite camp at Graytown.  On 14th November 1946, a group of 300 German POWs were detached to V20 Wallangarra Hostel on the Queensland – New South Wales border, to undertake: preventative maintenance on dead storage Army Vehicles, 8,00 ‘B’ Army vehicles held by Ordnance Service. Included in this group were motor mechanics, paint sprayers, electricians, oxywelders, engineers, steam power cleaners and power greasers from the Kormoran.  Harry Lugsch escaped from PWCH Wallangarra on 25th December 1946 and was recaptured 5th January 1948 at Innisfail.

Lugsch Harry

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

Another prisoner of war to escape to Queensland was Alberto Bandiera. He escaped from N31 Hostel Glenfield: Army Ordnance Depots and Workshops, Ordnance installation at Moorebank. He was one of 455 Italian POWs sent to this hostel in January 1946. Joe Devietti from Ingham explains:

“Ingham has another link to Italian prisoners of war because an escaped POW cut cane in Ingham. His name was Alberto Bandiera and he had escaped in September 1946 and surrendered in Brisbane February 1950. The police questioned dad [Giovanni Devietti] about this but he denied any knowledge.  Bandiera was repatriated on the ship which brought out my cousins to Brisbane Surriento. They arrived 23rd February 1950 and Alberto Bandiera was repatriated onboard on the 24th February 1950.   In time, he returned to Australia and worked at Peacock Siding. Bandiera wasn’t the only escaped POW the police were looking for.”  Alberto Bandiera returned to Ingham in February 1951 and eventually took up farming and settled at Birkdale Queensland.

Bandiera Alberto

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

On 8th January 1946, Giovanni Brisotto and Giuseppe Volpato escaped together from N31 Hostel Glenfield.  They made their way to Angelo Vedelago’s farm at Poziers (via Stanthorpe).  Giuseppe Volpato surrendered in Brisbane on 8th May 1950, in time to be repatriated to Italy on SS Surriento on 11th May 1950.

Volpato Giuseppe

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

Giovanni Brisotto on the other hand remained ‘at large’ until 22rd March 1951 and surrendered in Brisbane.  He was granted an Aliens Registration Certificate which allowed him to stay in Australia.  Giovanni Brisotto’s story can be read in Echoes of Italian Voices.  He made Poziers his home.

Brisotto Giovanni

SA Police Gazettes (1862-1947) 1946

(Ancestry.com. South Australia, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1862-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.)

By 1952, 13 Italian prisoners of war had escaped repatriation.  Department of Army referred the men to Department of Immigration and once surrendered they were issued with Alien Certificates of Registration.  Among this group were two Italian POWs who had worked on Queensland farms: Pietro Daidone (Q10 Boonah) who escaped from Middle Head Hostel and Ottavio Brancatella (Q1 Stanthorpe) who escaped from Applethorpe while the Stanthorpe POWs were awaiting transport to Gaythorne.

Waiting to Go Home

With the war over, Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farms at the end of 1945 – beginning of 1946. With a sense of hope, they believed that they would be home in Italy within one or two months.  Many letters written to Queensland farmers from their ex POW workers talk of going home soon.

Reality was, that the majority of Italian prisoners of war were not repatriated until end of December 1946 – January 1947. Recalling 13,500 Italian prisoners of war into the POW and Interment camps came with logistical problems.  However, a number of Italian POWs were sent to army ordinance sites and training sites for a range of duties from ordinance maintenance, maintenance and improvements of camps, salvage work, vehicle maintenance.

N33 Hostel Nobby’s Road was one such site. Alan St John spoke with a number of Italians working there…

NOBBYS ITALIANS ARE NOT SO HAPPY

By Alan St. John

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW: 1876-1954), Saturday 28 September 1946, page 5

A TRUCKLOAD of red-uniformed Italians prisoners-of-war rolls westwards up Hunter Street.  They look interesting.  They smile, reveal flashing white teeth.  Their long, dark hair flicks with the wind and they seem carefree, even irresponsible.

To chat with the 36 Italians behind barb wire, I went to their camp at Nobbys this week.  They turned out to be interesting, but don’t let those happy smiles fool you.  They are not irresponsible.  These sallow-skinned Latins are worried men with a sterile past and a cloudy future.  About Christmas time they are due to go home.  They have to search for their people, to eat, to work and to seek stability in a country still heaving after the convulsions of war.

Corporal-major (an n.c.o. rank) Mario Dominelli has a thin face and steady, serious, dark eyes. He told me with emphasis: “We have nothing to be happy about.  We are penniless.  We have lost all our youth.  We will soon return to a strange home with 30 years and more on our shoulders to start with.”

Dominelli, 30, son of Milanese master carrier was impressed into the Italian Army three and a half years before the war.

There was no option about Dominelli’s becoming a soldier. Failure to attend the call-up would have resulted in a visit from a burly gendarme and possibly, in rough treatment.  The period of service was meant to be 18 months, but when war hove in sight, young men just were not released.

Dominelli served as a motor mechanic with tanks in Libya and was ‘caught’ by the Australian Desert Rats in 1941.  About two and a half years of his imprisonment he spent in India, but when Italy surrendered prisoners of war there were released on parole.  He had charge of 60 men.  When he came to Australia, he went behind barbed wire again.  He can not understand why, though it is all over now, he is still behind the wire.

“Australia is a fine country,” he said. “But I should be let out to see it.”

The serious Dominelli became graver at mention of his family. “My people – I have not heard of them for three years.”

ENGLISH LOOKING

A contrast to his fellows is Carlo Narboni, whose tall, straight figure, blonde hair, blue eyes and ruddy complexion could cause him to be taken for an Englishman.  A native of Tripoli, he was in the Italian army two years before the war, as an artilleryman.  He was one of thousands the Australians captured at Tobruk.

Narboni has seen something of Australia during his five years here, much of his time being spent on a farm at Coonabarabran.  Carlo is useful with his hands and, at Nobbys, has turned out an excellent carpenter.

Though his father and brother in Italy are trying to rehabilitate their big rope works in Padua, 27 – year-old Erminio Navarin, a Venetian who has been in uniform since 1938, wants to stay in Australia.  But arrangements to allow prisoners of war to remain here are still in the ‘talking’ stage, he has been told.  When he turned 18, Navarin failed to report for army service.  The breach cost his father a fine of about £7.

LITTLE MAN, BIG TRUCK

Another Nobbys prisoner attracted to Australian farming life is Gaetano Cavallaro, a 25-year-old native of Rovigo, near the ancient Italian city of Padua.  He has worked on farms at Murwillumbah and Tamworth.  Cavallaro, who was 18 when he joined the army, is only 5ft. 2 in tall and the camp dwarf.  He was driving a 35-ton Isooto Frashini army truck when he was cut off from his unit in Bardia.  He, too, was taken in charge by the Aussies.  He is keen to see his parents, four sisters and a brother, in  the town which he says is ‘something like Newcastle.’

At 46, Lorenzo Strambi, grey-haired and sombre, who entertains his Nobbys camp-mates with his guitar is a victim of circumstance.  Out of work, he left his native Genoa for Africa and became a quarry-worker in Addis Ababa.  War came; there was no transport to take him home so he was pushed into the army.  He has not seen his wife and 21 year old son for eight years, and this week he received a letter from his wife for the first time in four years.

GONDOLIER, TENOR

Nobbys other musical Italian is Crescenzio Catuogno who was a real Neapolitani gondolier.  His civilian job was to punt tourists around Naples Harbour in his gondola and, as an added attraction, entertain them with his fine tenor voice.

Nobbys Catuogno 3918936

Gondola Tenor: Crescenzio Catuogno standing at far right

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49305 E. Allunni; 46486 F. Palladino; 48249 G. Olivares; 46433 G. Polise; 49690 A. Rea; 45169 C. Catuogno. Front row: 49310 A. Argento; 49566 A. Di Pala; 49670 G. Joime; 45256 A. Ciancio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030148/10)

Marshalo (Warrant-Officer) Florentino left Nobbys recently with a nervous breakdown. [Domenico] Florentino was highly intellectual – a Bachelor of Economics, a chartered accountant, and holder of a first-class steamship master’s ticket.  The confinement of camp life got the better of his highly strung temperament, and he was sent south for special treatment.

Florentino failed to adapt himself to the life, as his comrades, who have worked out their own forms of expression. Some study trades, some read, and some make trinkets.  To finish off his cement garden ornaments, Angelo Fumagalli, even makes his own paint-oil mixed with soil, brick dust and pulverised Nobbys rock.  One of his creations is a model six-story building.

The prisoners go to Mass at Tighe Hill every Sunday.

Their food is good, and they make their own excellent macaroni.  In addition to a free ration of cigarettes (from a special fund), the Italians may buy six ounces of tobacco and three packets of papers a month.  They have their own currency: half pennies and pennies with their centres punched out, rated at 2/ and 5/. Pay for non-commissioned ranks is 1/3 a day.

But the prisoner of Nobbys are far from happy.  I don’t blame them. Carlo Narboni, the English-looking fellow, shrugs and explains: “Eat ees good here, and the capitani he is a gentleman.  But if you have been a soldier, you will understand: we have been away from home a too long time.”

Nobbys Florentino 3872124

Domenico Florentino: Happier Times at Liverpool Camp before he was transferred to Nobbys Camp

LIVERPOOL PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNMENT CAMP, NSW 1945-11-21. DOMINIC FLORENTINO (LEFT), THE CAMP LEADER, AND FORTUNATO PALLADINO, THE SECOND IN CHARGE OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR. LIVERPOOL PRISONER OF WAR AND INTERNMENT CAMP, NSW 1945-11-21. DOMINIC FLORENTINO (LEFT), THE CAMP LEADER, AND FORTUNATO PALLADINO, THE SECOND IN CHARGE OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR.

(PHOTOGRAPHER L. CPL E. MCQUILLAN; AWM)

A Travesty…

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One of the questions often asked, is ‘why were the Italian POWs taken off farms to then sit idle in Prisoner of War and Internment Camps for over 12 months?’

Another often asked question is ‘how valuable was the contribution of the Italian POWs to agricultural production?’

The following ‘Letter to the Editor’ addresses both of these questions…

Italian P.O.W.

To the Editor

Sir- some of us can raise a lot of sympathy for those of the Indonesians who have co-operated with the Japanese but what of that poor underdog, the Italian POW? Six months ago two POW (Sicilians) assisted by an old man harvested, without tractor, 140 tons of hay, besides routine jobs of milking, tending sheep &c. One of these men was so outstanding that I left him in charge of my farm and took an extended rest in Melbourne.  On my return everything was in order – house painted, winter’s wood supply split and stacked, &c. On March 13 most POW were again barbed in, a precaution recognised as necessary before repatriation: but the call-up was because of AWU pressure.  Many are married and my two have families not seen for over six years.  Their greatest worry is the dreariness of the dragging days of enforced idleness after the free busy life on a farm.  War against Italy ceased 18 months ago, so maintenance of torture to men’s souls at this stage is a travesty of British justice. In spite of the AWU attitude, farm labor in the Naracoorte district is unavailable, through either the RSL and stock firms, and I am being forced off the land.  My neighbor has been without help since his POW was taken away, and was so run down that his doctor insisted on his going to the seaside with his wife and three children, leaving over 1,000 ewes uncared for in the midst of lambing.

I am, Sir, &c.

H.S. Naylor

Kybybolite S.E.

from Advertiser (Adelaide, SA: 1931-1954), Thursday 27 June 1946, page 8

For Queensland farmers, withdrawing Italian POWs from farms resulted in an acute shortage of workers for the summer harvest….

Disbandment Queensland

 

“FARMS HIT BY P.O.W. TRANSFER” The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954) 12 November 1945: 3. Web. 21 Oct 2018 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50269952&gt;.

Bomb Blast kills 5

I was working with the granddaughter of Nicola Capitummino to trace the journey of her grandfather in Australia when I read about the bomb blast at N33 Bathurst Hostel in June 1946.

There were a number of POW hostels set up at Australian military complexes in 1946.  The role of the Italian prisoners of war was to assist with ‘general duties at AMF
Camps and Schools, clearing and maintenance of ammunition depots etc.’

One such hostel was at Bathurst where 3 Australians and 2 Italians were killed by a bomb blast.  Adelmo Rondinini’s legs were severed above the knees and he also lost his left eye in the explosion.

In reference to the burial of Sapper Michael Freeman in Bathurst,  the following was written:

The Italian prisoners of war from the Bathurst Army Camp on Limekilns Road made a large V-shaped wreath of greenery which was placed at the Military Cemetery. Their card read: “Michael Freeman from your Italian friends. For the kindness and understanding shown to us”…There was a single cortege for both the soldiers and the Italian prisoners.

 

Bathurst

Solemn: Sapper Michael Freeman’s Funeral passes onto Steward Street from Keppel Street on June 5, 1946.

(www.westernadvocate.com.au/story/4004852/yesterday-today-alan-mcrae/)

5 Die in Bathurst Camp Explosion

Bathurst, Monday. – Three Australian soldiers and two Italian prisoners of war were killed in the Bathurst military camp today when a fragmentary mortar bomb exploded amongst a working party of Australians and Italians.

At Bathurst Hospital to-night doctors were battling to save the life of a third Italian who lost both legs and has little chance of survival.

The victims of the explosion were: –

Sgt. Thomas Dickenson, AIF

Sapper Arthur Murray, AIF

Sapper Michael Joseph Freeman, AIF

Pietro Monfredi, POW

Stefano Mola, POW

The injured man is Adelmo Rondinini a POW.

Sgt. Dickenson, Freeman and Stefano Mola were killed instantly while Murray and Monfredi died in hospital hours later.  Ronlinini’s legs were severed above the knees and he was rushed in a critical condition to hospital, where blood transfusions were given him throughout the day and to-night in an effort to save his life.

Luck favoured Cecil Snudden, of Bathurst, who was standing about 10 yards from the working party when the explosion occurred.  Fragments of metal passed between his legs, carrying away portions of his trousers near the knees, but he was not injured.

Bathurst police investigating the tragedy have been told the explosion occurred at 10.30 a.m. while the six victims were working on the site of an ash dump at the camp. 

The bomb, it is believed, lay hidden under some ashes and according to one report the explosion resulted when an Italian cutting wood struck the bomb with his axe.

“5 DIE IN BATHURST CAMP EXPLOSION” Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954) 4 June 1946: 1. Web. 11 Oct 2018 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article99118261&gt;.

 

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.