Tag Archives: N11 Prisoner of War Control Centre Glen Innes

Does Glen Innes Want War Prisoners?

Domenico Ippedico was one of the Glen Innes POW workers.  A handsome young mason from Gravini [Bari] he told his family that working on a farm after being in camps with barbed wire was a good situation.

His daughter Anna shares that the farmer’s daughter fell in love with her father. But like many such romances between an Aussie girl and an Italian POW, the relationship could not continue.

Domenico was in the Glen Innes district from June 1944 to January 1945. He had two admissions to the Glen Innes District Hospital during that time.

(https://www.beardieshistoryhouse.info/glen-innes/)

Unfortunately for prisoners of war who were in Queensland or New South Wales, there is no extra file containing identity photos or the name of the farmer.  Domenico’s stories to his daughter Anna about life on an Australian farm were happy memories.  Through her father’s stories, Anna feels a connection to Australia; a place where Domenico lived for two and a half years.

Domenico came to Australia as a ‘forced migrant’; a group of Italian who because of circumstances out of his control temporarily called Australia home. For the Ippedico family, there will always be a special connection with Australia.  Many decades later, Domenico’s granddaughter found her way to Australia. Francesca teaches Italian at a bilingual school in Melbourne.

Domenico as a prisoner of war lived in a bilingual world. Like many of his peers, he took opportunities to learn English. Living with a farming family would have assisted his mastery of English together with the lessons in his book “L’Inglese in Tre Mesi”.

L’Inglese in Tre Mesi (photo courtesy of Anna Ippedico)

Read more about Italian Prisoners of War in Glen Innes district: https://www.gleninnesexaminer.com.au/story/6276170/italian-prisoners-of-war-in-glen-innes/

A little of the background history:

Against a backdrop of anti-Italian sentiment, in December 1943 a POW centre was approved for Glen Innes. The POW centre office (Prisoner of War Control Centre: PWCC) was situated besides the Grand Theatre. Captain JJ Owens was in charge of the administration of allocation of Italians to farms.

For the centre to be established 30 district farmers had to submit applications. In November 1943, only 8 applications had been received by Mr Furby from the District War and Agricultural Committee. The application form was comprehensive, detailing the regulations of the scheme: Prisoner of War Control Centres: Without Guards. Below is an example of a form used in South Australia.

Employment Agreement to Employ Italian Prisoners of War (NAA: D2380)

Fear of the ‘unknown’ is a powerful influence.

One Glen Innes farmer declared, “My idea is that we would be better without prisoners of war.” His concern was that when he was in the paddock working, his wife might be left at home on her own with a couple of prisoners who could not speak English.

Other farmers feared the power of trade unions.  If a farmer employed Italian prisoners of war, then in the future, no unionised worker would want to work on that farm.

Despite opposition for Italian POW workers and threats by locals that they would rather their farms go bankrupt than employ the POWs, approximately 100 Italians worked on district farms from December 1943 to December 1945.

Necessity is a powerful motivator: farmers needed labourers.

In March 1944, Mr Furby reported lack of evidence against the use of POWs was the best explanation as to why the Italian prisoners of war were of no threat to local residents. At that time, there were 69 Italian workers in the Glen Innes district and ‘everyone says they work like sons of guns’ and that one farmer says ‘he can’t knock them off from working.’

 “Mr Furby said there had been excellent reports about the cleanliness and general suitability of the prisoners made available.  In some instances it was considered they looked after the farmers better than the farmers themselves.

As to safety of the womenfolk, the opinion had been expressed that women were safer with most of the Italian prisoners than they would be with many Australians.” [1943 ‘P.O.W. LABOR’, The Inverell Times (NSW : 1899 – 1907, 1909 – 1954), 17 November, p. 5. , viewed 22 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article263355284%5D

Employment Contract for Italian Prisoners of War (NAA:7919)

Fear of the ‘unknown’ also relates to the Italian prisoners of war. What did they know about Australian farming methods? How were they going to communicate with the farming family? Would they be treated like a slave? It was a ‘leap of faith’ for the Italians to transfer from their known world: camp life behind barbed wire to the unknown: living on a farm with an Australian family.

The Department of Army was committed to ensuring that this employment scheme would work. Inspections of proposed accommodation for the Italians were made before the prisoners of war were sent to a farm. A language book, Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War was published to assist with communication between farmer and worker. Regular visits to each farm by Australian army staff ensured that any minor concerns could be discussed and/or rectified.  The commanding officer of the POW centre would respond immediately to any complaints of major discipline issues a farmer might have experienced.

Across Australia approximately 13,500 Italians prisoners of war worked on farms or on government projects. This workforce of ‘forced migrants’ made a valuable economic, social and cultural contribution to war time Australia.

Domenico Ippedico (photo courtesy of Anna Ippedico)

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.