Cousins Nicola Del Vecchio and Pasquale Falcone from Roseto Valfortore were so well regarded by farmer Henry Stey of Harveys Siding via Gympie, that he assisted them to return to Australia in 1951. While the military records provide invaluable information about Nicola and Pasquale, the personal stories about these men, can only be told by the farming family. Thanks to Faye Kennedy (Stey) the story of Pat and Mick emerge.
There were 40,000 Italians taken prisoner of war at the Battle of Bardia, but somehow, somewhere in the deserts of North Africa, Nicola and Pasquale found each other. Nicola was with the Infantry and Pasquale with the Artillery and were both taken prisoner of war on the first day of this battle, 3rd January 1941.
By the time they arrived in Geneifa Egypt for processing, there were together. Their Middle East Numbers (M.E. No.) indicate that they were close in line: Nicola M.E. 69698 and Pasquale M.E. 69701. From Egypt they spent time in POW camps in India and arrived in Australia onboard the Mariposa into Sydney 1st November 1943. They are photographed together in Cowra 6th February 1944 six weeks before they were sent to Gaythorne in Queensland for farm placement.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Shown here are: 56135 Nicola Del Vecchio; 56192 Pasquale Falcone; 56427 Michele Verrelli; 56428 Virginio Verrelli; 56424 Giacomo Veloci; 56026 Vincenzo Austero; 56226 Giovanni Italia; 56279 Amedeo Morrone; 56464 Riccardo Zingaro; 56483 Antonio Knapich; 55066 Giovanni Bianofiore; 55848 Michele Placentino. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.
(AWM Image 030175/05, Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)
Together they were sent to Q3 Gympie and placed on the farm of JH Sargeant at Wilsons Pocket on 6th April 1944. Together they were transferred to the farm of HJ Stey at Harveys Siding on 4th May 1944. Henry Stey’s granddaughter Faye Kenney relates the memories of her family: “Nicola and Paquale befriended Henry and became close to his family. At the time, Henry’s wife became pregnant and the honour of naming the baby girl was given to these two men. My aunty was named Ventris in 1946. Henry’s family called the men Pat and Mick. There is the story of an incident at the farm, involving another POW worker who was going to attack Henry with a machete. But another worker close by, stepped in and held the worker until the police or military staff came out from Gympie and took him away. Apparently, Henry started proceedings with the Immigration Department to get them back to Australia. Henry’s application was successful as they both arrived in Sydney from Naples onboard the Assimina in February 1951. The destination on the ship’s register is noted as Harveys Siding via Gympie. My family told me that when they’d returned to Harveys Siding, sadly Henry was deceased. He had died in November 1962. Maybe they had not come straight to Queensland. I found a listing for Pasquale at Leichardt Sydney and one for Nicola in Ascot and Albion in Brisbane.”
While the only photo the Stey family have of Pat and Mick is a little blurry, it clearly tells a story. Together Pat and Mick lived on Henry Stey’s farm at Harveys Siding. They worked side by side with the farmer. They enjoyed the company of children and being part of a family. They earned the respect of Henry and were given the honour of naming the Stey’s daughter. And together with the assistance of Henry, they returned to Australia.