Tag Archives: Percy Alexander Miles Mooloo

Cellophane Belt

Recycling is not a new concept.

Held in private collections, many amazing artefacts made by the Italian POWs have survived.  While, the Australian War Memorial has a number of items made or belonging to Italian POWs in their Heraldry Collection, research for this project has unearthed artefacts ‘unknown’ to public collections.

Basil Wyllie of Mooloo Gympie had three Italian prisoners of war on his farm: Alfredo Montagnini from Montefascone Viterbo, Raffaele Scrigno from Albanova Napoli and Pietro Verrengia from Cellole Napoli.

One of the items made by the Italians was a belt.  An example of war arts and crafts, it is fashioned from the cellephone wraps from cigarette packets.   Basil Wyllie has written on the inside of the belt: 1942 Egypt Italian.

A special thank you to Basil Wyllie’s daughter Noela White (Wyllie) for sharing this wonderful relic.

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Belt made by Italian POWs on Basil Wyllie’s Farm Mooloo

(from the collection of Noela White (Wyllie))

Percy Miles from a neighbouring Mooloo farm,  remembered, “Some of the things they used to do to beat the boredom… One was to collect all the cellophane wrapping on cigarette packets and fold it up and plait it into a belt.”  

Alex Miles, son of Percy Miles, had telephoned me in 2017 about his families prisoners of war.  Alex told me about the belts the Italians made. Thinking leather, I was not prepared for the word ‘cellophane’.  I had no previous reference to belts made from cellophane.  I was intrigued.  Alex then sent me photos of the ‘belt’ and I was amazed.

This seemingly ‘fragile’ material, cellophane, has been prepared and fashioned in such a manner that one belt has survived.  While the white cellophane has yellowed with age, this double sided belt must have taken many many hours to make and comprises of hundreds of cigarette packet wraps.

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Close Up of Belt made by Italian POWs on Basil Wyllie’s Farm Mooloo

(from the collection of Noela White (Wyllie))

But this was not just an object of war.  Making belts from the cellophane wraps of cigarette packets and chocolate boxes was a new fashion in 1930’s.  Newspaper articles sing the praises of this fashion statement being made in Paris and London.

So how does one make a belt from cellophane… the full instructions can be found in the 1937 newspaper article as referenced below and available from Trove.

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1937 ‘Belt Made from Cellophane’, The Maitland Daily Mercury (NSW : 1894 – 1939), 10 July, p. 3. , viewed 20 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article126512099

Recycling is not a new concept.

War Time Friends

Alex Miles lived on a farm at Mooloo about 11 miles outside of Gympie during World War 2.  As a young lad, he had ‘a ring side seat’ to the comings and goings of the Italian prisoners of war in the Mooloo area. Assisting in the recording of his father’s memoirs, Alex has ensured that the stories of the Italian prisoners of war on their Mooloo farm are part of their family history.

And 72 years later, Alex remembers Sam, Frank, Marino, Mario, Tony, Amerigo and Raffa as being like his ‘childhood’ friends.  They were part of Mooloo’s history and the Miles farm became the centre for congregation for the Italians on a Sunday.

Alex remembers them as  family men who made spaghetti by making the dough, talked of their children with longing,  crafted kites for the children which flew high on the westerly winds in winter, took the children for a ride in the billy cart of an afternoon and loved nothing more than nursing baby Joan Miles who was born early in 1945.

Alex says that they were ingenious, industrious and inventive and could turn their hands to most things some of which went against the rules. They make a potent brew with their home made ‘illegal’ still, dammed a creek which they bailed out so that they could catch fish, set up a barber shop for all the POWs in the district, bought  items for the Miles family from the canteen truck in return for money, carved out a secret place inside their shaving sticks to hide their Australian currency,  made belts from the cellophane wraps of their cigarette packets and created rings from one shilling and two shilling coins.

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Ring in the Making: 1943 Florin

(from the collection of Alex Miles)

The four Italian prisoners of war on the Miles farm were:  Mario Lauretti (uncle) and Marino Iacovacci (nephew) from Vallecorsa Frosinone; and Antonio Buffa and Francesco Ciaramita (both from Xitta Trapani and possibly brothers-in-law).

Amerigo Capriotti and Raffaele Fischetti were at AW Collard’s farm at Mooloo and Vincenzo Di Domenico and Filippo Castiglione were at LF Sizer’s farm at Mooloo.

The following extracts are from The Life and Times of Percy Alexander Miles:

…Three months after the Italians arrived, Mario became ill and had to go back into the prison camp to be near medical help. Andy and Nellie Anderson decided they didn’t need their prisoners, so we took them on, namely Francesco and Antonio. “Tony” was an officer’s cook in the Italian Army, so they wanted to cook for themselves.  This was ok by us as they didn’t like our cooking, they wanted spaghetti every day of the week.  Clyde and I put a kitchen on the end of the shed they were living in…. As time went by our kids used to eat with them now and then.  In the end the kids preferred their food to ours.

…Everything was good, except I couldn’t get enough spaghetti for them.  Because I had 3 POW’s working for me, I was allowed to apply directly to the factory to buy the spaghetti.  I filled out a form enquiring about spaghetti.  Next thing I knew there was ½ ton of spaghetti at the Gympie Railway Station for me. The prisoners were really happy but I didn’t know how they could possibly eat it all before the weevils got into it; I sold a lot to other farmers who had POW’s.  My three still maintained they could eat it all.  Turns out the three of them probably could have eaten the ½ ton in 12 months.    By the end of the year they were making their own spaghetti.

… Nearly every Sunday all the Italian POW’s from all the farms within walking distance (up to 5 miles away) would come to our farm.  Marino was a barber in Italy and the Australian barbers gave them short back and side haircut, they didn’t like that so they came here.  Marino cut hair all day; he charged them so many cigarettes for a haircut.

…They were not allowed to have a radio or to listen to one.  If ever we went away, they would go into the house and listen to our radio.  I bought it new in 1941, it was a big cabinet push button Brevelle model radio. To change stations all you had to do was push a button. How we knew they were listening to it was they always forgot to switch it back from short wave. I don’t know whether they found any Italian stations, I never let them know that I knew, it must have been hard for them not knowing what was going on in Italy.

Francesco was a tin-smith, he spent weeks cutting a kerosene tin into strips and rolling them into half inch pipes and soldering them, then joining them together.  It turned out to be a still to make alcohol which was something they were not allowed to have.

I turned a blind eye at first but in the end I had to tell them to destroy it, but not before they gave me a sample of the alcohol it made. They had old rotten pineapples and potatoes and any other fruit they could find in a 4 gallon drum with a top on it with the pipe coming out of the top. A clear vodka-like fluid was dripping out of the pipe.  They gave me a ¼ cup to try, Alice put some on a teaspoon and put a match to it, it had a nice blue flame. I thought this may be the way to fuel my ute, but it had to be destroyed much to the POW’s disappointment.