Tag Archives: POWs WW2

Lasting Friendships

We lived on a farm 35 mile outside of West Wyalong, New South Wales. I would have been eight years old when Ernesto Armati and Angelo Airoldi came to stay with us. They became part of our family and to this day, I am in contact with their families.

Ernesto and Rosa Armati (married 1 January 1948)

Dad had sheep, wheat, pigs and milkers on the farm and the Italians did a lot of work around the farm.  They built chook yards, dams and horse yards and I suppose general farm work.

They lived in a hut built for them which was basic.  They ate with the family and became like brothers.  We had a big dining room table and they would jostle and joke with us kids and try to push us off the bench seats we sat on.  They cooked pasta meals for us.  Watching them ride horses was funny and they would sometimes have a bit of a race.  The closest church was 12 miles away and Dad bought a green and blue bike for them so that they could go to church.  My sister was very upset because Dad never bought her a bike. Both Ernesto and Angelo had fiances in Italy and upon return were married: Ernesto to Rosa 1 January 1948 and Angelo to Angelina October 1947.

I clearly remember the canteen truck visiting the farm.  They would get their cigarettes : three threes, brylcream, shaving cream stick and razors.

They had come to Australia on board “Mariposa” and arrived at Melbourne.  They were then transported in open cattle trucks to Cowra.

Dad was a staunch Methodist: no smoking, no drinking but Dad made exceptions for Angelo and Ernesto. Dad brought in a big barrel for them and they used the table grapes to make grappa.  They did it by stomping the grapes with their feet which became purple.

We cried when they left.  I don’t know why they didn’t leave the POWs on the farms until they were taken back home, but they had to wait a long time in the POWs camps and it would have been better for them to stay with us.

Dad kept in contact with them over the years and when I was in my twenties I went to Italy for the Olympics: 1960.  Dad encouraged me to go visit Ernesto and Angelo which felt awkward because 15 years had passed since I last saw them.  They welcomed me into their homes with open arms.  Lavish meals were prepared and eaten and I was taken around and shown the sites.  I travelled a little of Europe and then returned to spend Christmas with them.

Angelo and Angelina Airoldi and family Bagnatica 1960

Years later, Ernesto’s granddaughter came to Sydney for her honeymoon.  I felt very privileged to take her and her husband around for 5 weeks showing them the sights.

Memories from West Wyalong

Graydon Bolte

Brisbane

February 2017

 

 

A Father’s Love

Liborio Bonadonna was a private in the Italian Army, serving with the 231 Legion Militia when he was captured at Buq Buq on 11th December 1940. The Battle of Sidi Barrani was the opening battle of Operation Compass and 38,300 Italians were captured at Sidi Barrani and Buq Buq from 10 – 11 December 1940.

Bonadonna, Liborio

Liborio Bonadonna

(NAA: A7919 C101539 Buonadonna, Librio)

A young farmer from Gela Caltanissetta, Liborio was living in Tripoli along with his wife and his parents when he joined Mussolini’s war.  His father, desperate for his son’s safety, fell prey to unscrupulous agents who, for a sum of money, promised the repatriation of their family members who were prisoners of war.

In a letter sent to Liborio, his father Carmelo Bonadonna wrote on 21st December 1943:

Dear son, here it was said that prisoners who are sons of farmers, were to be repatriated on the payment of six thousand lire, and I, for the great affection I bear you, was one of the first to pay; in fact they asked us for one of your letters in order to have your address.  Up to the present, we have seen nothing.  Imagine, dear son, how happy we all in the family were for just then I did not know what I could do for the love of you.

Liborio had spent almost three years in camps in India and would not arrive in Italy for another three years. The actions of his father however highlight how anxious the family were to ensure a safe and early return of Liborio.

From Cowra, Liborio was assigned to work on farms at N8 PWCC Orange and N24 PWCC Lismore. Suffering on-going health issues, he was sent to local and military hospitals and was eventually transferred to Murchison for consideration for early repatriation on the basis of medical grounds.

Such was his health,  he was on the list to embark on the Andes which left Australia on 3rd August 1945. Unfortunately, on 16th July 1945 he was sent to 28 Australian Camp Hospital at Tatura which was part of the Murchison POW complex.  He missed early repatriation and was to stay in hospital for two and a half months.

Liborio 28 ACH

28th Australian Camp Hospital Tatura

(AWM Image 052452)

The irony of his situation was that while he was approved for early medical repatriation he was too unwell to travel.  His medical condition had deemed him ‘medically’ unfit to work and gave him priority for repatriation on medical grounds. During 1946, several transports for special circumstance cases, left Australia for Naples but Liborio was overlooked.

While he considered himself to be well enough to travel, he was identified as having need for specialist medical attention during the voyage to Italy. He could only be repatriated once as specially fitted out ship became available.

On 10th September 1946, in a letter to the Camp C.O. he presented his case:

Just at the time when the repatriation of the sick was to take place I was in the Waranga military hospital whence I was discharged early in September…

The present repatriation lists from which I have been exclude because repatriation is to be effect by ordinary means (i.e. in ships not especially adapted for transport of the sick) include nearly all the sick who, like me, were then considered as needing attention during the voyage.

Today I will to inform you that, notwithstanding a year’s stay in camp without any special treatment, my condition is such as to enable me to stand the possible discomforts of the trip home; I therefore request to be reinscribed on the above mentioned list, taking upon myself the full and complete responsibility in the event of any possible deterioration of my health.

My family live in Tripolitania and it is my urgent wish to rejoin it in the shortest possible time.  To the above I can only add the prayer that you will kindly consider my request.

The Empire Clyde* returned Liborio to Italy. It was a Royal Navy Hospital Ship which departed Sydney for Naples on 12th December 1946. There were 226 Italian prisoners of war on board who had embarked at Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle.

But Liborio’s return to his family in Tripoli was further delayed. Once he arrived in Naples, he required an operation.  Fighting bureaucracy, he tried to gain permission several times to reach Libya and his wife and parents.

Liborio’s grandson, Liborio Mauro says that “He told her [my grandmother] if I’m not able to join you, I would like to go back in Australia. After 3 times, he finally joined my grandmother in Libya where my father Carmelo was born in Tripoli in 1949.

Tracing Liborio’s journey as a prisoner of war has not been an easy on. His grandson  explains that his records have his name spelt incorrectly: BUONADONNA instead of BONADONNA, LIBRIO instead of LIBORIO.

But passion and determination on the part of grandson Liborio has ensured that Liborio Bonadonna’s story is told and his records and photographs of his time as a prisoner of war in Australia are with the family.

Liborio Mauro says, “All my family are happy and my father is crying for happiness. My grandfather was the most important person in my family.  He was a true gentleman, well-educated and everyone fell in love with him.  He was a strong and simple man.”

*The Empire Clyde was a British Navy war prize from the Abyssinian campaign. It was formerly an Italian passenger liner Leonardo da Vinci.

 

Leonardo Da Vinci-07

 

Liborio and Liborio - Copy

Liborio Bonadonna with his family c 1979, grandson Liborio Mauro on his grandfather’s lap

(photograph from the collection of Liborio Mauro)

 

 

 

 

Memories of Italian POWs at Eumundi

 The Ower Farm, Kinnoull

My parents, David and Eva Ower developed a dairy farm, a little smaller than others locally (320 acres) with a dairy herd of about 25 to 35 milkers, with usual pigs, calves, and horses: 2 riding and 2 draft for operating the farm utensils.

 

ower3

Hector and Pom Mustering a Pig Litter

I had an older sister Beverley, and we rode our horses 3 ½ miles to a small one teacher school at Brooloo, terminus of the Mary Valley Rail Line from Gympie.  We were about 8 & 7 y.o.

As much of the land was hilly, there was only a small area for tilling and growing crops and, this was done without a tractor by hand using draft horses.  Crops grown included corn, potatoes, pumpkins, and oats for feeding the animals.

Dates are uncertain but Dad was allocated 2 Italian P O W’s who we knew as Hector (probably Ettore Pizzirani) from Bologna district in Northern Italy, and Pom (probably Pompeo Cervellati) from Southern Italy.

 

ower1

POWs Residential Humpy Kinnoull

Near to our home, there was an old humpy on stumps, which was weatherproof, tiled timber roof, timber floor, and covered side verandah as this had served as an early residence.  This then was the residence of the 2 P O W’s who had table, chairs and single beds with corn husk mattresses.   Meals were served to them in the humpy, frequently spaghetti.  They used the downstairs shower in our house and a common separate single earth closet.

The main tasks allocated were to assist in the milking, building new and repairing timber post wire fences, cutting down regrowth small trees to create more grass areas, digging out unwanted weeds and foreign growth (lantana), drafting and dipping the cattle, and clearing old trees from paddocks.

Both were taught to handle the draft horses and the hand implements, and to ride horses.  Hector did this well but there were some problems for Pom.

ower2

Hector and Pom on Horseback

As they derived from different backgrounds and areas in Italy, there were a few personal problems and so Pom was returned to Kenilworth for further allocation.  Hector integrated well into our life activities and with our visiting friends, and we were sorry to lose him eventually.  We used to sing songs with him, teach him some Australian customs, and learn some from him.

Because of Hector’s departure about 1946, Dad bought a milking machine system to assist with the milking and cream separation process.

John Ower

14 December 2016

 

Lagoon Pocket’s Macadamia Trees

gympie-mercuri-mario-1

Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card, Mercuri, Mario PWI 57376

(National Archives of Australia J3118, 119)

Allan Blackman from Gympie recalls a macadamia farm at Lagoon Pocket where he worked during the 1970s  and how he had been told about a few hundred seedling trees that had been planted by the Italian POWs during WW2.  Combining local knowledge with archival research, a more complete picture emerges.

Mario Mercuri and Guido Vaccarini worked on Bernard Mason’s farm at Lagoon Pocket and “they would all search in the scrub above Calico Creek for wild macadamias with thin shells which were used to establish Bernie’s orchard.” This species of macadamia ‘integrifolia’ is also known as ‘papershell’ macadamia because of its thinner shell.  As a native species, it is now listed as vulnerable.

While initially, the relationship between farmer and POWs would have been of one boss and worker, a friendship of mutual respect would have been emerged as Guido and Mario were credited with saving the lives of Bernie Mason’s daughters.  The connection between Bernie Mason and Guido Vaccarini continued with Guido visiting Gympie to visit Bernie, after he had migrated to Australian in 1951.

gympie Vaccarini guido Bernard Mason.jpg

Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card Vaccarini, Guido PWI 57514

(National Archives of Australia J3118, 119)

Italian POWs at Tingoora

My dad, Samuel Long had a farm at Tingoora and during the war, we had Italian POWs on the farm to help with the work. I would have left school by then and working on the farm.  We grew peanuts and corn mainly and farm work was pretty labour intensive, although farmers in the South Burnett district were pioneers in inventing and making purpose built farm machinery such as peanut harvesters and thrashers.  We worked with horses and also tractors so there was always a lot of general farm work to do.

An article in Queensland Country Life (23 May 1940) mentions my Dad, “Keen on labour saving equipment, Mr. Long has a McCormack-Deering tractor, and for handling maize, has an automatic husker, sheller and bagger, with capacity for 60 bags”.  Dad also had a system for conserving fodder whereby he had sheds built in three sections which could be raised and lowered as required to store lucerne.  It was an alternative method to silos and was more cost effective. “An adjustable roof is operated by pulleys and can be raised and lowered according to the quantity of material they contain,” was reported in  Queensland Country Life. Dad had a lot of projects going, always trying to improve productivity.

Long show

Farmer Mr S. Long excelled in the outstanding one-farm exhibits, as indicated by the great variety of farm produce and products on display from his farm at Tingoora. Exhibited at the Kingaroy Show, 1934.

(John Oxley Library Image Number 199695)

Two of our Italians were Mario Ferrone and Luigi Rubano.  The Italians were used as a workforce pool and would be rotated around the farms when needed.  From memory they would come to our farm and then go on to Jake Peterson’s farm.  My dad was an easy boss so didn’t work them that hard, or at least that is how I remember it.  Other farmers were much harsher with their expectations of the Italians.  We would have had more than just these two.

Kingaroy. Rubano

Prisoner of War/Internee; Rubano, Luigi

(National Archives of Australia NAA: MP1103/2, PWI49505)

They lived on a small house on our farm, might have been a workers’ cottage or the old house.  They would eat with our family.  Occasionally they would cook a meal for the family or often they would cook a certain part of the meal for mum.  They always had enough food because we had a house garden with vegetables and salad greens.

A provision truck would come around to the farm and the Italians would buy items they needed.  I think things like spaghetti and biscuits.

We lived about 14 miles from town and I can’t remember the POWs going anywhere.  Sometimes on a Sunday, the Italians from the neighbouring farms would get together and they would have walked.

I got the general impression that they were discontented with working, or maybe it was just that dad was an easy boss and didn’t push them.  They didn’t have much English, but they just learned as they went.  They would have learnt words for food and farming tasks and general pleasantries.

I also remember that during harvest time, we had some Aboriginal workers.  They probably came from Cherbourg.  Farm workers were in short supply especially during the harvest.  We never had Land Army Girls though.

Dudley Long

18.2.17

 

Q8 Kingaroy.Tingoora.JPG

Tingoora Hall

(from the collection of  Joanne Tapiolas)

The Borelands had a POW

Maria Elena

You’re the answer to a pray

Maria Elena

Can’t you see how much I care?

To me your voice is like the echo of a sigh

And when you’re near my

Heart can’t speak above a sigh

I was only a little girl but I have a clear memory that  our neighbours, The Borelands at ‘Ben-Dor’ Yelarbon, had a POW. There were two brothers who had that farm.

My dad Gino Rodigherio had a tobacco farm at Yelarbon but dad couldn’t get POW labour because he was Italian.  He was naturalised but there was a lot of fear in those days after Mussolini declared war.  Our neighbour, Mr Scerecini was interned even though his son was called up for service in the Australian army.  Internment made it very hard for the wives left behind as there was no social services in those days and none of us had extended families to help us out.

statelibqld_2_296483_tobacco_growing_at_a_yelarbon_near_texas_queensland_1931

Tobacco Growing at Yelarbon near Texas 1931

(John Oxley Library Negative Number 181901)

Mr Boreland had a dairy farm and would bring over a POW who I think was called Eduardo* to talk Italian with Mum and Dad.  He was a good looking young man. I found out later that this was against the rules, but no harm was done in giving the POW an opportunity to mix with other Italians.  It was just the way country people were in those days.

My other memory of that time was of an Italian who was known as Paolo but we called him “Errol” after “Errol Flynn”.  We thought he was a POW but he was in hiding from the Australian army as he was AWOL.  Or so we were told. We didn’t know this at the time. He wasn’t found out until some Italians came down from Ingham to grow tobacco and they recognised him.  He even managed to get clothing from the general store without coupons.  He was working on some of the tobacco farms and when he would visit he would pick up my brother’s guitar and play it.  Paolo loved singing and even today when I hear the song “Maria Elena” I think of him.  It is such a clear memory I have.

A friend remembers that when they were getting POWs, she said to her dad, “I hope we get an opera singer”.  Italians were well known for their beautiful singing.

During the war dad kept himself to himself.  Of course the police came to search our home but they didn’t find anything, not that I am sure they knew what they were looking for.  Dad was a quiet man and the police sergeant had a quiet word with dad and told him to keep out of sight.  I think they knew about the internments and knew dad was a good man and that is what dad did.  He kept busy with the farm and not with all the other goings on.

When I reflect back to those days, there was a lot  going on with Italians in our district during the war.

My husband Darryl and I owned and operated the general grocery store in Yelarbon from 1945-1988. With the Italian population in the district, abandonment of rationing and ease of access to continental small-goods post war, we were able to cater for the shift in consumer demand toward Italian food. Romano cheese, salamis, mortadella, coffee as well as cartons and cartons of Nanda’s pasta became staples on our shelves.

Zita Hutton (nee Rodigherio)

Texas. Huttons

Hutton’s Foodland in Yelarbon

(John Oxley Library Negative number: 4961)

 

*Records indicate that Oreste Gelosa, also was billited with the Borelands.

 

 

‘Escarp’ with Me

My husband Dudley and his twin brother Lesley George Dickenson took over their mother’s farm at Haly Creek. I was 21 years old and  Dudley and I were newly married when Les arranged for Italian Prisoners of War to come and work on the farm.

Dickenson.Dudley and Joyce wedding 1943 (1)

Dudley Dickenson and Joyce Vidler

1 December 1943

(from the collection of Joyce Dickenson (nee Vidler))

My husband Dudley and his twin brother Lesley George Dickenson took over their mother’s farm at Haly Creek. I was 21 years old and  Dudley and I were newly married when Les arranged for Italian Prisoners of War to come and work on the farm.

Our farm was a mixed farm: dairying, pigs, cash crops such as peanuts, maize, and sorghum.  We also kept barley and oats.

Giuseppe Lettera and Giovacchino  Luciente were driven the 20 mile out to the farm in an army truck and no doubt the driver briefed Les and Dud.  They arrived about 10am and I gave the Italians and the driver a cup of tea.  The Italians didn’t speak any English, but I suppose we took such things in our stride in those days.

Giuseppe and Giovacchino would help feed the pigs, bring in the cows from the lucerne (you couldn’t keep the cows on the lucerne for longer than 10 minutes) and other farm work.  They could ride horses and brought the cows in that way. Things were pretty easy going and I don’t think they were overworked and didn’t always work full days.  We had orange trees in our modest household orchard and the trees were never as well kept as when the Italians were there.  The two men pruned and tended to the orange trees.

My memories of the men are that they were young men, ordinary men with no will to fight or to be the enemy.  They were terribly homesick and would look forward to receiving letters which came on canteen day once a week on a Monday. The canteen truck also brought them cigarettes and replacement clothing.

Everything they wore was red. Red socks, red underpants, the lot. They did their own washing in the old boilers.  The red dye ran and by the time they left, their clothes were worse for wear and shabby looking.

We treated them as part of the family.  They slept in a room at the corner of two verandas of a Queenslander.  We ate together in the kitchen, there was no dining room in that house and they ate whatever was served.  I would cook spaghetti with tomato sauce as they did miss their own type of food.  At night, they would help wipe up the dishes and after tea we would talk.

Dudley and Les learnt how to count to ten in Italian.  It was a trick that Dud trotted out for the rest of his life.  Dud had quite a good accent and the kids who were born after the Italians left, knew about the counting but not about the source of knowledge.  Giuseppe had asked me to “escarp” with him and this was a good story we told with the accent “escarp” rather than escape.  The army took these things seriously and Giuseppe was moved to another  farm about 6 kms away.

kingaroy-lettera

Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card – Lettera, Guiseppe

(National Archives of Australia NAA: J 3118, 91)

Dud and I played tennis but the men weren’t interested in coming with us on a Sunday to our tennis games.  We left them at home, they were trustworthy.  One of the rules was that they weren’t supposed to have contact with other POWs but they did, from Bookless and Kearney farms.  The POWs were trusted.

They also weren’t allowed alcohol.  But they used the oranges to make liquor, making a still out of a 4 gallon kerosene tin.  I don’t think they had much success with the alcohol, so I don’t count the still as a breach in the rules, it was more giving the men something to do and I don’t think it tasted that good.

I remember that the Italians were scared of frogs.  The veranda where they slept was unsealed and so the frogs would get in.  The men would stuff rags into the corrugations of the roof to try to keep the frogs out.  They would catch the frogs and take them away but two days later they would be back.

Other memories of those days is that on a Sunday, they would walk 1 – 2 miles to church.  Dud set up a ping pong table for them, I suppose to give them something to do as they weren’t interested in tennis.  They were very particular with their shaving, Giuseppe had a moustache and then grew a small beard.

Giuseppe and Giovacchino weren’t with us long, but it seemed like a long time.  It was long enough for them to become part of our family and for me to have fond memories of those times.

Joyce Dickenson (Haly Creek)