Tag Archives: POWs WW2

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

Tingoora

Tingoora Railway Station

(Keith Kratzmann southburnett.com.au 12 April 2016)

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

 

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 Haly Creek farm about 6 kms away owned by Cecils.

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)

The Flying Fox and Chocolate

nambour-fresco-2

Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card – Fresco, Luigi, PWI 57235

(National Archives of Australia Series J3118,64)

I was a child during WW2 and with my family: the Ivins, lived on Cooloolabin Road Yandina. Across the road from us was a racecourse that was converted into an Army Camp.  My mum used to make tea and scones for some of the young Army fellows who should have been up in the heavily wooded area of our property undergoing ‘jungle’ training. There was a fair amount of army activity in the district at that time.

Our neighbour was Dan Mills and he had a banana plantation at Cooloolabin and he had Italian prisoners of war working on the farm.

I have clear memories of the Italians, not too many memories because we lived in town, but none the less clear ones.  Dan Mills grew bananas on the side of the hillside and he had a flying fox set up which ran from the banana crop to the shed down on the flat.  How we children loved to go up to the Mills’ farm.  Dan would take me, my brother Brian and this two sons Billy and Charlie up to the farm and the best part was that the Italians would put us in the flying fox crate and send us down through the air to the shed: Italians, bananas and children.  What fun! We loved the invitation to go with Dan Mills to his farm.

From the farm to town would have been 5 or 6 miles and I remember the Italians from time to time walking past our house and going in to town.  They wore maroon uniforms and kept to themselves.  I had always thought that they might be going in to town to get supplies but now I know that they were probably going to church on a Sunday.

I always had the impression that the Italians were a happy lot.  They were just happy to be out of the war zone.  Maybe content is a good word.  We children always felt comfortable around them.  They were like any other farm workers and they knew we loved to ride the flying fox.  In a way they were like a ‘big brother’.  One of my brothers, Clark was mortally wounded at the Battle of Milne Bay and he died in his 24th year.  It was a very sad time for my family.  On reflection, these Italians were the age of my brother.

I have always had a memory which associated the Italian prisoners of war with chocolate.  Chocolate would have been one of those luxuries before the war and most definitely not available in shops during the war.  I have since learnt that the Italians were able to purchase items from an army Canteen Truck and many of these products were not available in civilian shops.  Chocolate was one of the items. Maybe my first taste of chocolate was when the Italians gave us children some.  How special to think that these fellows, and they wouldn’t have had much money or access to money, would buy chocolates to share with us.  A wonderful gesture of kindness and friendship.

“Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland 1943-1946” has given me the names of two Italians for my memories: Vincenzo Fusilli and Luigi Fesco and also a photo for Luigi.  After 70 years, I am so pleased that these men have not been forgotten.

Lorna Akers (nee Ivins)

18.2.17

 

Fa la ninna, fa la nanna

Boonah.Rackely Masciulli Pintabona

Domenico Masciulli and Francesco Pintabona Rosewood Christmas 1944

(from the collection of Judith Lane (nee Rackley)

My father was Cyril William Rackley and our farm was at Radford, on the Fassifern-Boonah Line.  We grew everything: watermelon, sorghum, potatoes, wheat, pumpkins, lucerne hay, corn, peanuts.  Our farm was what you would call a mixed farm as we also had dairy cows with the cream going to Harrisville and poultry hens for eggs. Daddy would get in labourers as pickers but I can’t recall us having any land army girls.

I would have been 7 or 8 years old when Domenico Masciulli entered our lives in August 1944. His record states 4.8.44 and he was with us until November 1945 when Daddy died.  Domenico was a nice guy.  He was short and stocky, the opposite of Francesco Pintabona who was at Uncle Roderick’s farm. Frank was tall and lean.  Mum treated Domenico like one of the family.  He ate all his meals with the family.

I have clear memories of Domenico singing lullabies to my baby sister.  She was born in January 1944 and he would carry her around and look after her when mum was busy.  He would sing a lullaby and this is how I remember it:  “anan nana biceleila, go to sleep”.

Domenico lived in a hut on the farm.  It had a bed, a duchess and a wash basin. Sunday was a rest day.  No manual work was done on Sunday, only the basic chores that needed to be done on a daily basis. Italian POWs from other farms would visit Domenico’s hut for morning tea, which I suppose mum made for them.  I remember a big fight or disagreement between some of them, but this was quashed and all was forgotten.

One Sunday, Domenico asked permission for he and Frank to cook our family lunch. They used the biggest saucepan mum had to cook the mince sauce on the stove. It cooked for what seemed like hours.  To cook up the spaghetti, they filled up the washing copper with water and boiled up the spaghetti. The copper was full of spaghetti.  The spaghetti came in a huge crate and the strands of spaghetti would have been 24 inches long.  Mum would slide this big box in a space under the kitchen sink cupboard.  Frank and Domenico served us a huge plate of spaghetti and we had to eat it all.  It was beautiful. The other food memory I have is of the cheese they would make. After a cow calved, Domenico would take the first milk of the cow and make a cheese with it.  It was more like a curd.  It was disgusting.

The canteen truck would come around with provisions and mail for the Italians.  Toiletries, shirts and socks and such were purchased from the canteen. I remember a wafer biscuit and lollies which Domenico would share with us.  Salvital was also something else he bought.

Daddy had throat cancer and Domenico took on all the work around the farm.  He was invaluable. To converse, he got by with a dictionary and I suppose he learnt basic English.  After the war Domenico wrote to mum as there had been talk of my family sponsoring him.  Mum couldn’t afford to bring him out and by then mum had moved us to Rosewood where her family lived.

Rosewood was where we celebrated Christmas in 1944.  Mum, Daddy, me, my two sisters and Domenico and Frank travelled to Rosewood.  The photo of Domenico and Frank was taken then.  Mum must have ironed Domenico’s clothes because his pants have a crisp crease down the centre of the legs.  Frank’s uniform hung off him.  While the uniforms consisted of a tunic jacket and tailored pants, they were red, the term used was magenta and they were made of wool.  Not really suited for farming during a hot Queensland summer.

I have fond memories of Domenico.  He had a banjo and would play it and sing Italian songs.  Then there was the fancy work and embroidery that he did.  We used to have a fancy work with a Madonna and Child that was embroidered by Domenico.  I think it was a skill taught when he was in India.

Judith Lane

March 2017

Lullaby

Fa la ninna, fa la nanna

Fa la ninna, fa la nanna
Nella braccia della mamma
Fa la ninna bel bambin,
Fa la nanna bambin bel,
Fa la ninna, fa la nanna
Nella braccia della mamma.

Go to Sleep, Go to Sleepy

Go to sleep, go to sleepy
In the arms of your mother,
Go to sleep, lovely child,
Go to sleepy, child so lovely,
Go to sleep, go to sleepy
In the arms of your mother.