The Ossario, located in a quiet corner of the Murchison Cemetery was completed in 1961 and is a beautifully crafted Mediterranean style building. It contains the remains of Italian Prisoners of War and Internees who died on Australian soil during World War 2.
Every year, on the second Sunday in November, hundreds of people gather to remember the 129 men and one woman for whom the Ossario is their last resting place.
On Sunday 11th November this year, a warm sunny day with a lovely clear blue sky, the occasion was again well attended by over 300 people. Mostly of Italian descent, they travel from Melbourne, interstate, overseas and across Victoria and are joined by locals who appreciate this special occasion. The ceremony is moving, suitably reverent and also colourful with many Italian Military Service uniforms, banners, flags, floral wreaths and bouquets in abundance.
Col. A.W. Sandford, the son of Sir Wallace Sandford wrote an article Naples – when Italian Prisoners Return Home which was published in November 1946. While on his way to Hamburg to re-joining the British Army of occupation, he travelled in a ship transporting returning Italian POW.
The repatriation ship was most likely Chitral which had left Australia in September 1946 with over 2700 Italian prisoners on board.
From Advertiser (Adelaide, SA: 1931-1954), Thursday 21 November 1946, page 6.
...From the decks below a constant murmur of hushed excited voices could be heard – over three thousand prisoners, straining their eyes to catch their first glimpse through the grey mists of the docks where they hope to find parents, wives, children, friends, lovers or at worst the attentions of the Italian Red Cross and a rail warrant to freedom.
The light grew slowly more intense as we approached the entrance to the harbor, and one could discern dimly the shaped of buildings in the distance and shipping nearer at hand. Quite suddenly as the pilot clambered aboard from this ramshackle launch, the first rays of morning struck a cluster of white and pink villas on the headland, away to port – Posilippo, the ‘garden suburb’ of the town. The city itself shielded by Vesuvius was still plunged in grew gloom, but these scattered villas and palaces on their romantic terraced cliff glittered fiercely in the sun.
By this time more passengers had begun to appear and were standing in twos and threes on the boat deck leaning over the rail. They watched the sun strike the ancient castle on Capodimonte as we slipped into the harbour mouth and stared in surprise at the city which began to appear, like a stage effect through the dissipating mist.
The harbour was impressive. The carved stone arms of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies still stand on the western mole, as they stood in Nelson’s day and between the pillars could be seen among the trees towards Posilippo, the glittering white cube of the Villa Emma, where Lady Hamilton held court.
The massive Castel Nuovo still dominates the docks but the splendid new quays built of reinforced concrete by the Fascists have stood far less well than solid Bourbon stone masonry the effect of high explosive bombs.
The Fort of Castell Dell’ Ovo 1944 Naples
(Photo from Imperial War Memorial)
The murmur of the returning prisoners of war had grown to a loud babble as they saw the Italian warships huddled ingloriously against the naval mole and two large liners burned out and rusted lying on the bottom of the city Side. Another liner had capsized just beneath the eastern mole, and in the centre of the docks, an American troopship was discharging across the hull of another capsized and rusting casualty. This they observed in a second and then all eyes were turned to the nearest quay which was clearly made ready to receive us. Stevedores were busy trundling gangways, there were lines of trucks drawn up, lines of carabinieri and here and there the scarlet caps of British military policemen.
Then all at once the prisoners seemed to see in the shadow of the damaged gallery rows and rows of dark-clothed men and women, and a good many children too. These struggled and shouted and gesticulated from beyond the police cordon in the shadows striving to make themselves heard above the yelling of soldiers and stevedores and the raucous braying of a brass band which struggled on to the quay without a conductor and burst at once into a rendering more vigorous than accurate of “Funiculi, Funicula”.
Jennifer Ellis stumbled across a portrait of a lady and so began her journey to understand the history behind the portrait and painter…
Jennifer writes, “It was purchased in a second hand shop in Smythesdale Victoria for the sum of two dollars. It’s not framed . On canvas . On back is branded 1943 on the canvas. In red writing it has Riccardo del.bo Parma Italy. The front is signed like the picture in [your Del Bo] article and dated 1946. Pow . The detail is beautiful.”
Signature of Riccardo Del Bo 1944 and 1946
(photos courtesy of Janette Ratcliffe (Jones) and Jennifer Ellis)
It is with thanks to Janette Ratcliffe (Jones) that we know a little about Del Bo and his time on the Jones farm at Severnlea via Stanthorpe. Riccardo Del Bo was from the Parma region in Italy and had been captured in Greece on 24th January 1941. He arrived in Australian on ‘Queen Mary’ 13th October 1941 and was sent to Cowra PW & I Camp until his transfer to Stanthorpe via Gaythorne PW & I Camp in Mid October 1943.
On 7th February 1945 he was transferred to Murchison PW & I Camp in Victoria until his repatriation to Italy on the ‘Otranto’ on 10th January 1947.
It would appear that Jennifer’s ‘Del Bo’ was painted while he was in Murchison PW & I Camp. The answers to the questions: who is the lady in the painting? how did the painting get from a prisoner of war camp to a second hand shop? what is this painting’s story? Did Del Bo continue painting? will probably never be known. Shortly after Del Bo’s arrival at Murchison, he was photographed: he is the last man standing on the right.
Jennifer’s keen eye and interest in the history of her second hand bargain, means that another small part of the history of Italian prisoners of war in Australia has been pieced together.
Jennifer reflects, ” I am also happy that I have found some history of this picture. The man I purchased it from can’t remember where he got it from as its been hidden away… When I told him about the history he was amazed. He is an antique/junk seller, and when I mentioned the pow under the signature he was surprised that he missed it. As I said it’s still probably only worth two dollars- but worth more in the history of it. I don’t think it has ever been framed. I’d say perhaps he [Del Bo] made it as a gift for someone and they kept it in a draw rolled up. It would be great to see if he continued his art. “
And 73 years later, the Arici and Maddock families celebrate a reunion.
Antonio Arici was 29 years old when he went to work on the farm of Norm and May Maddock at Hill View via Mukinbudin. In December 2017, Antonio’s grandson Davide Dander began his research journey for his grandfather when he asked the question: Can you help me?
Antonio left the Maddock farm on 15th January 1946 and on 24th June 2019, Sophie Maddock from Western Australia stepped off a train at Brescia Italy to visit the Arici family.
Sophie is the great grandaughter of Norm and May Maddock and her grandfather Bert Maddock remembers Antonio from when he lived at the family farm. Bert and his wife Jocelyn are unable to make a trip to Italy but Sophie was more than happy and very honoured to visit the Arici family.
History connects people and events, often in unexpected ways. Australia and Italy. A farmer and a prisoner of war. 1940s and 2010s. War and peace. But there is one special similarity: families who share the same values; importance of family and respect for everyone.
Different countries. Different backgrounds. Different decades. Different circumstances.
“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” George Elliot
Vito Eliseo has a passion for local history and undertakes research trying to reconstruct the stories of all those from his village who died during WW II. Vito believes that is important to make these stories known to future generations. He is concerned that in Italy there are still children who do not know what happened to their parents.
One of the Italian prisoners of war who died in Australia during WW2 was Martino D’Aniello, a relative of Vito.
Vito explains, “Unfortunately no one is left of Martino’s immediate family, there were 2 brothers and a sister… I could not find any grandchildren.” Vito has written, In memoria di Martino D’Aniello which you can read at the end of this article.
Martino, a waiter from Serre (Salerno), was 20 years old when he was captured at Tobruk, Libya on the 22nd January 1941. He was 24 years old when he died at the Waranga Hospital [28 Camp Hospital], Murchison Camp Victoria on 3rd December 1944.
This is the sadness of war; regardless of where a soldier died: Libya, Egypt, India or Australia; regardless of whether the man died in battle, in a field hospital or in a prisoner of war hospital; the death of a young man is a tragedy.
List of Italians laid to rest at The Ossario (Photo courtesy of Alex Miles)
The government records offered up a little information about Martino’s death. Martino died 3 days after being sent to hospital for “Acute Nephritis” and then he was buried at the Murchison Cemetery on 5th December 1944. In 1961, his remains were exhumed and he was re-interred at The Ossario* Murchison on 6th September 1961 and his name is on a bronze plaque at its entrance.
There is some comfort in knowing where Martino now ‘rests in peace’. There is no comfort though knowing that your loved one died on the other side of the world without family and friends.
A series of extraordinary and unconnected circumstances, has brought to light an invaluable insight into the funeral of Martino. Martino’s funeral was photographed by a representative from the International Committee for the Red Cross.
Funeral of Martino D’Aniello 5th December 1944(ICRC V-P-HIST 01184-10)
On the 5th December 1944, under an Australian summer’s sky; surrounded by Cypress pines and eucalyptus, Martino’s compatriots stand solemnly at his graveside. He was far from home, but Martino was not alone.
Funeral of Martino D’Aniello 5th December 1944(ICRC V-P-HIST 01184-11)
Australian soldiers from the Murchison Camp together with Italian prisoners of war respectfully farewelled Martino. Vito reflects, “it is a consolation for his family to know that Martino did not die alone, he had the comfort of his companions and the generous people near him who considered him a guest and not a prisoner.”
Funeral of Martino D’Aniello 5th December 1944(ICRC V-P-HIST 01184-13)
Grave of Martino D’Aniello 5th December 1944with temporary marker front right(ICRC V-P-HIST 01184-12)
As men, we are all equal in the presence of death.
Martino D’Aniello nasce a Serre il 13 ottobre 1920 da Valentino e Michelina Mennella, un ragazzo come tanti altri, frequenta la scuola fino alla V elementare, e come tutti i suoi coetanei viene chiamato alla visita di leva il 6 giugno 1939, ed essendo di sana e robusta costituzione, per di più patentato, viene arruolato per poi essere chiamato alle armi il 1 febbraio 1940.
Viene assegnato al 1° Reggimento Fanteria G.a.F. (Guardia alla Frontiera) del XX° C.A. in Napoli, dopo la vestizione ed il necessario addestramento il giorno 8 marzo si imbarca per arrivare a Tripoli il giorno 11 marzo 1940.
Assegnato al XXXV° Settore di copertura, già dal successivo 11 giugno, viene a trovarsi in “territorio in stato di guerra”, la successiva assegnazione al 6° Autogruppo di Manovra lo condurrà a Tobruk, ed è su tale città che si stà concentrando l’attenzione degli inglesi per l’importanza strategica del suo porto.
La città cinta d’assedio dovette capitolare e fu occupata il 21 gennaio 1941, con la conseguente cattura di tutti i militari italiani che vi si trovavano, ed è in tale data che inizia l’odissea di Martino, con la sua tragica conclusione.
Gli inglesi a seguito delle positive vicende belliche in nord-Africa si ritrovarono a gestire alcune centinaia di migliaia di prigionieri che dovettero inevitabilmente smistare lontano dalle zone di guerra, e Martino, in questa moltitudine, si ritrovò prima a Ceylon e poi a Bombay in India, da qui ancora un altro trasferimento, a bordo del piroscafo Mount Vernon, che lo vede sbarcare il 26 aprile 1944 nel porto di Melbourne in Australia.
In Australia viene internato nel campo prigionieri di guerra di Murchison nel distretto di Vittoria, dove ai prigionieri è permesso anche di andare a lavorare fuori presso terzi, cosa che, dal 27 giugno 1944, inizia a fare anche Martino andando a lavorare presso mr. Kyneton, un allevatore di ovini, questo lavoro durerà poco, fino al 2 settembre, perché si ammala di una grave forma di nefrite, e rientra al campo.
Per l’aggravarsi delle condizioni il 30 novembre viene ricoverato nell’ospedale di Waranga, però il male è incurabile e muore il giorno 3 dicembre 1944 ed il giorno 5 dicembre viene sepolto nel cimitero della città di Murchison, poco dopo i compagni di prigionia provvidero a costruire una tomba più dignitosa che non il mucchio di terra che si vede nella foto.
Purtroppo le sue traversie ancora non erano finite, infatti il settore del cimitero dove era sepolto negli anni 50 subisce un allagamento, e questo episodio fece si che un italiano, che viveva nelle vicinanze, desse inizio ad una colletta tra i tanti italiani emigrati e con i fondi raccolti fu costruito un MEMORIALE, ove nel 1961 furono trasferiti i resti mortali di tutti i prigionieri italiani deceduti durante la prigionia.
Ogni anno il tale MEMORIALE, la domenica prossima all’ 11 novembre vi viene tenuta una cerimonia di commemorazione.
Tracing the footsteps of the Italian prisoners of war in Australia is not just about dates, names and numbers. It is about everyday life in a Prisoner of War & Internment Camp, a Prisoner of War Control hostel or on a farm in the outback.
At this special time of the year, I have looked for glimpses of what a Christmas was like for the Italian POWs in Australia.
Special Christmas concessions were authorised on 17th December 1943 which applied to German and Italian prisoners of war in camps, labour detachments and hostels. Initial arrangements were made for German POWs with reciprocal arrangements for Australia POWs in Germany, but this later extended to the Italian POWs.
The concessions were:
Service orders and Camp Routine be relaxed in the discretion of Camp Commandants on Christmas Eve and on Christmas day
That extension of hours of lighting be permitted on Christmas Eve.
Facilities be provided for decoration of living quarters, mess rooms etc.
That the maximum quantity of beer to be supplied to each P.W. be one pint on Christmas Eve and one pint on Christmas day.
(AWM52 1/1/14/6 November – December 1943)
Italian collectors of military postal history identify the Kangaroo Postcard below, as being distributed to POWs in Australia by the YMCA for Christmas 1943. These postcards gave family members in Italy a glimpse into life in Australia.
Giuseppe Grimaldi was 24 years old when he wrote Christmas wishes to his mother from the banks of the Burdekin River via Home Hill. A mechanic from Lucera Foggia he had arrived at Q6 Hostel on 15th September 1944.
How different his Christmas on an isolated farm surrounded by bush with its tropical and humid weather would have been compared with his home of Lucera with its Roman amphitheatre and medieval castle.
… I send many kisses for my brothers Antonio and Mario. And to you many kisses and hugs from your son Giuseppe. Best wishes for a Holy Christmas.
(letter courtesy of Reinhard Krieger)
Christmas on Queensland Farms 1944 and 1945
From the Boonah district, Judith Lane (nee Rackely) remembers,
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.
Domenico Masciulli and Francesco Pintabona Rosewood Christmas 1944
(from the collection of Judith Lane (nee Rackley)
Neil Buchanan at Redslopes Goomboorian via Gympie wrote in the farm diary,
Dec 25 1945 Xmas Day. Made presentation of watches to POWs.
On Christmas day 1945, we spent the day with Ross and Edna [Erbs at Mooloo]. When we arrived home at nine o’clock that night, the prisoners were celebrating Christmas, the P.O.W’s for miles around were here, there must have been 30 of them, they had an His Masters Voice gramophone playing music, they were singing and dancing on the concrete floor, all wearing hobnail boots, they were having a great time I suspected there was more than one still made.
Camillo Vernalea who had worked on Stan Marshall’s farm at Wooroolin via Kingaroy, wrote in a letter to Stan about his 1945 Christmas at Gaythorne PW & I Camp:
Dear Stan… This Christmas for us it was one of the worst we had in our life but your good thoughts comforted us a lot and the cake was well enjoied by me, Michele and some others of my best friends who appreciated high goodness of you.
(extract from We Remember by Dorcas Grimmet)
Christmas Loveday Internment Camp No. 10
Johann Friedrich Bambach was interned at Loveday Internment Camp 10 and he captured the everyday life of his internment with a number of watercolours. The artwork above is entitled Christmas Eve in Camp Loveday. His grandson Ralph Guilor together with Peter Dunn at ozatwar.com feature a number of Bambach’s watercolours.
There are many references to the Italian-English language booklet that the Italian prisoners of war were issued with.
Laurie Dwyer from Aratula via Boonah remembers Paul bringing out his book and asking Laurie to help him with learning English: “Paul used the dictionary to try to improve his English but decided that English was stupid. There were a lot of problems with miscommunication. Paul would wait for me to return home from school and then get out the yellow book they had for English. Pronunciation was mainly the problem. Paper and pepper sounded the same. He also had difficulty with tree and the. They had trouble with slang like ‘give it a burl’. One morning dad and the Italians were doing some fencing. It was time to go home for lunch so dad told them to leave the crowbar there. The word leave was a problem and they thought dad wanted them to carry it away with them. Dad would have raised his voice and they thought that he was angry with them. Paul told the interpreter the next day, ‘boss got mad, I got mad’. He thought that he would be taken away. Things were sorted. Another time, the Fordson tractor wouldn’t start so dad went to get the draught horses. The horses wouldn’t get into the yards and dad would have blown off steam and whatever he said, or it might have been the way he said it, Paul and Peter thought they had done something wrong. They had a great deal of respect for dad and they didn’t want to get into trouble. So the next time the interpreter came to the farm, they asked to find out ‘what they did wrong’. They would explain what had happened and the interpreter would explain what had happened.” (Don’t Run Away)
Dorcas Grimmet in “We Remember: The Italian Prisoners of War 1944/45” a publication about the Italian POWs on farms in the Kingaroy district includes a page from an Italian and English Book for Italian POWs.
And we know that language classes were held in camps like Cowra and Hay.
Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War was specifically published and given to Italian POWs being allocated to farm work under the Prisoner of War Control Centre : Without Guard scheme. Some of the sections were: Tools, Machinery, Farm Produce, Animals, Hygiene and Medical, Family, House and Conjugation of Verbs.