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15.7.42 to 9.7.18
It was on Ian’s Warrill View farm that I felt closest to this history. Ian walked me back to 1944 and introduced me to his playmates: Francesco Pintabona, Salvatore Mensile, Vincenzo Nocca, Domenico Masciulli.
Through Ian, I could see Ian as a toddler sitting on Frankie’s shoulder, I could hear the Italians singing to the strumming of a mandolin, I caught a glimpse of Domenico walking through the paddocks from Cyril Rackley’s farm and I could feel the emotion and nostalgia of those days.
I met Ian in July 2017 after many phone calls and discussions about this history. We continued our conversations, as Ian honestly understood my passion for this history and the importance of recording it. With his dry sense of humour and gravely voice, Ian taught me much about life and family.
Ian was taken too soon from his family.
My sincere condolences to Carmel and family.
*** I have reposted this story, in memory of Ian Harsant***
The emotionally moving story of Frank and Ian is a special story of a friendship between an Italian POW and an Aussie toddler that spans over seven decades.
Ian Harsant’s life-long friendship with Francesco Pintabona, an Italian POW stationed at Boonah is a beautiful story of a little boy’s memory of his Italian friend and his search to find him in the post war chaos. Letters were exchanged but rarely received and contact was lost. By the time Harsant found any news of Pintabona, he had passed away 20 years previous.
Francesco Pintabona of Taviano, Lecce was captured in Bardia. He came to the Harsant farm, Warrill View Boonah 4th August 1944. Records indicate that he was evacuated to 67 ACH 8th December 1945 and then moved to Gaythorne 27 December 1945, which is probably the reason why Harsant has no memory of saying ‘goodbye’ to his friend.
Ian Harsant as a toddler called him Hank, short for Frank and many childhood photos are of Frank and Ian. Photos taken by Ian’s mother capture memories of a day’s work on a farm and a lifelong bond. Frank and Ian’s friendship was special as Di Morris wrote: “Little careful acts were noticed, like putting his (Frank) own handkerchief over the boy’s face when the flies were bad. Once he even rushed him back to the farmhouse for a nappy change when it became obvious he had soiled his pants…There was another language they shared; the language of lollies, cordial and biscuits which Frank obtained with his little friend in mind when he patronised the visiting truck from Boonah with his small POW wage”. (Morris, 2015)
Ian reflects that the Italians were non-Fascist, fit and healthy. Not one to wax lyrically, Ian recalls an incident between his dad and Santo Murano, who had been transferred from Frank Sweeney’s farm to Warrill View. Roderick Harsant was a firmer boss than Sweeney. The incident involved a lot of shouting and a threatening lifting of a shovel toward the farmer. Mr Collins, the officer in charge of the Boonah centre was called. On Santo’s record in June 1945, is the awarding of 28 days detention: conduct prejudicial to good order, no doubt for this incident. There were other Italians who worked on the farm but they were a good mob. Domenico Masciulli was billeted with Ian’s uncle Cecil Rackley but then went to Warril View when Rackley died toward the end of 1945. Salvatore Mensile and Vincenzo Nocca worked for Wallace Roderick another relative who lived a couple of mile away and either visited Frank or also worked on the Harsant farm.
Memories of music are paired with this time in Ian’s life. The Italians were musical. Domenico had a mandolin and Sundays, their day of rest, was the time you would hear them singing and the mandolin being played. Sunday was the day the Italians from the farms around would get together.
Ian Harsant’s journey to find Frank, culminated in being in contact with Fausto Pintabona, a relative of Frank. Fausto summed up Ian and Frank’s friendship as ‘a beautiful lesson in life’.
Watch the video to hear more about Ian and Frank.
Written and produced by Billy Jack Harsant
Anthony Brown reminisces about the Nicko and Pasquali who lived on the Brown farm via Kenilworth 1944-1945:
I remember Mum saying, “Boy can they eat!” They ate meals with us and were part of the family. Mum did all the cooking, she was a fantastic cook. Nicko and Pasquali slept on the verandah with my brother Craig and myself. My sister slept in her own room inside the house. The beds were canvas stretchers with a coir mattress (husk of coconuts). They were supplied with their own blankets which I recall were dyed red.
The red coloured clothing was supplied by the army and was plentiful. The red dye came out in the wash tubs. In those days you carted water from the creek and a wood fired copper was used to wash the clothes. The clothes were wool and I remember them only wearing long trousers.
In those days, neighbours helped each other out. There were two creek crossings into our farm which kept getting flooded. The POWs from EV Kirk’s farm helped our two pick up rocks from the farmers’ paddocks to put in the creek crossings to dam the water way in preparation for concreting the crossings. My dad contributed his POW workforce which meant he paid the wages for the job. Another farmer paid for the cement and the council supplied the trucks, overseer and equipment such as a cement mixer. The 1956 floods washed away the top of the causeway they made.
Our two POWs were different in nature. I was 12 years old, and through my eyes, Nicko seemed more like a farmer and Pasquali more a ‘towny’ type. Pasquali seemed more low key and spoke better English than Nicko. My sister Dolores remembers that Pasquali sent a letter to us after they went back to Italy. She was nine years old at the time and thought Pasquali was good looking.
Nicko was short. I was 5 foot six inches when I was 12 years old, and much taller than Nicko. His record states that he was 4 foot 11 inches. Once when a bag of potatoes came down from the Maleny butter factory dad kept them up in the dairy which was a way from the house. Dad measured out about 40 pounds of potatoes and gave them to Nicko to take home; it was about 1 km from the dairy to the house. Nicko took over ½ hour to get home with the potatoes. When Nicko arrived home, he said to my dad as a way of excusing his lateness, “Mr Brown, you up there. Poor Nicko down here.” Dad was 6 foot tall and Nicko was 4 foot 11 inches.
Pasquali and Nicko helped in the dairy; milking morning and night. So the farm routine was early to rise and to bed by 7pm. On the farm, we had 32 volts electricity. They did other jobs as needed. Dad sent them down to brush away the rubbish from near the dairy. He wanted the area cleaned up from the side of the hill leading down to the creek. They cut down mum’s cumquart tree and left the other trees standing. I remember Dad saying “The only tree you chopped down was the cumquart tree!” It had prickles so I think they thought it was a rubbish tree. The tree recovered and is still there on the farm today.
Nicko told Dad about his capture, “I flee! I flee!” He was the more industrious one and made baskets from the lawyer cane. One of the things they were required to do during their captivity was to learn crafts to keep them occupied. I had the feeling that Pasquali was more of an academic as he didn’t seem to do too much of the physical work.
One of the baskets made by Nicko was called “The Egg Basket”. It was used by to collect the eggs laid by the hens. My sister Dolores remembers that Nicko also made a laundry basket; used for collecting the clean clothes. She also remembers how they loved their spaghetti and taught my mother how to cook it. The first time mum made it, the big boiler was chockers with spaghetti. One of them said, “We cook in copper next time.”
The Italians were always referred to as generally as ‘Dagos’ but I never knew why. At the time, I didn’t know if it was a term of endearment or derogatory.
Their names were Pasquale Mastrantonio and Nicola Fantetti and the records indicate that they came to the farm of AA Brown on 3rd August 1944.
My daughter Sharon has two baskets made by Nicko; a fond reminder of those days during the war.
Tim Dwyer had heard his father’s stories about the Italian prisoners of war on their property at Aratula during WW2. He knew their names and a little bit about them, but it wasn’t until he took over from his mum, as letter writer to one of the POWs, that he appreciated the bonds of friendship formed over 65 years before.
Tim continued to write to Ferdinando Pancisi (known as Ferdy) from 2010 but the ceasation of replies from Italy in recent years signalled the end of a era.
In a tribute to his parents and Ferdy, Tim while on holiday in Italy in 2017, decided to visit Ferdy’s village Civitella di Romagna. With an envelope in his hand and very basic Italian, Tim asked a lady in the street for directions to the address written on the paper.
With much gesticulation and explanation, Tim’s village guide understood he was “The Australian” and knocked on a door and roused 100 year old Ferdy.
Finding Ferdy was like finding treasure and Tim left Civitella di Romagna with a heavy heart. There was much he wanted to say and questions he wanted to ask but his holiday schedule and language were against him.
Realising the importance of capturing the memories and stories of Ferdy, not only of his time with the Dwyer family, but also his time as a soldier and prisoner of war, Tim engaged the services of Tammy Morris, a Kiwi living in Tavarnelle, Chianti.
The legacy of friendship between an Italian POW and the Dwyer family, is the capturing and recording of this vital first hand account of the life of an Italian soldier and POW. Read the full story: PANCISI Ferdinando.
Tammy and her husband Nicola Cianti arranged to visit Ferdinando, tape his memories, transcribe them then translate them. Tammy said, “Ferdinando has an extremely fresh memory and is an energetic and jovial person!”
Ferdy walked back in time and explained about his time as a soldier and medic in Libya, his capture, working in the hospital in a POW camp in India, his first impressions of his farm boss (Tim’s father), his return home and almost emigrating to USA and Ferdy sang SOTTO IL CIEL DI BANGALORE.
Ferdy reflected about his return to Italy in 1947,
“They prepared my bed, heated it up for me. I had a warm welcome, felt cozy, happy to be home. The only problem was that when I woke up in the morning, I felt kind of out of place! I was used to moving around and seeing the World. How was I going to make it here? I was feeling a bit like a fish out of water! This little village was too small for me!”
Even as a young man, Ferdy had a gift for wise words and in a letter he wrote to Pat Dwyer in 1946, he sends a message: ‘A cheer up to Pauline! Tell her she should be glad because youthness passes away like a wind and nobody can’t stop it’.
When talking about Tim and Cathy’s unannounced visit, Ferdy’s philosophy on life is revealed: “You see, this is the joy of living life -when you don’t know what kind of surprise is coming your way, making each day a pleasure”.
And quite possibly Ferdinando Pancisi’s philosophy and positivity guided him through those difficult war years.
I congratulate Tim on his efforts to co-ordinate a remarkable mission to capture Ferdy’s memories. I thank also Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti for realising the importance of Ferdy’s journey as a soldier and prisoner of war and their willingness to record this history.
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.
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.
I am reposting this article in memory of Angelo Valiante. Interviewing Angelo in 2017 was truly an honour. My sincere condolences to Angelo’s family. One of life’s true gentleman.
Angelo Valiante is well known in the Granite Belt of south-east Queensland for his contribution to the region.
He is so well respected that a mural by Guido van Helten was commissioned by the Stanthorpe Art Gallery in 2016 to celebrate his 73 year involvement in the community and his 100 year milestone.
Soon to turn 101, Angelo has also been captured on canvas for Jacques van der Merwe’s exhibition “New Arrivals” and his story is part of Franco and Morwenna Arcidiacono “Echoes of the Granite Belt” which details the history of Italians and their contribution to the area.
Life goes a little more quietly now for Angelo but a morning spent with him showed that he is a keen and animated story teller and willing to talk about some of his experiences as an Italian soldier in Libya, his treatment as a prisoner of war and his memories of incidents in Cowra and Q1 PWCC Stanthorpe.
What I learnt from Angelo was not only details of his journey as a prisoner of war. With a wily wisdom and experience that comes with being 100 years old, Angelo gave me much more than facts. I found out about determination, endurance and perspective. A youth stolen from him by war. Starvation and deprivation as a Mussolini soldier. Prejudice experienced as a migrant family in the 1950s. Success with hard work. Strong family connections. A proud legacy.
Carmel Peck (Dywer) from Boonah told me that her family’s Italian POWs enriched their lives. This reflection holds true on so many levels and for so many Queensland families who welcomed the Italian POWs.
After interviewing Angelo in September 2017, I can honestly and humbly say that Angelo Valiante has enriched my life.
Walking in his Boots: Angelo’s Prisoner of War Journey
The Atherton Maize harvest 1944 was predicted to be a record crop and Department of Manpower was approached in 1944 for Italian POWs to work the harvest. A letter from Vincent Quilter, a Tolga farmer asks for information about the process of applying for POW labour. The idea of using 200 Italian POWs was suggested March 1944: to increase vegetable production, work on tobacco, peanut and maize farms. By May 1944, the proposal was rejected. The 1944 harvest was worked by southern pickers whose return fares were paid and who earned between 6 to 7 pounds per week. The harvest figures were 17,000 tons from 17,000 acres.
The 1945 harvest was predicted to be down due to an excessively wet season and only 5,000 ton was harvested from 18,000 acres. But 120 pickers were urgently required to work the harvest.
The closest POW workforce was stationed at Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill. Q6 Home Hill was a purpose built hostel for 250 Italian POWs who worked on the Commonwealth Vegetable Project in the Burdekin. It operated from April 1944 to November 1945.
Up until beginning of June 1945, the director of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, Mr Bulcock would not sanction Italian POWs from Home Hill to go to Atherton as he believed he could not afford for his program to be jeopardised by the reduced workforce. Out of 230 POWs at Home Hill, he said that only 100 was of any value. A rethink and negotiations by the involved government parties, saw approval given by 12 June 1945, to set up a temporary arrangement for approximately 8 weeks and loan 60 POWs from Home Hill Hostel.
The ‘Temporary PWCC Atherton’ (prisoner of war control centre without guard) would have been an office set up in a building in Atherton to oversee the POWs and manned by army personnel from Home Hill. Or possibly, it was set up at an army facility such as the State Farm at Kairi. The army personnel would have been put up in boarding houses or hotels and the Italian POWs would have been billeted in groups of 2 – 3 to farmers within a radius of 25 miles of Atherton. The POWs wore magenta dyed army issues, so as to be highly visible, although when working on farms, could wear their own clothing. The farmers paid 1 pound per week to the Department of Commerce and Agriculture as it was the employing authority of the Home Hill POWs.
Fifty three Italian POWs arrived from Home Hill in Atherton on 3 July 1945 and were allocated to farmers on 4 July 1945. By 26 September 1945, the temporary PWCC was closed and the POWs returned to Home Hill. The majority were captured in Libya and one was captured in Greece. These POWs came from all walks of life and had been prisoners of war for over 4 years having spent time at Prisoner of War Camps in Hay, Yanco and Cowra.
There was much military activity on the Atherton Tablelands during World War 2 and so the presence of 53 Italian POWs working on maize farms for 8 weeks would be easy to forget. However, one local Jack Duffy remembers well seeing the men in red coats walking the road from the State Farm to the maize farms. His father jokingly told him they were “Rugby Union Players”. Dick Daley from Tolga still has one of the tools used in those days to harvest the maize. A leather strap around closed fingers, with an embedded three inch nail, was used to slice open the husk and the cob would then be removed.
The Rocky Creek War Memorial Park records the history of military activity on the Atherton Tablelands during World War 2. Nine Italian POWs spent time at the 47 ACH (Australian Camp Hospital) and seven spent time at Staging Camp (Kairi) most probably the State Farm precinct which had been taken over by the 5th Australian Farm Camp.