Tag Archives: Prigionieri di guerra italiani in Queensland

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

 

 

Cara Mamma

I am very grateful to Reinhard Krieger, a collector of military post, who has shared with me letters and postcards, written by Queensland Italian POWs to their families in Italy.

POW mail was censored but these letters to families still have much to tell us about the men who wrote them.

On 23.10.45, Umberto Liberto wrote a letter to his mother, from a farm in the Q1 Stanthorpe area.  Umberto was one of the youngest POWs who made their way to Queensland.  Born in 1922, he was 19 years old when captured in Libya in February 1941 and 23 years old when he wrote this letter. He had been working on a farm/farms in the Stanthorpe area since 27th October 1943.

Q1 Stanthorpe Liberto Umberto

 

Cowra, NSW. 16 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49731 A. Olivieri; 45651 A. Fazio; 49632 D. Mocchetti; 49373 U. Liberto; 46913 G. Villa; 49942 L. Volonteri. Front row: 45782 L. Gardini; 49884 I. Paniccia; 49436 L. Casinelli; 49792 A. Alessi. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(AWM, Lewecki, Image 030149/21)

23.10.45

Dear Mum

A couple of lines so as to not leave you without any of my news that thanks to God is good, as I hope is the same for you.  Last week my work employers sent you two packages.  I hope that they arrive there.  I have also sent you my photo and eight pounds Stirling but as yet have not receive a reply. Dear Mum, by now the worst has passed but there are still some months and then all will be finished.  Your mail takes 5 to 6 months to arrive and not so often just now and then some letters.  Anyway as for now it is not so important because all of this is coming to an end.  You will not recognise your son – five years has been a long time.  However, it could have been worse.

Finally hugs and kisses to share around.

Yours Berto.

(translation by Morwenna Arcidiacono, Stanthorpe)

Liberto, Umberto

Letter from Umberto Liberto to his mother in Italy 23.10.45

(kindly contributed by Reinhard Krieger, Brisbane)

 

 

Stepping back in time

It was almost 73 years to the day, when Nino Cippola stepped back in time to retrace his father’s journey in Queensland. Nino’s father, Francesco (Ciccio) Cippola was an Italian prisoner of war captured in Libya on 4th January 1941.  While in Melbourne on holiday from Taormina in Sicily,  Nino thought he would try to find details about the “Q6 Home Hill” written into his father’s POW Service and Casualty Form.

Cipolla Francesco Cipolla Photograph April 1939.jpg

Francesco Cippola: Roma 10.4.1939

(photographic collection of Nino Cippola)

A flurry of messagess via Messenger and emails, a flight to Townsville and Nino found himself on the railway platform of Home Hill. Francesco Cippola would have stepped onto the same platform. Not much changes in small country towns in Queensland.

Home Hill Railway Station: 1944 and 2017

Nino Cippola tracing his father’s footsteps

(NAA: M1415, 434, photographic collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

With only 1 three ton truck available the 115 Italian prisoners of war would have walked a short distance to the Home Hill Showgrounds.  Many of the buildings there had been leased by the Army and it would have taken more than one trip to transport the Italians over a muddy dirt track 22 miles up river Home Hill.

It was the 30th April 1944 and the Q6 PWC Hostel, to accommodate 255 Italian POWs and A.M.F. staff, had not been completed.  Wet weather, a tropical cyclone and delays with the septic tank, meant that the Italians ‘roughed it’ in temporary tents, without floor boards. The POWs were there to grow vegetables to supply to the Allied forces in North Queensland.

Little remains of the hostel buildings and the farming sheds. The concrete foundations were dug up years ago and the buildings sold off to Main Roads.  What does remain are the traces of ‘settlement’ found on the banks of the Burdekin: a lone banana tree, a cluster of custard apple and lemon trees. Using a hand drawn plan of the hostel complex, Nino could envisage the extent of what was Ciccio’s  home for 15 months.

 

1944.camp layout

Layout Plan POW Camp Homehill

(NAA: J153, T1542B, 1944)

As he stood  at the Q6 Hostel site, Nino could also make sense of the many stories his father had told him. He could also make sense of Francesco’s (Ciccio’s) obsession with growing vegetables.  Ciccio was not a farmer. He did not come from a farming background. Ciccio was a ‘carabinieri’. But time spent on the Home Hill farms had made an impression on Ciccio. His family said, he was fanatical about seeds and tomatoes. Nino explains that:

“my father’s interest in growing crops was substantial and almost at an industrial scale – he would return home from the farm with 150 kg of tomatoes in the back of the car, or grow wheat and have it ground for flour, bags and bags of it, he would have 100s of kilos of eggplants, capsicums or pumpkins. He was always asking his family about which fruit or vegetables tasted best and he would dry and save seeds of the best tasting.  He often had seeds in his pockets. He would give away his excessive volumes of fruit and vegetables to neighbours, family and friends. I never fully understood my father’s passion in this area until I visited the POW site on the Burdekin River and learnt about the work my father and other POW were doing.  My father did not come from a farming background.  Most people have a small vegetable plot, but my father grew crops on a grand scale.  I believe his time on the Commonwealth Farm at Q6, gave him this lifelong interest”.

The backdrop to this story is the purpose and operations of the Commonwealth Vegetable Project Farms: to grow vegetables for service requirements, to develop means and ways to select and grow crops suited to good yields and the tropical climate, to run seed trials and soil testing to improve productivity. Regarding tomatoes,  barrels on the Commonwealth farms were filled with tomatoes, to decompose and then be treated to extract the seeds and so began a lifelong passion of Ciccio’s centring around tomato growing and seed selection.

Ciccio’s dislike for bananas also seems to have stemmed from his time at Q6.  His children heard the recurring comment ‘I don’t eat bananas’ from their father.  If bananas were in the fruit bowl, he would reiterate his disdain for bananas.  The Home Hill Italian POWs were responsible for the cultivation of nine acres of bananas and used ground safes to ripen the hands.  Likely, the best bananas went to the armed forces and the overripe bananas, in abundance, became part of the POW daily menu.

2017 Q6 1

Nino Cippola and Christine Morriss at Q6 Site

(photographic collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

The landscape of the Burdekin is in contrast to that of Taormina.  A mountain range rises high in the background at the end of Kirknie Road as opposed to an active Mount Etna viewed through the archways of the Ancient Greek Amphitheatre.

Contrasting Landscapes of Taormina Sicily and up river Home Hill Queensland

(Trip Advisor: Taormina, photographic collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

Up river Home Hill is a long way from Taormina and the contrasts are striking. But Nino’s step back in time, to the time his father Ciccio grew vegetables on a Commonwealth Vegetable Farm up river Home Hill, offered up an understanding of his father’s years as a prisoner of war in Australia.

For the Family

Life in the small villages of Calabria was one of hard work with limited opportunities. Vincenzo Tigani was a farmer, who faced with limited opportunities in an economically depressed 1930’s Italy, made decisions in the interest of his family. These decisions would see him journey from Italy to Eritrea, India and Australia.

Q2 Tigani Family Maria Rosa, Domenico, Domenica, Vincenzo Brisbane

The Tigani Family: Maria Rosa, Domenico, Domenica and Vincenzo

(from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan(nee Tigani))

Farmers from Vazzano and Santo Onorfrio had been part of the first wave of migrants away from Italy. This Push-Pull migration resulted from farmers experiencing difficulty in making a reasonable living from small plots of land which were mainly rented.  Sons worked with fathers on these plots without a wage. A roof to sleep under and food to eat was the currency.  This offered little opportunity for families to grow their wealth, build their own homes and increase the acreage under cultivation.  Combined with disease, underemployment, high taxes and the degradation and erosion of the soil, men looked for opportunities offered through a system termed chain migration.

Labour agents in USA assisted the Italians to find employment and accommodation and the period from 1870’s to 1910’s saw an influx of young Italians arrive to seize opportunities.  Bruno Tigani from Vazzano (Vincenzo’s father) found his way to Braddock Pennsylvania, likely working in the steel industry and like many made the journey back and forth across the Atlantic. Domenico Lipari (Vincenzo’s future father-in-law) found his way to the “Little Italy” of New York living on Hester Street and working at N.Y. Steam Company. He would also travel between Italy and New York before becoming naturalised in 1937.

Against this background, Vincenzo Tigani enlisted in the Italian Army. In 1936, Mussolini combined Italian Eritrea, Italian Somaliland and Ethipoia into the Italian territory of Africa Orientale Italiana. Government employees, workers and soldiers were needed and Vincenzo became a soldier in the 1st Battalion Speciale Genio dell Eritrea. It would have been a difficult decision to leave behind his wife Domenica and two young sons: Bruno aged 3 and Domenico an infant with this decision resulting in a 10 year separation from his family.

Captured in Massaua, Eritrea 8 April 1941, Vincenzo as a prisoner of war was sent to Australia via India. In less than three years, he was working on a banana plantation owned by Mr AJ Schulz at Poona/Palmwoods in the Nambour district. His time there offered him an insight into the opportunities that Australia offered and the seed would have been sown as to the future direction of his and his family’s life. His hard work earned the respect of the Schulz family, with family members over 70 years later, speaking kindly and fondly of Vince.  Vince told his family how he climbed the middle Glass House Mountain and carved his initials on a rock and how they, the POWs would walk everywhere including Nambour to Brisbane.

The return journey from Australia to Italy was long and protracted for Italian prisoners of war. But while waiting at N33 Prisoner of War Camp at South Head Sydney, Vince was allowed to visit family and/or Calabrian Italians in Liverpool.  He would have weekend release from Friday night to Sunday evening and during this time he would have made the acquaintance of Salvatore Raffaele from Dee Why. Much discussion would have transpired over immigration to Australia, work opportunities in Sydney and the process of returning to Australia.

Vincenzo returned to Italy and to a stagnant and economically depressed Vazzano.  Little had changed during his ten year absence.  It was a village that was not directly impacted upon by the war, although planes often flew over the village and black outs and curfews were imposed. Only 100 kilometres away, Reggio Calabria was bombed heavily by the Allies.  It was however a time of uncertainty and hardship.

The Tigani family survived with the support of Domenica’s family. Domenica’s father sent money from USA to fund the building of a home.  With two sons to provide for, Domenica worked hard in the fields.  Her fortitude ensured she survived the ten year separation from her husband. Vincenzo returned somewhat as a stranger to his family. His wife Domenica had, out of necessity, lived an independent life. His sons had grown up without the presence of a father and his youngest son Domenico had difficulty in accepting this stranger as his father. Their reunion was bitter sweet.

The Tigani family welcomed a daughter and sister, Maria Rosa in 1948. Little had changed in the region, and like his parents and parents-in-law, Vincenzo planned for a brighter future for his family.

The family was separated again when Vincenzo returned to Sydney in 1950. Within two months he was working as a labourer at Crown Crystal Glass Company in Bourke Street Waterloo and living at 72 Riley Street Surry Hills. In all likelihood, living in a city and working in a factory might not have been the ideal situation. Another complication was that the employees were strongly unionised and union action was being reported in the newspapers during May to June 1950.

Vincenzo returned to a familiar life and to the employment of his former POW employer, Mr Schulz.  Within three months, he moved to Brisbane.  Alexander Filia, an ice cream manufacturer, offered Vincenzo a place to stay at 10 Ernest Street South Brisbane and organised work as a Peter’s Ice Cream Vendor. His daughter Maria Rosa remembers a story from her father about those days:  “He had a line-up of customers, when a cockroach raised its feelers above the metal frame of the cart.  Children began to scream and Dad, nonchalantly, rang his bell repeatedly and called out loudly, ‘Ice-creams for Sale’.”

Within 18 months of his arrival in Australia, Vincenzo was reunited with his son Domenico who arrived as a 15 year old in November 1951.  Priority became saving the passage for Domenica and Maria Rosa to travel to Australia and a new home in Brisbane.  Domenico’s actions of hiding saved money under the stump caps of the house, reflected his intention to bring his mother and sister out to Australia and set them up with a new life.  His sister, Maria Rosa reflects that Domenico took on a quasi-role of protector and provider for his mother and sister.  He had spent more years with them, than his father had, and so he felt an obligation and responsibility for them.

VTigani01

1951-1952: Domenico and Vincenzo Tigani in Brisbane

(from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan (nee Tigani))

Domenica and Maria Rosa arrived in Fremantle in July 1957.  Domenico had made the journey to Fremantle to greet them and to assist them on the last stage of their journey to Brisbane.  The voyage to Australia had seen Domenica in bed with sea sickness for a month while Maria Rosa wandered the ship freely, exploring this ‘new’ world. It was an adventure and the staff continually reminded the nine year old to go back to her room as her mother needed her.  Upon arrival Domenico asked his sister if she spoke any English, and her curt reply was, “Shut up!  Money.”

In time, Stafford Street East Brisbane became the family’s new home. Vincenzo worked in the building industry, with a gas company and as a night watchman with Evans Deakin at Henry Point.  Those were difficult times for migrant families: the impact of war, years of separation and social isolation. As a family man, Vincenzo made decisions in the best interest of his family.  At times, these decisions had a negative impact upon the unity of the family.  Maria Rosa remembers that after her father died, she found two photos he had kept.  One was of her as a 9 month old and another as an 18 month old.  Her reflections were tinged with sadness as she thought of her father in Brisbane with his memories and photos of his family, while his wife and daughter were in Italy.  It was a case of doing something to make life better- enlistment in the Italian army and migration to Australia and at the same time, these actions caused much hardship for the family.

Daughter Maria Rosa is grateful to her father for many things.  “He gave us many opportunities which would have been unattainable in Vazzano.  Opportunities such as a good education, owning our own businesses, owning our homes, can be attributed to the difficult decisions made by my parents,” says Maria Rosa. “My father’s story is no different from that of my grandparents who had emigrated to USA.  Long periods of separation between family members, financial uncertainty, the dream being hard to find, social isolation and all those things associated with being a foreigner in a strange land.”

VTigani13.jpg

 Vincenzo Tigani – Icecream Vendor

(from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan (nee Tigani))

A family man, Vincenzo’s legacy is the close family ties between members of the Tigani extended family in Australia. There are relatives who have loaned money to those struggling financially, there are those who have assisted ‘new comers’ by finding them jobs and accommodation and there are those who continue to support others through health problems.  Maria Rosa believes that at one stage her father seemed to have ‘lost faith’.  “It is hard to define what I mean. It might have been a sense of insecurity about the decisions he made and how other people interpreted them. It might have been that he didn’t realise his dreams. It might have been his sadness over the ‘lost family years’,” reflects Maria Rosa. But life is what it is. Doors open, decisions are made and legacies forged.

And Maria Rosa  now takes on the role of the head of the extended Tigani family in Brisbane. In 2017, to celebrate the feast day of the Patron Saint of Vazzano,  Maria Rosa approached her parish priest to honour Saint Francesco Di Paolo.  This special gathering of family ensues that traditions and stories from Vazzano are not forgotten: a tribute ‘for the family’.

St Francesco Di Paola Vazzano

Celebration of Saint Francesco Di Paolo in Brisbane 27th August 2017

(photo from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan)

Captured…On the Move

NorthAfrica.India.Australia

Once captured, Italian prisoners of war were impounded in temporary caged compounds in the deserts of North Africa.  They were then taken to Egypt and processed.  Each prisoner of war was given a M/E number (Middle East) and a card was sent to the families notifying them that their son or husband or father was a prisoner of war. From Egypt they were sent around the world: South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada and USA.

Costanzo Melino’s journey took him to India and then to Australia.  He worked on a farm in the Gympie district before being repatriated to Italy.  He returned to Australia post-war, sponsored by his Gympie employer,  his family joined him  and eventually they settled in northern NSW.

Costanzo Melino was captured at Bardia on 4th January 1941.

Costanzo Melino remembers:

Forty-seven thousand Italians were taken prisoner of war by the 8th Battalion of English under General Wavell. Our General at that time was Annibale Bergonzoli. My captain was Alberto Agostinelli.  We were taken to internment camps by foot.  We were given little to eat or drink.

Water 4159600

Italian prisoners Mersa Matruh getting their water tank filled. They were allowed half a gallon per man per day.” Image from a large album of 86 pages containing 1858 photographs associated with the service of Lieutenant Robert Otto Boese

(Australian War Memorial, Image P05182.012)

In Febraury 1941, we were sent to Port Said in the Suez Canal and the following month to Bombay where the heat was unbearable and many Italians died of heat exhaustion.

These camps were well run by the English.  We were given baths and we had Indian cooks.  There were toilets and we were fed well although we all got sick as we were not used to the English diet.  After this the English asked us to cook our own meals which we did gladly, making our own tagliatelle and gnocchi from the flour.  There were at least three thousand prisoners divided ingroups of one hundred. We were counted twice a day. We were fenced in and surrounded by armed guards so that we could not escape.

V-P-HIST-03469-24

Original tent camp 1941 Bangalore Italian Prisoners of War

(Maddy’s Ramblings maddy06.blogspot.com.au )

Having nothing else to do, a lot of prisoners devoted their time to study.  I studied Italian and English.  We didn’t stay in the one place for long in India.  We were constantly moved and constantly guarded by Indian soldiers.  The German prisoners were kept separate to us.  When the Italians surrendered to General Dwight David Eisenhower we were sent to Australia to work on farms. It appeared that the two million U.S. servicemen in Australia needed food.  The U.S. headquarters was in Brisbane commanded by General Douglas MacArthur.  It was the U.S. who commanded us in Australian as they had civil and military control.

The English in India said to us: “Now you’ve surrendered we are allies so now you’ll have to go to work to feed yourselves.  You’ll be free in Australia and they’ll even pay you for your work”. Of course we were all happy, leaving the camps singing.  However, as soon as we boarded the train we found the Indian soldiers hidden in the train and at the next stop we got off in our usual manner as prisoners of war.  We were really only free when we got to Naples in 1947.

Conflicting Times

Australian Soldier or Italian Internee

Interned June 1942

(Ipswich Times Thursday 13 June 1940)

My father Giovanni Devietti was from Corio in the Piedmont region of Italy.  It is about 26 km from Turin and about the same distance to the French border. Born in 1906, he was a young man of 21 when he migrated to Australia in 1928 onboard the S.S. Orvieto.

He was educated and had undertaken a university course as an industrial chemist. The National Fascist Party had been in power under Mussolini since 1921 so it is against this background of political unrest that my father came to Australia.  He told us how his parents worked in a leather factory and would walk to and from work.  One was expected to take off your hat if you passed a Fascist in the street as a symbol of respect.  My nonno was a social democrat.  He would change his direction, go into a shop or cross the street and keep his hat on, rather than acknowledge fascist rule.

When he first arrived in Ingham, dad worked on farms, but by the time he was naturalised in 1934, he was a business proprietor.  He had what today we would call a Deli, but I think that in those days  it was called an Emporium.  He supplied Italian made goods to the people in the Ingham district. He would go around to the farms and take orders from the Italians.  He was also a Commission Agent (Real Estate Agent). Part of his work was also interpreting and translating.  Italians who wanted to make application to sponsor relatives to come to Australia, those who wanted to make application for naturalisation and those who wanted to buy property often required someone to assist them with the paper work.

Gayndah.Devietti - Copy

Letter Head for G.Devietti 1934

With Italy declaring war on the 10th  June 1940, many Italian residents in Ingham came under suspicion as Fascist supporters.  From the school yard, I would see Italians in the back of utes after they had been arrested to be taken to the police station.  And then you would see them in rail carriages with bars as they were sent south for internment.

Suspicion fell on dad.  He was told to be careful: he was an educated man, was well known and had the potential to lead an uprising.  I travelled to Brisbane and read my father’s file in the National Archives of Australia.  There were pages and pages of information about his suspected involvement with the Fascist Party.  A letter was sent to Sydney CIB accusing my father of being the secretary of the Fascist Party in Babinda.  Letters went back and forward between CID in Sydney, Brisbane, Townsville, Ingham, Townsville, Cairns, Babinda.  Babinda police confirmed that they had no knowledge of a Giovanni Devietti working in Babinda and besides all fascist records had been burnt.  There was another letter written to CIB from a man in Ingham, known to my father.  He said that he saw Devietti crossing the street to talk with a friend.  The friend asked him “How is the war going” to which my father allegedly replied “The Greek and British are going to be ### by the Germans”.  My dad when talking to friends would have spoken his dialect, which this man wouldn’t understand, so there was no substance to the story.  The letters went back and forth with a call for ‘Devietti to be interned’.

My mother’s father was Antonio Origliasso and he had two sons:  Nicola (Nicholas) and Mario.  Nicholas arrived in Australian in 1912 with my mother and their mother (their father was already in the Ingham district). Mario was born in Australia.  Mario, the younger one, was called up in the army but later those with italian names had their arms taken from them and placed into a labour camp.  Nicholas, born in Italy, was called up later in the army and ended up fighting in New Guinea.  Luigi Betta of Halifax and two of his sons were also interned.  A third son was called up for army service, leaving the family farm abandoned. This son was able to challenge his ‘call up’ and was released so that he could work the farm.

Dad was called up for service with the army.  Maybe they thought they could keep an eye on him that way.  He was sent to Warwick and was involved in record keeping.  He wasn’t a good soldier and eventually was sent to Horn Island.  There was an airfield there and he was attached to the military hospital: 1 ACH (Australian Camp Hospital). Dad’s next transfer was to Cowra.  Possibly they were looking for people with a number of languages, and dad had English, Italian, Spanish and French.

Cowra was a big complex of 4000 prisoners of war.  He first worked with the Formosans: Compound D.  I think his Spanish came in use because Formosa was a Spanish and Portuguese colony.  According to dad, he didn’t feel secure working in this compound.  The armed guards were all old men and he felt that the young prisoners could overcome the guards quickly.  This was after the Japanese outbreak on 5th August 1944.  He was then transferred to one of the Italian prisoner of war compounds as a translator/interpreter.

cowra

Cowra Prisoner of War and Interment Camp after 5th August 1944

Dad not only worked in the Cowra compound, but he also was involved when the Italian POWs arrived on the ships.  As an interpreter he had deal with the antics of the Italian POWs.  One story was about getting the Italians onto or off a truck.  They would play dumb.  Instructions would be given: “Get off the truck” or “Get on the truck” and they would just stand there.  Or they would climb onto the roof of the truck.  Dad had to sort out not just the language and communication side of things but also the behaviour. He would often tell the officers “All is well” as to tried to made sure the POWs complied with the orders.

italian-pow-2

Italian Prisoners of War waiting to board a train bound for a prisoner-of-war camp

The Italian POWs at Cowra ate well, better than the army soldiers and interpreters.  There was the story that the Italians would have to go out to work on the farms and had these buckets or milk pails with them.  Dad noticed that when the Italians returned, the pails would seem quite heavy.  Dad realised that they were bringing something back to camp: vegetables.  Eating with the Italian POWs was preferable to eating in his own mess, which he did often.

Somewhere in there mum and I moved to Brisbane up near St Pauls Terrace.  I went to a school on Leichardt Street.  Mum worked at Momma Luigi’s on St Pauls Terrace and I would help out there on weekends.  It was a Brisbane institution.  The American soldiers would be lining up on the street to get a meal of spaghetti and meatballs.

I think by that time dad was in Gayndah at the POW centre there.  I remember visiting Gayndah to see dad.  It was cold and we had a fire where we stayed.  He worked in a longish building like a hall in Gayndah.  Dad did all the interpreting and I suppose he censored the POW mail.  Dad’s comments were that most Italians were easy going.  They enjoyed going rabbit hunting and while the farmers allowed them rifles, this was contra to rules.  There were those with fascist ideas, but I think they were dealt with quickly if they caused any trouble.

Ingham has another link to Italian prisoners of war because an escaped POW cut cane in Ingham. His name was Alberto Bandiera and he had escaped in September 1946 and surrendered in Brisbane February 1950. The police questioned dad about this but he denied any knowledge.  Bandiera was repatriated on the ship which brought out my cousins to Brisbane Surriento. They arrived 23rd February 1950 and Alberto Bandiera was repatriated onboard on the 24th February 1950.   In time, he returned to Australia and worked at Peacock Siding. Bandiera wasn’t the only escaped POW the police were looking for.

Joe Devietti

6th July 2017

Captured at Bardia

Melino family 3 - Copy

Costanzo Melino: Italian Soldier: 20 years old

(from Anzaro: The Home of my Ancestors)

Costanzo Melino’s memoirs are part of ANZANO – The Home of my Ancestors, written by his daughter Rosa Melino.  From Anzano he was conscripted and sent to Libya to fight Mussolini’s war. His recollections are invaluable in providing the personal experiences of a shepherd who was captured at the Battle of Bardia and shipped to Australia as a prisoner of war.

Special thanks to Rosa Melino for allowing for her work and the words of Costanzo  to be reproduced here as part of this project. Her assistance is invaluable as these memories provide depth and perspective for this history.

Costanzo Melino was captured at Bardia 4th January 1941

I didn’t want to fight.  I always wondered ‘Why me?’ We were rounded up and taken to army barracks where we were given our uniforms…. I was appointed to the 21st Artillery Regiment of the Army Corps and then we were sent to the front.  You can imagine the effect upon a young man who had never seen or learnt much.  I was taken out of school aged seven and sent to look after the sheep with my grandfather.  My grandfather died in March 1935, but in 1921 Mussolini had made a law that all children had to go to school until the age of 15, (that’s one good thing the dictator did), but it was too late for me. 

 We were sent along with other boys from my class in Anzano on the Julius Caesar to Bengazi in Libya. This took us two days at sea.  Bengazi was an Italian colony in those days.  We had to drink sterilized sea water which was salty and hot.  I was very sick. I was called up on 2nd February 1940 and sent to fight in Benghazi in Libya.  Our Commander was Annibalo Bergonsoli.  He used to have a long beard and we nicknamed him ‘Barba Elettrica’. We certainly met war and we did not recover from the shock.

 We ate bread and water and were covered in fleas and sand from the Sahara Desert.   I had to learn to wash my own clothes once a week.  We were woken and were marched and exercised and then we were lined up and given coffee at 7 a.m. in the morning.  We were instructed until lunch time and then we were line up for lunch at 1 p.m. Then we were instructed again until 4 p.m. and again we were lined up and given our meal of ‘pasta asciutta’ or ‘minestrone’ or ‘risotto’.  We were also given some meat, half a litre of wine and two rolls of bread per day.  We had to be respectful to our superiors, and if we weren’t we were placed in confinement by our Colonel Commander.  Water was rationed.  From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. we were free and we could go to the city of Bengazi.  We would go and look at the shops and if any soldier had some money he would buy what he needed. We were always watched by other soldiers doing the rounds – usually in groups of three.  We could not speak with the Arabs and we had to return at the right time.  We had to salute our officials.  Italo Balbi was the Italian Governor at the time.

Bardia P05182.051

North Africa: Western Desert.  Developed from a film taken from captured Italian prisoners at Bardia. c. 1940

(Australian War Memorial, Robert Otto Boese, Image P05182.051)

When the war broke we were commanded by Colonel Mario Bombagli to go to the Egyptian border between Bardia and Tobruk. One hundred thousand Italian soldiers of the various Infantry, Bersaglieri, Engineering and Artillery were killed there.  It was called the ‘Front Cerinaico’. There were so many men and so little equipment.  It was a desert with no water. It was hot during the day and freezing at night.  Bombs fell frequently upon us from overhead planes.  We were given orders to attack only when the enemy fired first.

In August 1940, we were given the order to advance into Egyptian territory. The Italian forces won ‘Siti Barrani’ in Egypt, but that too was a desert.  The desert winds would blow the sand and we could not even see.  We had to stay until the tempest passed.  At night we slept in the ‘trincee’ or tunnels that we built ourselves to protect us from the enemy bombardments.  We were given two litres of water and little food.

In October 1940, we were surrounded by the English and we lost ground and had to return to Bardia where after many battles we were defeated.

Bardia 0084113

Two captured Italian carro veloce CV22 tankettes on the road overlooking Bardia Harbour. Bardia can be seen on the far hill. (Negative by B.M.I.)

(Australia War Memorial, Image 0084113)