Tag Archives: Prigionieri di guerra italiani in Queensland

Miracoli di Internet!

 

My research into Italian prisoners of war in Queensland has a number of public faces: the book Walking in their Boots, the website: italianprisonersofwar.com and the facebook page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia

It was through the facebook page that I received notification from Nino Amante in Italy. On 23rd March 2018, Nino wrote, “Sono il figlio di Angelo Amante, il più alto nella foto.”  Nino had not only found a photo of his father on the facebook page but he then found the website’s article, A Day in the life of …  and comments about his father’s time working on a farm ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian via Gympie 72 years ago.

This was an accident. Nino had been searching the internet for an article about his son, named for his grandfather, Angelo Amante, and instead found his father. Nino was overwhelmed.

I believe that things happen for a reason.  I do not know the chances of bringing together the son of an Italian prisoner of war and the son of a Goomboorian farmer. But a google search and a phone call* has brought together the two sides to this history.

Nino Amante’s words and contact has brought this story ‘full circle’. “E’ stata per me una grande emozione avere delle informazioni da aggiungere a quelle raccotle dall sua viva voce, quando mi parlava del period della sua prigionia,” Nino reflects.  Nino not only has knowledge about his father’s time on this farm, but he has a connection to Jim and John Buchanan who were young boys at the time and who have fond memories of Angelo.

More importantly, Angelo’s story before and after ‘Redslopes’ emerges.  At 19 years old, Angelo Amante began his military training, first in Turin and then in Bolzano.  He was a member of the 7th Reggimento Bersaglieri(marksmen).  He was then transferred to Taranto and in 1941, he left Italy by ship for Libya.  He was lucky to survive the journey to Libya, as many soldiers died after the fleet was bombed by the British.

Angelo Amante (1)

Angelo Amante: 19 years old

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

Angelo was captured at Gialo, a Libyan oasis town on 25th November 1941. Gialo was taken by British and Punjabi troops on 24th November 1941, but a small group of Italian soldiers continued fighting in the north east  El Libba sector.  After four hours of combat, two Italian had been killed and 27 Italian soldiers were taken prisoner.

Possibly the photo  below of a relaxed Angelo was taken at Benghasi, his first experience of Libya. Like many of his generation, Angelo spent ‘his youth’ in foreign and difficult circumstances. He returned home to Italy when he was 25 years old. Nino explains, “Sei dei suoi anni piubelli trascorsi fra guerra e prigionia.”

Angelo Amante (3)

Angelo Amante in Libya 1941

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

Angelo’s journey is like many of his peers.  Italy to the battle field to Egypt to India to Australia to Italy.  Angelo arrived in Melbourne Australia 29th December 1943. The next day he was in the Cowra PW & I Camp.  His time there is recorded in a group photo Cowra 6th February 1944. Ten days later, Angelo was sent to Gaythorne Queensland 16th February 1944.

A Amante standing first left

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57037 A. Amante; 57273 G. Guarnaccia; 57288 G. La Iacona; 57252 S. Giambusso; 57051 C. Avola; 46957 S. Vizzini; 57257 G. Giarratano. Front row: 57268 M. Gordini; 57070 L. Bloisi; 57046 R. Armentano; 57038 S. Amoroso; 57226 D. Foringo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/15)

Before Nino’s internet search, he had one photo and the stories about his father’s time in Australia, but he did not know dates or places.  Nino says, “Sapevo che mio padre era stato in Australia, ma in quale parte di Australia? Che era vissuto in una fattoria, ma quale fattoria?”  But his time in Australia was always remembered with fondness, a place to which Angelo wanted to return.  In 1956, Angelo made preparations to emigrate to Australia with his wife and family. During a medical visit, it was discovered he had a small heart problem and his dreams of going to Australia ended. But his family kept safe a small photo of three men and two boys, knowing that it was an important part of Angelo’s memories of Australia.

Angelo Amante (2)

Angelo Amante , Salvatore Scicchitani (Schichitano), Vincenzo Cannavo with John and Jim Buchanan at Redslopes Goomboorian via Gympie

(courtesy of Nino Amante)

For over seven decades, this photo  did not have a context.  Nino knew that the photo was from his father’s time on a farm, but he did not know where in Australia this farm was located. Angelo told his family a story about chilli plants he had grown on this farm and now he knows it was Jim, a little boy who tasted the chilli with severe repercussions.  Angelo told his family about a trip to the city, to undergo a medical visit at the hospital and the wonder of seeing so many kangaroos on the way.

Jim’s memories and Angelo’s stories to his family are being slotted together. Nino writes that his father arrived in Australia from POW camps in India with very poor health. Angelo had contracted malaria and Nino remembers the story of  an old lady on the farm who realised the seriousness of his condition and encouraged him to eat and the need for him to regain his strength.    Jim knows exactly who this lady was, his Aunty Mag [Margaret], who was the matron (supervisor) for the Land Army girls on the farm.  Angelo’s visit to the Gympie Hospital is recorded in the farm diary: August 21 1944 – Angelo going to hospital.   And the stories travel back and forth between Italy and Australia and across the decades.

Upon Angelo’s return to Italy, he made his way home to Fiumefreddo di Sicilia and his widowed mother.  Angelo married in 1953 and moved to Mascali, his wife’s home town.  He continued to work the land and raised his family: Nino and Giuseppina.  In 1984, Angelo passed away at the age of 63.

Angelo Amante (4)

Angelo Amante

(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)

The sharing of stories and memories, the answering of questions and the ‘Miracoli di Internet!’ is like finding those missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle and finally being able to put them in place.

*In September 2017, I telephoned Jim Buchanan in Gympie.  I had been told that he was the person to speak to about some of the Italian prisoners of war in the Gympie district.  Jim’s words to me were, “I think you will be surprised with what I have to tell you.  I don’t think you will have found another one like this.” And surprised I was!

Jim’s father Neil Buchanan had kept a farm diary for ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian. Peppered through the entries from 7th March 1944 to 1st January 1946 are references not only about farm life, but also to the Italian prisoners of war at ‘Redslopes’. This diary offers a very unique and firsthand account about the employment of Italian prisoners of war.

On 24th March 2018, I telephoned Jim again.  I told Jim that I had some extraordinary news for him. Angelo’s son had sent me an email.  It took a few minutes for the news to sink in. Jim is rarely lost for words. I said to Jim, I wonder if Angelo took any photos home to Italy with him.  Nonplussed, Jim felt that this is not probable as very few photos were taken in those days.   Like Nino Amante, this journey for the Buchanan family is emotional and remarkable.

A Day in the Life of…

 

Buchanan Brothers purchased land on Webster Road and established ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian outside of Gympie in 1937. The partnership consisted of Malcolm (Boy), Neil, Eric and Ivon but by 1944, Malcolm was a pilot with the RAAF based in England, Eric had joined the AIF and was serving in New Guinea, Ivon had moved to East Palmerston and Neil was responsible for keeping the farm going.

Gympie (10)

Redslopes 2017

A remarkable insight into farming during World War 2 is written in the hand of Neil Buchanan who wrote daily entries into the farm diary.  This diary offers up the details of a day in the life of: a war time farm, a farmer and his family, the Italian POWs and the Land Army girls (LAGS).  Each page reveals invaluable first hand information written of the time.

Gympie.Buchanan.1962.Margaret and Neil

Margaret Goodall (nee Buchanan) and Neil Buchanan 1962

Time fades the memory, but the Redslopes diary offers a window into the past.  It recounts daily life on a farm during war time: the list of jobs, rationing, the arrival and departure of Italian POWs and LAGS, the hardships, machinery breakdowns, the weather, important war time events.

The first two Italian prisoners of war to arrive at Redslopes were Angelo Amante and Vincenzo Cannavo on 7th March 1944.  Antonio Ruscio joined them on 5th April 1944.  The diary tells of trouble amongst the POWs and Antonio left and was replaced by Salvatore Scicchitani (Schichitano) on 26th September 1944. Vincenzo (Vince) became lead hand at catching the horses and ploughing as the diary mentions this many times.

 

Gympie.Buchanan.Redslopes.Irrigation

Irrigation at Redslopes 1944-1945

The POWs routine was guided by the seasons of farming life.  They attended to the jobs of chipping, hoeing, hilling, thinning, pruning and propping. They thrashed and graded seed, they planted seedlings and they made cases.  Papaws, beans and cucumbers were the main crops, but they also tended tomatoes, pineapples, a trial of bananas.  They shifted irrigation pipes and cleared fence lines.  They assisted with packing and loading crates and going to town to unload produce and get haircuts. Their home ‘Coogoolum’ looked out onto the red dirt slopes of Goomboorian in a quiet and idyllic setting.

The Italian POWs arrived at Redslopes on 7th March 1944 and departed on 1st January 1946. And because of Neil Buchanan’s daily entries during this time, a detailed picture emerges about ‘A Day in the Life of an Italian Prisoner of War on a Queensland Farm’.

March 7 1944

Spent half a day preparing Coogoolum for reception of POWs. Made trip to Gympie, taking in parts of tractor for repairs, & bringing out a load of empty case in addition to POWs.  The new men are causing great confusion so far and no headway has been made in grasping their language. Hot fine day.

Gympie (4)

 Redslopes looking out from the site of the POW Home Coogoolum 2017

March 8 1944

Boss & two new men chip most of new papaws near mangoes.  Two men make fair impression, but are obviously very soft after years off work.  Language difficulty partly overcome.  Fine & warm, clouds. Started up irrigation engine. Luc brought down cows  & took some home.

March 9 1944

Today broke rainy & activities had to be confined to case making & reassembly of tractor. Two POWs prove quite satisfactory on case making. Tractor now ready for service again.  Turned off irrigation engine when tanks were nearly full.  Perrys put in about 7 hours again doing can enclosed area and parts of six acre.  Measured 21 pts rain.

March 10 1944

Perrys put in another six hours ploughing but were paid off, thus finalising a very costly experiment £12-9 for practically nothing. One POW continues case making, 48 cases for the day. Other introduced to disc plough, proving fairly satisfactory.  Boss does some ploughing, puts tractor over proposed sec 1 beans, but a mishap real or imaginary caused returned to shed.  Fine, measured 11 pts.

March 11 1944

Further attempts to have ploughing done by POW prove his inability to use mouldboard so Boss used same half day.  POWs finish chipping mango, papaws make cases and use pole disc on site of possible section 3 beans.  Boss reassembles tractor, proving trouble imaginary.  Hosed out radiator tubes and did 2 acres of ploughed ground in, tractor not boiling and being greatly improved. Westerly wind.

March 12 1944

Sabbath. Spent hour or so conferring with POWs. Visit from Blackwoods occupied most of day.  Also visit from Rosslynites and from F Hinds to purchase circular saw. Still hot and dry, high drift presaging rain.

March 13 1944

Furrowed nearly an acre of ground for tomatoes and more than an acre for beans.  Fertilised much of same. POWs ploughing & case making. Visit from POW Control with interpreter.  Fine and very hot and dry.

March 14 1944

Finished fertilising 56 rows of beans to be planted in a week or so.  Dragged rolled and started to plant half an acre of carrots.  Vince does another half day on plough, Angelo on case making, two on chipping during evening.  Fine, dry & very hot.

The diary continues… work… allocation of jobs… coming and goings of casual staff and LAGs…visits to town… quantity of produce taken to town… trouble with the POWs… LAG demands and unrest… POWs requiring medical attention… crops grown…irrigation and machinery breakdowns…

Major events are also recorded

April 7 1944  Good Friday. Correctly observed by POWs

April 12 1944 … Men continue and finish chipping papaws.  Unloaded truck of case timber brought out yesterday.  Visit from POW control, men start to batch with some repercussions on their behaviour…

June 20 1944… Redslopes diary is being written by electric light at last.

July 21 1944 Signed up for a new 3 ton V 8 truck

Sept 1 1944… Had enjoyable half hour of cricket at POW headquarters.  Took delivery of new diesel engine.

Sept 11 1944 Reached 2000 cases of beans for season.

Sept 20 1944 had a lamentable row with a couple of girls (LAGS) following last night’s trouble.  After a shake up all around things seems to be okay.

Oct 9 1944… 90 cases papaws, 42 beans, 20 cucumbers, the biggest tonnage ever sent in produce

Nov 25 1944 … news of brother’s death

Dec 4 1944 Highest papaw price 50/- per case

Jan 14 1945 Eclipse of the sun…

Jan 17 1945 Shifted radio from Dwyers house to PWs…

Feb 16 1945 Bought shirts for prisoners

March 7 1944 PW Birthday today, second year…

March 16 1945 prisoners day in town marred by being left at barbers shop too long.

March 17 1945 Boss & one POW spent whole day assembling and erecting pump head at well.  Captured a porcupine for benefit of Ities.

May 8 1945 Day of great announcement of cessation of hostilities in Europe

May 9 1945 VE Day. Today we observed a holiday in honour of VE Day.

July 5 1945 News of PM John Curtin’s death this morning

Aug 7 1945 Dramatic news today of first ‘Atomic Bomb’ being dropped on Japan.

Aug 10 Made 2 trips today for first time in history

Aug 14 1945 Japan is still keeping the world guessing.

Aug 15 1945 The great day that has been waited for for years.  Japan announced acceptance of surrender terms early this morning and all Australia has gone wild today. 2 days holiday has been declared.

Sept 24 1945 … POWs in town today for monthly haircut, unpleasant experience of getting caught with them in restaurant…

Nov 26 1945 Took in load as usual, PW going as well.  Canteen day for latter, news of departure for Italy being made public.

Dec 25 1945 Xmas Day. Made presentation of watches to POWs

Dec 28 1945 Took Ities for last haircut.

Dec 31 1945 Last day of old year.  Four men for half a day.  POW then finish up, much to sorrow of Boss.  Had final talk with Ities at night.

Jan 1 1946 New Year’s Day but a sad day at Redslopes.  Took the three POW to town and said goodbye. Farm is now badly understaffed with no prospects of further employees.

Gympie.Buchanan.Salvatore.Vincenzo.Angelo

Goodbye to Redslopes

1st January 1946: Salvatore, Vincenzo and Angelo

Louie Made Me a Cap

Gordon Plowman remembers a cap made by an Italian POW for him. This one memory has helped tell the story of the Italian POWs at Flaxton.

Flaxton is a farming district between Mapleton and Montville on the Blackall Range in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Bananas, citrus fruit and later pineapples were the main crops of the district.  The other main industry was sawmilling.  Gordon’s father Ray in partnership with other locals set up a small mill making cases for the fruit and then later established a hardwood sawmill.  During the war, they also became charcoal producers, as charcoal was in demand for the charcoal burners to run vehicles. It was a small community, with a population of 155 in 1947.

Gordon relates, “I was born in 1940 and vaguely recollect ‘Louie’ who worked on a pineapple and citrus farm.  He made a little cap for me and I well remember the tassel which hung down the back.  He gave it to my mother and said, ‘For the Bambino’.  In later years I tried to find Louie through the National Archives but was told without his family name, this would be impossible.”

But this project Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland is about making the impossible, possible. And Gordon has now ‘found’ Louie.

Louie was Luigi Caputo a young farmer from Montagna di Basso Potenza. He is seated in the photo below, first on left.  His military record highlights he was married with a daughter.  Louie was sent to the farm of FW Potts and DB McHaffie Flaxton on 5th March 1944 together with Francesco Tozzi from Reino Benevento.

Q2 Nambour.Flaxton Caputo Luigi POW

AWM Image 30173/06 Geoffrey McInnes

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47904 M. Bello; 45091 C. Bono; 47434 F. De Venuto; 57496 G. Sinisi; 49432 S. Cristiano; 46264 N. Monteleone; 57291 M. Laricchia. Front row: 45349 L. Caputo; 57302 F. Liberto; 57414 A. A. Palladino; 57324 M. Macchia; 57210 A. Fato. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

“My brothers Harold (13) and David (16) would take these POWs swimming in Bon Accord.  They would come over of a Sunday afternoon, Mum would give them a drink and some cake and they would battle their way through the forest with my two brothers to cool off in Bon Accord rock pool.  In the 1940’s it was hidden away in thick scrub with no walking tracks,” Gordon adds.

Three other Flaxton farmers employed POWs and snippets of memories are remembered by Gordon and his brothers.  There is a memory of the wine made with pineapples by the Italians at Frank Mayne’s farm.  Quinto Bernacchi, Giuseppe Berrettini, Ippazio De Blasi and Carlo Maffei all worked on this farm.  Most likely Quinto and Giuseppe were the wine makers as they were on the farm for  seven months while Ippazio and Carlo had a one week placement.  Norm and Honour Mayne also welcomed the Italians onto their farm in Flaxton with Biagio Peluso and Pasquale Serafini spending eight months at Flaxton.

JR Perkins employed Guerrino Fregni, Giovanni Isopi and Guerino Lombardozzi.  Gordon adds another memory about Mr Perkins’s POWs: “I remember that a heavy hessian curtain at the end of his packing shed was out-of-bounds because this was the entrance to the POWs living quarters, which I imagine would have been very basic.  At that time we had no electricity, sewerage or reticulated water,” Gordon reminisces.

Another recollection of the Flaxton POWs is about church.  With no Catholic church at Flaxton, the Italians would be picked up by the authorities and taken to the Catholic church in Nambour.  Gordon mentions, “According to my brother, one of them was not a catholic and used to object most strongly at being taken to church.  The Italian POWs were respected and made generally welcome in the small Flaxton community and I recall by mother speaking highly of them.  I never forgot the little cap Louie made for me.”

 

Resourceful

Resourceful is an apt description of Mario Marino.  A stone mason from Pentone Catanzaro, as a prisoner of war in Australia, he nominated his occupation as ‘bricklayer’, a more versatile job.  Throughout his life, he continued to work with concrete, stone and bricks in the construction industry in Morwell Victoria owning his own business and operating as Marino Bros.

Among the first 2000 Italian POWs to be shipped directly from Libya to Sydney onboard Queen Mary, from Sydney he was trained to Hay. He travelled with two compatriots also from Pentone, Salvatore Tarantino and Graziano Mustari.

As a ‘skilled’ POW, Mario was put to work in construction at Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.  Put to work making clay bricks, Mario spent over two and a half years at Hay before being sent to Cowra. He also had experience in surveying and did surveying for clearing and road building while at Hay. Salvatore was sent to Murchison and then V4 Leongatha while Mario and Graziano stayed together in Cowra then Gaythorne.  Their Queensland farm allocations had them sent in different directions: with Mario going to the farm of R Brown at Bapaume in Q1 Stanthorpe area and Graziano to Q3 Gympie area.

Marino, Hay

Hay, NSW. 1944-01-13/14. Sergeant M. Marino an Italian prisoners of war stacking freshly made clay bricks in the drying shed at the 16th Garrison Battalion Prisoner of War Camp

(Australia War Memorial Image 062932)

It appears that Mario’s resourcefulness had him reallocated to a Victorian farm in the V4 Leongatha area.  Interestingly, Salvatore also was at V4 Leongatha at the time and they both spent time together at V22 Rowville.

Repatriated to Italy in January 1947, it wasn’t long before he married Marietta and made plans to return to Australia. He left Italy onboard the Toscano in June 1949 and his first son Antonio was born in July 1949.  It would be three years before he would meet his first born child, when his wife and child arrived in Melbourne in 1953.

The  Carmody family of Leongatha had been Mario’s POW employer and sponsored his return to Australia. Settling in Leongatha, Mario was joined by his brothers Giuseppe and Angelo. All three brothers worked at the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine in the latter part of 1951.  Giuseppe drove the horse and cart which took coal out of the mine on railway lines, Mario was a seamer, lying on his stomach in cramped confines shovelling out the coal and Angelo would stack the coal tightly in the kibbles. Vince Moranti was a family friend who also worked with the Marino brothers in the coal mine.

Built between 1953 and 1954, the Traralgon Hospital construction site became Mario’s new workplace.  Continuing working in construction and concrete, he then established himself as a concrete contractor and won council contracts such as footpath building.  By 1954, Mario applied for naturalization and in 1955 his naturalization was reported in the newspaper.

Not forgetting his POW compatriots, Mario sponsored Salvatore Tarantino in 1955 and in 1956 Graziano Mustari also migrated to Morwell. Graziano however returned to Italy in 1964.

A growing migrant community in the district opened an opportunity for Mario to branch out into a food emporium  in Church Street Morwell, selling salamis, coffee, cheeses and other continental goods.  He diversified further by taking his shop to the farmers of the district and his children remember the box of juicy fruit chewing gum kept in the truck.

Returning to construction, Mario continued to work in the industry until his retirement. A supporter of the local football club, the Morwell community held him in high regard and he would always be asked to join the trainer and coach at home games.

And of those days as a prisoner of war, Mario told his family that as soldiers in the sands of Libya, Mussolini gave them little hope and only a pistol with one shot and a rifle with another.  The soldiers were half starved and they didn’t have a chance. But his time as a prisoner of war in Australia opened the door to a new start in life for his family.

Resourcefulness and optimism were trademarks to Mario’s life.

 

Marino, Mario 1955

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1849-1957) Thursday 17 November 1955

 

 

 

 

 

Gaythorne PW & I Camp

The first Queensland Italian prisoners of war arrived in Gaythorne PW & I Camp 13th October 1943. These men were sent to work on Stanthorpe district farms 16th to 21st October 1943.  The control centre was Q1 Prisoner of War Control Centre Stanthorpe (Q1 PWCC Stanthorpe or Q1 Stanthorpe).

Official records offer up little information about the Gaythorne Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.

Gaythorne PW & I Camp, had a capacity of 1800.  Nationalities held were: PW – Italian, Japanese, Korean, Formosan, sundry and Internees – Italian, sundry.  It operated from 1940-1946.  It had 3 compounds each of 300, 1 compound of 400 and 1 compound of 500.

The Gaythorne Camp  was under the command of Camp Commandant JW Hinschen, 2 Aust. P.W. Guard Company and later Camp Commandant Captain J Todd. It was situated at Bliss and Newman Streets, Gaythorne just north of today’s  Enoggera Barracks’ precinct.

The Gaythorne PW & I Camp is illustrated in the aerial photograph below.  The buildings of the complex are situated below the residential blocks of Newman, Ludlow and Ernest Streets which are bordered by Bliss Street in the south and Grays Road to the north.

Gaythorne PW & I Camp BCC000134877 (2)

1946 Aerial View of Gaythorne

(QImagery Department of Natural Resources and Mines Film BCC1, Frame 34877)

A little snippet of information written by N.T.Boast for “Cobbers” is titled The Singing Italians.  Boast worked with the 7 Base Ordinance Depot at Enoggera camp and the Italians were collected to work at the 7 B.O.D and “to assemble them in the afternoon they would play John Charles Tomas singing Tiritomba, then march them back to their compound.

Eric Behrendorff from Mt Alford near Boonah visited his POW George Ragusa at the Gaythorne Camp to say his goodbyes.  Eric remembers that the compound was dreadful: hot, sparse and surrounded by barb wire. The guards were abrupt and officious and Eric was only allowed to see George through the barb wire.  Eric could never reconcile the actions of the army to take POWs off farms and imprison them in camps, when a better situation was leave them on the farms until repatriation.

Initially used as an Internment Camp,  Queensland Italian Internees were trained from Queensland towns to Gaythorne and then for onward movement to Loveday SA. From October 1943 to March 1946, Italian Prisoners of War were accommodated at this site.

While the following extract, details the memories and experiences of Peter Dalseno a Queensland Italian internee, it provides an account of Gaythorne camp which would have been similar to the experiences of the Italian POWs.

“The train was motionless.  The hissing and pulling was more audible, as it normally happens on cool early mornings. No sound from without, no sound from within.

Suddenly the world was bathed in artificial light, and life stirred almost as artificially.  Weary bodies rose and weary eyes peering through the carriage bars.  The train had been surrounded by army trucks covered with tarpaulins, dwarfing the soldiers like so many ants defending their quarters.  There were voices. There were commands.  A struggle with luggage and a jump to the gravelled ground.  The human cargo was shepherded into the waiting trucks.  Soldiers to the right, to the left and to the rear, all bathed in an eerie light as if the earth was invaded by another planet.

“Where on earth are we?” Peter asked one of the soldiers rostered to guard the read.

“Gaythorne, mate!” answered an army recruit.  “The staging camp is not too far away. Only a matter of minutes”.

…Arrival at Gaythorne staging camp was as energetic as the the arrival at the railway siding.  Voices and commands emanated from every quarter…

Several hundreds stood huddled together, some standing listlessly, others sitting on luggage and some on their haunches…Above there glared the harsh and unforgiving search lights.

“Attention! Attention!” commanded an officer with an array of stripes on his sleeve… “Each and every one of you is required to lodge particulars with personnel.” He indicated a row of army mess tables behind which sat a member of the Australian Military Forces. “Present your luggage.  It will be searched and any article classified as a threat to security, either national or to your person, will be confiscated and catalogued. You will receive some form of receipt.  Any money on your person must be surrendered.  Again a receipt….

Peter gazed at the army barracks, sheds and tents that loomed against the receding darkness.  So this is Brisbane…

The Gaythorne staging camp was an area of restriction, an area of concentration.  it served as a subsidiary to the Army Headquarters where the activity was as vast as it was purposeful, function as a recruiting base and as a centre for training.  There was nothing gay about the atmosphere… drab tints of army environment.  The buildings were few but of ample proportions specifically designed for army requirements – a mess-hall on one side and quarters for baths and toilets on the other.  The tents were arranged in rows.  the dirt underfoot…

Men carrying palliasses and ground sheets, some carrying personal belongings over their shoulders and suitcases..

The two men on the platform… passed on the benefit of their experiences at the Gaythorne staging camp.  Evidently they had been selected by the Army Authorities to act as ‘Camp Leaders’.  … deliberated with petty instructions – the whereabouts of the ablutions, the mess-hall, the first-aid tent, and the obligatory bi-daily parade at roll-call…”You will be permitted to write two letters a week, and each letter will be of one-page length. Paper provided. No sealing. The contents will be censored and any matter found objectionable will suffer the scissors, or the letter returned altogether, and you will lose entitlement for the week.  the same thing applies to all mail you receive. So do not be alarmed if your wife’s letter has as many holes as a spaghetti colander”.

…The air now overwhelmed with silence was rent by the sound of a bugle. The ‘last post’ announced the army was about to sleep”.

(from Sugar, Tears and Eyeties by Peter Dalseno)

L’Amico del Prigioniero

It is thanks to Costanzo Melino that I know about L’Amico del Prigioniero. His daughter Rosa wrote Anzaro: The Home of my Ancestors which included her father’s memoirs of his time as a prisoner of war.

Costanzo said, “In 1943, Italy surrendered but we had to go to Australia [from India] to work on the farms.  We boarded an English ship which took us to Melbourne and then eventually by train to Cowra and Hay.  At that time we had an Apostolic Delegate who was from Lecce, also Pugliese, and he gave all the prisoners a book that I still have called the ‘Amico del Prigioniero’ (‘Friend of the Prisoner’’).”

The Apostolic Delegate was Monseigneur Giovanni Panico and he published this book through Pellegrini, Sydney, 1943.  It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.

Holy Days.jpeg

The book being written in Italian and Latin is significant.  As mass was said in Latin until Second Vatican 1965, ensuring that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian was a significant show of concern for  their spiritual welfare.

Also, while the Italians had access to books in Italian in the libraries of Hay and Cowra, when they were on the farm, a book in Italian was an important gesture on behalf of Giovanni Panico.

L'Amico.jpeg

There are six copies of L’Amico del Prigioniero are held in museums and libraries in Australia.  I spent a morning in the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW and felt honoured to view this special relic pertaining to Italian prisoners of war and internees.

To understand the importance of this prayer book in Latin and Italian, a little background is necessary, “…the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (also called Vatican II) to discuss how the Catholic Church would face the modern world. Until 1965, all Catholic Mass was said in Latin, and the Church realized that may alienate parishioners who spoke Latin only in church. So the Church had to translate the Catholic Mass into a variety of different languages. from http://www.dictionary.com/e/catholic/

(photos courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Pidgin English for Italians

July 1943

Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War

Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War

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.

Wide Variety of Clothing

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photos are from the Australian War Memorial Collection taken at Cowra and Murchison 1944-1945

On 16th August 1941, the second transport of Italian prisoners of war arrived in Sydney on board the Queen Mary.  What caught the attention of the press was the odd assortment of clothing that the Italians wore.  There were 817 Italian prisoners of war consisting of 405 officers and 412 ordinary ranks.  German prisoners of war also arrived into Australia on this transport.

Italians Down Under is a newsreel film taken in 1941. Watch this clip as Italian prisoners of war alight from a Sydney ferry onto the wharf and then step onto trains.

Italian POW Rossi Pith Helmet

Italo Rossi M/E 68057 Photo taken in India

 

BIG BATCH OF ITALIAN WAR PRISONERS HERE

WIDE VARIETY OF UNIFORMS

from Sun (Sydney, NSW: 1910-1954), Saturday 16 August 1941, page 3

Clad in an amazing variety of uniforms and headgear, a big batch of Italian prisoners of war – officers, N.C.O.’s and other ranks – has arrived in Sydney.

The party presented a remarkable contrast to that which arrived a few months ago.

Many to-day were in high spirits, and their demeanour indicated that they were not at all reluctant to ‘take up residence’ on Australian soil.

Several laughed and joked as they boarded the train that was to take them to their internment camp. Two defiantly gave the Fascist salute.

All of the first party to land were officers and among them were several airmen and one wearing dark blue naval uniform.

Sartorial honours went to a tall Italian who walked nonchalantly along the wharf clad in a sweeping dark blue cloak with scarlet lining and frogs.

An Alpini wore a slouch Tyrolean hat with a long feather and a grey well-cut uniform with thick woollen socks.

QM August 1941 Italian POWs

Headgear ranged from orthodox military caps to pith helmets and from blue woollen berets to improvised black felt skull caps.  Some retained traces of smartness in high-fronted peak caps of the Nazi types.

Taste in knee boots inclined towards the exotic in some instances. One officer wore gaiter-like coverings on his legs of a beige tint.

Knickers and Sandshoes

At the other end of the scale was an Italian in plain grey knickerbockers with white sandshoes.  Two wore dark eyeshades.

Mufflers ran the gamut of the colour range contrasting strangely with battered pith helmets and war-stained uniforms.

Many of the prisoners grinned cheerfully at cameramen but one was camera-shy.

He walked the full distance from the disembarkation point to the waiting train with a cardboard carton draped around his head and shoulders.

On the wharf was a high pile of luggage.  The Italians had come well prepared for their stay in Australia.  Several portmanteau and tarpaulin sheets covering them were camouflaged.

The rangers carried blankets and tin panikins.  A number were only youngsters.

QM August 1941 Italian POW

Several carried improvised draught boards and two started a game with pieces cut from a broom handle.

Medical Precautions

Exhaustive precautions to guard against the prisoners bringing dysentery to Australia were taken before the ship arrived.  Medical officers went aboard and carefully examined the medical history of every prisoner.

Elaborate arrangements had been made to have the men quarantined if this had been found necessary.

The Army Director-General of Hygiene made a special trip to Sydney to study the health situation before the prisoners landed.  Arrangements were made for the prisoners to be given meals on the train and they were accompanied by their own medical officers, as well as by Australian army medical men.

Panniers of medical stores were taken on the train to guard against illness on the journey.

Half a dozen of the prisoners who were ill were taken direct from the wharf to an ambulance and then to hospital.

Italian POW Hospital Queen Mary 1941

The photo below was taken in summer at Cowra. It shows the men some two and half years later and the odd assortment of clothing they wore.  Footwear consisted of sandals (possibly hand made), boots and high boots.  Clothing varied with tee shirts, buttoned shirts and safari suit tops of various colours being part of the Italians’ wardrobes.

Ippolito 3917517

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49115 C. Trentino; 49354 G. Ippolito; 49592 A. Poggi; 49107 G. Zunino; 48833 R. Bartoli; 49212 R. Papini; 48863 S. De Micco. Front row: 48939 A. Leto; 49172 A. Mandrini; 57531 B. Protano; 49923 F. Carlone; 45196 A. Ciofani. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(Australia War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes, Image 030173/11)

Treasures in Thread

Take a look at four beautiful embroideries sewn in the POW camps in India…

A little background: where did the cloth and thread come from?

Australian POWs in German camps used threads from worn out socks and jumpers as well as cotton from their army issue ‘housewife’.

Indian Publication Volumes 8-9 January 1941, listed items to be included in POW packages eg coloured silks and cotton threads, plain linen or canvas for embroidering.

The Red Cross sent supplies of recreational and educational material in bulk to prisoner of war camps.

The YMCA is also mentioned as a group who not only contributed books to Australian PW camps but were known also to provide material for tapestry, carpentry, embroidery and leatherwork.

The canteen at Camp No. 22 in India sold balls of mercerized cotton (like Coats Mercer Crochet Cotton).

Cloth used was from a variety of sources eg handkerchief, calico, canvas, cotton; salvaged or repurposed materials.

Treasures in Thread

Treasured keepsakes, given as gifts to Queensland farming families or taken home to Italy come in many forms.  One does not necessarily pair needlework with Italian soldiers. Possibly a skill taught in the camps to wile away the hours of monotony.  The hands of farmers and soldiers were capable of producing the most delicate needlework.

Antonio Fracasso embroided this handkerchief in June 1941 in a camp at Bangalore India.  He was captured at Bardia Libya on 6th January 1941.  These details give an estimation about how long the prisoners were held in Libya and Egypt before sailing for India… a few months at the most.

Fracasso. Embroidery A XIX EF

Salvatore Morello took his embroidered work home to his wife and daughter. The Sacred Heart of Mary (Sacro Cuore di Maria) was worked on canvas.  The angels’ banner reveals that it was created 1942 in India.

Morello Embroidery 1942 India

Sacro Cuore di Maria

(photo courtesy of Luigi Tommasi )

Knight on Horse was embroidered by Francesco Pintabona who stayed with the Harsant family at Warril View via Boonah.  Made into a cushion, the fabric has yellowed with age, but the embroidery shows a calm hand an a good eye. It was made while Frankie was in a camp in India.

Francesco Pintabona

Helen Mullan (nee Rackley) explains this about her embroidered gift: Before he left the farm, Domenico gave me the needlework of “Madonna and Child”.  He had painstakingly worked on a men’s handkerchief, when in a prison camp in India, I believe.  It was kept folded in an envelope for many years.  It is my special treasure, a reminder of Domenico, and I felt I needed to share this treasure with everyone, so I had it framed.  It has pride of place in my China Cabinet. You can see that is a combination of needlework and drawing with a painted background.  I have often wondered if he ran out of cotton as there are sections which have not been embroidered like the feet and the arms of the angel. It looks like he copied the image because you can see his pencilled in grid pattern.  As an adult, I reflect upon what it must have been like in the POW camp in India and the hours he spent embroidering this “Madonna and Child”.

Domenico.Rackely.jpeg

Embroidery by Domenico Mascuilli

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Another beautiful embroidery made in Derradoon India in 1942 can be viewed at Embroidery made by an Italian POW

An embroidery sewn in Australia by Italian POW: Gayndah Australia

Bouquet of Australia Wildflowers was crafted by Domenico Petruzzi who lived with the Robinson family at Glen Ellen via Gayndah.  The lettering at the bottom was Domenico’s addition: Remember Domenico Petruzzi Prisoner of War.

Gayndah Tapestry (2)

Embroidery by Domenico Petruzzi Q4 Gayndah

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Crocifisso Salvatore Martinicca’s  embroidered  handkerchief was sewn while he was in England: Saint Antonio di Padova  

Today it is called ‘Embroidery Therapy’ but during WW 2, embroidery was a recreational and theraputic past time; a means to keeping the hands and the minds occupied during the long months of confinement in POW camps.

During WW 1, soldiers recuperating in hospital were given embroidery to help keep them busy.

Cellophane Belt

Recycling is not a new concept.

Held in private collections, many amazing artefacts made by the Italian POWs have survived.  While, the Australian War Memorial has a number of items made or belonging to Italian POWs in their Heraldry Collection, research for this project has unearthed artefacts ‘unknown’ to public collections.

Basil Wyllie of Mooloo Gympie had three Italian prisoners of war on his farm: Alfredo Montagnini from Montefascone Viterbo, Raffaele Scrigno from Albanova Napoli and Pietro Verrengia from Cellole Napoli.

One of the items made by the Italians was a belt.  An example of war arts and crafts, it is fashioned from the cellephone wraps from cigarette packets.   Basil Wyllie has written on the inside of the belt: 1942 Egypt Italian.

A special thank you to Basil Wyllie’s daughter Noela White (Wyllie) for sharing this wonderful relic.

Belt.Wyllie.POW. Double

Belt made by Italian POWs on Basil Wyllie’s Farm Mooloo

(from the collection of Noela White (Wyllie))

Percy Miles from a neighbouring Mooloo farm,  remembered, “Some of the things they used to do to beat the boredom… One was to collect all the cellophane wrapping on cigarette packets and fold it up and plait it into a belt.”  

Alex Miles, son of Percy Miles, had telephoned me in 2017 about his families prisoners of war.  Alex told me about the belts the Italians made. Thinking leather, I was not prepared for the word ‘cellophane’.  I had no previous reference to belts made from cellophane.  I was intrigued.  Alex then sent me photos of the ‘belt’ and I was amazed.

This seemingly ‘fragile’ material, cellophane, has been prepared and fashioned in such a manner that one belt has survived.  While the white cellophane has yellowed with age, this double sided belt must have taken many many hours to make and comprises of hundreds of cigarette packet wraps.

Belt.Wyllie.POW.Mooloo

Close Up of Belt made by Italian POWs on Basil Wyllie’s Farm Mooloo

(from the collection of Noela White (Wyllie))

But this was not just an object of war.  Making belts from the cellophane wraps of cigarette packets and chocolate boxes was a new fashion in 1930’s.  Newspaper articles sing the praises of this fashion statement being made in Paris and London.

So how does one make a belt from cellophane… the full instructions can be found in the 1937 newspaper article as referenced below and available from Trove.

Belt Made from Cellophane.jpg

1937 ‘Belt Made from Cellophane’, The Maitland Daily Mercury (NSW : 1894 – 1939), 10 July, p. 3. , viewed 20 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article126512099

Recycling is not a new concept.