Tag Archives: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani Q6

Gentilissima Signorina Irma

A trainee nurse, Irma Vettovalli was working at the Ayr General Hospital during 1944 and 1945 when Italian prisoners of war from Q6 Home Hill Hostel were admitted to the hospital. While the military rule was that Italian prisoners of war were not to fraternise with women, Irma was not about to let military regulations get in the way of her nursing duties.

Pane Irma.jpeg

Trainee Nurse: Irma Vettovalli

(photo courtesy of Pina Vettovalli)

Agostino Leto was admitted to the hospital for chronic appendicitis 29th May 1944.  The story goes that the senior doctor at the hospital refused to operate on a prisoner of war, but the junior doctor, Dr Kelly had no hesitation in acting according to the ethical obligations of his profession.

Once he was admitted to the ward, Irma Vettovalli, realising Agostino had little English, went out of her way to speak with this patient. The Matron ordered Irma to cease her contact with this prisoner and under no circumstance was she to talk to or nurse Agostino again.  A plucky 18-year-old, Irma offered her resignation to Dr Kelly, without reason.  Upon questioning Irma, Dr Kelly identified the issue and told Irma to continue as before.

Agostino spent one month at the Ayr Hospital before returning to Q6 Hostel on 29th June 1944  but he did not return home to Prizzi Italy until January 1947. Upon his return to Italy, his recount of his one month hospital stay to his mother, prompted her to write a letter to Irma. Irma’s care and ability to speak Italian, was remembered and retold with great affection and appreciation by Agostino.

Prizzi 20 February 1947

Gentilissima Signorina Irma,

…As a mum it softened by heart and I feel an ache in which I must thank you through this sheet of paper.  I hope you accept my poor letter writing… [my son] says that yours [your visits] as a nurse were special.  He found you and only you will remain in my heart and you will be unforgettable to my dear son.  I wish that I could see you in person so I can tell you all that my poor heart feels, that I cannot put on paper.

And so my most gracious Miss, this is a small token of my esteem and from all my family to pass on to your dear ones.  I wish you good fortune and every kind of good.  Consider me your unknown friend. Rosa Leto.”

Pane, Irma Envelope

 

Mail from Rosa Leto to Irma Vettovalli

(photo courtesy of Pina Vettovalli)

Held in high regard, Dr Kelly, the medical superintendent wrote in December 1945, “she [Irma] gave eminent satisfaction, on account of her obedience, application to duty and intelligence.”

In 1992, Irma Vettovalli (now Mrs Irma Pane) received an award from the Alpini and Friends Group “expressing their profound gratitude for Irma’s ‘Noble gesture of Human Dedication for Italian Prisoners of War recuperating in hospital during the war period’.”

Irma wrote about those times, “Because of my dedication to Nursing in Ayr, I came in contact with people from all walks of life, colour and creed and having had respect and compassion for all during their illness, I too gained their respect.  Re- the war years, on some occasions only the ignorant would make hurtful remarks…”

Those war years were complicated years for Irma’s family.  Enrico Vettovalli, Irma’s father, was interned in February 1942 and sent to Gaythorne for processing and then to Loveday Internment Camp.  He was a naturalised British Subject and had been resident in Australia since March 1922.  Enrico was interned until May 1943 when he was released to work for Manpower SA.  In November 1943, he returned to Queensland.

Adding to the complexity of war, Irma’s brother Donato had in January 1942, been called to duty in the Australian Army. He was released for discharge in May 1945. Born in Italy, he was three years old when he migrated to Australia with his mother 1924.

Agostino Leto is seated first on the left.

 

Leto 3

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war 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. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/11)

 

 

 

Musical Memories

The Music Book of Franco (Ciccio) Cipolla

The government documents give us the rules and regulations, transport movements, roles and responsibilities but it is the personal souvenirs that provide us with a grass roots understanding of life as a prisoner of war.

Nino Cipolla, Ciccio’s son remembers how his father told him he gifted his guitar to his ‘farming’ family. While Ciccio was attached to Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill, Ciccio along with 52 other POWs were sent to the Atherton Tablelands for the 1945 maize harvest. Ciccio was on the Atherton Tablelands when peace was declared after the dropping of the bombs on Japan.  Maybe, the maize farmer was the receiver of the guitar.

There are other stories of banjos, mandolins and gramophones being in the possession of the Italian prisoners of war and many stories about their beautiful singing voices.

Ciccio’s Music Book however offers a unique insight into the music of the day.

Meticulously notated are ‘Valtzer’ ‘Tango Fox Trot’ ‘Rumba’ ‘One Step’ ‘Mazurka’ ‘Valtzer Lento’ and ‘Tango Argentine’.  Unexpectedly Ciccio’s music features an interesting mix of Italian folk music, Italian popular music and American Big Band music.

It is easy to ‘dance’ back in time to Ciccio’s music. Fox trot to Violino Tzigano . Enjoy a waltz to The Missouri Waltz and Speranze Perdute. Try a tango to Play to Me Gipsy or rumba to La Paloma.  Be taken back to Italy with Non Me Ne Importa Niente and Tra Veglia e Sonno. Travel to America with Begin the Beguine and SouthAmerican Joe.

With thanks to Ciccio Cipolla we have an invaluable personal reference and insight into the life of a POW in Queensland.

On the cover of the music book, Ciccio wrote Home Hill.  Ciccio arrived at Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill in April 1944 and departed in November 1945.  He was one of 272 Italian prisoners of war who called the hostel on the banks of the Burdekin River home.  Farmer, Kent Fowler from up river Home Hill, remembers his father and uncle talking about the concerts they attended at the POW camp.

A special thank you to Ciccio’s son Nino and grandson Jack for sharing the music and songs of the Italian prisoners of war.

Music Book Cover Franco Cipolla Home Hill IMG_2243

(photo courtesy of Jack Cipolla)

Music has a healing power.  It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.

Elton John

 

Q6 PWCH Home Hill

I am yet to find a photograph taken at the Home Hill hostel.  Military zones, such as this prisoner of war camp, were governed by strict rules and protocols regarding the taking of photos.  According to the regulations, “Group photos of PW allocated through Control Centres for employment in rural industry were NOT permitted” (NAA:A7711)  and while POWs allocated through PWCC had their photos taken by their host families, there is no photographic record of the POWs while working on the Commonwealth Farms, nor of the hostel.  Or maybe there are photos of the POWs at Home Hill hostel that are yet to see the light of day.

The Australian War Memorial holds an amazing array of photographs taken of a number of POW Camp facilities in Australia and group photos of the prisoners of war.  The group photos were taken so that the Italian POWs could purchase a copy to send home.

With so little information known about the Home Hill hostel, I searched the Australian War Memorial (AWM) records to catch a glimpse of my Home Hill POWs.  I had the list of names: 272 but I was not satisfied with names only.

I did not want this group of men to be defined by the few trouble makers who refused to work or escaped and were recaptured.  After all, they were men who were fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.  By the time they walked into the hostel, it had been seven months since Italy had surrendered.  The Allies were making their way north through Italy, but by 28th April 1944 there was a lull in Allied activity due to bad weather:

LONDON. Thursday. – Land
and air fighting has slackened in
Italy because rain and mist are
again shrouding the front lines,
says Reuters correspondent at
Allied Headquarters.
There was harassing artillery
and mortar fire on the Cassino
front and in the nearby Garigliano
River sector.
(News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954) Friday 28 April 1944 p 1)

Home Hill. The Men

The first group of 115 Italian POWs arrived on 30th April 1944.

These men came from all walks of life. The requirements of the hostel meant that the following occupations were minimum requested and recruited: 1 x Medical Officer, 4 x orderlies, 190 x workers, 10 x cooks and fatigues, 50 x PW capable of driving tractors including mechanics.

Some of their occupations included: police, hairdresser, sculptor, brewer, bookseller, sailor, electrician, tinsmith, tiler, brick layer, linotypist, cyclist, tailor, miller, mason and blacksmith.  Considering that the hostel had not been completed when the first 115 POWs walked into the hostel,  men with trades would have been most welcome.

The photo below taken at Cowra shows three of the Home Hill POWs: Giuseppe Ippolito  – labourer, Salvatore De Micco – farmer and Agostino Leto –  postal clerk.  All three men were in the first group of 115 to be sent to Q6 Home Hill Hostel.

Ippolito De micco Leto

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.

(AWM Image 030173/11 McInnes, G)

They Did Know!

Did Burdekin locals know what was happening at the POW farms during those years.  YES they did.  They knew because the POW farms were relevant and had a context.

One of the puzzles about the Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill, was that very little is remembered by locals about a POW camp which housed 250 Italian prisoners of war.  My father said to me once, “Did no one see or hear 250 Italian prisoners of war in red uniform board a train in November 1945?  Did no one see the trucks carrying these men 22 mile from the hostel site to the Home Hill train station?  Why has this history been forgotten?”

Q Imagery Burdekin RiverAyr 14.4.1994  8358 Run 5 119-135    (The State of Queensland 2013 Natural Resouces and Mines Q Imagery)

Dad was 20 years old at the time and living in Jarvisfield on the Ayr side of the river, busy with farm work growing cane, cotton, pumpkins and potatoes.  Tractors were imprest items and farmers had to revert to the use of horses.  More work for my dad and his brother. The war years were a time when ears were tuned to the radio broadcasts about the war and people’s thoughts were with the possibility of a Japanese invasion and what an invasion would mean for those north of the Brisbane line.  As well, petrol rationing meant that fuel was kept for essentials.  In those times the Tapiolas family on the Ayr side of the Burdekin River did not visit the Tapiolas family on the Home Hill side. War time was a busy time.

Like many events in the past,  memories are brushed aside because they no longer have relevance.  Yes, there were POWs growing vegetables on the banks of the Burdekin River, but these Italians left, nothing remains of the buildings, so there is no reason to remember.  And sometimes a memory needs relevance and context.

Did Burdekin locals know what was happening at the POW farms during those years.  YES they did.  They knew because the POW farms were relevant and had a context.

Burdekin farmers and associated stakeholders wanted the facility to be converted into an agricultural college.  They wanted the research and development that was taking place on the POW farms to continue. These men wanted to retain the civilian supervisors who had capably trained the Italian POWs, to continue to teach and train the next generation of farmers.  What was happening at the POW farms was relevant. There were advancements in soil testing and varietal seed testing specific to a tropical climate. State of the art farming equipment was imported from USA  and different irrigation systems trialled.

Our grandfathers knew this, but their cause fell on deaf ears and the buildings were sold off.  No longer was this site important or relevant.

But the archived newspapers provides a context: 1945.  As early as  January 1945, an article in the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported that a submission had been made by the Agricultural, Pastoral and Secondary Industries Development Association for the Queensland Government to purchase the Commonwealth Farms at Home Hill and convert them to an Agricultural High School and College, similar to Gatton Agricultural College. My grandfather Mr B Tapiolas spoke at the meeting. Article mentions Burdekin war vegetable farms.

By May 1945, interested parties convened a meeting with three North Queensland Parliamentarians, Messrs. G. Keyatta (Townsville), T Aitkens (Mundingburra) and F.W. Paterson (Bowen). Burdekin locals mentioned are : Mr B Tapiolas, Mr A Coburn, Mr HV Sainsbury, Mr S Smith, Mr Reading, Mr R Gray, Mr WR Gist, Mr FJ Woods (Chairman of Ayr Shire Council) as well as Mr F Hely from the C.S.I.R who was the main adviser for the Commonwealth Vegetable Project.  There is mention of the ‘POW farm at Home Hill‘.

Further meetings reveal the names of more Burdekin men: Mr J J McDonald, Mr Wellington, Mr Beames, Mr Giffard, Mr Berryman, Mr Jackson, Mr Osborne, Mr Donavon, Mr Honeycombe and Councillor HW Irving.

By 28th August 1945, details of the POW farm at Home Hill are revealed.  “Mr Gist convened that – The facilities already existing in this area for an Agricultural College are located near Home hill which is situated on the southern bank of the Burdekin River. The present Commonwealth Vegetable farm unit which we propose should be acquired for use as an Agricultural College.  These farms have been leased by the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and development by it for the production of all classes of vegetables and some fruits by POW labour with civilian supervisors and expert assistance.  Improvements include buildings to accommodate 300 personnel with administrative, storage, canteen and recreational facilities.  Modern conveniences such as septic system, electricity, hot water systems and telephone are provided.  A workshop, machine sheds, packing sheds and several cottages are installed on this farm unit.  We submit gentlemen, that this POW farm in reality has been acting as such [Agricultural College] for the past 15 months.” (Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld.: 1907 – 1954), Tuesday 28 August 1945, page 3)

For me, the research on the  Home Hill Hostel was all about finding out ‘what had been forgotten’.  It has been about recording the history and sharing it. And should someone from Italy arrive in Home Hill looking for information about where their grandfather worked as a POW from 1944 to 1945, then they too can have their answers.