Tag Archives: Prisoner of War South Australia

Legacy: Rabbit and Spaghetti

It is over 70 years now since Italian Prisoners of War who worked and lived in Australia for up to six years, left Australia for their homes in Italy. Their legacy is lasting in many ways and a poignant tribute is “Rabbits & Spaghetti” as is highlighted by the label below.

“Rabbit & Spaghetti” is a wine label from the vineyards of South Australia. This wine pays tribute to the Italian Prisoners of War who worked in the grape growing industry in the state.

The label reads: “As WWII swept across Northern Africa, the idyllic landscape of Australia’s wine regions must have seemed a strange place of incarceration for a prisoner of war. And yet this is where scores of captured Italian soldiers found themselves labouring on farms and vineyards in place of a generation of young men far away at war.  Without this help many a grape grower could not have endured these times.  In return for their labour, the farmers shared their homes and tables with their ‘prisoners’. Rabbit and spaghetti was a staple and from those shared meals, traditions and friendships were born that have outlasted the war.” (Naked Wines Australia Limited, 2014)

 rabbits-and-spaghetti

 Rabbit & Spaghetti Label

(Naked Wines Australia Limited, 2014)

 

Rabbit and spaghetti was a well remembered meal made by the Italian prisoners of war on farms.  Rabbit was also referred to as ‘underground mutton’.

1946 Gladstone Ammunition Depot

This situation in 1946 was that there were 18,000 Italian prisoners of war in camps awaiting repatriation.  At the same time, the Department of Army had army bases scattered around the country needing a workforce for clearing, maintenance, reconditioning, repairs, salvage work, improvements, revegetation.

A very special thank you to Malcolm Davis for providing this information.

One South Australian project where Italian prisoners of war were employed was the Gladstone Ammunition Depot in the Beetaloo Valley.  Known as the 5 CAD (Central Ammunition Depot), it “became host to Italian prisoners of war, but it was not a gaol like atmosphere.  These men were set to work cutting wood and doing other menial tasks, and from all accounts their stay was not a harsh one.  

The only reminder of the POWs stay left today is a stone wall, which enclosed the then parade ground.  the stone was quarried from the depot area, and as cement was unavailable, lime was burned for mortar.  The POWs also took up gardening and produced prolific crops of all types of vegetables which went to supplement the rations.  Some were also purchased by the married quarter members at nominal charges…With the assistance from the POWs, the billboard room was built, also from local stone which was shaped by a monumental mason stationed here at the time.  The POWs were paid for their work and had to buy their own cigarettes etc. but it was mainly a transit camp for them as most of them returned to Italy from 5CAD.”   from “Gladstone a meeting of creeks – a breaking of gauges“. Published by The Gladstone Centenary Committee, in 1980. Printed by “Gillingham Printers Pty Ltd Adelaide. SA”.

Gladstone and the Aerial of 411 Supply Company base

( from Gladstone a meeting of creeks – a breaking of gauge and https://location.sa.gov.au/viewer/)

Are there any remnants of the 411 Supply Company base?  Can you help pinpoint the location of this site?

I have found a number of terms used for the Gladstone Ammunition Depot:

No 4 Advanced Ammunition Depot

5 Central Ammunition Depot

411 Supply Company Gladstone

4AAAD Gladstone: Abbreviation used on Service and Casualty Forms  

So far we have the following Italians at the 4AAAD:

Giovanni Soppelsa bricklayer from Cencenighe Belluno (18.7.46)

Bruno Angelini, mason from Sala Bolognese Bologna (7.8.46)

Giuseppe Armanini, farmer from Storo Trento (7.8.46)

Michele Di Bari farmer from Montesantangelo Foggia (7.8.46)

Alfredo Goduto, painter from Roseto Valfortore Foggia

 

Verified is that Italian prisoners of war were sent to 4AAAD from July 46 until repatriaton.  But not all paperwork was completed as we know Alfredo Goduto was at the 4AAAD but there is no notation on his Service and Casualty Form.

Were there other South Australian army bases where Italian prisoners of war were employed in 1946?

 

 

 

 

It starts with hope

Maria Pepe from Oppido Lucano (Basilicata) hoped for the impossible and that one day, she might discover information about her father’s time on a farm in Australia.

Michele Pepe’s journey as an Italian solider and prisoner of war is like thousands of others: captured at Bardia Libya, sent to British POW Camps in India, arrived in Australia, sent to work on a farm, repatriated and arrived in Italy in 1947. But every Italian prisoner of war took home with them unique memories and sometimes photos.

Maria hoped that two photos her father kept, might help her locate the farming family. It is remarkable that not only has the Bruce family been found, but that both families have kept safe the same two photos. Mr KW Bruce from Riverton South Australia employed Michele to assist him on his mixed farm .  “The broadacre crops grown on the farm were wheat, barley and peas.   Mick helped to milk 25 cows every morning and evening.  The farm also had 100 pigs, 500 sheep and about 100 chickens.” Heather Jackson (nee Bruce) recalls.

Michele’s Service and Casualty Form records that he was sent to farm work on 13.5.44 and left 7.3.46.

Pepe Michele and Bruce Family

Michele Pepe with the Bruce family Riverton SA c. June 1945

(photos courtesy of Maria Pepe and the Bruce family*)

The two photos captured Michele with his farming family.  In one photo he is happy, nursing a baby and standing with the farmer and his children. The other photo has Michele with Mr and Mrs Bruce and their four children. Maria Pepe writes, “My father always spoke about those three children so close to him.  He often spoke about the suffering of leaving them to return to Italy.  He told me, … [the young girl] cried when he left for Italy.”

Heather Jackson (nee Bruce) is the little girl in the photo and has provided invaluable information to Maria Pepe.  “Michele (or Mick as the family called him) lived in a 4 room cottage in which he had the use of 2 rooms and a bathroom.  This cottage was about 30 metres from the family home.  Mick joined the family to eat all his meals,” Heather remembers. Maria remembers her father talking about, ‘the great humanity of Mr and Mrs Bruce who took Michele as one of the family.’

The Bruce siblings remember and reflect upon Sundays and Mick’s journey into town to attend church as Heather recounts: “Mick borrowed a horse and sulky to travel 5 kilometres into Riverton alone to attend the Roman Catholic Church service at 8 am on Sunday mornings.    He would park the sulky and horse in the Methodist Church yard and walk to his Church.  The Bruce family were Methodists, so he felt it only correct to park the horse and sulky in the Methodist Church yard. The Bruce family’s Methodist church service was much later in the morning, well after Mick returned from his church.”

A gesture of respect from a prisoner of war to a farmer.

The documenting of this history can be sometimes, one sided: an Australian farming family memories OR an Italian family memories.  It is special when this history can connect both families.  Maria has shared with the Bruce siblings, a little about Michele’s life after his return to Italy, and Heather has shared with Maria and her brothers details about farming life in the 1940s and special memories of Mick.

Pepe Michele and Elena 1948

Wedding Photo: Elena and Michele Pepe 1948

(photo courtesy of Maria Pepe)

And Michele’s reflections of his time in Australia and being a prisoner of war will resonate with many Italian families: “Australia was  beautiful and rich, but here in Italy, I feel like a king in my home.” (Maria Pepe)

* Heather Jackson (nee Bruce) believes that the photos were taken around the time of Michele Pepe’s birthday.  The baby girl was born in April 1945 and Michele Pepe’s birthday was in June.  This would have been Michele’s 28th birthday.