Tag Archives: Q10 Boonah

It started with George

VALE: Eric Charles BEHRENDORFF

Aged 97

15th November 2019

This story started with George aka Giovanni Ragusa, Italian Prisoner of War on Eric Behrendorff’s farm outside of Boonah.  At 94 years old Eric had clear memories of George that he shared with me for this project.  In 1944, Eric was  a young farmer of 22 years while George, slightly older at 32 years was also a farmer from Calascibetta on the island of Sicily.

Giovanni Ragusa

Giovanna Ragusa aka “George”

(from the Collection of Antonio Ragusa)

Fast forward 72 years and the story entitled His Name was George has connected Australians and Italians once again.  Antonio Ragusa, son of Giovanni has shared this father’s memories as a thank you to the Behrendorff family.  Antonio writes, “Dad never spoke of his imprisonment.  We knew he had been captured in North Africa and then sent to India and finally to Australia.  He worked in what he called ‘British labour camps’.  He learnt a little English and also to  strum the guitar.  He never played the guitar at home, but every so often he would say an English word.  We understood that he had a great nostalgia for Australia and the children.  Dad returned to Calascibetta and to his life as a farmer.  He married my mum in 1953 and then my brother and I were born.  In the mid 1960’s we moved to northern Italy where dad worked as a labourer until retirement.  He died in 1999, a month and a half after my mum died.  He had just turned 87 years.  In his personal papers, he have a small number of photos taken at the time he was working on a farm.  We did not know who the people were in the photo but we knew that that dad had a special connection to this family”.

Giovanni Ragusa Italy

Giovanni Ragusa

(photo courtesy of Antonio Ragusa)

After 72 years, Antonio Ragusa now knows the names of the people in the photos, thanks to Eric Behrendorff’s son David.  Antonio also now has details about his father’s movements between North Africa and Italy.

Giovanni Ragusa Eric Berhendorff

The Behrendorff Extended Family

George, John and Mary Schultz, Winifred, Bruce Abbot (boy in shorts) Nell Behrendorff (lady in hat), Phyllis, Eric Behrendorff (man in hat with tie) Rose and David Wieland (Eric’s parents in law)  Taken in John Street Boonah

(from the Collection of Antonio Ragusa)

Antonio says, “Grazie a te, mi hai fatto conoscere ancora meglio mio padre… thanks to you, I know my father better”.  Once upon a time language was an insurmountable barrier, but translation programs has aided the Ragusa and Behrendorff families  to communicate and exchange stories and memories of a time when an Italian POW nicknamed George worked on the farm of Eric Behrendorff.

Eric and Joanne.jpeg

Eric Behrendorff and Joanne Tapiolas October 2017

In October 2017, I had the pleasure of spending time with Eric. Eric spoke with melancholy of those war time years.  A time when you were scorned because you had a German surname, a time when you had charcoal burners fitted to your trucks to ‘power’ them and a time when ‘George’ was brought to a farm out Boonah way.

Eric said that sometime after George left the farm, he planted an avenue of olive trees.  Maybe George had  told him they would grow well or maybe they were a gentle reminder of a time when Italian prisoners of war worked on Queensland farms.

Finding Ferdy

Vale: Ferdinando Pancisi

26.2.1917 to 6.6.2019

Aged 102 

Anna and Ferdy Pancisi 2017

Anna and Ferdy Pancisi 2017

Finding Ferdy is like finding treasure…

Tim Dwyer had heard his father’s stories about the Italian prisoners of war on their property at Aratula during WW2. He knew their names and a little bit about them, but it wasn’t until he took over from his mum, as letter writer to one of the POWs, that he appreciated the bonds of friendship formed over 65 years before.

Ferdinando Young Man

Ferdinando Pancisi

(photo courtesy of Ferdinando Pancisi)

Tim continued to write to Ferdinando Pancisi (known as Ferdy) from 2010 but the ceasation of replies from Italy in recent years signalled the end of a era.

In a tribute to his parents and Ferdy, Tim while on holiday in Italy in 2017, decided to visit Ferdy’s village Civitella di Romagna.  With an envelope in his hand and very basic Italian, Tim asked a lady in the street for directions to the address written on the paper.

With much gesticulation and explanation,  Tim’s village guide understood he was “The Australian” and knocked on a door and roused 100 year old Ferdy.

Ferdy.Anna.Tim.Ferdy

Anna Pancisi, Tim Dwyer and Ferdinando Pancisi September 2017

(from the collection of Tim Dwyer)

Finding Ferdy was like finding treasure and Tim left Civitella di Romagna with a heavy heart.  There was much he wanted to say and questions he wanted to ask but his holiday schedule and language were against him.

Realising the importance of capturing the memories and stories of Ferdy, not only of his time with the Dwyer family, but also his time as a soldier and prisoner of war, Tim engaged the services of Tammy Morris, a Kiwi living in Tavarnelle, Chianti.

The legacy of friendship between an Italian POW and the Dwyer family, is the capturing and recording of this vital first hand account of the life of an Italian soldier and POW.  Read the full story: PANCISI Ferdinando.

Tammy and her husband Nicola Cianti arranged to visit Ferdinando, tape his memories, transcribe them then translate them.  Tammy said, “Ferdinando has an extremely fresh memory and is an energetic and jovial person!”

Ferdy walked back in time and explained about his time as a soldier and medic in Libya, his capture, working in the hospital in a POW camp in India,  his first impressions of his farm boss (Tim’s father), his return home and almost emigrating to USA and Ferdy sang  SOTTO IL CIEL DI BANGALORE.

Ferdy reflected about his return to Italy in 1947,

“They prepared my bed, heated it up for me.  I had a warm welcome, felt cozy, happy to be home. The only problem was that when I woke up in the morning, I felt kind of out of place! I was used to moving around and seeing the World. How was I going to make it here? I was feeling a bit like a fish out of water! This little village was too small for me!”

Even as a young man, Ferdy had a gift for wise words and in a letter he wrote to Pat Dwyer in 1946, he sends a message: ‘A cheer up to Pauline! Tell her she should be glad because youthness passes away like a wind and nobody can’t stop it’.

When talking about Tim and Cathy’s unannounced visit, Ferdy’s philosophy on life is revealed: “You see, this is the joy of living life -when you don’t know what kind of surprise is coming your way, making each day a pleasure”.

And quite possibly Ferdinando Pancisi’s philosophy and positivity guided him through those difficult war years.

I congratulate Tim on his efforts to co-ordinate a remarkable mission to capture Ferdy’s memories. I thank also Tammy Morris  and Nicola Cianti for realising the importance of Ferdy’s journey as a soldier and prisoner of war and their willingness to record this history.

Footsteps.Pancisi

Tammy Morris, Ferdinando Pancisi, Anna Pancisi and Nicola Cianti 2017

(photo courtesy of Tammy Morris and Nicola Cianti)

 

 

 

 

Italian Family Needs Boonah’s Help

Luigi Tommasi is researching his grandfather’s journey as an Italian soldier and prisoner of war during WW2 and his search has brought him to Boonah.

Luigi’s grandfather Salvatore Morello together with Pietro Pepe, both from Castri di Lecce were captured in the Battle of Bardia: 3 – 5th January 1941.  Together on 29th July 1944, they were sent to the Q10 Prisoner of War Control Centre for allocation to farm work.

Their first placement was on the farm of G. Bartholomew.  In the first week of September 1944, both men were sent to the Boonah Hospital. It is possible that Salvatore and Pietro were reassigned to another farmer after their release from hospital.

Luigi remembers, “My grandfather said he had worked at a large farm in Boonah, which used the tractor to reap the hay and a horse to gather the cattle. If I remember correctly the horse was white, to which he was very fond of. His work also included milking dairy cows and raising cattle, sheep and pigs. He also told us that the owner of the farm was lame.”

Salvatore’s time on Boonah farms was barely eight months as due to ongoing medical issues and chronic appendicitis he returned to Hay Prisoner of War Camp and further hospitalisation.  “My grandfather spoke with fondness about his time working on Australian farms, I always thought that he was on farms for much longer.  I think he was well treated because he had good memories.  We had no idea where in Australia he was sent, but with thanks to Joanne Tapiolas, we now know this place was Boonah,” Luigi said.

 Morello India - Copy

Pietro Pepe, unknown, Salvatore Morello c. 1942

British POW Camp in India

Salvatore and Pietro spent three years in POW Camps in India and the only photos of Salvatore and Pietro during their time as prisoners of war were taken in India. Possibly the photo above combined with Salvatore’s memories of farm life, might jog the memories of a few Boonah locals.

Luigi has contacted researcher Joanne Tapiolas, to assist him with his quest.  “This journey is an emotional one for Salvatore’s daughter, Antonia.  Her father left home in 1939 and did not return until 1947. Eight years, is a very long time for a little girl.  Helping Luigi and Antonia is an extension of the research project into the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland.  There is an increase in the number of people in Australia who are tracing their family history, so it comes as no surprise that Italian families are also interested in the history of their family members,” explains Tapiolas.

If Boonah locals can assist Luigi Tommasi  in any way, Joanne Tapiolas can be contacted at joannetappy@gmail.com  Further information on the research project can be found at italianprisonersofwar.com

 

 

 

 

Peter and Paul

I have a couple of wonderful photos of my family with Peter and Paul our Italians POWs. I would have been ten years old when they came to our farm to help dad with the farm work.  There was a shortage of farm labourers during the war and we grew potatoes.  Dad was involved with the Potato Board and would travel around Australia attending meetings and conferences.

We also had soldiers and Land Army girls help with the farm work and the harvest.  Some of the soldiers were USA soldiers. One Negro solider stayed on the farm and took over cooking for mum.  I think he was then sent to New Guinea.

Then came Peter and Paul who stayed with us for about 18 months. Language was a problem especially between dad and Peter and Paul.  It was more that dad would tell them to do something, they were eager to please and follow instructions but they would get the wrong idea and then voices were raised.  They called our grandmother Extra Madame, mum was Madame, but Grandma Kelly hated the reference. I think it was because she was a big lady. But I don’t think they meant anything other than being respectful. Sometimes we would call Grandma Kelly, Extra Madame and she would get very irate with us.

Dwyer Family 1945

Dwyer Family Photo 1945

Back: JJ Dwyer, Margaret Dwyer, Des Dwyer, Grandma Kelly

Front: Laurie Dwyer, Pietro Romano, Carmel Dwyer, Michael Dwyer, Paolo De Propertis

We loved Peter. He was outgoing and friendly.  Once when Mum and Dad were away, Peter came and slept in the house and looked after the family.  And 70 years later we still talk about Peter’s potato cakes.  We were introduced to rice and spaghetti by Peter and Paul.  They would teach us how to twirl the spaghetti with a fork and spoon. My first pair of sandals was given to me by Peter.  I used to get hand me downs from my sister Margaret, but Peter made me my very own sandals.  He used to cure the hides and make leather. They would have made us trinkets and toys, probably from pieces of wood or corn cobs. Another time, Mum, Grandma and Michael went to the coast for about two months for a holiday.  Peter would do everything and looked after the house.  My parents trusted the Italians.   I remember he would wash my hair on a Sunday afternoon and plait it.  For the first few days of school, my hair remained neat and tidy.  By the end of the week, the teacher would be telling me to ‘do something about my hair’.

Peter loved watermelons. The story goes that at night, Peter would cut a watermelon in half and then munch on it throughout the night.  He would also cut a small triangle into the watermelons to check to see if they were ripe.

Paul was much quieter than Peter.  He enjoyed milking the cows and doing the dairy farm work.  Reg and Molly were share farmers and neighbours.  There was some confusion with language and Paul tried to explain this by saying “I like Molly. But I don’t like a Molly”.

Dwyer Paolo

Paolo De Propertis

On canteen truck day, we would race home from school because we knew that Peter and Paul would buy something for us.  We went to Tarome school and from school we would see the canteen truck  drive past on the road.  We would race across the paddocks, creek and a swamp to get home. It was mainly a lolly they would give us, but they were a real treat.

On a Sunday, the other POWs from around the area would congregate on our farm.  This was against the rules but because we lived out of town, they didn’t get noticed.  In those days you knew local cars and who owned them.  If there were any strange cars coming up the road, the Italians would disperse and take cover. Their meetings were often rowdy. Dad would be concerned that there was a fight happening and would go over to see what was going on.  One minute they were talking angry and the next they were laughing.  Dad said that they would mimic the mannerisms of their bosses.  They would walk and talk like their bosses and they found it hilarious.  Dad said they were very true with their interpretations.

My brothers had more to do with Peter and Paul than I did.  As was appropriate in those days, mum kept Margaret and I at a distance from the Italians.  She felt that the girls shouldn’t be around them.  We used to get letters from Peter and Paul but because of the language issue, this stopped. They couldn’t understand our letters and we couldn’t understand their letters.

They must have talked about their homes and families because I remember a couple of things about the differences between life in Australia and life in Italy.  They thought that Australian women were very lonely.  They lived on the farm, a long way from other women and the town.  In Italy, families lived in villages.  The men left the village to go to work during the day but the women had the company of the people in the village.  The other difference was to do with twilight.  When they first arrived, they had this idea that after dinner they would go walking.  Dad had to try to explain that our twilight in Queensland was short.  The sun would set and it would turn dark quickly.  It is different in southern states and also in Europe when it is still light close to 10pm in some places.

When Peter and Paul left our farm, we took them into town.  Upon our return home, we saw that they had painted their addresses on a wall of the house. I travelled to Italy and asked the tour guide if we went close to Tocco Cassauria and explained my memories.  Unfortunately, this was not on the tourist route.

Many people today, do not have a knowledge of this history.  I have told the story of Peter and Paul many times to people I meet and they always are puzzled by a scheme which placed Italian prisoners of war on farms to live with Queensland families.  While there were many benefits for the Italians to be on farm, the scheme had reciprocal benefits.

Peter and Paul enriched our lives.

Carmel Peck (nee Dwyer)

July 2017