Tag Archives: Q10 Prisoner of War Control Centre Boonah

Longevity and Letter Writing

life and lifelong connections

Dedicated to Ferdinando Pancisi

I would like to introduce you to 101 year old Ferdinando Pancisi. Ferdinando (Ferdy) has lived a full life; in more ways than one. Life events saw him journey from his home in Italy to Libya to Egypt to India to Australia and then home to Italy. Like the majority of Italian prisoners of war sent to Australia, they were absent from Italy for seven years.

Ferdy settled in the village of Civitella di Romagna with his wife Anna; both work in their small convenience shop. With age comes wisdom, and his sage insights were shared in 2017, when he was interviewed .

Longevity also relates to the duration of a special friendship between Ferdy and his Boonah family: The Dwyers. A bachelor, Pat Dwyer applied for prisoner of war workers and Ferdy was sent to his Fassifern farm. Ferdy left the farm on 2nd February 1946 and Pat Dwyer wrote to him soon after. And so began a correspondence that has continued through the decades. Ferdy’s response to Pat’s first letter is typed below…

(Letter courtesy of Tim Dwyer)

Ferdy’s first letter to Pat Dwyer was written on 11th February 1946. From the records it is known that Pauly and Peter were on the farm of Pat’s brother Jack and Nicola and Cosmo were on the farm of Mr TM McGrath.

Ferdy and Pat shared their family news throughout the decades. Pat’s wife Joie took on the role of letter writing after Pat died and then son Tim has taken on this role in recent years.

For over 73 years Ferdy and the Dwyer family have sent letters, cards and photos back and forth across the decades and across the miles. I would think that their situation might be unique.

Seventy three years is a long time: a special connection between farmer and Italian POW; a tangible link between two men from different walks of life; a personal history of war and friendship; a heartwarming story of Ferdy and the Dwyer family; a connection that goes beyond the backdrop of war.

a unique friendship in many ways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It started with George

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.

Memories in Concrete

Memories in Concrete

When I started this project, I had a firm belief that there was concrete evidence of the presence of Italian POWs in Queensland. John Oxley Library holds three photos of Italian POWs at Bill Beattie’s farm at Calico Creek via Gympie.  I hoped to be able to add to this collection and my aim was to find the POWs ‘footprints’ and photos seemed the obvious records to survive seven decades.

So Pam Phillip’s photos of the concrete footings for a windmill on her father, Ron Niebling’s farm at Moorgoorah were ‘footprints’ I didn’t expect to see.  But there they are, footprints captured in concrete.

Boonah.Niebling1

Footprints of Giuseppe Miraglia Enna Sicilia 25.10.1945 Moogarah

In  the good times, plentiful rain keeps the Moogoorah Lake full but in drought, as was the case in 1995, the lake offers up its secrets and treasures.

Boonah.Niebling 3

Footprints of Ron Niebling 24.10.45 Moogarah

Finding Ferdy

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

 

 

 

 

We Blame Uncle Berto…

Benedetto Ierna or better known as Uncle Berto, was 23 years old when he was captured at Alan Tumar on 9th December 1940.  A barber from Floridia, Siracusa he was a soldier in the Engineers Corps when captured and was sent to India until April 1944.

Within 10 weeks of his arrival in Melbourne on board the Mariposa, he was being taken by army truck to the farm of Kelly Bros. at Silverdale, Harrisville together with Giuseppe Venturelli. The policy of the day was for the placement of Italian prisoners of war in groups of two or three.

Kelly Road Silverdale

(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)

Berto had journeyed from  Melbourne through Cowra then Gaythorne and then to the Q10 PWCC at Boonah. More than likely, the barber mentioned in this article below from the Queensland Times, 13th July 1944, was Berto. While a barber by trade, he had learnt a number of skills as a soldier in the Engineers Corps.  Berto arrived at Bill Kelly’s farm on the 10th July 1944.

P.O.W. Worker “A Barber Too!”

Italian prisoners-of-war now are arriving in the Fassifern district and are being placed on the farms.  The Lieutenant-in-Charge reports some amusing incidents.  Two Ps.O.W. were placed on the farm, one of whom could speak fairly good English.  He was a carpenter, had some knowledge of machinery &c., and appeared to be a good man, although only a handful (English words).  When handing the men over, the Lieutenant said, “Mr -! You should have a good man here. He is very handy with the tools.” The P.O.W. heard him and coming to attention saluting said, “I am a barber, too, Sir.” The farmer in question had been busy for the past fortnight and had not taken time off for a shave.

Berto was a strong short man who was a hard worker.  He was known for being able to run a distance with a sack of potatoes on his back and continue to do this until the truck was loaded. He was grateful for the hospitality of Bill Kelly and his sister Kate and never saw any reason to escape.  Working on the farm returned to Berto a sense of dignity and self-worth.
There are stories of Bill Kelly loaning a bike to Berto so he could go to the movies in Kalbar and most probably also civvies as these types of activities was against the regulations .  The Kelly’s treated Berto like a son and arranged to sponsor Berto to return to Australia. In a show of good faith in Berto, the Kelly’s offered sponsorship also for Berto’s brother Antonino.

Such was Berto’s personality, locals like Laurie Dwyer remembered Berto as ‘the young fellow who returned after the war and would say, I not work as a POW, I work as a free man now’.  

The Boonah district continued to hold a special place in Berto’s life.  While he owned a barber shop on St Paul’s Terrace, he also was reported to own, in partnership with Dudley Surawski, a house in Clumber, Kalbar when it burnt down in December 1953.  It might have been here that Berto grew a crop of tobacco which was destroyed by floods.

St Pauls Terrace Brisbane

St Pauls Terrace Brisbane

(photo courtesy of Adam Dean)

Uncle Berto continued to touch base with the Kellys and the Boonah district. Joe Indomenico, nephew of Berto remembers the visits to Silverdale.  The family would take a day trip out to Kelly’s, with Uncle Berto shooting for quails and the children riding ponies.  And Bill Kelly would come and visit Berto in the Valley.  He would come in for the Ekka, park his car at the house and walk to the Ekka grounds.

Those early days as a migrant was a time when sacrifices had to be made.  Berto rented his barber shop, but would sleep on a layer of newspapers in the back room.  Finances did not stretch to the rent of a shop and rent for a residence.  In time, he bought the shop and then the row of shops and today, his son Carmelo is planning to develop the site.

With an ability to turn his hand to different ventures , Berto would buy up houses in the Valley which were part of land resumption for the building of the freeway.  He would buy the houses, have them cut in half and then remove them to blocks of land out Kilcoy, Helidon and Esk way.

While Berto might have been far away from Italy and ‘home’, he made his Brisbane residence a family hub. The house on the corner of St Paul’s Terrace and Julia Street was home to Berto, his wife and son, but it also became a home to others.  At one stage for about 18 months, 12 – 14 members of the Ierna extended family lived there.  Berto lined up a job for brother-in-law Salvatore at the Nanda pasta factory at Norgate. A job was found at the Jubilee Hotel on St Paul’s Terrace for brother Antonino.  St. Paul’s Terrace was an Italian community hub as well.  Mama Luigi’s was a Valley institution serving up generous servings of pasta.  There was a saying in those days, that if the men didn’t like the meal which had been prepared, then the wife would say, “if you don’t like it, then go to Mama Luigi’s.”

As an Italian prisoner of war and migrant, Berto’s life is linked to the Boonah district.  It was as a prisoner of war in the district that Berto realised the opportunities that Australia could offer. As a migrant, he turned his dreams into reality.  He started a barber shop, he bought commercial property, he had a house painting business and he turned his hand to a house removal and relocation business.  He was industrious and entrepreneurial. On a visit to Kalbar in 1976, Berto suffered a stroke.  Rushed to Brisbane, he died aged 59 years.

A man with a big personality who was not afraid of taking risks and making sacrifices, Berto Ierna left a legacy centring on the importance of family and seizing opportunities.

Benedetto Ierna’s extended family blame their Uncle Berto… for being captured… for being sent to Australia as a POW…. But most importantly, for their own life in Australia.

Ogni cosa ha cagione

mama_luigi_BCC-S35-9311262

Mama Luigi’s on St Pauls Terrace Spring Hill

(photo courtesty of Your Brisbane: Past and Present)

…Don’t Run Away

 

Our Italian prisoners of war arrived at night, or close on dark and they were scared silly. I suppose they really didn’t know where they were going and the Queensland bush was very different from the camp at Gaythorne. We lived at Aratula.  Once they saw my brother Michael, who was about two years old at the time, they were happy to see the ‘bambino’. Paolo De Propertis and Pietro Romano were from Tocco Cassauria. I was only eight years old at the time but I have clear memories of the men.

Dwyer Family

Dwyer Family 1945

Back: Paolo De Propertis, Des Dwyer, JJ Dwyer, Pietro Romano

Front: Laurie Dwyer, Michael Dwyer

(from the collection of Carmel Peck (Dwyer))

One of our family photos from that time was taken on the day my brother Des was going off to boarding school.  He was dressed up in his suit, as was the way in those days.  Des was tall for his age and Peter was convinced that dad was sending Des off to enlist as a soldier.  He told dad, ‘no fight, no soldier’.  I think his face and the tone of his voice said more than the words. They were peaceful men who didn’t want to be involved in the war.  And they didn’t want Des involved in war either.

While Michael never learnt any Italian words, he certainly could understand Paul and Peter.  The canteen truck came to the farm to bring them supplies and they would buy lollies.  They would hide the lollies and Michael would always find where the lollies were hidden.  It was a game they played with Michael.

Paul and Peter lived in separate quarters about 50 yards from the house.  Mum did the cooking and one lunch, she served them up pumpkin.  In Italy, pumpkin was cattle feed and so they would toss the pumpkin out the window.  One day, they saw mum feeding Michael pumpkin. Mum explained that the bambino ate pumpkin as a way to encourage them to eat it.  “Propaganda” they said.  Eventually when they did try it, they loved pumpkin.

When they were to leave the farm, they took it upon themselves to take some seeds with them.  They sewed pumpkin, watermelon and cucumber seeds into the lining of their clothes.  In a letter Paul wrote, he told mum and dad how all the seeds were cut out of the clothing.

There are many stories about Peter and watermelons.  Peter would ‘steal’ watermelons from our neighbours.  A neighbour George Steffens chased Peter once with a whip in hand.  Peter managed to get some distance away but the hid behind a big log.  Steffens apparently stood atop the log, cracking the whip as a warning, not knowing how close Peter was.  Another time Oliver Hill was out in his potato fields and could see Peter on the edge of a field of watermelons.  It became a bit of a stand off: Oliver would stop and watch. Peter would pretend to do nothing. Oliver would start work again, Peter would creep closer. Peter always managed to ‘steal’ a watermelon without Oliver seeing him in the act. Peter would defiantly stand at a distance and lift the watermelon onto his shoulder. I think there was always laughter afterwards.  Peter was big and strong and could easily carry a bag containing three watermelons.

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.  They would always refer to mum as ‘Madame’ and my grandmother lived with us and they called her ‘extra Madame’, very respectful.  Sometimes we would call grandma ‘extra Madame’ and she would get cranky with us.

Paul had a sister who had come out to Australia in the 1920’s. Somehow Dad made contact with her. She lived in Victoria and Dad visited her and her family.  She sent back a gift for Paul and dad brought it back on the TAA flight. ‘Olives’- they were a real treat for the men. I also remember Dad bringing back a tin of whitebait from a business trip to South Australia.  I am not sure if it was for Peter and Paul, but I remember that there was no way that us kids were going to try whitebait, not with all these little eyes staring out at us as the can lid was peeled back.

Another food story had to do with the chooks.  A chook had died and Peter asked if he could take it and use if for a meal.  Dad had a bit of trouble convincing Peter that he didn’t have to use the ‘dead’ chook and that dad was happy for him to catch a live chook and prepare it for a meal.  They did trap hares from time to time for meals as well.

Dad was going to paint the house and he asked Peter if he could paint.  “Yes sir,” was his answer.  Dad gave him the paint and brushes and Peter was making a mess of it.  Dad found out that the only painting he had done was painting a pipe line in India.  Dad had to teach him how to paint with even brush strokes, up and down, up and down.

Peter hated the pink coloured clothes they had to wear.  He would go down the creek and wash the clothes within an inch of their lives to fade away the colour.  Just when he had the clothes a decent colour, the canteen truck would come out and he would be given a new set of pink clothes.

Dad knew this was against the rules, but dad took Peter and Paul to Brisbane.  Dad had business in Brisbane so he found some civvies for them to wear.  Dad is of Irish descent so he had a respectable disdain for authority.  Once in Brisbane he had a meeting to go to, so he left Peter and Paul to go off and wander on their own.  He told them ‘don’t you go run away’ to which they replied ‘Italy, too far to swim’.  Dad said that there were a couple of ships in the Brisbane harbour and the sailors were Maltese, so that a couple of extra foreigners with stilted English would not draw extra attention to them.  Only problem was that when dad and the men where in Brisbane, the army captain came around home to do his visit.  The rules were that the POWs couldn’t leave the property. Mum had to think quickly on her feet.  Dad had a cattle property about 10 miles away up on a mountain and so mum told the captain that dad had taken the men to muster cattle.

Peter and Paul could turn their hand to most things.  They could ride horses and operated the farm machines.  Once when mum was in hospital, Peter became chief cook.  He made us spaghetti and these most delicious potato cakes.  There were five of us kids and as fast as he could make these potato cakes, they were eaten and we were asking for more.  Peter also made shoes.  We butchered our own meat, so he would take the hides and turn them into leather.  And then he would make shoes.  He was resourceful.

Dwyer Pietro

Pietro Romano

(from the collection of Carmel Peck (Dwyer))

On a Sunday, dad would take them to church.  There was a mission priest, Dr Dwyer who would hold services around the district.  He had spent some time in Rome and spoke fluent Italian.  We would all be taken off to church at Kalbar. I thought that I went to church too many times in those days. One of these times there was special lunch after church.  Tables were set up and the meal served. My sister Carmel thinks that it might have been a special ‘farewell’ lunch for the Italians.  Church was also a time for all the POWs in the area to get together.  On a Sunday afternoon, Paul and Peter with other Italian POWs would go sit up on the hill.  You would hear them laughing and talking and at times the conversations sounded quite volatile.

I remember we received a letter from Paul.  We took it to a Dutch priest who knew Italian. He translated the letter as best he could. It was written in dialect, which is different from Italian.

I remember that farmers who were of German descent weren’t allowed to have POW labour.  There were also farmers who tried to save money by keeping their POWs for a short period of time.  After POWs had been with a farmer for a time, the farmer had to pay more money for their wages. So these farmers would ask for a new roster of POWs.

There was a young POW on the Kelly’s farm. I remember that he returned after the war, and he would say, “I not work as a POW no more. I work as a free man”.  His name was Benedetto Ierna.

Laurie Dwyer

21 June 2017