Tag Archives: Q10 PWCC Boonah

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

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