Anna Eusebi and Raffaele Iacopini are researching their father’s and grandfather’s time as prisoners of war in the Gympie district from 1944-1945 and need the help of Gympie locals to fill in the missing details.
Anna’s nonno Fortunato Gobbi and Raffaele’s father Luigi Iacopini, together with Giovanni Meconi, all from the Ascoli Piceno province of Italy, began work on an Amamoor farm owned by J.J.Parr on 5th August 1944.
Anna says, “My nonno never talked much about this piece of his life after he returned to Italy and I would appreciate any help from people who can help me find out more. If possible, I would like to contact someone from the Parr family at Amamoor to know if someone remembers my nonno.”
Anna has shared photos from Fortunato’s time at Amamoor in the hope that someone might remember something. “We always knew that these photos held special memories for my nonno. But it wasn’t until I found the research project “Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland” that I began to understand some of nonno’s story. The researcher, Joanne Tapiolas, told me the name of the farmer and where the farm was. She also told me that the photos show the Land Army Girls and the Italian prisoners of war who worked together on many farms during the war. One of the photos shows a truck loaded up with sacks of potatoes.”
Amamoor Farm Gympie 1944-1945
Luigi Iacopini on the left and Fortunato Gobbi centre front.
Raffaele Iacopini is hoping that Gympie residents might recognise the people in one of his father’s photos. Raffaele believes that the photo was sent to his father Luigi after the war and must be from someone that he knew. Possibly it was sent to Raffaele after he left a Gympie farm but was still in Australia.
The sender wrote on the back of the photo, You know who this is? Miss …cia and me, horses and fruit. “I hope that someone recognises the people in this photo and can tell me something more about my father when he worked in Amamoor and the people he met,” says Raffaele.
A special event held in Gympie June 1944 involved Italian prisoners of war, the Apostolic Delegate Giovanni Panico and local Gympie residents.
Three versions of the event are reproduced: memories of Costanzo Melino, mainstream newspaper article under a section: Of General Interest and newspaper article from right wing Smith’s Weekly titled Fascist ‘Guard of Honor’.
The marrying of memories and primary sources is important in any historical research. Very little specific information about Italian prisoners of war was published in Australian newspapers of the time so to have three versions of the one event is extremely rewarding and enlightening.
Identity Card for Costanzo Melino PW57373
(NAA: J3118, 117)
Appreciation for a Special Honour
Costanzo Melino had recounted a special event in Gympie while he was a prisoner of war working on a farm. His memories were recorded 30 years after the event; they were vivid and specific:
I even recalled the visit of the Italian Archbishop Giovanni Panéco.[Panico] We were all working on farms in those times and we gathered for Mass at Gympie. We even marched in our group in the procession around the church in his honour. It was a special occasion. There was a band of Australian women playing and we were allowed to celebrate by dancing with these women for the first time. I don’t recall any Australian men being present at this dance. We danced for a few hours and then we were allowed to return to our farms. It seemed to us to be a special honour. (Costanzo Melino)
His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. John Panico, has recently been visiting prisoners of war employed in various centres on the North Coast of Queensland. At Gympie he met a large number of them at St. Patrick’s Church, where he celebrated Mass. At 10 o’clock his Excellency addressed the people, speaking in Italian to the prisoners of war and tendering them excellent advice. The services of these men are greatly valued by their employers because of their good habits and their knowledge of rural industries. During his stay in Gympie the Apostolic Delegate was welcomed by the mayor and leading citizens and thanked for the interest he displayed in visiting the district. During his stay his Excellency and his secretary were the guests of Mgr. Molony. [1944 ‘Of General Interest’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 7 June, p. 4. , viewed 02 Oct 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172213489%5D
Fascist “Guard of Honor”
At Gympie (Q) at a religious ceremony, Dago prisoners of war formed the “guard of honor” for the officiating cleric. There were afterwards entertained at a dinner and, to top it off, some of the local belles danced with them. Because of these Fascists, many of our young Australians like in the Libyan Desert. To parade them in an Australian town is just about the limit. “Pro Patria.” Gympie, Q. [1944 ‘LEADERLESS LEGION’, Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), 28 October, p. 19. , viewed 02 Oct 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article235765732%5D
Here is Costanzo Melino: his music and his life philosophy…
This is the story of a farmer, his wife and two Italian POWs Tommy and Johnny.
One of the rewarding parts of this project is making connections. With photos, phone calls, You.Tube video, government documents and archived newspapers, the story unfolds of a time in 1944 and 1945 when two Italian POWs made their way to the farm of Mr Kevin Rodney at North Deep Creek.
1. The farmer and his wife
Mrs Joyce Rodney (nee Davis) has clear memories of Tommy and Johnny and her son Patrick Rodney of Goomeri has related the following:
Mum is now 96 years old and lives in Bundaberg. She remembers the Italians as decent men. They were pacifists. We had a dairy, and my dad wasn’t a farmer, he had inherited the farm but never wanted to be a farmer. So the Italians would have been a great help to dad. The POWs helped in the dairy and there was a lot of manual work to do on the land like tree felling and grubbing. All done with hand tools. Mum remembers that the elder of the two had his own family. The men would come up to the house for meals and the older fellow would pick the baby up. I was born in October 1945, so this baby was me. One of the POWs wrote to dad to sponsor him after the war but by that time dad had moved to Brisbane. They were gentleman. Johnny was Giovanni Adamo and Tommy was Antonino Lumia.
2. An Italian POW called Johnny
Records indicate that Giovanni Adamo was from Rosolino Siracusa on the island of Sicily. Like Antonino Lumia he had travelled on the Queen Mary to Australia. Giovanni is in this photo: he was 5’10” and 150lbs. Unfortunately, photos taken in Hay do not specifically identify the men in the photo.
Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 45017 Giovanni Adamo; 46583 Mario Ricciardello; 45638 Michele Fodera; 45516 Giuseppe Di Giovanni; 45275 Salvatore Cali; 45494 Angelo Drago; 45952 Rosario La Spina; 45753 Antonino Grammatico; 45897 Luigi Iannitto; 46870 Antonino Tuccitto and 46462 Gaetano Penna. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.
(Australian War Memorial: Lewecki, Image 030145/11)
Prisoners of War were sent to farms as pairs or group of three and Antonino talks of his friend Giovanni, their journey in Queensland and their time at the farm of Mr R.
Antonino Lumia died in 1984 in Bompensiere Sicily but thanks to his grandson, we know Antonino’s story of the time he worked on a farm outside of Gympie:
We left, Giovanni and me. Stop at a station. The guards descended on the track. We were forbidden to move from the train. I met an American soldier who was going to war in Japan. An officer. He came to us: “Are there people from Catania on the train?” There are Sicilians from all over here, sir. We put him in touch with a resident of Catania. They talked together. The guard moved away, so that he could approach. We told him: “the war is over”
“They send us to the Australian families, what do they have in mind? Are we slaves?” I did not understand. The war was over. And we had to go to work … This man was great. He went to a store. He brought us 20 travel bags. Have fun, gentlemen. Have courage. The day will come when you will return home.
Another day of travel by train. We went down and a man, Mr. R, came to get us. An imposing man, single. He lived with his sister. His brother-in-law was a pilot officer in Japan. On his farm, 5000 cows. He chose us, Giovanni and me. He stopped at a butcher’s shop to buy a huge piece of meat. We stay in a wooden hut, Giovanni and I. 2 beds, sheets, our cushions. The roof was pierced. When it was raining frogs were visiting us. Our job was to milk the cows. The cows were grouped together on horseback.
Life was pretty sweet. We ate at the same table. This man shared with us what he had. One day he became engaged. A girl from the city. He left a month in order to get married. An old man stayed with us. Work continued. Milk, butter … The old man went to the village to buy what we needed. We did not lack anything. One of their hens was singing at every moment. One Sunday we were free. I plunge my hand into the chicken coop and found more than 20 eggs. I managed to get them all back. We had a feast of omelettes. Later we cut wood. The eggs were with us. This man respected us. We did not lack anything. Every day around 3 pm the old man offered tea and cake.
The farmer was back. You could hear the horn of his car in the distance. His wife was with him. I had planted very beautiful flowers near the hut. The old man had warned me: “Tonight Mr. R. will be back”. I made a bouquet of flowers. When they arrived near us …… I offered flowers to his wife. He introduced us to his wife: Miss Gloria. They went home. For us the work continued.
The next morning Madame served us the meal. A very nice woman. Every morning I brought wood to this woman for cooking. Every morning I put down wood to him, then joined my friends and the boss. And I went to work. Tear off trees, …
North Deep Creek Landscape
Photographs from the collection of Joanne Tapiolas
My research into Italian prisoners of war in Queensland has a number of public faces: the book Walking in their Boots, the website: italianprisonersofwar.com and the facebook page: Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia
It was through the facebook page that I received notification from Nino Amante in Italy. On 23rd March 2018, Nino wrote, “Sono il figlio di Angelo Amante, il più alto nella foto.” Nino had not only found a photo of his father on the facebook page but he then found the website’s article, A Day in the life of … and comments about his father’s time working on a farm ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian via Gympie 72 years ago.
This was an accident. Nino had been searching the internet for an article about his son, named for his grandfather, Angelo Amante, and instead found his father. Nino was overwhelmed.
I believe that things happen for a reason. I do not know the chances of bringing together the son of an Italian prisoner of war and the son of a Goomboorian farmer. But a google search and a phone call* has brought together the two sides to this history.
Nino Amante’s words and contact has brought this story ‘full circle’. “E’ stata per me una grande emozione avere delle informazioni da aggiungere a quelle raccotle dall sua viva voce, quando mi parlava del period della sua prigionia,” Nino reflects. Nino not only has knowledge about his father’s time on this farm, but he has a connection to Jim and John Buchanan who were young boys at the time and who have fond memories of Angelo.
More importantly, Angelo’s story before and after ‘Redslopes’ emerges. At 19 years old, Angelo Amante began his military training, first in Turin and then in Bolzano. He was a member of the 7th Reggimento Bersaglieri(marksmen). He was then transferred to Taranto and in 1941, he left Italy by ship for Libya. He was lucky to survive the journey to Libya, as many soldiers died after the fleet was bombed by the British.
Angelo Amante: 19 years old
(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)
Angelo was captured at Gialo, a Libyan oasis town on 25th November 1941. Gialo was taken by British and Punjabi troops on 24th November 1941, but a small group of Italian soldiers continued fighting in the north east El Libba sector. After four hours of combat, two Italian had been killed and 27 Italian soldiers were taken prisoner.
Possibly the photo below of a relaxed Angelo was taken at Benghasi, his first experience of Libya. Like many of his generation, Angelo spent ‘his youth’ in foreign and difficult circumstances. He returned home to Italy when he was 25 years old. Nino explains, “Sei dei suoi anni piubelli trascorsi fra guerra e prigionia.”
Angelo Amante in Libya 1941
(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)
Angelo’s journey is like many of his peers. Italy to the battle field to Egypt to India to Australia to Italy. Angelo arrived in Melbourne Australia 29th December 1943. The next day he was in the Cowra PW & I Camp. His time there is recorded in a group photo Cowra 6th February 1944. Ten days later, Angelo was sent to Gaythorne Queensland 16th February 1944.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 57037 A. Amante; 57273 G. Guarnaccia; 57288 G. La Iacona; 57252 S. Giambusso; 57051 C. Avola; 46957 S. Vizzini; 57257 G. Giarratano. Front row: 57268 M. Gordini; 57070 L. Bloisi; 57046 R. Armentano; 57038 S. Amoroso; 57226 D. Foringo. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (Australian War Memorial Image 030173/15)
Before Nino’s internet search, he had one photo and the stories about his father’s time in Australia, but he did not know dates or places. Nino says, “Sapevo che mio padre era stato in Australia, ma in quale parte di Australia? Che era vissuto in una fattoria, ma quale fattoria?” But his time in Australia was always remembered with fondness, a place to which Angelo wanted to return. In 1956, Angelo made preparations to emigrate to Australia with his wife and family. During a medical visit, it was discovered he had a small heart problem and his dreams of going to Australia ended. But his family kept safe a small photo of three men and two boys, knowing that it was an important part of Angelo’s memories of Australia.
Angelo Amante , Salvatore Scicchitani (Schichitano), Vincenzo Cannavo with John and Jim Buchanan at Redslopes Goomboorian via Gympie
(courtesy of Nino Amante)
For over seven decades, this photo did not have a context. Nino knew that the photo was from his father’s time on a farm, but he did not know where in Australia this farm was located. Angelo told his family a story about chilli plants he had grown on this farm and now he knows it was Jim, a little boy who tasted the chilli with severe repercussions. Angelo told his family about a trip to the city, to undergo a medical visit at the hospital and the wonder of seeing so many kangaroos on the way.
Jim’s memories and Angelo’s stories to his family are being slotted together. Nino writes that his father arrived in Australia from POW camps in India with very poor health. Angelo had contracted malaria and Nino remembers the story of an old lady on the farm who realised the seriousness of his condition and encouraged him to eat and the need for him to regain his strength. Jim knows exactly who this lady was, his Aunty Mag [Margaret], who was the matron (supervisor) for the Land Army girls on the farm. Angelo’s visit to the Gympie Hospital is recorded in the farm diary: August 21 1944 – Angelo going to hospital. And the stories travel back and forth between Italy and Australia and across the decades.
Upon Angelo’s return to Italy, he made his way home to Fiumefreddo di Sicilia and his widowed mother. Angelo married in 1953 and moved to Mascali, his wife’s home town. He continued to work the land and raised his family: Nino and Giuseppina. In 1984, Angelo passed away at the age of 63.
(photo courtesy of Nino Amante)
The sharing of stories and memories, the answering of questions and the ‘Miracoli di Internet!’ is like finding those missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle and finally being able to put them in place.
*In September 2017, I telephoned Jim Buchanan in Gympie. I had been told that he was the person to speak to about some of the Italian prisoners of war in the Gympie district. Jim’s words to me were, “I think you will be surprised with what I have to tell you. I don’t think you will have found another one like this.” And surprised I was!
Jim’s father Neil Buchanan had kept a farm diary for ‘Redslopes’ at Goomboorian. Peppered through the entries from 7th March 1944 to 1st January 1946 are references not only about farm life, but also to the Italian prisoners of war at ‘Redslopes’. This diary offers a very unique and firsthand account about the employment of Italian prisoners of war.
On 24th March 2018, I telephoned Jim again. I told Jim that I had some extraordinary news for him. Angelo’s son had sent me an email. It took a few minutes for the news to sink in. Jim is rarely lost for words. I said to Jim, I wonder if Angelo took any photos home to Italy with him. Nonplussed, Jim felt that this is not probable as very few photos were taken in those days. Like Nino Amante, this journey for the Buchanan family is emotional and remarkable.
Held in private collections, many amazing artefacts made by the Italian POWs have survived. While, the Australian War Memorial has a number of items made or belonging to Italian POWs in their Heraldry Collection, research for this project has unearthed artefacts ‘unknown’ to public collections.
Basil Wyllie of Mooloo Gympie had three Italian prisoners of war on his farm: Alfredo Montagnini from Montefascone Viterbo, Raffaele Scrigno from Albanova Napoli and Pietro Verrengia from Cellole Napoli.
One of the items made by the Italians was a belt. An example of war arts and crafts, it is fashioned from the cellephone wraps from cigarette packets. Basil Wyllie has written on the inside of the belt: 1942 Egypt Italian.
A special thank you to Basil Wyllie’s daughter Noela White (Wyllie) for sharing this wonderful relic.
Belt made by Italian POWs on Basil Wyllie’s Farm Mooloo
(from the collection of Noela White (Wyllie))
Percy Miles from a neighbouring Mooloo farm, remembered, “Some of the things they used to do to beat the boredom… One was to collect all the cellophane wrapping on cigarette packets and fold it up and plait it into a belt.”
Alex Miles, son of Percy Miles, had telephoned me in 2017 about his families prisoners of war. Alex told me about the belts the Italians made. Thinking leather, I was not prepared for the word ‘cellophane’. I had no previous reference to belts made from cellophane. I was intrigued. Alex then sent me photos of the ‘belt’ and I was amazed.
This seemingly ‘fragile’ material, cellophane, has been prepared and fashioned in such a manner that one belt has survived. While the white cellophane has yellowed with age, this double sided belt must have taken many many hours to make and comprises of hundreds of cigarette packet wraps.
Close Up of Belt made by Italian POWs on Basil Wyllie’s Farm Mooloo
(from the collection of Noela White (Wyllie))
But this was not just an object of war. Making belts from the cellophane wraps of cigarette packets and chocolate boxes was a new fashion in 1930’s. Newspaper articles sing the praises of this fashion statement being made in Paris and London.
So how does one make a belt from cellophane… the full instructions can be found in the 1937 newspaper article as referenced below and available from Trove.
A photo, a banana farm, two names and a story of Massaua [Massawa] Italian Sailor POWs at Ross Creek via Gympie.
Tony Franco and Giovanni Irace at Ross Creek via Gympie
(from the collection of Kathy Worth (nee Knowles))
Kathy Worth (nee Knowles) is the keeper of a framed photo of two men standing beside a bunch of bananas. Her mother, Ellen Knowles, carefully noted the names of the men on the reverse side of the photo and 72 years later this photo tells a story.
Clarrie and Ellen Knowles of Ross Creek Gympie grew bananas during World War 2. At some stage, they also grew beans between the runs. On 14th May 1945, two Italian POWs were sent to the Knowles farm and took up residence in the workers’ shack on the farm.
Both from the Amalfi Coast of Italy, Antonio Franco was from Maiori Salerno and Giovanni Irace was from Praiano Salerno. Kathy remembers Tony and Giovanni from the stories her parents told her and she says, “Dad loved fishing and would take them to Tin Can Bay fishing with him but apparently they were not to leave the farm. The ‘Ities’ as Dad called them ran out of milk one day so he went and milked the draught horse and they commented how sweet it was and he told them it was mare’s milk which caused a laugh. They were frightened of fire flies as well. Dad said that when they saw fire flies for the first time they were scared. They told Dad how they called into the night, ‘boss, boss, is that you boss’. Mum remembers that they didn’t want to go back to Italy”.
Delving further, the back story to Giovanni Irace and Antonio Franco coming to Australia is noteworthy. The last transport of Italian POWs to Australia was the General William Mitchell arriving in Melbourne; the 2076 Italians on board disembarked on 13th February 1945. Two hundred and fifty were sent to Gaythorne in Queensland arriving on 13th March 1945 for onward placement on farms. Irace and Franco were placed on Clarrie Knowles’ Gympie farm within two months. Other Italians were encamped at Gaythorne for five months before placements were arranged to work on farms.
Another interesting point of history is the place and date of capture for Irace and Franco. Both sailors in the Italian Navy, they were captured at Massaua (Massawa) on 8th April 1941.
The location of the squadron meant it was isolated from the main Italian bases in the Mediterranean by distance and British dispositions. The British capture of Massawa and other Italian ports in the region ended the Italian naval presence in the region in April 1941.”
Ninety-year-old Ron Treloar was 14 years old when Tony, Mike and Matt came to work and live on his family’s farm at Hansen Road Dagun via Gympie.
In the red volcanic soil of the district, the Treloar family grew French beans and pineapples for the Melbourne and Sydney markets. The three Italian prisoners of war were also responsible for clearing some of the scrub which was littered with volcanic basalt rock. They used the rocks to build dry stone walls/barriers which were about four feet high. They were very skilled in keeping the wall aligned.
Ron remembers that the men were good at pruning the grape vines, grown for house grapes. They lived in a three-roomed part of the shed which had been fitted out for them with beds, a kitchen and stove. Mike returned to Australia after the war and wrote dad a letter. He asked if he could visit as he really wanted to collect the old stove. Mike must have mastered the wood stove and saw it as important to his memories of those years. Unfortunately, his wife told him it was too dangerous to travel to Dagun.
The open spaces of farm life was appreciated by the Italians. Ron reminisces, “The country is hilly and they would sing O Sole Mio and Ave Maria and their voices would reverberate through the hills. I remember a visit from my cousin Trevor with his family. Trevor was about 3 or 4 years old at the time. They talked amongst themselves when they saw Trevor. He had red curly hair and reminded them of cherubs. They were allowed to go to church at Kandanga but they always returned home subdued. Dad found out eventually that one of the prisoners in the district was a fascist and he would goad our fellows and stir them up. They were different when they returned from church.”
Ron continues, “The canteen truck would come around home once a month and they could buy items. The spaghetti came in a wooden box about 3 feet long, 1 foot wide and 4 inches deep. One month, there was no spaghetti. They were different without spaghetti and very annoyed. They asked mum for some flour and eggs and they made their own spaghetti out under the awning of the shed. Then they hung up the strands like you would hand up washing. Once dad had shot a hare. They were keen to ask if they could have the hare to eat. They cooked it up with tomatoes and onions and served it up with spaghetti.”
“When it was time for them to leave, the Italians cried. It was a sad day for the whole family. We never had any trouble with them, they were like family. I still remember their names all these years later: Tony Palladino, Matt Macchia and Mike Laricchia,” Ron reflects.
There full names are Angelo Antonio PALLADINO, Matteo MACCHIA and Michele LARICCHIA. From the same region of Bari, the three men are in a photo taken at Cowra Camp 6th February 1944. They were then transferred to Gaythorne Camp in Queensland on the 6th April 1944.
The Treloar farm at Dagun was their home from 2nd June 1944 to 4th January 1946.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47904 M. Bello; 45091 C. Bono; 47434 F. De Venuto; 57496 G. Sinisi; 49432 S. Cristiano; 46264 N. Monteleone; 57291 M. Laricchia. Front row: 45349 L. Caputo; 57302 F. Liberto; 57414 A. A. Palladino;57324 M. Macchia; 57210 A. Fato. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030173/06 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)
Michele Laricchia [Michael Laricchia] was interviewed by John Meredith and Rob Willis from the National Library of Australia. Click on the link to hear the interview: NLA Interview with Michael Laricchia.
A special thank you to Ron Treloar for sharing his memories via a telephone conversation. Ron’s memories are vibrant and fresh in his mind. Thank you also to Alex Miles for tracking down contact details for Ron.
The inspiration for this article began with a photo of the Cowra Chapel. After some research, I realised that this topic was much more complex. Prayers, Priests and Chapels begins with the patron saints of villages and is a journey of the Italian soldier and prisoners of war through their faith.
There might have been exceptions but it was reported that all Italian prisoners of war were Catholic. Evidence of their religious faith starts with the prayer cards they were given of the patron saint of their village. These prayer cards were taken with them to the battlefields, to the prisoner of war camps, to Australia and then finally returned with the men to Italy.
Domenico Feruilli’s Prayer Card (photo courtesy of Rossana Ferulli)
In Libya Roman Catholic Churches were built by the Italians before the outbreak of war. Did the Italian soldiers get an opportunity to visit these churches and pray? Did they light a candle for their safety in battle? Or maybe they made the sign of the cross as they passed by these churches on the way to battle?
Biagio di Ferdinando wrote, “During my travels from Tobruck to Bengasi, after Derna and Barce there were many beautiful villas, towns, schools, churches, all new.” (Odyssey by Biagio di Ferdinando)
1st March 1941 BENGHAZI. EXTERIOR OF THE CATHEDRAL OF THE SACRED NAME OF JESUS. SMALL BOMBS HAVE FALLEN IN THE COURTYARD BEFORE THE CATHEDRAL AND THE BLAST FROM HEAVY GERMAN BOMBS HAS SHATTERED MOST OF THE WINDOWS. (AWM Image 006539, Photographer Hurley, James Francis (Frank)
In 1941, the Apostolic Delegate for Egypt and Palestine had ‘Libro di Preghiere’ published in Palestine, with the permission of G.H.Q. Middle East. It was a prayer book distributed to Italian prisoners of war.
It included Preghiera Del Prigioniero as well as part of a prayer for the prisoners by Pope Pius XII. For many, this would have been their only book but it was a book to give the men spiritual guidance and comfort.
Libro di Preghiere(photo courtesy of Daniel Reginato)
In India, the men were given materials to paint and sew with. The men drew inspiration from their faith. Filippo Granatelli’s ‘Last Supper’ is one example.
Filippo Granatelli 16.11.42 (photo courtesy of Veniero Granatelli)
Many of the embroideries are religious in nature: the patron saint of a village, Jesus, The Sacred Heart, Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Giuseppe Polito: Rappresenta la Madonna degli Angeli, protettrice di Sacco (SA) il suo paese. (photo courtesy of Silvio Masullo)
Carved Wooden Statue of Madonna made by Isidoro Del Piccolo in Yol Camp India (photo courtesy of Ermanno Scrazzolo)
The Italians brought a little of Italy to the chapels in the British camps in India with elaborate decorations: paintings, statues, frescos and altars.
Camp No 23 Bangalore Altar (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-16A)
Worthy of note are the details of Our Lady of the Prisoner. The hat, the shirt with a black diamond patch, the shorts with the black strip; items which identified the men as prisoners of war have been meticuoulsy represented.
Our Lady of the Prisoner Bangalore Group I 12.12.1941(ICRC V-P-HIST=03474-05A)
Bangalore Camp 2 View of the Altar in the Chapel (ICRC V-P-HIST-03474-20A)
Australia: In the Camps
The first group of Italian prisoners of war arrived at Hay Camp New South Wales in May 1941. A 1943 report and a 1944 photo records information about how the spiritual needs of the Italians were catered for at Hay Camps 7 and 8:
The prisoners of war of these two camps are all Catholics. Camp 8 has a chapel adorned with a beautiful altar carved in wood and having a harmonium. The chapel of Camp 7 is located in one of the refectories; it also has a beautiful sculpted altar and a harmonium. Each camp has a prisoner of war priest who provides regular worship.
Camp priest, Virgilio Iacobelli featured below arrived in Australia on 27th May 1941 with the first group of Italian prisoners of war. He served at both Hay and Cowra camps.
HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. 45005 LIEUTENANT PADRE I. VIRGILIO IACOBELLI AN ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, AT THE ALTAR IN THE CHAPEL OF NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. ALL THE CRAFT WORK IN THE CHAPEL WAS DONE BY THE PRISONERS. PLAYING THE ORGAN IS 45192 SERGEANT MAJOR VINCENZO COMMARATA. (AWM Image 063360, Photographer McInnes, Geoffrey)
To make way for new arrivals of Italian prisoners of war to Australia, Italians were transferred from the established camps at Hay to the tented camps of Cowra. Cowra Prisoner of War Camps for the Italians were under construction. In November 1941, photos and reports record the temporary chapel and arrangements for church services:
Each section has a large tent serving as a chapel, containing a pretty altar built for prisoners. The sacred candles, bread and wine are provided once a week by the local priest of Cowra. Religious duties are carried out by three prisoner of war priests. Recently, Cowra had a visit from the Archbishop of Sydney, representing the Apostolic Delegate in Australia.
Cowra Camp No 12 Section D Altar under Construction 12.11.41(ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00216)
Giuseppe Raimondi from Amaroni (Catanzaro) served as priest at Cowra Special Camp 12 D before being sent to Victoria: V28 Attwoods, Myrtleford Camp, Puckapunyal and V22 Rowville. Raimondi was called as a witness to an inquiry into Captain JM Waterson and the fatal shooting of Rodolfo Bartoli at V22 Rowville.
Cowra Camp No 12 Section D The Chapel 12.11.41(ICRC V-P-HIST-E-00215)
Cowra Camp A Altar in the Dining room 3.9.42 (ICRC V_P-HIST-E-00218)
Faustino Lenti from Milano had been a Missionary Father in India and served at Cowra Camps. Lenti was a charismatic and colourful character and by April 1944, it was reported: It is alleged that he controls a ‘basher gang’ composed of PoW… and that he employs a personal bodyguard for his protection. The latest information about him is that he fears an attempt will be made on his life. (NAA: SP196/2 443/1/5280)
Reports were conflicting.
Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Information Board(photo courtesy of David Ackers)
The Apostolic Delegate for Australia, Monseigneur Giovanni Panicio published ‘L’Amico del Prigioniero’ in1943. It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.
Having the book written in Italian and Latin is significant. Mass was said in Latin until the Second Vatican 1965. This book ensured that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian. This gesture was a significant show of concern for the spiritual welfare of the Italian prisoners of war in Australia.
Ermanno Nicoletti carved a piece of wood and turned it into a profile of his mother, while praying. Granddaughter Alessandra contemplates, “News of prisoners of war were scarce and at some point my grandmother almost lost faith that her son was still alive.” On the other side of the world in Australia, Ermanno ‘knew’ that his mother was praying for him and carved his thoughts in wood.
Wood Carving by Ermanno Nicoletti (photo courtesy of Alessandra Nicoletti)
Australia: Life on the farm
By the middle of 1943, the first Italian prisoners of war were sent to farm placements in the Hamilton district of Victoria and Coonabarabran district of New South Wales. This trial was successful and was implemented throughout Australia: Prisoner of War Control Centres: Without Guards [PWCC]. In the Notice to Employers of Prisoners-of-War given to the farmers as part of the employment contract there is this statement:
5. You will be required to see that the following rules are obeyed:-
(a) P.W. must not leave your property except-
(i) to attend religious services, for which special arrangements will be made by the Military Authorities; (NAA: D2380)
There are many memories of the Italians attending local churches. All manner of transport was used to get the men to church; bikes, horse and sulky, truck, car, on foot. It was remembered the Italians would go to church with the Catholic family on the neighbouring farm, as the host family were not Catholic. Children of the time remember the Italians walking to church in their ‘red pyjamas’ a reference to the burgundy coloured uniform the men wore. Some Australians remember with shame that the Italian POWs had to stand at the back or sides of the church and had to leave the mass before its conclusion. Others recall the beautiful singing voices of the Italians during mass.
Italians in the Boonah district of Queensland attended a Mission Church because they learned that the pastor, Dr Dwyer spoke Italian. The Italians would enjoy conversations with Dr Dwyer after service. Members of the congregation knew this was against the ‘rules’ and wondered if they would get arrested for their compassion. Father Steele from Beaudesert Queensland, assisted and nominated Paul Raffa with his application process to return to Australia. It was Father Steele who welcomed Raffa when he disembarked from the ‘Napoli’ at Brisbane in May 1949.
In June 1944, a special event was reported in the Gympie news: His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. John Panico, has recently been visiting prisoners of war employed in various centres on the North Coast of Queensland. At Gympie he met a large number of them at St. Patrick’s Church, where he celebrated Mass. At 10 o’clock his Excellency addressed the people, speaking in Italian to the prisoners of war and tendering them excellent advice. The services of these men are greatly valued by their employers because of their good habits and their knowledge of rural industries. (1944 ‘Of General Interest’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 7 June, p. 4. , viewed 12 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172213489)
However this event drew the ire of Smith’s Weekly whose headline was: Fascist “Guard of Honor” and made mention of ‘dago prisoners of war’.
Also criticized was a decision by Commonwealth Authorities to give a petrol allowance [petrol was rationed in Australia during WW 2] to farmers to take Italian prisoners to church. The question was asked as to ‘why such benevolent treatment was accorded “these dagoes”.’
A kindly gentleman, Cyril Blacket of Pinery South Australia met an Italian prisoner of war at his local church. With good intentions, Cyril tried to communicate with the Italian farm worker, via the Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of Warbooklet the Italian had, but with little success. Blacket applied to the Department of Army for a copy of the booklet, only to be warned: PW are not allowed to fraternise with members of the public, PW Camp Order No. 13 Sec 68 (c). (NAA: D2380)
1946 Cowra Camp
In 1946, the Italian prisoners of war were withdrawn from farm placements and brought into the camps to await repatriation. It was during this time that two altar panels for the chapel were painted by Cowra Italian POWs.
Cowra Chapel 1946(courtesy of Francesca Maffietti)
Back to Italy
Ippolito Moscatelli from Ospitaletto di Cormano (Milano) returned to Italy with photos of the Cowra Chapel. It is with special thanks to his granddaughter Francesca Maffietti that there is a record of the Cowra Chapel in 1946.
The altar panels survived. However they deserve a more detailed article.
How many other copies of this photo returned to Italy?
Have you seen this photo in your nonno’s collection?
Maybe you thought this photo was of a church in Italy?
Life as a soldier and as a prisoner of war was difficult. Some Italians were absent from their families for ten years. Those years saw the men always on the move. Life was a continual cycle of change.
One aspect of the men’s lives that did no change was their religious faith.
Alex Miles from Mooloo via Gympie visited me in Townsville in September 2018. He brought with him two special items associated with the Mooloo Italian prisoners of war. His childhood neighbour Noela White (nee Wyllie) had a cellophane belt made by one of the POWs and Alex had a coin which Francesco Ciaramita had started to shape into a ring. Both Noela and Alex felt that the items needed a ‘home’ where they could be appreciated as part of the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland. A decision was made to dontate them to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and I had the honour of beginning the process.
While the AWM had similar items in their collection, these items were made by Australian soldiers. An application was made to the AWM to see if members of the acquistion team were interested in the items, this is stage one of the donation process.
Stage 2 was the sending of the items with historical details to the acquistion team for further investigation and evaluation.
Stage 3 followed with the items being formally accepted into the AWM collection.
22nd November 2018
Thank you kindly for returning the Deed of Gift. I am glad to let you know that the items you have donated are now officially part of the National Collection.
Thank you for your generous support of the Australian War Memorial.
This project has brought to light a number of POW treasures. Items that Queenslanders and Italians have shared with me, are truly treasures: remnants over 70 years old.
There have been a number of references to rings the Italians made as gifts for the farming families. With few resources, the Italians used Australian coins to make these rings. Unfortunately, rings are easily lost or misplaced.
I visited a lady in Brisbane in May to talk with her about her family’s Italian Prisoners of War. In a matter of fact manner she placed her hand on the table. I was so excited, ” You have one!” There on her little finger was a ring crafted from a one shilling coin for a young girl’s hand. Carefully finished, its design is simple but beautiful. Precious in so many ways.
Partly Made Ring: Italian POW at PA Miles farm Mooloo
(from the collection of Alex Miles)
Alex Miles from Mooloo Gympie has ‘found’ the workings of the Italians, thrown in a box in the shed amongst other bits and pieces. He remembers the ring that was made for him which is long gone, because he wore it to school and the teacher confiscated it. It was decorated with pieces of coloured hardened plastic, red and green, possibly from Tek* toothbrushes which were army issue. Alex remembers, “Francesco made the ring and he had a small hammer which he brought with him to the farm. I am not sure where the coins came from because it was against regulations for them to have money. After he left our farm, his record card has him being awarded 21 days detention on 2.3.1946 for having Australian currency in his possession. He served this in the detention block at Gaythorne PW & I Camp.”
Alex’s father, Percy Miles reminisced, “Some of the things they used to do to beat the boredom. … Another thing was by tapping the edge of a 2 shilling silver coin (20 cent piece) with a hammer, causing it to flare out, then cutting a hole in the centre, it made a ring you could wear on your finger as a dress ring.” Coins were 92.5% silver up until 1944-45.
Liboria Bonadonna seated far right showing ring on his finger
Murchison, Australia. 2 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D2 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 64837 A. Porcaro; 49904 S. Russo; 57220 G. Fino; Unidentified; 45531 V. Di Pietro; 61074 G. De Luca. Front row: 45685 B. Fiorentino; Unidentified; 46171 G. Massaro (holding a piano accordion); 46603 V. Massaro; 55168 L. Buonadonne. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photo documentation suggests that names are listed, back row, front row, left to right.
(AWM Image 030229/02 Photographer Stewart, Ronald Leslie)
One ponders, how many rings have survived and are in the collections of Australians and Italians, without their owners knowing their origins. Liborio Mauro noticed a ring on his grandfather’s (Liborio Bonadonna) finger in a photo taken at Murchison, and he wondered about its origins. He had heard stories of Italian POWs having Australian girlfriends and wondered if the ring might be evidence of a liaison his grandfather had had. Quite possibly Liborio’s ring was a memento, handcrafted from a two shilling coin.
Australian Florin: Working of Italian POW making a ring
(from the collection of Alex Miles Mooloo)
*Examples of Tek art, made by Australian soldiers can be found in the heraldry collection of the Australian War Memorial. One such example is the ring below, but the metal used was aluminium.
Souvenir ring : Private E K Lloyd, 57/60 Battalion