Tag Archives: Q3 PWCC Gympie

A Special First

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.

Mooloo 1

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

Dear Joanne,

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.

Yours sincerely,

Aiden Silvestro

Acquisitions Officer | Registration

A special first

Rings from Coins

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.

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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.

Buonadonna

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.

Ring.Florin.POW.1

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.

Miles. Tek 2

Souvenir ring : Private E K Lloyd, 57/60 Battalion

REL27303 Australian War Memorial

Tommy and Johnny

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.

Q3 Gympie. North Deep Creek.JPG

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.  

Adamo, Giovanni.JPG

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)

3. The Italian POW named Tommy

Damiano Lumia recorded  the story of his grandfather Antonino Lumia in 1976.  In 2014, he put together a You.Tube video to preserve his grandfather’s story. Antonino had been sent to the Q3 Gympie centre with Giovanni Adamo.

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.

Q3Gympie.North Deep Creek.Cream Pot.JPG

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.

Q3Gympie.North Deep Creek (2).JPG

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, …

Q3Gympie.North Deep Creek (1).JPG

North Deep Creek Landscape

Photographs from the collection of Joanne Tapiolas

Cellophane Belt

Recycling is not a new concept.

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.Wyllie.POW. Double

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.

Belt.Wyllie.POW.Mooloo

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.

Belt Made from Cellophane.jpg

1937 ‘Belt Made from Cellophane’, The Maitland Daily Mercury (NSW : 1894 – 1939), 10 July, p. 3. , viewed 20 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article126512099

Recycling is not a new concept.

Miracoli di Internet!

 

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 (1)

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 (3)

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.

A Amante standing first left

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 (2)

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.

Angelo Amante (4)

Angelo Amante

(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.

Friendships Forged by War

With few men available for farm work, Bernard Mason signed up to employ Italian prisoners of war mid 1944. On the 8th June 1944, Mario Mercuri and Guido Vaccarini were escorted to his property at Lagoon Pocket by military staff.

By the time Mario and Guido arrived at the Mason’s property, they had left their footprints across four countries.  As POWs, they had spent time in temporary caged compounds in the deserts of North Africa, POW camps on the Suez Canal; in India and Cowra Australia.  The war had gone badly for Italy in North Africa and Guido and Mario were but two of the 350,000 Italians captured in the North African campaigns. For 19 brief months, they lived and worked at Lagoon Pocket, settling in quickly to the daily routine of farm life.

Farming life was never easy in those times.  Petrol rationing meant that farmers became charcoal burners, making charcoal as a fuel to power trucks. Tractors were non-existent and the ploughs were pulled by horses. Farm work was hard, manual work.  Gympie farms did very well during the war, provided that they had workers.  Troop trains came through Gympie on a regular basis with fresh produce sold directly to the army.  Gympie being well situated supplied fruit and vegetables directly to the southern markets of Brisbane and Sydney.

Bernard Mason grew a diverse range of crops and also branched out into a macadamia plantation.  Pineapples, papaws, carrots, beetroots and cabbages were some of the fruit and vegetable crops produced on the farm. Bernie also had another 40 acre property from which he pioneered the macadamia industry.  At the time, there was no interest for ‘bush nuts’ and the Department of Primary Industry had little information about its commercial viability.  But Bernie with the assistance of the ‘Ityes’ planted 800 macadamia seedlings which in time was known to be the largest macadamia seedling plantation in existence. Nowadays, macadamia plantations use grafted trees.  Bernie would go up into the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast around Eumundi and Mapleton to collect the nuts for seeds.

G and M planting pineapples Lagoon Pkt

 

Guido Vaccarini and Mario Mercuri planting pineapples at Lagoon Pocket 1944-1945

(from the collection of Barry Mason)

It was in this bucolic setting that the POWs became part of the Mason family.  Barry Mason, born November 1939,  was only a child at the time, but he remembers the men well: “They treated us kids well.  I remember how they would put my sisters in a fruit basket and carry them around. And they played games with us.  Dad bought them each a watch and push bike.  There were rules about when and where they could go on their days off, so I suppose this is why he bought those items for them.  They made no attempt to attend church, and I remember a story about Guido and church.  Apparently, he told dad, ‘No church. Madonna no think of me. Me no think of Madonna’.  And there was the story about the POWs at the Butler vineyard.  Jack Butler had the Italians prune back the vines and had a fit when he saw what they had done.  They had cut them right back and Jack believed that they had ruined his vines.  As it turned out, these POWs knew more than a little bit about vineyards and the next crop was the best crop every grown on the farm.”

Another anecdote about the ‘Ityes’ at the Mason farm centres on ‘the still’.  Barry reminisces, “They set up a still to distil alcohol.  I am not sure where all the bits and pieces came from, but they used a milk separator bowl to boil the fruit in.  They used pineapple skins and no doubt other fruit.  They had a coiled pipe and the vapours would go up into the coil and came out a crystal clear toxic liquid. They could turn their hand to most things, although I am not sure that this was ‘allowed’.”  Lots of memories surface about those times and Barry relates a common joke of the day, “I don’t think there was any malice in the words but it went like this: ‘How would one describe ‘tall inebriated Italians?  Hi(gh) tiddly I-tyes’!”

It was however to be a near tragedy that cemented a lifelong friendship between the Mason family and the Vaccarini family. Guido saved the lives of Bernie’s two daughters, Valda and Rae. The girls had been playing in the cabin of the Ford V8 truck when they were rendered unconscious by carbon monoxide.  Bernie, Guido and Mario were in the packing shed when Guido realised he could not hear the girls.  He told Bernie, “Boss, bambini quiet… Mister, no hear bambini” adding “Mister, mister, I go see why no hear bambini”. Giudo had found the girls slumped and unconscious in the truck’s cabin. The girls were removed from the truck and laid on the floor of the packing shed and the Gran who looked after the children, felt all was lost and pushed Mason to the ground and said, “Pray, pray. Pray for the girls”.   Guido was loaded with one of the girls on the back of the truck and Mrs Mason in the cabin with the other lifeless girl.  Bernie had said, “It was the longest 8 mile I have ever driven.  But God must have heard my prayers”. The rush of fresh air across the face of the little girl on the back of the truck stirred her but it wasn’t until they arrived at Dr Warrener’s in Gympie, when a nurse revived the other child, that the family knew both girls were safe.  The doctor said that without the action of Guido, the girls would have died as had the girls inhaled the carbon monoxide for another few minutes, they would certainly have been dead.

After his repatriation to Italy in 1947, Guido wrote to Bernie in 1949 to ask for sponsorship to return to Australia. Bernie Mason said, “This, I felt was the least I could do because he was the means of saving our two little mites.” Guido arrived back in Gympie in 1951 and his wife Rina emigrated a year later.  Barry said, “When my dad died, the family wished for the graveside service to be private.  Guido asked to pay his respects to my dad and we decided that he deserved a place there.”

The Mason and Vaccarini families still reside in Gympie. Barry and Margaret live in Gympie and have become the custodians of the photos and stories of that time.  Valda married Duncan Polley of Polley’s Coaches and Rae married Gordon Saxelby and they now live in Bundaberg. Guido has now passed on some years ago.  In a fitting tribute to the close family ties, Barry had the honour of conducting the service at Guido’s funeral.  Guido’s wife Rina is still with us though she is very frail. Son Marco and Rina live in Lawrence Street Gympie.

While time progresses quickly these days and memories fade, the stories of the Italian POWs on Gympie farms are clearly remembered.  The special bonds forged between a prisoner of war and a Gympie farmer continue to be part of Gympie’s Italian prisoner of war history.

Bern, Guido, Joe

1950’s Bernie Mason, Guido Vaccarini and Joe Brooks in front of 4 x 4 Chev Blitz Truck

(from the collection of Barry Mason)

 

War Time Friends

Alex Miles lived on a farm at Mooloo about 11 miles outside of Gympie during World War 2.  As a young lad, he had ‘a ring side seat’ to the comings and goings of the Italian prisoners of war in the Mooloo area. Assisting in the recording of his father’s memoirs, Alex has ensured that the stories of the Italian prisoners of war on their Mooloo farm are part of their family history.

And 72 years later, Alex remembers Sam, Frank, Marino, Mario, Tony, Amerigo and Raffa as being like his ‘childhood’ friends.  They were part of Mooloo’s history and the Miles farm became the centre for congregation for the Italians on a Sunday.

Alex remembers them as  family men who made spaghetti by making the dough, talked of their children with longing,  crafted kites for the children which flew high on the westerly winds in winter, took the children for a ride in the billy cart of an afternoon and loved nothing more than nursing baby Joan Miles who was born early in 1945.

Alex says that they were ingenious, industrious and inventive and could turn their hands to most things some of which went against the rules. They make a potent brew with their home made ‘illegal’ still, dammed a creek which they bailed out so that they could catch fish, set up a barber shop for all the POWs in the district, bought  items for the Miles family from the canteen truck in return for money, carved out a secret place inside their shaving sticks to hide their Australian currency,  made belts from the cellophane wraps of their cigarette packets and created rings from one shilling and two shilling coins.

Ring.Florin.POW.2

Ring in the Making: 1943 Florin

(from the collection of Alex Miles)

The four Italian prisoners of war on the Miles farm were:  Mario Lauretti (uncle) and Marino Iacovacci (nephew) from Vallecorsa Frosinone; and Antonio Buffa and Francesco Ciaramita (both from Xitta Trapani and possibly brothers-in-law).

Amerigo Capriotti and Raffaele Fischetti were at AW Collard’s farm at Mooloo and Vincenzo Di Domenico and Filippo Castiglione were at LF Sizer’s farm at Mooloo.

The following extracts are from The Life and Times of Percy Alexander Miles:

…Three months after the Italians arrived, Mario became ill and had to go back into the prison camp to be near medical help. Andy and Nellie Anderson decided they didn’t need their prisoners, so we took them on, namely Francesco and Antonio. “Tony” was an officer’s cook in the Italian Army, so they wanted to cook for themselves.  This was ok by us as they didn’t like our cooking, they wanted spaghetti every day of the week.  Clyde and I put a kitchen on the end of the shed they were living in…. As time went by our kids used to eat with them now and then.  In the end the kids preferred their food to ours.

…Everything was good, except I couldn’t get enough spaghetti for them.  Because I had 3 POW’s working for me, I was allowed to apply directly to the factory to buy the spaghetti.  I filled out a form enquiring about spaghetti.  Next thing I knew there was ½ ton of spaghetti at the Gympie Railway Station for me. The prisoners were really happy but I didn’t know how they could possibly eat it all before the weevils got into it; I sold a lot to other farmers who had POW’s.  My three still maintained they could eat it all.  Turns out the three of them probably could have eaten the ½ ton in 12 months.    By the end of the year they were making their own spaghetti.

… Nearly every Sunday all the Italian POW’s from all the farms within walking distance (up to 5 miles away) would come to our farm.  Marino was a barber in Italy and the Australian barbers gave them short back and side haircut, they didn’t like that so they came here.  Marino cut hair all day; he charged them so many cigarettes for a haircut.

…They were not allowed to have a radio or to listen to one.  If ever we went away, they would go into the house and listen to our radio.  I bought it new in 1941, it was a big cabinet push button Brevelle model radio. To change stations all you had to do was push a button. How we knew they were listening to it was they always forgot to switch it back from short wave. I don’t know whether they found any Italian stations, I never let them know that I knew, it must have been hard for them not knowing what was going on in Italy.

Francesco was a tin-smith, he spent weeks cutting a kerosene tin into strips and rolling them into half inch pipes and soldering them, then joining them together.  It turned out to be a still to make alcohol which was something they were not allowed to have.

I turned a blind eye at first but in the end I had to tell them to destroy it, but not before they gave me a sample of the alcohol it made. They had old rotten pineapples and potatoes and any other fruit they could find in a 4 gallon drum with a top on it with the pipe coming out of the top. A clear vodka-like fluid was dripping out of the pipe.  They gave me a ¼ cup to try, Alice put some on a teaspoon and put a match to it, it had a nice blue flame. I thought this may be the way to fuel my ute, but it had to be destroyed much to the POW’s disappointment.