Tag Archives: Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill

Not Happy

What was it like living as an Italian prisoner of war at Q6 PWCH Home Hill?

Sante Testa a farmer from Pomigliano D’Arco (Napoli) grew up in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius.  He was 20 years old when he was captured in Libya on 21st January 1941.  His date of capture suggests he was stationed at Tobruk when the Australian army attacked this Libyan stronghold. A private in the Italian army: 10 Artiglieria 7th Gruppo 2nd Batteria, he was one of 25,000 Italians captured at Tobruk.

By the time he arrived at Q6 Home Hill, his travels had taken him on a long and unexpected journey: Tobruk-Suez-Trinocomalee-Fremantle-Sydney-Hay-Cowra-Gaythorne-Home Hill. Unable to sign his name upon arrival in Australia, his ‘new’ world would have been very unfamiliar.

Testa was in the first group of Italian prisoners of war to arrive at Q6, which was still in its construction phase.  It was April 1944 and a month earlier a cyclone had crossed the coast between Bowen and Townsville with Home Hill recording 509 points (c. 130mm) in the last week of March.  The Burdekin had been in minor flood and on 31st March 1944, the Burdekin bridge had 2 ft 6 ins of water over the rails. The rain had delayed construction.

By the 14th May PW and AMF personnel were still in tents with no floor boards, they were sleeping on bush bunks.  Work completed to the Q6 facility included: QM Store, Canteen, AMF latrine – ¾ complete, AMF sleeping huts – stumps and bearers in, PW latrine – complete, PW ablutions- frame completed and floor concreted, PW sleeping huts – not commenced, chlorination pit for septic tank – not installed.

By August 1944 living conditions had improved and the camp was completed including hot water and septic latrines.

But for Sante Testa, his personal circumstances changed in August.  His testimony in his defence of a charge of ‘refusing to obey a military command’ provides a personal insight into his interactions with the army staff at Q6 Home Hill and his views including unjust treatment meted out to the Italian prisoners of war.

DEFENCE

The accused being duly sworn gives the following evidence:

On 2 August 44 in the afternoon I done my duty like all other prisoners of war. Sgt Gibson did not send me to prison because of the work.  He sent me to prison because he doesn’t like me, because I had asked him for a change of squad.  The same day in the evening at teatime while I was proceeding for a wash, Sgt Gibson called me.  He said, “Testa you come to the commandant”.  I replied “Yes”.  After I finished washing I went.  He took me to the Commandant.  The Commandant asked me why did I refuse to work.  I told him that I had not refused I had done my duty.  The commandant sent me to prison.  I told the Commandant “you are sending me to prison unjustly that to-day I did my duty”. On 3 August about quarter past eight the Lieut. Hamilton and Sgt Zappala came to the Compound and he told me “Testa why are you in the Compound”. I answered “Sgt Gibson sent me unjustly”. The Lieutenant told me “Testa you come to work”. I said “No”. Had the Lieutenant told me that I would have been paid I would have come out to work willingly.  After that he took me to the Commandant.  The commandant asked me if I would work that morning. I told him “Yes” but I asked for a change in squad.  He told me “No”.  And the Commandant declared me as having refused, but I had not refused.  Had the Commandant told me that I wold have been paid I would have gone out willingly because he on the 19 June had sent me to prison without any trial and I was awarded seven days detention. Three days bread and water and four days, Australian rations and worked without pay, and for this reason I said “No”.  I did not refuse for any other reason. A Prisoner of War with seven days detention, three days on bread and water, worked and no pay and forfeited his free issue of cigarettes.  If on 3 August he would have been told that he would have been paid he would have gone to work willingly.

I have now been 19 days in detention unjustly and have had no soap and no writing material and no free issue of cigarettes.  This morning was the first issue of soap I have received, because the Commandant knew that there was Officers coming. 

There will come a day at this camp that no Prisoner of war will go to work because the Camp Commandant he punish the men unjustly and if a Prisoner of War has an accident and that would be sick for a period of about 20 days the Camp Commandant does not allow him to make purchases at the canteen.

His evidence is read to accused.

I certify that the above Summary of Evidence was taken by my at HOME HILL on the Twenty-first day of August 1944, and that the requirements of Rules of Procedure 4  ( C) , (D), (E ),  (F) and (G) have been complied with.

 Nugent Wallman [Captain AIF Lawyer Stationed in Townsville]

(NAA:A11626, POW20)

A summary of Sante Testa’s record and detentions is as follows:

3.6.44 Q6 Home Hill 4 days detention by C/O

19.7.44 Q6 Home Hill 7 days detention

3.10.44 Q6 Home Hill 120 days detention by court martial ‘disobeying a lawful command

7.1.45 Hay Detention Barracks – 3 days No. 1 Diet, gave letter w/o permission to a POW

And so Testa’s journey continued: Q6 Home Hill-Gaythorne in transit-Hay Detention Barracks-Murchison-Naples

3936403 Testa 030228 13

Murchison, Australia. 1 March 1945. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned in D1 Compound, No. 13 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49374 A. Curcio; 48235 S. Nardea; 62062 A. Criscuolo; 48243 G. Olivares; 55953 G. Dinapoli. Front row: 64344 A. Fantetti; 56526 A. Picheca; 64339 P. Fabrizio; 46885 S. Testa; 63786 I. Buttarelli. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. Photo documentation suggests that names are listed, back row, front row, left to right.  (AWM Image 030228/13, Photographer Ronald Leslie Stewart)

Stepping back in time

It was almost 73 years to the day, when Nino Cippola stepped back in time to retrace his father’s journey in Queensland. Nino’s father, Francesco (Ciccio) Cippola was an Italian prisoner of war captured in Libya on 4th January 1941.  While in Melbourne on holiday from Taormina in Sicily,  Nino thought he would try to find details about the “Q6 Home Hill” written into his father’s POW Service and Casualty Form.

Cipolla Francesco Cipolla Photograph April 1939

Francesco Cippola: Roma 10.4.1939

(photographic collection of Nino Cippola)

A flurry of messagess via Messenger and emails, a flight to Townsville and Nino found himself on the railway platform of Home Hill. Francesco Cippola would have stepped onto the same platform. Not much changes in small country towns in Queensland.

Home Hill Railway Station: 1944 and 2017

Nino Cippola tracing his father’s footsteps

(NAA: M1415, 434, photographic collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

With only 1 three ton truck available the 115 Italian prisoners of war would have walked a short distance to the Home Hill Showgrounds.  Many of the buildings there had been leased by the Army and it would have taken more than one trip to transport the Italians over a muddy dirt track 22 miles up river Home Hill.

It was the 30th April 1944 and the Q6 PWC Hostel, to accommodate 255 Italian POWs and A.M.F. staff, had not been completed.  Wet weather, a tropical cyclone and delays with the septic tank, meant that the Italians ‘roughed it’ in temporary tents, without floor boards. The POWs were there to grow vegetables to supply to the Allied forces in North Queensland.

Little remains of the hostel buildings and the farming sheds. The concrete foundations were dug up years ago and the buildings sold off to Main Roads.  What does remain are the traces of ‘settlement’ found on the banks of the Burdekin: a lone banana tree, a cluster of custard apple and lemon trees. Using a hand drawn plan of the hostel complex, Nino could envisage the extent of what was Ciccio’s  home for 15 months.

 

1944.camp layout

Layout Plan POW Camp Homehill

(NAA: J153, T1542B, 1944)

As he stood  at the Q6 Hostel site, Nino could also make sense of the many stories his father had told him. He could also make sense of Francesco’s (Ciccio’s) obsession with growing vegetables.  Ciccio was not a farmer. He did not come from a farming background. Ciccio was a ‘carabinieri’. But time spent on the Home Hill farms had made an impression on Ciccio. His family said, he was fanatical about seeds and tomatoes. Nino explains that:

“my father’s interest in growing crops was substantial and almost at an industrial scale – he would return home from the farm with 150 kg of tomatoes in the back of the car, or grow wheat and have it ground for flour, bags and bags of it, he would have 100s of kilos of eggplants, capsicums or pumpkins. He was always asking his family about which fruit or vegetables tasted best and he would dry and save seeds of the best tasting.  He often had seeds in his pockets. He would give away his excessive volumes of fruit and vegetables to neighbours, family and friends. I never fully understood my father’s passion in this area until I visited the POW site on the Burdekin River and learnt about the work my father and other POW were doing.  My father did not come from a farming background.  Most people have a small vegetable plot, but my father grew crops on a grand scale.  I believe his time on the Commonwealth Farm at Q6, gave him this lifelong interest”.

The backdrop to this story is the purpose and operations of the Commonwealth Vegetable Project Farms: to grow vegetables for service requirements, to develop means and ways to select and grow crops suited to good yields and the tropical climate, to run seed trials and soil testing to improve productivity. Regarding tomatoes,  barrels on the Commonwealth farms were filled with tomatoes, to decompose and then be treated to extract the seeds and so began a lifelong passion of Ciccio’s centring around tomato growing and seed selection.

Ciccio’s dislike for bananas also seems to have stemmed from his time at Q6.  His children heard the recurring comment ‘I don’t eat bananas’ from their father.  If bananas were in the fruit bowl, he would reiterate his disdain for bananas.  The Home Hill Italian POWs were responsible for the cultivation of nine acres of bananas and used ground safes to ripen the hands.  Likely, the best bananas went to the armed forces and the overripe bananas, in abundance, became part of the POW daily menu.

The landscape of the Burdekin is in contrast to that of Taormina.  A mountain range rises high in the background at the end of Kirknie Road as opposed to an active Mount Etna viewed through the archways of the Ancient Greek Amphitheatre.

Contrasting Landscapes of Taormina Sicily and up river Home Hill Queensland

(Trip Advisor: Taormina, photographic collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

Up river Home Hill is a long way from Taormina and the contrasts are striking. But Nino’s step back in time, to the time his father Ciccio grew vegetables on a Commonwealth Vegetable Farm up river Home Hill, offered up an understanding of his father’s years as a prisoner of war in Australia.

Q6 PWCH Home Hill

I am yet to find a photograph taken at the Home Hill hostel.  Military zones, such as this prisoner of war camp, were governed by strict rules and protocols regarding the taking of photos.  According to the regulations, “Group photos of PW allocated through Control Centres for employment in rural industry were NOT permitted” (NAA:A7711)  and while POWs allocated through PWCC had their photos taken by their host families, there is no photographic record of the POWs while working on the Commonwealth Farms, nor of the hostel.  Or maybe there are photos of the POWs at Home Hill hostel that are yet to see the light of day.

The Australian War Memorial holds an amazing array of photographs taken of a number of POW Camp facilities in Australia and group photos of the prisoners of war.  The group photos were taken so that the Italian POWs could purchase a copy to send home.

With so little information known about the Home Hill hostel, I searched the Australian War Memorial (AWM) records to catch a glimpse of my Home Hill POWs.  I had the list of names: 272 but I was not satisfied with names only.

I did not want this group of men to be defined by the few trouble makers who refused to work or escaped and were recaptured.  After all, they were men who were fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.  By the time they walked into the hostel, it had been seven months since Italy had surrendered.  The Allies were making their way north through Italy, but by 28th April 1944 there was a lull in Allied activity due to bad weather:

LONDON. Thursday. – Land
and air fighting has slackened in
Italy because rain and mist are
again shrouding the front lines,
says Reuters correspondent at
Allied Headquarters.
There was harassing artillery
and mortar fire on the Cassino
front and in the nearby Garigliano
River sector.
(News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954) Friday 28 April 1944 p 1)

Home Hill. The Men

The first group of 115 Italian POWs arrived on 30th April 1944.

These men came from all walks of life. The requirements of the hostel meant that the following occupations were minimum requested and recruited: 1 x Medical Officer, 4 x orderlies, 190 x workers, 10 x cooks and fatigues, 50 x PW capable of driving tractors including mechanics.

Some of their occupations included: police, hairdresser, sculptor, brewer, bookseller, sailor, electrician, tinsmith, tiler, brick layer, linotypist, cyclist, tailor, miller, mason and blacksmith.  Considering that the hostel had not been completed when the first 115 POWs walked into the hostel,  men with trades would have been most welcome.

The photo below taken at Cowra shows three of the Home Hill POWs: Giuseppe Ippolito  – labourer, Salvatore De Micco – farmer and Agostino Leto –  postal clerk.  All three men were in the first group of 115 to be sent to Q6 Home Hill Hostel.

Ippolito De micco Leto

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49115 C. Trentino; 49354 G. Ippolito; 49592 A. Poggi; 49107 G. Zunino; 48833 R. Bartoli; 49212 R. Papini; 48863 S. De Micco. Front row: 48939 A. Leto; 49172 A. Mandrini; 57531 B. Protano; 49923 F. Carlone; 45196 A. Ciofani. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(AWM Image 030173/11 McInnes, G)

They Did Know!

Did Burdekin locals know what was happening at the POW farms during those years.  YES they did.  They knew because the POW farms were relevant and had a context.

One of the puzzles about the Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill, was that very little is remembered by locals about a POW camp which housed 250 Italian prisoners of war.  My father said to me once, “Did no one see or hear 250 Italian prisoners of war in red uniform board a train in November 1945?  Did no one see the trucks carrying these men 22 mile from the hostel site to the Home Hill train station?  Why has this history been forgotten?”

Q Imagery Burdekin RiverAyr 14.4.1994  8358 Run 5 119-135    (The State of Queensland 2013 Natural Resouces and Mines Q Imagery)

Dad was 20 years old at the time and living in Jarvisfield on the Ayr side of the river, busy with farm work growing cane, cotton, pumpkins and potatoes.  Tractors were imprest items and farmers had to revert to the use of horses.  More work for my dad and his brother. The war years were a time when ears were tuned to the radio broadcasts about the war and people’s thoughts were with the possibility of a Japanese invasion and what an invasion would mean for those north of the Brisbane line.  As well, petrol rationing meant that fuel was kept for essentials.  In those times the Tapiolas family on the Ayr side of the Burdekin River did not visit the Tapiolas family on the Home Hill side. War time was a busy time.

Like many events in the past,  memories are brushed aside because they no longer have relevance.  Yes, there were POWs growing vegetables on the banks of the Burdekin River, but these Italians left, nothing remains of the buildings, so there is no reason to remember.  And sometimes a memory needs relevance and context.

Did Burdekin locals know what was happening at the POW farms during those years.  YES they did.  They knew because the POW farms were relevant and had a context.

Burdekin farmers and associated stakeholders wanted the facility to be converted into an agricultural college.  They wanted the research and development that was taking place on the POW farms to continue. These men wanted to retain the civilian supervisors who had capably trained the Italian POWs, to continue to teach and train the next generation of farmers.  What was happening at the POW farms was relevant. There were advancements in soil testing and varietal seed testing specific to a tropical climate. State of the art farming equipment was imported from USA  and different irrigation systems trialled.

Our grandfathers knew this, but their cause fell on deaf ears and the buildings were sold off.  No longer was this site important or relevant.

But the archived newspapers provides a context: 1945.  As early as  January 1945, an article in the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported that a submission had been made by the Agricultural, Pastoral and Secondary Industries Development Association for the Queensland Government to purchase the Commonwealth Farms at Home Hill and convert them to an Agricultural High School and College, similar to Gatton Agricultural College. My grandfather Mr B Tapiolas spoke at the meeting. Article mentions Burdekin war vegetable farms.

By May 1945, interested parties convened a meeting with three North Queensland Parliamentarians, Messrs. G. Keyatta (Townsville), T Aitkens (Mundingburra) and F.W. Paterson (Bowen). Burdekin locals mentioned are : Mr B Tapiolas, Mr A Coburn, Mr HV Sainsbury, Mr S Smith, Mr Reading, Mr R Gray, Mr WR Gist, Mr FJ Woods (Chairman of Ayr Shire Council) as well as Mr F Hely from the C.S.I.R who was the main adviser for the Commonwealth Vegetable Project.  There is mention of the ‘POW farm at Home Hill‘.

Further meetings reveal the names of more Burdekin men: Mr J J McDonald, Mr Wellington, Mr Beames, Mr Giffard, Mr Berryman, Mr Jackson, Mr Osborne, Mr Donavon, Mr Honeycombe and Councillor HW Irving.

By 28th August 1945, details of the POW farm at Home Hill are revealed.  “Mr Gist convened that – The facilities already existing in this area for an Agricultural College are located near Home hill which is situated on the southern bank of the Burdekin River. The present Commonwealth Vegetable farm unit which we propose should be acquired for use as an Agricultural College.  These farms have been leased by the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and development by it for the production of all classes of vegetables and some fruits by POW labour with civilian supervisors and expert assistance.  Improvements include buildings to accommodate 300 personnel with administrative, storage, canteen and recreational facilities.  Modern conveniences such as septic system, electricity, hot water systems and telephone are provided.  A workshop, machine sheds, packing sheds and several cottages are installed on this farm unit.  We submit gentlemen, that this POW farm in reality has been acting as such [Agricultural College] for the past 15 months.” (Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld.: 1907 – 1954), Tuesday 28 August 1945, page 3)

For me, the research on the  Home Hill Hostel was all about finding out ‘what had been forgotten’.  It has been about recording the history and sharing it. And should someone from Italy arrive in Home Hill looking for information about where their grandfather worked as a POW from 1944 to 1945, then they too can have their answers.