Tag Archives: Rodolfo Bartoli Rowville POW Hostel

No Regard for the Truth

Darren Arnott  grew up in Rowville in the 1970’s and 1980’s and had heard stories from some of the older residents about the Rowville Hostel which had always intrigued him. When he purchased a house in the 1990’s near a bush reserve with remanants of the Rowville camp he researched and documented the site and the local council used his research to place signage about the history of the site.

Darren also came across the details of ‘the shooting’ and the infamous Camp Commandant.  And with most history research, one document led to another then another…

Below is an edited extract from the forthcoming book No Regard for the Truth by Darren Arnott.

My most sincere appreciation to Darren for sharing his work.  I look forward to purchasing a copy of his book in 2019. For further details, Darren’s contact information can be found below.

NO REGARD FOR THE TRUTH

At 6:48PM on Saturday the 30th of March 1946 the Victoria Police Communications Centre, D24 received a phone call from Rowville Prisoner of War Hostel Camp Commandant, Captain Waterston requesting assistance at the camp. The call was broadcast to police cars in the area.

“Camp reports trouble among P.O.W.S. Requests that patrol be sent to assist. Contact Sergeant and Police on duty in street and instruct them to attend.”

Radio broadcast from Lt Maloney. “I will go to Rowville, please detail Sergeant Carroll in car 116 to attend and take any action necessary pending my arrival.”

Around 6:30 that evening as most prisoners were finishing their evening meal, Rodolfo Bartoli suffered a serious gunshot wound. Nearby prisoners who heard the gunshot and Rodolfo’s cries in Italian of “He has killed me”, ran to his aid. Rodolfo was carried to the camp hospital on a stretcher where he was treated by the Italian Camp Doctor, Joseph Galli. Rodolfo was losing a great deal of blood and Doctor Galli, realising that Bartoli’s condition was quickly deteriorating called for a camp car to rush Rodolfo to the Heidelberg military hospital.

Constable McAvoy, Constable Banks and Constable Hodge were the first police officers to arrive at the camp at shortly after receiving the call over the radio. They met Captain Waterston. Constable McAvoy documented in his notebook their brief discussion with Captain Waterston.

He asked Captain Waterston, “What is the trouble sir?”

“There has been some trouble here tonight. I threw a picket around the camp. I was walking through the camp myself when I saw a man moving through the wire. I called on him to stop and he did not stop. I then fired a shot. Later I found that a man had been injured in the groin, or shot in the groin, and he had been sent to the Heidelberg Military Hospital.”

“Do you want us to do anything now?”

“I would like you to come down with me around the camp. I am short staffed here.”

Constables McAvoy, Banks and Hodge walked with the Captain and the Italian interpreter through the camp. The Captain ordered a number of prisoners who were walking around to return back to their huts. The camp was quietened down, and all lights were turned out.

Version 2

Armed Search photograph from The Herald Monday 1st April 1946

 

The Rowville Italian Prisoner of War Control Hostel

Rowville is located in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne and was once a small farming community. The nearest major township at the time was Dandenong. The Rowville Italian Prisoner of War Control Hostel was an unguarded camp and was bounded by a simple wire and stump farm style fence. In 1946 there were approximately 250 prisoners interned at Rowville. The camp was overseen by Camp Commandant, Captain John Waterston.

Rodolfo died later that night from a gunshot wound. Rodolfo Bartoli was twenty-six years old when he died. His military record shows that he was from Florence and prior to the war had been employed as a Civil Servant. He was a Private in the Italian Infantry and was captured in Libya on the 10th of December 1940. Rodolfo arrived in Sydney aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the 15th of October 1941 and was interned at the POW camp in Cowra, New South Wales. In August 1944 he was relocated to Murchison in Victoria and then to Rowville in December 1944. Apart from one week at the Kooweerup Camp, Rodolfo spent the rest of his time at Rowville. Rodolfo was 5 feet 10 inches tall (178 centimetres) and was well liked by prisoners and staff in the camp. Rodolfo had been employed in the Camp Quartermaster Store at Rowville where prisoners could request uniforms or supplies when required. Rodolfo had met a young woman on a nearby farm who he was hoping to one day marry. A small number of the prisoners were aware that he had a bicycle hidden in some scrub by the bank of the Dandenong Creek just south of the camp and, on occasion, he used to leave to camp on his bike.

Rodolfo_Bartoli

Rodolfo Bartoli: back row, third from the right. 

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 Photographer: Geoffrey McInnes)

Three days before the shooting, at the request of the Minister for Army Minister Forde, the Army commenced an investigation into the alleged mistreatment of Italian Prisoners at the Rowville Camp. This was in response to a written complaint about the treatment of prisoners at the Rowville Camp from a member of the public which had been forwarded to Minister Forde. With this inquiry already underway, the shooting of Rodolfo triggered a chain of inquiries and inquests which lasted until December 1946. There was a Military Court of Inquiry, a Police Homicide Squad investigation, a Coroner’s Inquest, an Independent Government inquiry into the shooting and the administration of the Rowville Camp and finally, two Court Martial trials. Some disturbing stories about the mistreatment of prisoners, abuse of prisoner’s rights, suppression of written complaints from prisoners, discrepancies in evidence in the number of shots fired at Rodolfo, disputes about where Rodolfo was standing when he was shot and a lack of clear understanding of the camp boundaries began to emerge.

These events took place after the end of World War Two as the Italian prisoners were awaiting to return home. Most of the prisoners from the Rowville Camp returned home to Italy in January 1947. Rodolfo is one of the 129 Italian’s who died in Australia during World War Two resting at the Ossario at Murchison.

Ossario1

The Ossario Murchison 11th November 2018

Ossario2

Rodolfo Bartoli’s Final Resting Place: The Ossario Murchison

Photographs by the author at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Ossario, Murchison Cemetery November 2018.

Darren Arnott

darren@metebelis3.com

Twitter @darrenarnott

References

NAA MP742/1 255/6/774 Parts 1 & 2

Justice Simpson Inquiry – Exhibits – D24 Transcript

Justice Simpson – Rowville Inquiry Transcript of Evidence

Justice Simpson Inquiry Final Report – Rowville Inquiry – Administration of Prisoners of War

Letter of Appointment – Appointment as investigating officer into the allegation of ill-treatment of prisoners of war at PWC Hostel, V.22 Rowville.

MP1103/2 PWI48833 Rodolfo Bartoli’s Prisoner of War Record

Herald Sun 1st April 1946 “Army Explains POW Shooting Case”

Photograph of Rodolfo Bartoli https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C345909

 

Laughing Jack and Flying Fish

Stucchi Alcide Oakleigh (1)

February 1945 Oakleigh/Rowville

  Do you recognise your father or grandfather?

(photo courtesy of Miriam Stucchi)

War and imprisonment gave Alcide Stucchi the opportunity to learn languages and appreciate other countries and cultures.

It was in the prisoner of war camps of India that Alcide Stucchi studied languages: English and French.  He found the weather unbearable and the food dreadful, but he learnt about monsoons, the Ganges and the sacred cow.

Alcide told his daughters that on his voyage to Australia, “flying fishes and the dolphins accompanied the ship while crossing the tropic.” Part of the magic and terror of Australia were memories of  “seeing kangaroos running aside the train, and he was terrified by snakes and insects very venomous there.”  Alcide kept a connection to Australia throughout his life.  His daughter Miriam writes, “One of the strongest memories I have, is that of my father connecting frequently to Radio Australia in UHF, and listening to the starting  jingle … the song of the Kookaburra, which he called Laughing Jack[ass] – and we, two small girls about 3-5 years, trying to catch the singing bird in the rear box of the radio (very big one, at the time).”

Of her father’s movements in Australia, Miriam Stucchi recalls, “I know he was detached to a local farm, but he was not a farmer, he hated horses and he refused to work and was sent back to the camp, where from time to time he acted as interpreter between the Italian prisoners and the people managing the camp, when necessary.”

After careful examination of Alcide’s Service and Casualty Card and in conjunction with Darren Arnott’s research into V22 Rowville, Miriam starts to piece together parts of her father’s journey in Australia.  V22 Oakleigh was part of V22 Rowville and the above photo taken in February 1945 features a group of Italians at those camps.  Alcide Stucchi is seated fourth from the left and Rodolfo Bartoli is seated fourth from the right.  In jest, Alcide wrote on the back of the photo a message for his fiance Antonia; that in Australia he had become so tanned, that if she met him in the dark, she would take him for a thief,  happily hand over her money for fear of her life. Upon his return to Italy, Alcide went to find Antonia and he told his daughters, “She [your mother] was advised during working hours that there was someone downstairs asking for her, and when she saw him, she almost did not recognise him after 7 years.  He was so dark tanned that he could  be taken for a north African person.”

Adding to this history Miriam reveals, “I vividly remember that my father told many times there was fighting between the prisoners, especially those coming from South Italy who used to walk always with a knife in the pocket and any discussion may end up with a man killed. He was particularly aware of the dangers and stayed usually apart, being only interested in living peacefully and learning languages.”  One Italian prisoner of war, Angelo Franchitto was indeed found outside Rowville camp with a stomach wound inflicted by a knife in March 1946.

Conditions in Rowville camp were far from satisfactory. A number of Italians escaped and the Camp Commandant Captain Waterson used heavy handed tactics to assert his authority.  Alcide Stucchi was called as a witness into Justice Simpson’s Inquiry into conditions in the camp and allegations against Captain Waterson including the circumstances regarding his fatal shooting of Rodolfo Bartoli.

Stucchi Stoppello

1946 ‘P.O.W. CAMP INQUIRY’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 20 July, p. 13. , viewed 22 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article46159263

The love of languages is one of Alcide’s legacies. Upon return to Italy, he found work as an interpreter using his English and French.  He ensured his daughters learnt English and from the age of 7, he was their teacher.  Later in formal classes at school, Miriam remembers, “My teacher told me that my pronunciation was not British but a bit Aussie.”  Alcide’s granddaughter Alice specialised in English and German. And Alice like her grandfather found her way to Australia; to teach Italian and to appreciate the beauty of wonders like the Great Barrier Reef and the Blue Mountains.

Meet some of the other Italians at Rowville, Oakleigh and Balcombe:   V22 Oakleigh and Rowville V30 Balcombe

History is never boring!

Stucchi Alcide Oakleigh (2)

Group of Italian prisoners of war Oakleigh/Rowville

(photo courtesy of Miriam Stucchi)