Two Italian prisoners of war were taken to the farm of JB Townsend (Jack) at Glen Alpin via Stanthorpe on the 14th March 1944. While the archiving of files relating to Italian prisoners of war is a little ad hoc, once you find the documents, one realises that the Army clerks did keep immaculate records.
Movement of Prisoner of War
(NAA: BP242/1, Q43299)
Both Isidoro De Blasi and Rosario Morello (Marello) came to Australia onboard the first transport of Italian POWs, the Queen Mary* arriving in Sydney on the 27th May 1941. They were in the first group of 2016 Italian POWs to take up residence at Hay PW & I Camp.
Isidoro De Blasi was a barber from Alcamo Trapani and Rosario Morelli was a baker from Militello in Val di Catania.
Esme Colley (nee Townsend) remembers the men and snippets of memories about their time living on their Glen Aplin farm. She recalls the rings that were made from Australia coins, the fox that was skinned and left in the river for 3 days to soften (and was later made into a delicious stew), the Italian family behind them who befriended these Italian workers and Rosario who later returned to the Stanthorpe district with his family.
Rosario continues to be remembered by the Townsend family because he returned to the Stanthorpe district post war, but he also left the family with tangible mementoes: three items crafted in wood. The turret of the tank rotates, and motifs of angels, lions and Australian wildlife adorn the wooden gifts. And carefully carved in timber are the words Camp 8 HAY, Morello R. P.O.W.
Wooden Items carved by Rosario Morello
(Photos courtesy of Esme Colley (nee Townsend))
Rosario Morello’s story is part of Echoes of Italian Voices: Family Histories from Queensland’s Granite Belt written by Franco and Morwenna Arcidiacono. Extract from ‘The Morello Family’: “When Rosario Morello was captured in Tobruk in north Africa he became a Prisoner of War (POW). He was subsequently sent to far off Australia and the course of his life changed forever. In 1941, when Rosario arrived on these foreign shores he could not have imagined that Australia would become his home and the country where he would eventually raise his family.” Sacrifices were made by Rosario, his wife Carmela and their children and in time hard work and saving of money had the family transition from labouring and renting to farm owners. Within six years of Rosario’s return to Australia he owned his farm, cultivated scrub to increase farm yields and had built a new home for his family. In time, the farm became Red Rosella one of the Granite Belt’s large family vegetable growing enterprises.
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: 46032 Raffaele Lomonaco; 46627 Giuseppe Restivo; 46007 Antonio Lumia; 45586 Isidoro De Blasi; 46206 Gaetano Mineo; 45360 Giuseppe Cannata; 45103 Leonardo Barbera; 45997 Pietro Lomonte; 46221 Antonio Rondi and 47999 Leonardo Ciaccio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030143/33 Photographer Lewecki)
Isidoro De Blasi is one of the men in the Hay photo. At the time of the photo, he is 24 years old 5’ 6” and average build (150lbs at time of arrival in Australia). Like many of the Italian POWs, they are almost forgotten or their faces remain unidentified as is the case in this photo. We know that the second man kneeling on the left is Antonino Lumia as his grandson Damiano Lumia has acknowledged him. The list of names therefore bears no resemblance to placement of men.
Hopefully, one day, Isidoro’s family will find his face amongst this group of 10 men and find a context to their grandfather’s time as a prisoner of war in Australia. And the Townsend family can be introduced to Isidoro again.
*On the army register of Italian POWs onboard the Queen Mary Rosario Morello is number 661 and Isidoro De Blasi is number 1833. The list of the names of the first 2016 Italian prisoners of war is a reminder of the large numbers who were sent to Australiafor the duration of the war. In total, some 18,000 Italian POWs worked and lived across the six states of Australia from 1941-1947.
Register of Queen Mary May 1941
(NAA:PP 482/1, 16)