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.
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]
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