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.
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.
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.
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.