Tag Archives: South Australian Italian POWs

1946 Gladstone Ammunition Depot

This situation in 1946 was that there were 18,000 Italian prisoners of war in camps awaiting repatriation.  At the same time, the Department of Army had army bases scattered around the country needing a workforce for clearing, maintenance, reconditioning, repairs, salvage work, improvements, revegetation.

A very special thank you to Malcolm Davis for providing this information.

One South Australian project where Italian prisoners of war were employed was the Gladstone Ammunition Depot in the Beetaloo Valley.  Known as the 5 CAD (Central Ammunition Depot), it “became host to Italian prisoners of war, but it was not a gaol like atmosphere.  These men were set to work cutting wood and doing other menial tasks, and from all accounts their stay was not a harsh one.  

The only reminder of the POWs stay left today is a stone wall, which enclosed the then parade ground.  the stone was quarried from the depot area, and as cement was unavailable, lime was burned for mortar.  The POWs also took up gardening and produced prolific crops of all types of vegetables which went to supplement the rations.  Some were also purchased by the married quarter members at nominal charges…With the assistance from the POWs, the billboard room was built, also from local stone which was shaped by a monumental mason stationed here at the time.  The POWs were paid for their work and had to buy their own cigarettes etc. but it was mainly a transit camp for them as most of them returned to Italy from 5CAD.”   from “Gladstone a meeting of creeks – a breaking of gauges“. Published by The Gladstone Centenary Committee, in 1980. Printed by “Gillingham Printers Pty Ltd Adelaide. SA”.

Gladstone and the Aerial of 411 Supply Company base

( from Gladstone a meeting of creeks – a breaking of gauge and https://location.sa.gov.au/viewer/)

Are there any remnants of the 411 Supply Company base?  Can you help pinpoint the location of this site?

I have found a number of terms used for the Gladstone Ammunition Depot:

No 4 Advanced Ammunition Depot

5 Central Ammunition Depot

411 Supply Company Gladstone

4AAAD Gladstone: Abbreviation used on Service and Casualty Forms  

So far we have the following Italians at the 4AAAD:

Giovanni Soppelsa bricklayer from Cencenighe Belluno (18.7.46)

Bruno Angelini, mason from Sala Bolognese Bologna (7.8.46)

Giuseppe Armanini, farmer from Storo Trento (7.8.46)

Michele Di Bari farmer from Montesantangelo Foggia (7.8.46)

Alfredo Goduto, painter from Roseto Valfortore Foggia

 

Verified is that Italian prisoners of war were sent to 4AAAD from July 46 until repatriaton.  But not all paperwork was completed as we know Alfredo Goduto was at the 4AAAD but there is no notation on his Service and Casualty Form.

Were there other South Australian army bases where Italian prisoners of war were employed in 1946?

 

 

 

 

It starts with hope

Maria Pepe from Oppido Lucano (Basilicata) hoped for the impossible and that one day, she might discover information about her father’s time on a farm in Australia.

Michele Pepe’s journey as an Italian solider and prisoner of war is like thousands of others: captured at Bardia Libya, sent to British POW Camps in India, arrived in Australia, sent to work on a farm, repatriated and arrived in Italy in 1947. But every Italian prisoner of war took home with them unique memories and sometimes photos.

Maria hoped that two photos her father kept, might help her locate the farming family. It is remarkable that not only has the Bruce family been found, but that both families have kept safe the same two photos. Mr KW Bruce from Riverton South Australia employed Michele to assist him on his mixed farm .  “The broadacre crops grown on the farm were wheat, barley and peas.   Mick helped to milk 25 cows every morning and evening.  The farm also had 100 pigs, 500 sheep and about 100 chickens.” Heather Jackson (nee Bruce) recalls.

Michele’s Service and Casualty Form records that he was sent to farm work on 13.5.44 and left 7.3.46.

Pepe Michele and Bruce Family

Michele Pepe with the Bruce family Riverton SA c. June 1945

(photos courtesy of Maria Pepe and the Bruce family*)

The two photos captured Michele with his farming family.  In one photo he is happy, nursing a baby and standing with the farmer and his children. The other photo has Michele with Mr and Mrs Bruce and their four children. Maria Pepe writes, “My father always spoke about those three children so close to him.  He often spoke about the suffering of leaving them to return to Italy.  He told me, … [the young girl] cried when he left for Italy.”

Heather Jackson (nee Bruce) is the little girl in the photo and has provided invaluable information to Maria Pepe.  “Michele (or Mick as the family called him) lived in a 4 room cottage in which he had the use of 2 rooms and a bathroom.  This cottage was about 30 metres from the family home.  Mick joined the family to eat all his meals,” Heather remembers. Maria remembers her father talking about, ‘the great humanity of Mr and Mrs Bruce who took Michele as one of the family.’

The Bruce siblings remember and reflect upon Sundays and Mick’s journey into town to attend church as Heather recounts: “Mick borrowed a horse and sulky to travel 5 kilometres into Riverton alone to attend the Roman Catholic Church service at 8 am on Sunday mornings.    He would park the sulky and horse in the Methodist Church yard and walk to his Church.  The Bruce family were Methodists, so he felt it only correct to park the horse and sulky in the Methodist Church yard. The Bruce family’s Methodist church service was much later in the morning, well after Mick returned from his church.”

A gesture of respect from a prisoner of war to a farmer.

The documenting of this history can be sometimes, one sided: an Australian farming family memories OR an Italian family memories.  It is special when this history can connect both families.  Maria has shared with the Bruce siblings, a little about Michele’s life after his return to Italy, and Heather has shared with Maria and her brothers details about farming life in the 1940s and special memories of Mick.

Pepe Michele and Elena 1948

Wedding Photo: Elena and Michele Pepe 1948

(photo courtesy of Maria Pepe)

And Michele’s reflections of his time in Australia and being a prisoner of war will resonate with many Italian families: “Australia was  beautiful and rich, but here in Italy, I feel like a king in my home.” (Maria Pepe)

* Heather Jackson (nee Bruce) believes that the photos were taken around the time of Michele Pepe’s birthday.  The baby girl was born in April 1945 and Michele Pepe’s birthday was in June.  This would have been Michele’s 28th birthday.

 

A Portable Gramophone

Music.Singing.Gramophone.

This research opens many doors into the past.  For my generation, a record player was powered by electricity and was fitted into a well-made cabinet befitting a place in the family lounge room. I knew of gramophones cranked by a handle for operation.  But I had never thought of a gramophone as being portable.

Enter Luigi Pinna from Cagliari Sardinia.  Luigi sent me a photo of his father Antioco Pinna* and taking pride of place is a portable gramophone.  My eyes were focussed on the men, Italian prisoners of war in South Australia, so I had not noticed the crank handle.  And so much of what I have been told about Italian prisoners of war and music now makes sense. Portable gramophones gave easy access to music.

Pinna Antioco.jpeg

Antioco Pinna (left) with other Italian POWs and gramophone South Australia

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

A portable gramophone allowed soldiers to take their music with them, regardless of how many times they were moved or transferred.  I read about t Jim, an Aussie soldier, who had taken his with him from the deserts of Tobruk Libya to the rainforest of Milne Bay New Guinea. And similarly, the Italian soldiers would have taken their portable gramophone from Ethiopia to India to Australia.

Be taken back to those times and listen to Jealousy  and Conchita Marquita Lolita… songs which we know the Italian POWs listened to.

One 1941 newspaper article mentioned that the Red Cross was looking for donations to send to our soldiers. “If music hath charms to soothe a troubled mind,” then surely this is just what these men want, and a good portable gramophone is always a welcome.  To be able to listen to the latest dance tune, or even a symphony orchestra when one is miles from anywhere in the desert must be quite a thrill…”

Some of the newspaper headlines of the time read:

Red Cross Wants Gramophones

Gramophones Wanted for Soldiers

A.I.F. to Learn French (via gramophone)

Gramophone from Tobruk

Gramophone

(1943 ‘Gramophone Wanted For Men In New Guinea’, Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), 11 October, p. 2. , viewed 15 Jun 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article193056681)

* Antioco Pinna was from Palma Suergio (Cagliari Sardinia).  He was sent to South Australia and allocated to S13 PWC Hostel Mt Gambier-Penola-Mt Burr.  The search for information about his stay in South Australia is  ongoing. His son Luigi is hoping to find the South Australians in photos brought back to Italy by his father.

There, In Black and White

Jynette Brumpton of Banana Queensland was going through some paperwork of her parents and found old black and white negatives.  To her delight and amazement, two photos were of the Italian prisoners of war that had worked on her parents’ dairy farm at Ponde near Murray Bridge in South Australia.

Jynette’s mother Grace remembered that one fellow’s name was Paolo Bernardi but that Grace and her husband Ernest had difficulty pronouncing his name so asked if they could call him Bernard, which they did.  Also remembered is Giuseppe.  The Sneaths were going to sponsor Giuseppe to return to Australia but economic circumstances prevented this.  The third man was Giuseppe’s brother-in-law.

Sneath Murray Bridge

Giuseppe Pagano, Domenico La Torre and Paolo Bernardi at Sneath Farm Ponde SA 1944/45

(photo courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

And so began Jynette’s journey to discover the stories of her parents’ POWs.  A NAA request gave the name of the third man: Domenico La Torre. “My mum at 96 is a bit sketchy about things that long ago but still remembers some things clearly.  A clear memory is that Giuseppe always wore a tie. Mum says that when they received a letter from Giuseppe asking for sponsorship dad went to see the relevant authorities in Adelaide to see what was involved.  After much soul searching and shuffling the money around dad felt that he just wasn’t in a secure enough position financially to sponsor someone,” explains Jynette.

All three were captured at Bardia on 4th January 1941.  From Nocelleto (Napoli), brothers-in-law Giuseppe Pagano and Domenico La Torre stuck together as when they were processed at Geneifa in Egypt the Middle East Numbers issued were 70004 and 70006.  With 40,000 Italians surrendered/captured at Bardia, staying together was no easy task.  Paolo Bernardi came from Terracina Littoria.

An additional document which sheds light on farming life in 1944 is the farm ledger kept by Ernest Archibald Sneath.  This ledger offers a window in past farming practices.  It tells of the small crops grown through the seeds purchased, the income from milk production, the cost of screws, nails, steel wool, oil, petrol and diesel.  Before Jynette found the negatives and began her search about her family’s Italian POWs, the meaning of the notation PWCC would have eluded her.  Now Jynette knows that the 9 was paid to the prisoner of war control centre (PWCC) at Murray Bridge: S4 PWCC Murray Bridge.  The labour cost was £1/week per Italian indicating that the canteen truck would have visited the farm on a three-week cycle.

Sneath Murray Bridge Farm Ledger

Farm Ledger for Ernest Sneath’s Farm at Ponde SA

(courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

Jynette noticed that only £7 was paid in one cycle, but when cross-referenced with the Service and Casualty Forms, Domenico La Torre had left the farm to go to hospital between 17-11-44 and 30-11-44.  Jynette comments, “This history is like one big giant puzzle.  The photos are part of the puzzle, as are dad’s ledgers and the Italian Service Forms.”

Another piece of the puzzle emerges about a fruit and vegetable shop in Mannum. Jynette explains, “My parents ran a fruit and veg shop during part of the war years. I knew that and can remember going into it when I was small. It was in Mannum the local shopping centre. My maternal grandmother ran it for dad. But what I didn’t know until recently when mum and I were having one of our POW chats is that she said it was Giuseppe who made the suggestion to dad in the first place.  My father was a great veg gardener and Giuseppe noticing that, asked dad why he didn’t sell to the people in Mannum. So after some discussion that’s what they decided to do. The POWs would grow the vegetables, dad would go weekly to Murray Bridge to procure fruit and Nan would run the shop. My Nan kept the books and the shop paid £3/week for the POW wages [reimbursement to dad].  I should imagine that once the Italians left dad wouldn’t have been able to keep growing veg as well as maintain the irrigation and dairy etc. The list of veg is interesting as some of those varieties like Greenfeast peas are still being grown so it’s nice to think that some things stay the same,” explains Jynette.

Sneath Veg Shop Mannum

Mannum Shop Notebook

(courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

Another important find for Jynette are other farm records kept by her family, revealing a little more of Australia’s agricultural history.  The pages reveal what was planted and when the crops should be ready to harvest as well as the different varieties of vegetables grown seven decades ago.  Today, most people would not know the difference between a triamble and gramma pumpkin or Chatenay or Manchester Table carrots.

Sneath family

The Sneath Family May 1947.  Back: Dad’s mother Ina, Grace, Ernest with Carol Front:  Jynette, cat Sadie, Dennis with George Fletcher dad’s stepfather.

(photo courtesy of Jynette Brumpton)

This is more than just the story of three prisoners of war on a South Australian farm.  These three Italians were part of a group of 13,500 Italian prisoners of war working on Australian farms from 1943-1946. This is also the story of farm diversity during war time; the hospitality of Australian farmers; the Italians who are remembered seven decades later and whose footsteps are found in black and white photos, on the pages of farm ledgers and in the memories of Australians. Jynette Brumpton’s black and white negatives have added ‘colour’ to this history.

PS Grace Sneath also remembered that there was another Italian POW who didn’t stay long.  After further research, a document reveals Silvio Pellacani was transferred from EA Sneath at Ponde to EB Brand at Ponde on 3rd May 1944.  He was sent to S4 PWCC Murray Bridge on 18th March 1944.  He was likely to have been replaced with Paolo Bernardi who arrived at S4 PWCC 2nd May 1944.