Italian POWs saved the local farmers
More than 70 years later, many residents still recall the work of Italian prisoners of war.
Martin Schultz remembers them walking to and from his uncle’s and his family’s banana farm each day, singing as they went through the scrub.
They always wore red uniforms and could be returned to living in an internment camp if there was misbehaviour.
They generally kept to themselves, observing the restrictions of the POWs.
After a day’s work, one man would walk from Poona to the Maroochydore turnoff to visit an Italian family living there, but the authorities did not approve of his roaming around the countryside and he was returned to a POW camp.
Martin recalls two other POWs – Eugene (Eugenio Mascaro) of light colouring who was very young, about 20, and also Vince (Vincenzo Tigani), stocky and dark, and in his 50s.
Vince had served in the Italian Army when it invaded Abyssinia in 1935 and had become a prisoner of war of the British. He was returning home when World War II began and again became a prisoner of war. He was sent to Australia.
Sadly, Vince had not seen his family for more than 10 years when Martin met him.
However, when World War II ended in 1945, prisoners of war were returned to their homeland. In the 1950s, Martin again heard from Vince, who was happy to be back in Australia. He had migrated and had a job.
Lorna Akers recalls her family’s neighbour Dan Mills, who had a banana plantation at Kiamba, west of Yandina. He had two Italian prisoners of war working on the farm. They too lived in a small hut on the farm and generally liked to cook their own food.
Dan Mills had a flying fox on the farm to bring bunches of bananas down the steep hillsides. Lorna recalls men and bananas riding the flying fox, a bit of fun after a hard day’s work.
From her family’s house in the town of Yandina she would see the men in their red uniforms walking into town or going to church. They seemed to be happy and no doubt happy to be out of the war zone.
Lorna has recently found out that their names were Vincenzo Fusilli and Luigi Fesco and is pleased they are being remembered more than seventy years later.
Former Maroochy Shire Chairman Eddie De Vere recalled that Kenilworth was headquarters for allocating the Italian POWs and a large house in town was turned over for the purpose.
He said prisoners working on farms in the district from as far as Conondale and Kidaman Creek would come in to the headquarters on a Sunday to buy razor blades and other bits and pieces with their allocation of money. They were always supervised.
When his two farmhands were conscripted, he was sent Italian POWs who had been captured in the Middle East. Two were from Florence and later, two Sicilians arrived.
With their help, he was able to expand his farm and began growing bananas.
They shared the house and, he said, introduced him to the delights of Italian cuisine – “spaghetti arrived by the case, tomato sauce by the carton and cheese by the block”.
Joanne Tapiolas has collected stories of Italian POWs in Queensland “Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland 1943-1946” and is looking for more.
Her web page is italianprisonersofwar.com if you are able to contribute.