Maffra and District Historical Society

M&DHS operates the Maffra Sugar Beet Museum, part of the Local History Collection at the Maffra Library, and a Dairy Museum at the Robotic Dairy at Winnindoo.

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Location: Victoria, Australia

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Italian Prisoners of War

We have been asked if we know anything about the housing supplied to the Italian Prisoners of War who worked in the Maffra district during WWII.

In particular, the enquirer is wondering if there was a prefabricated hut that was supplied, as several that are similar have been located on local farms, and it suggested this was their origin.

Jim Fairchild supplied us with details of his memories in Bulletin #79 in 1993, but there is not a lot to help there. There was an office in Maffra that allocated the prisoners, and we know they used to be allowed to go to church in Maffra on Sundays, and would then hide under the bridge to catch up with each other, as they were not allowed to congregate with each other - but we do not know anything about their living quarters.

We also know they were in Briagolong, as they were remembered for walking around the district singing.

There is also an article on the Italian Prisoners of War in the Yarram district in Gippsland Heritage Journal # 13 (now out of print, but available in local libraries).

Here is a little of what Jim Fairchild wrote - does anyone know anything else, especially about their huts?

I was seven when Cedrick set up one of our employees, Wallace Knight, on a farm of his own and, with no other labour available, we were allocated an Italian P.O.W. in his place. Vincenzo Esposito arrived on Tuesday, October 13th, 1944. I can remember to the nearest foot where he was standing when I first met him, and that his only word of English was "Yes". Dad soon set out to remedy that and taught Vince to read and write English too by going down to the men's rooms each night with one of my books, Buzzywing, a story about a bee, in big print and small words. Vince had only one Italian book with him and Dad soon learned some Italian.

I don't know how apprehensive my mother was about the arrival of 'the enemy', for Vince had his meals in our kitchen as did the other farm workers, but I expect she probably mothered him just as she did every new farm lad. He enjoyed the homely atmosphere and was very good to Mum. Once a fortnight an Army van called and prisoners were able to buy provisions from the meagre pay they were allowed, things like 'Coo-ee' tobacco and coloured silks and raffia. Vince wove gifts for Mum from raffia wrapped in cellophane, and one of our prized possessions today is a tablecloth into one corner of which he had woven in silk a picture, taken from one of my cowboy books, of a cowgirl on a rearing horse. He was going to weave a picture in each corner for her, but he was taken away before he could do so.

The prisoners were allowed to go to Mass each Sunday and Vince was given the farm bike to ride the seven miles to Maffra. Regulations required him to wear his heavy maroon uniform, but Dad felt this was ridiculous in the summer heat and gave him some light fawn trousers. We promptly had a visit from the Captain in charge (I think it was Charlie Donahoe) to say he would be taken away from us if seen dressed that way again.


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