Warrell Creek's John McInnes remembers Ermanno Nicoletti (Nico)

CHECK THIS OUT MATE: John and Thelma McInnes with the chess set
CHECK THIS OUT MATE: John and Thelma McInnes with the chess set

Six weeks ago we put a call out on behalf of Alessandra Nicoletti who was searching for the farmer in the Macksville district who showed kindness  to her grandfather, Ermanno Nicoletti (known as Nico), who was a prisoner of war working on his farm from 1944 to 1945.

And you responded …

It turns out that Nico worked on the farm of Robert Williams at Yarrahapinni. Son-in-law Reg McInnes also lived there and it is Reg’s son John McInnes who shares his memories:

“I can remember him, I was about six … he was an artist and he spoke pretty good English,” John said.

“He and another POW, Carlos, lived with us for about six months and they used to teach us the Italian names for all the things on the table at mealtimes, like honey, butter salt, plate, spoon … but I can’t remember any of the words now!”

John said the two Italians worked with his father, Reg, on his banana farm.

“I can remember Dad gave them the pea rifle and they went out to shoot rabbits … I thought that was pretty trusting.

“Nico and Dad made a lathe from an old sewing machine and then they created this chess set … Nico carved the details such as the horses heads with his pocket knife.

“He and Dad used to sit up at night and play chess by the light of the lantern.”

Incredibly that chess set still exists … John found it in his shed a few weeks back, when he was searching for something else.

“It’s in pretty good nick – there’s only one pawn missing.”

ARTIST IN RESIDENCE: Nico carved the details of the pieces with his pocket knife

ARTIST IN RESIDENCE: Nico carved the details of the pieces with his pocket knife

John said Nico also painted a portrait of his mother: “He drew squares over a photo of her and that was how he got the details. It was a pretty good likeness … he signed everything ‘Nico’.”

Another of John’s recollections was how, every Sunday, the Italians would walk three or four miles through the scrub to meet up with fellow POWs to spend the day together.

Joining the historical dots: 

Ermanno Nicoletti was captured in Tobruk on January 22, 1941, and arrived in Australia in May on board the Queen Mary. He spent time in Hay and Cowra Prisoner of War and Internment Camps before volunteering to work on a farm. 

In February 1944, the Department of Army set up a prisoner of war control centre known as N12 PWCC in Macksville – in what is now the Valley Emporium on River St (formerly Lairds Family Grocer).  

Captain N Hely was assigned as officer-in-charge of the army staff which included an interpreter and driver to oversee and administer the scheme of placing Italian prisoners of war on local farms. 

The centre was leased by the army and could have been a shop or office space and provided accommodation for the army staff and a detention room for POWs. 

The records indicate there were 130 Italian POWs in the district.

It was a difficult time for farmers as young Australian men had joined the armed forces and that left farmers without a workforce.

Other farmers known to have hosted them are George Grant (Macksville), Sidney Ellway (Taylors Arm) and George Walker (Yarrahapinni).

The Italian POWs wore a distinctive red coloured uniform and are often remembered for their great singing voices, going to the local church, the chocolate they bought from the Army Canteen truck and gave to the farm children and the gifts they made for the farmers when they left.

The above information is courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas (joannetappy@gmail.com)

Joanne said that Alessandra began her research journey as a way of encouraging her father to go to Australia.  She felt that if she could find some information about Ermanno Nicoletti, then maybe this would convince her father that a trip to Australia was a good idea.  

“I plan to do this in the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020. In my heart I hope to do this with my dad,” Alessandro wrote.

Also making the news: