Italian POW family connects with Cowra after 70 years

In 1947 Adriano Zagonara docked in Naples and began to walk and hitchhike 600 kilometres back home to Bagnara de Romagna. 

The medieval village was in ruins. Was his family alive? 

Military service had taken him from his pregnant wife in 1940 and they had had no contact since 1942. 

Bagnara was part of the “Gothic Line” of German defences. During the final battles, 400 civilians had sheltered in the cellars of an ancient castello for eight days.

Adriano’s wife was alive and he had a son. He was a stonemason and his community needed rebuilding, so he started a small cooperative brick factory and got on with life. 

Within the first year, a daughter Paola was born (he called her ‘my little Australian’).  Over the years Adriano often talked to Paola about the farm in Australia where he had worked as a prison of war (POW).

After capture in North Africa, the Italians were sent for two years to camps in India and then to Australia.

At Cowra POW camp, he volunteered to do farm work and ended up at Jock and Chris Davidson’s farm “Mooroonbin” along with others called Lorenzo, Antonio, and Dominic. There his masonry skills were used to build a laundry and water tank, to which he proudly attached a plaque.

Davidson grandchildren read the plaque and often wondered about Adriano, but knew nothing of him or where he ended up after the war. 

In 2017, Andrea Ridley of the Cowra-Italy Friendship Association, through the power of social media, established contact between Paola Zagonara and John and Robert Davidson.

Paola has since written a number of letter to the Davidson family.

“Your mail has filled me with happiness. My father often talked about your wonderful grandparents. For two years in India the Italian POWs received poor rations (often one bowl of rice per day) and were doing heavy railway constructions work. Then to be on a farm at Cowra with grazing animals. There was steak, which he had never before in his life eaten,” an extract from one letter said.

“He loved working with the horses, because when young, he had helped his uncle, a horse dealer.

“I now understand my father telling of the immense spaces where you could take a horse ride and not meet anyone. (Jock let the Italian POWs take a horse and sulky to Gooloogong for Sunday Mass).

“The photo of kangaroos on the POW site really moved me. A feeling of freedom and peace to erase captivity and war. I am sorry my father could not see them – he died in 1996. 

“He was in love with Australia and would like to have stayed, but he still had family in Italy and of course, all POWs were sent home.”