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Ernesto worked for my grandfather. I'm not sure when he arrived but he was the only prisoner of war on my grandfather's property, although there were several more in the district. I can remember, one Christmas Day, seeing a truck full of men in maroon coming to collect Ernesto to take him off to spend the day with his compatriots.
He was housed in a structure known to the family as The Kennel. It was a one room wooden building next to the gas house and the vegetable garden. It was furnished with an iron bed, two wash stands, a table and chair and a cupboard. The facilities consisted of an earth latrine close by which he would never allow us to enter, indicating by holding his nose that it was not a nice place. I'm not sure how he washed or even heated water to wash and shave but he always seemed to be clean and well groomed and the Kennel was always scrupulously clean and neat.
My sister and I spend a lot of time visiting him in the Kennel and chatting to him - he in very broken English and us trying to teach him 'rude' words from our very limited rude word vocabulary: I seem to remember that "bum" featured large in our repertoire. He must have been very lonely; the only person nearby who spoke Italian was one of the other workmen, Charlie, who was Italian by birth and had arrived in Australia as a child but who had remembered enough of his own language to be able to converse with Ernesto.
Charlie lived in a four-roomed cottage built onto the end of the old stables and as far as I recall, there was no bathroom there either, but there was a kitchen so that Charlie would have been able to heat water for washing. Not that he ever did. Unlike Ernesto, he always looked dirty and my sister and I were forbidden to enter his house. I got to see it later when my father turned it into a workshop to house his metal lathe devoted to the manufacture of the model steam train, Molly. It needed extensive cleaning to make it habitable even as a workshop. I don't know what happened to Charlie.
Ernesto had a photograph of a pretty girl called Ereminia and showed it to us often. He was very proud of her. No-one was sure if she was a sister, girlfriend or wife and his English never became sufficiently good for anybody to be able to work it out but I think that she was his sister. He talked of going to Abyssinia when the war was over - at that time it was an Italian posession - and settling down to farming.
When the end of the war came he was sent to a transit camp before being repatriated to Italy - the same truck full of men in maroon arriving to collect him and we all waved him goodbye as he was driven away. A month or so later my sister and I each received an articulated snake made from wood and canvas, meticulously carved and painted. I never heard from him again.
After the death of my grandfather, my grandmother was very distressed to find among his papers a letter from Ernesto. In it he thanked my grandfather for all he had done for him and asked my grandfather to sponsor him to migrate to Australia. My grandfather never replied.