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Tragedy of the "Arandora Star" Scots-Italians – No Apology or Memorial, 70 years Later

Posted By: The Annotico Report, Italia Mia Network on July 6, 2010 in Annotico Report, Italy - Comments: No Comments »

The action of Internment of US residents who were Italian, German and Japanese during WWII was as Reprehensible as was the Internment of Italian residents in England, and Canada. It is of even more revulsion when the actions were kept secret, and even more so when during transport to Canada. Four hundred and eighty-six Italians were drowned when the ship "Arandora Star" was torpedoed. Those that died and casualties were kept secret.
70 years after the Sinking of the "Arandora Star", and loss of 486 Scots-Italian, neither the UK or Scotland are inclined to Apologize or Erect a Memorial.  And despite this being our KristalKnacht and Internment, Scots Italians have received NO support from the Jewish Community.

Tragedy of the Arandora Star Scots-Italians
Herald Scotland; July 5,  2010
Condemned as enemy aliens, interned for the duration then herded on to ships to be transported to Canada - Is it time for the UK government to say sorry to the innocent Italian victims of the sinking 70 years ago of the Arandora Star?
Benito Mussolini, could not have imagined the consequences of what joining with Hitler on June 10, 1940 and dragged Italy into war with Britain would be in England and Scotland.. At that time there were around five and a half thousand Italians living here, many of whom were descendants of first-generation immigrants driven from Italy towards the end of the 19th century by extreme poverty and low job prospects.
In Edinburgh alone,... there were estimated to be 400 Italians. From that moment, they and every other Italian in Britain were classified as "enemy aliens" and liable to be arrested and imprisoned or deported. Famously, Winston Churchill told the police to "collar the lot".
Given such history, anger and bitterness on the part of those targeted would be understandable. But if Rando Bertoia is typical no such sentiments are forthcoming. Sitting in his first-floor flat in a tenement near Hampden Park in Glasgow, Bertoia, who is in his 90th year, remembers those days seven decades ago as if they were last week. "There was a huge tinge of shame came over me because I thought: ‘Is this all my country can do?’"
Bertoia was 20 years old when he was arrested. His father, Gildo, had come to Scotland in 1912 from Montereale, which is in Abruzzo in central Italy. The area is famed for its mosaics and Gildo was employed in ­Glasgow by Toffolo Jackson, who specialised " as they do still " in marble work and ceramics. Originally, Bertoia followed his father’s trade but later branched off and became a watch repairer in his brother’s shop.
For Italians the weeks after Mussolini’s declaration were tense and difficult, especially for those who owned ice-cream and fish and chip shops. Fuelled by Churchill’s rhetoric and copious amounts of drink, mobs broke windows, hurled abuse and ransacked businesses. It was a terrifying experience for Italian families, most of whom lived next door to or above their premises.
Ricky Demarco, the artist and impresario, who was 10 at the time, says he remembers his mother and father, who owned a cafe in Portobello, telling him he could not go to school. Later, he says, as he walked along the promenade, he had stones thrown at him and was bullied in the showers at the local baths.
One woman, who worked in a chip shop, said abuse from customers was common. A man once told her to take off her tartan skirt because she was not entitled to wear it. "Go back to Italy," he said. "You’re not a Scots person." Eventually the girl snapped and threw his fish supper in his face.
Leith Walk in Edinburgh, near which many of the capital’s Italians lived, was described as a river of red wine, spilled when the Valvona & Crolla delicatessen was trashed. In memory of those dark days its shop front still remains half-shuttered, a symbol of an era in which erstwhile friends and neighbours were transformed overnight into foes....
Joe Pieri, who came to Scotland in 1919 when he was one year old, was working in his father’s chip shop, the legendary Savoy in Hope Street in Glasgow, when war between Italy and Britain was announced. First he was kept in a police cell, then he was transported to Maryhill barracks, which was already packed with detainees.
In his book, "River Of Memory: Memoirs Of A Scots-Italian", Pieri wrote: "It would be hard to imagine a more motley bunch. Their ages ranged from the very young to bent old men, with the only common denominator being the possession of an Italian name. Some were second-generation Italians who could speak only English; some complained loudly about their arrest; some shouted to the soldiers that they had served in the British army during the First World War; some proclaimed to anyone who would listen that they had relatives now serving in the army, and one elderly weeping grey-beard, Antonio Santangeli, declared to all and sundry that his son was a sergeant serving with the British forces in Africa."
Pieri’s story is replicated countlessly by the families of Scots Italians and in the testimonies of the men who were arrested. Some, though, were luckier than others and were transported the short and relatively safe distance to the Isle of Man. Among those was Guiseppe Verrecchia, father of Riccardo, the owner of La Scarpetta restaurant in Balloch. Guiseppe was 15 years old at the time and reputedly the youngest internee. There appears to have been no rhyme or reason why some were sent near to home while others were chosen to make hazardous journeys by sea to Australia and Canada. Rando Bertoia says that fathers and sons, brothers and cousins, who were arrested at the same time, found themselves separated, as he was from his father after they reached the holding camp at Milton Bridge near Edinburgh. "What can you say?" he says. "These things happen. We were taken at random."
At Milton Bridge Bertoia met his 19-year-old cousin Louis from Newcastle, and together they travelled first to Bury and then on to Liverpool. Unknown to them they were shortly to board the Arandora Star, a former luxury steam cruise liner nicknamed The Wedding Cake because of its white hull and violet stripe. It had been commandeered to take prisoners of war to Canada. Among those also due to travel was the father of Tom Conti.
“My father should have been on the boat," says the Paisley-born actor, "but due to the extraordinary and unlikely action of my mother bribing a high-ranking police officer, he was released from the Isle of Man before the transportation. My mother was the kind of woman who wouldn’t have stolen a pencil but war is war and he was diabetic and his chances of survival in prison were small.
“My godfather, Gaitano Cibelli, survived the ­sinking but all of his other friends perished. While he was on the Isle of Man, Cibelli was interrogated as to the whereabouts of one of his sons who couldn’t be found. ‘Where is he?’ they demanded. ‘In the Royal Air Force,’ he replied."
When he saw the Arandora Star, Bertoia remembers thinking: "This one can go a bit farther than the Isle of Man." Being June, the weather was warm and sunny. Bertoia found himself on the upper deck where he would sleep out under the stars. "That’s what saved my life," he says. In total, there were more than 1,200 prisoners on board, comprising 734 Italians who had been living in Britain and 479 Germans who had been captured in the course of the war.
At 6am on July 2, 1940, a day after she had left Liverpool, the Arandora Star was struck by a torpedo from a U-boat. Initially all Bertoia heard was a dull thud. He knows now that the torpedo had struck the ship at the opposite end to where he was berthed. Still half-asleep, he felt as if he was in a dream as, to some extent, he still does. "I didn’t ­realise anything," he says. "I was just walking about aimlessly."
Thanks to friends he was dragged into a lifeboat which was then winched down into the North Atlantic. Others on board rowed furiously to put distance between them and the fast sinking ship. Bertoia shakes his head. "It was a terrible scene. The ship was going down. There were people, bodies, in the sea. Little heads going up and down. I felt scared. I couldn’t swim. I felt scared. There was just sky and sea, and we were drifting aimlessly. I remember thinking: ‘What’s all this about?’"
Bertoia says he can remember no sense of panic....After drifting for a few hours Bertoia’s ­lifeboat was spotted by a Canadian destroyer, the HMS St Laurent. He was one of the few lucky ones. Consequently, he is the last ­survivor of the sinking of the Arandora Star. Four hundred and eighty-six Italians, 175 Germans and numerous members of the crew, including the captain, died. "The survivors," noted The Times, "presented a pathetic sight. Some of them were clad only in pyjamas, while others were wearing only thin singlets and trousers. Others had oddly assorted garments, many of which had been supplied by the crew of the rescuing warship. A large number were barefoot."
But for Bertoia, as for his fellow survivors, this was not the end of the nightmare. The war continued and they were still "enemy aliens" and unwelcome in Britain. No sooner was he ashore than Bertoia found himself back in Bury, after which he was transported to Liverpool where he boarded another boat, the Dunera, which was destined to take him to Australia. It, too, was struck by a torpedo but it did not explode. "We were lucky there," says Bertoia, who seems to have been blessed with a surfeit of good fortune. He spent the rest of the war 100 miles north of Melbourne, never bored, he says, and glad to be so far from the carnage, his family unaware of his whereabouts, uncertain, even, that he was alive. "All for nothing," he says of the war. "It was a big comedy. Forty million people died, all for nothing."
There were calls as the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the Arandora Star approached for it to be marked by an official apology from British or Scottish governments or for the creation of a memorial to all those who died.One survivor had to resort to ­smuggling out of hospital a list of casualties on toilet paper.... Certainly, there were many failings on the part of government and its officials. There was a lack of accurate information about who had been on board the Arandora Star and who had drowned. Moreover officials, riven with prejudice against "foreigners", displayed a distinct lack of consideration for distressed and bereaved families.

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