Monday, July 02, 2012


Today is the 72nd anniversary of the Arandora Star tragedy, the result of bigotry, racism and stupidity on a massive scale and one of the most shameful episodes in the history of World War II.  The information below is from a post I wrote about the disaster in 2009. Since then, a memorial to Welsh victims of the tragedy has been unveiled in Cardiff but there has still been no apology from a British government. A "facebook" group is campaigning for a major documentary about the tragedy to be made and shown on British television.

At the outbreak of World War 11 "enemy aliens" living in Britain were divided into three categories: those in class A were deemed to represent a high security risk and were interned; those in class B were "doubtful" and were subject to some restrictions; and those in class C were thought to pose no security risk at all. However, following the Fall of France in 1940 Churchill decided, in his own words, to "collar the lot" and the majority of class B aliens were interned. When Italy declared war on Britain and France on June 10th the internment of Italian males was ordered. Many of the Germans interned had opposed the Nazis or were German Jewish refugees. Most of the Italians interned had lived in Britain virtually all their lives and many had sons who were serving in the British military. Others were in Britain because they had opposed Mussolini and later fled their country in fear of their lives. The majority of the men were detained in internment camps on the Isle of Man or Orkney, where they were treated inhumanely.

A policy of deporting internees was in place and on 1st July 1940 the SS Arandora Star, a converted cruise liner, sailed from Liverpool for Canada with 1,864 people on board. Of these 734 were Italian internees, 479 were German internees, 89 were German prisoners of war and the rest were guards and crew, 80% of the crew having been newly signed on that morning. The internees were forced to sail in appalling conditions, packed onto a ship built to carry only 250 passengers and extended, in wartime, to carry 200 more.

The ship was painted battleship grey, making her look like a troop carrier, and displayed no Red Cross flag, which would have distinguished her as a vessel carrying civilians. On her second day out from Liverpool the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine off the west coast of Ireland. There had been no lifeboat drills, the rafts were immovably strapped to the sides of the ship anyway, and few lifejackets had been issued. In addition, the decks and the lifeboats were separated by walls of barbed wire - a measure which the Captain had protested about before sailing. Most of the Italians did not stand a chance , as they had come from mountainous areas of Italy and had never learnt to swim. A total of 486 Italians lost their lives and those who did survive the freezing sea were again harshly treated after being rescued. Some were later deported to Australia.
When the British media reported the tragedy, the public were told that Nazis on board had dashed for the lifeboats knocking everyone else out of the way. No mention was made of the fact that respectable people who had made positive contributions to British society had been on board, along with refugees who had risked their lives, in their own countries, for the very freedoms the British now claimed to be fighting for.

No apology has ever been made by a British government.

You can read personal stories regarding the tragedy here . The story is also told in Mary Contini's Dear Olivia and figures in a novel by Francine StockA Foreign Country.

Update, 2.7.12:
A memorial to the 241 London Italians who died in the tragedy was unveiled in St Peter's Italian Church in London yesterday.


Rosaria Williams said...

I didn't know!
What a shameful tragedy, indeed.

jams o donnell said...

I'm glad to hear that there is now a memorial to those who died on the Arndora Star.Long overdue.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Rosaria. Yes, terrible. Hi, jams. Yes, it took a long time.

Sean Jeating said...

You did not yet stumble upon this very post about Orkney's Italian Chapel, in which I linked to your first post about the Arandora Star, in October 2009, did you, Lady Limoncello? :)

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Sean, I'm so sorry I missed that at the time. It's a lovely post and thank you.

Dragonstar said...

I had no idea about this. Shameful indeed - even criminal!

Claude said...

Shameful! Shameful! Shameful! Were they sailing to Canada to join other "prisoners" of our Canadian concentration camps? YES! We had concentration camps in Canada filled with good Canadian citizens. One of the most disgusting things we ever did in my country.

I was just a young kid when I learned that my dear old friend, Antonio Capobianco, was going to a jail. He was a family friend, active in politics with my mother (who was an early suffragette.) He had worked so hard with her Quebec group, in the 30s, to obtain the right to vote for women. All his children and grandchildren had been born in Canada. He still kept in touch with old family members in Italy, sending them a bit of money at Christmas and Birthdays. That made him a "fascist", a "spy" and a Mussolini supporter!!! I remember all the phone calls my mother made to no avail. All the Italians we knew, whole families, were dispossessed and put behind bars. Also the Canadian Germans, and the Japanese Canadians. Good decent citizens of my country. I kept asking why, and crying, whenever people I knew and loved were being "rounded" and "shipped" to an undisclosed location.

At 82, I'm still crying! And I'm adding the "Arandora Star" tragedy to the list of criminal acts so-called righteous countries commit in wartime. We have no finger to point at anyone.

May God have mercy on the souls of our leaders!

Gledwood said...

Class A, B and C "enemy aliens"..?

It makes them sound like illegal drugs!

Gledwood said...

I saw a thing about some women who were interned on the Isle of Man and got to stay in a seaside hotel free of charge the entire length of the war!

(But maybe they were Class C aliens..? Who knows?)

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Dragonstar. Yes, criminal. Dearest Claude, Thank you for sharing that heartbreaking story. So many affected - and they had done nothing. I don't know how politicians involved in this kind of action could sleep at night.
Hi, Gleds. It does, rather! As for the ladies on the Isle of Man, I don't think women were regarded as being so dangerous at the time.

James Higham said...

Some were later deported to Australia.

Where, with the Germans, they set up the Australian wine industry.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

You're always a mine of information, James.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Shameful and horrible.

I was appalled to learn too, when on holiday in Canada, that out the outbreak of war anyone with Japanese ancestry was interned there, too, and kept in virtual slavery for the duration. Some of those were actually legally Canadian citizens, too, and all of them had their property and business confiscated.

Also shameful and horrible - even Canada was not innocent of this sort of thing.

But otoh I don't approve of apologies (invariably insincere) made by modern politicians. They, and we, cannot put ourselves in the minds of those who made such decisions; apart from anything else, we know the outcome.

Regret and private sorrow, yes; public grandstanding, no thanks.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi again, WY. Shameful that this kind of thing even happened in Canada, as you say. I agree about "public grandstanding" but I think an admission of wrongdoing is called for.

Pastor Clappy said...

There's a sad sequel to this sad story at

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks for the link, Pastor Clappy. Very sad, as you say.


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