Sinking of the Arandora Star

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 4 (Jul/Aug 2008), Letters, Letters, News, Reviews, The Emergency, Volume 16

Sir,

—Michael Kennedy’s article in the last issue, ‘“Men that came in with the sea”: the Coastwatching Service and the sinking of the Arandora Star’, showed the function of the lookout posts, and I am looking forward to reading the author’s book, Guarding neutral Ireland: the coast watching service and military intelligence, 1939–1945. The sad story of the sinking is just another one of a myriad.
In The Scotsman newspaper ‘Supplement of the Year’ (9 June 2001), journalist Simon Pia writes of the treatment of the Scots-Italians by the British authorities during World War II and the ‘popular xenophobia, racism, political cynicism and press hysteria’ that was set in motion then. These Scots-Italians had come as very poor immigrants to Scotland, some at the end of the nineteenth century and others after the First World War. Simon Pia’s own father, Gerardo (Gerry) Pia, and Gerry’s brother, Joe, were both born in Scotland and had set up a confectionery business in Edinburgh just before World War II. They were interned during the war and their uncle, Alfonso Crolla, was one of those who died on the Arandora Star.
It should be noted that the Arandora Star bore no Red Cross markings to signify that there were civilians aboard, had insufficient lifeboats, and that the decks were illegally covered with barbed wire. Sensitive material from the official inquiry on the sinking is still protected from disclosure until 2015.
The Arandora Star was torpedoed on 2 July 1940, and after some hours survivors were picked up by the Canadian destroyer HMCS St Laurent. On 11 July 1940 the troopship Dunera sailed from Liverpool for Australia with about 2,500 internees, and among them were many of those who had survived the sinking of the Arandora Star the week before. When the Dunera eventually reached Australia, the terrible condition of the internees caused such an outcry that the commanding officer, Lt. Col. Scott, was court-martialled and severely reprimanded.
Simon Pia barely knew his father Gerry, who had died when Simon was just five years of age. I met Gerry Pia first in 1947, when my mother and I stayed with him and his wife, Margaret Hughes, in their Edinburgh apartment. Gerry Pia’s wife, Simon’s mother, is a first cousin of mine on my father’s side. Other cousins on my father’s side also told me of the Scots-Italians story, for instance Margaret Clarke, born McFaul. She remembers well Joe Bertolini, in Stobcross Street, Glasgow, a poor harmless man, she says, who, with his wife and two daughters, ran a fish restaurant across the street from her father’s shop. She remembers vividly the anti-Italian rioting in 1940 and poor Mr Bertolini being drowned when the Arandora Star was sunk.

—Is mise . . .
ART Ó MAOLFABHAIL
Caisleán Cnucha
Baile Átha Cliath 15

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