Kevin Brown Historian

History of health, medicine and naval history

Arandora Star: a needless sacrifice of life

memorial

memorial (Photo credit: Yersinia)

There is a cruel irony in an emigrant coming to a new country in search of a better life, establishing a business and family, only to be deported as an enemy alien in wartime. That was the fate of many of the Italian and German emigrants who were rounded up in 1940 and sent off to internment in Canada and Australia. Their only offence was not to have taken out British citizenship, despite many of them having been resident in the United Kingdom for decades and being well integrated into their adopted communities. Others were more recent refugees from fascism, some of them Jewish, and they faced the ignominy of being rounded up with fascist sympathisers when Winston Churchill gave out the instruction to ‘collar the lot!’. Some of the 1,190 of them embarked on the cruise ship Arandora Star from Liverpool for deportation to Canada were to meet a watery grave when the ship was sunk by a German submarine at 6.58 on 2 July 1940.

Guido Conti

Guido Conti, never to see his new born son

The majority of the internees travelling on the Arandora Star were middle aged café and restaurant owners, caterers, shopkeepers and waiters with a recognised position in their adopted communities. One of the men whose bodies was recovered, Giovanni Marenghi, was identified by the receipt for his membership of the Pontypridd Bowls Club found in his pocket.

The older and more infirm were trapped on the ship unable to get past the barbed wire barricades obstructing the decks of a luxury cruise liner designed to carry 354 passengers. Unfairly, accounts of the sinking tried to accuse the Italians of panic and selfishness, contributing to the loss of life through fighting amongst themselves though there was no reliable evidence of this.

Luigi Rossi

Luigi Rossi, whom brotherly devotion could not save

Even those who made it off the ship were lucky to survive. The Rossi brothers from Swansea clung together for 8 hours in the cold waters of the Atlantic, but had to be separated when picked up by a British ship as one of them, 32 year old Luigi, was dead and his body had to be left behind by his 17 year old brother Giuseppe.

Guido Conti, a native of Bardi who had settled in Newport, was clinging to a wooden plank when he saw a friend who he knew to be a less strong swimmer than himself. Altruistically he gave up his wooden float, but was not to survive. What adds poignancy to Conti’s story is that, the day before he boarded the Arandora Star, he had just heard the news that his wife had given birth to a son.

Guido Conti

Guido Conti, a hero who should never have had to sacrifice his life for others

It was not the end of the ordeal for many of the survivors, who were deported on the Dunera to Australia on a two months long voyage, having first been robbed of many of their remaining possessions, though some had boarded the Arandora Star with little more than a toothbrush and a piece of soap. When this ship was attacked by a u-boat, the survivors of the Arandora Star feared another sinking, but were confined to their cabins by their guards.

It is not an edifying story and it is a tale of an injustice. Even making allowance for the panic, prejudices and political pressures of the invasion summer of 1940, it was iniquitous to presume that the innocent were guilty just because of where they had been born. No one could have predicted this particular sinking despite the known hazards of sea travel in wartime, but the victims of the Arandora Star should not have been deported in the first place, should never have been on the ship.

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