We were all thinking this would be the Arandora Star all over again, and you can imagine how we were terrified. However, the torpedo appeared not to have done any serious damage, because the vessel sailed on, to South Africa and then Australia, where Bertoia and his fellows were interned north of Melbourne for the rest of the war. Some of the Dunera's officers were later courtmartialled for their ill-treatment of their charges and these abuses, as well as the Arandora Star tragedy, did something to bring about an end to mass internment in Britain by Bertoia is characteristically offhand about his own treatment on the voyage to Australia.
I lost a gold watch.
The Loss of the Arandora Star, 1940
But it was wartimem so I never complained," he remarks. Unlike many Italian immigrants to Scotland, Bertoia's family business had been in the mosaic and terrazzo work associated with their native Pordenone province in north-east Italy, rather than the fish and chips and ice-cream businesses that so many Scots Italians ran. After returning from the war, however, he joined his brother in running a watchmaker's business, which was a well-known frontage in Victoria Road, near his present southside of Glasgow home, until just a few years ago.
Bertoia will be an honoured guest at the memorial service on the site of the Italian Cloister Garden emerging from building-site rubble adjacent to St Andrew's Cathedral, itself undergoing a major refurbishment.
What will his thoughts be at the service? He was one of the lucky ones. All along the Atlantic coasts of north-west Ireland and the Hebrides, sad little graves and plaques bearing Italian names, some juxtaposed with Gaelic scriptural quotations, testify to the grim flotsam washed up on these western shores in the weeks following the torpedoing of the Arandora Star. In the Glasgow cloister garden, designed by the Roman architect Giulia Chiarini, a marble slab on a central plinth will be inscribed with the names of more than 90 Scots Italians known to have perished in the sinking, among them names which have become familiar in Scottish public life — Angiolini, Beltrami, Crolla, De Marco, Di Luca….
Within such families, there has lingered the repressed pain of a father or brother taken away by the police after a knock on the door during the night and never seen again. According to Glasgow's Archbishop Mario Conti, the idea behind the garden "is not to open old wounds or ignite controversy. It is there to acknowledge a tragedy which had been ignored and forgotten, with the aim of healing memories". Following the service at the Glasgow garden site on Friday, a requiem mass at St Mary's RC Cathedral in Edinburgh will also mark the 70th anniversary of the disaster.
During it, two men from Edinburgh Italian families will sing a song about the sinking. One of them is Mike Maran, the Edinburgh-born, Cambridge-based writer-actor who has been bringing his minimalist musical theatre to the Fringe for decades, who wrote the song 17 years ago for one of his shows exploring his Scots Italian background, Italia 'n' Caledonia.
2nd July : The Arandora Star sunk
There is a certain irony, agrees Contini, that this festival they will present a revised version of Italia 'n' Caledonia in the delicatessen which, like so many other Italian premises in Edinburgh, Glasgow and elsewhere, had its shop front smashed during the fierce anti-Italian rioting that broke out following Mussolini's declaration of war in June Both Contini and his wife and business partner, Mary Contini, who evokes the events of in her book Dear Olivia, never knew their grandfathers, both of whom were lost with the Arandora Star. My mother is in her eighties and she feels it's right to commemorate this 70th anniversary, but she's got mixed feelings about bringing it all back up again.
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Her father, Alfonso Crolla, who was decorated in the First World War fighting in the Italian Army alongside the British on the Austrian front, was 52 when they took him away. They all thought they'd see him shortly, but they never saw him again — no chance to say proper goodbyes. There have been calls in the past for some form of official apology for, or acknowledgement of, the wholesale rounding-up of Italian men that dark summer of , following Winston Churchill's "collar the lot" directive.
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Contini, who feels this 70th anniversary is an appropriate time for him to acknowledge openly that his grandfather was the leader of the Edinburgh fascio — the local Italian fascist club, which many attended for purely social reasons — sees no grounds for official apologies now. Maran also sees nothing to apologise for — "just a series of mistakes. It is the largest monument to the disaster anywhere in the world.
Inscriptions on the Central Monument. The inscriptions on the central monument have been carefully chosen from the Gospels and the great Italian poets to reflect on the great mysteries of love and loss, life and death, especially in the light of the Arandora Star tragedy.
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Lord, you know so well that my hope lies in you alone. Love casts out fear. In His will is our peace: that sea to which everything flows. The building and opening of the Italian Cloister Garden brought much media interest. Click on the links below to read and see some of the coverage.
Barga remembers the victims of Arandora Star
BBC news coverage here. STV news coverage here. The Herald coverage here. Paisley Daily Express coverage here.
The garden has already attracted some high profile visitors. Violinist Nicola Benedetti visited as part of the launch of her new musical collection "Italia". The Archbishop thanked them for their generous contribution to the project.
A Facebook page has been set up to exchange information and news about the Arandora Star Tragedy. It has links to other memorials round the world. It can be found here:.
Welcome to the Italian Cloister Garden Website.
Related Arandora Star
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