Page last updated at 07:57 GMT, Wednesday, 2 July 2008 08:57 UK

A star which scarred a community

Arandora Star - Picture Courtesy National Maritime Museum
The Arandora Star was sunk by a torpedo from a German U boat on 2 July 1940. Hundreds of internees on board died. Picture courtesy National Maritime Museum

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
BBC Scotland news website

When I was growing up they were the two words which could bring a cloud into any conversation.

They were whispered in the back shops of the Scottish Italian community or muttered quickly in the hope that they would never need to be mentioned again.

Arandora Star.

I thought everybody knew the story of the boat which sank off the Irish coast with the loss of nearly 700 lives - the majority of them Italian nationals.

As I got older, however, I realised this was not the case.

Indeed, there were only puzzled looks when you mentioned the name of the liner which sank during World War 2 while carrying hundreds of Italian and German internees.

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill called for Italian nationals to be interned

Yet 2 July 1940 is a date which carries a terrible echo for descendants of the many immigrants who died.

It brought home the reality of conflict to hundreds of people who had spent the pre-war years selling ice cream or fish and chips.

Italy had only entered the war against Britain a few weeks earlier.

That prompted Prime Minister Winston Churchill seek the internment of thousands of immigrants.

Many Italians were taken to a camp on the Isle of Man but hundreds of others went on board the Arandora Star in Liverpool, destined for Canada.

Most Italian families who have been in Scotland since the 1930s or before know somebody who embarked on that journey.

My own grandmother's first husband was on the ship when it was struck by a torpedo from a German U boat.

He was one of the "lucky" ones who survived, unlike 446 of his fellow countrymen.

Grossly overloaded

He was brought ashore and put on another ship, this time bound for Australia.

He died not long after he got there.

The recriminations about the incident have continued despite the passing years.

It has been claimed the Arandora Star was not properly identified as carrying internees, had inadequate lifeboat provision and was grossly overloaded.

However, many of the victims' relatives - like my grandmother - did not want to make a fuss.

Artist's impression of cloister garden
Plans were unveiled for the memorial in Glasgow earlier this year

She moved on, married again and started a family - although she never forgot the disaster.

Earlier this year, an appeal fund was launched to build an Italian cloister garden in Glasgow to commemorate this "forgotten tragedy".

Campaigners hope to raise 1.5m to construct the memorial next to St Andrew's Cathedral in Clyde Street.

Details of the project were announced by First Minister Alex Salmond and Archbishop Mario Conti.

Archbishop Conti said at the time he hoped the monument would be a "fitting symbol" of the friendship between Scotland and Italy.

For some people, it does not go far enough, and they would like to see an official apology or compensation come from the UK government.

However, at least after 68 years, some kind of significant tribute is being made to those who lost their lives.

It is just a shame that so few of the people directly affected by the tragedy will be around to see it.

Garden to commemorate war tragedy
28 May 08 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West

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