Page last updated at 08:26 GMT, Saturday, 16 May 2009 09:26 UK

Memorial plans for liner victims

Arandora Star - Picture Courtesy National Maritime Museum
The Arandora Star was a former luxury liner that was painted grey and covered in barbed wire during World War II. Picture courtesy National Maritime Museum

A campaign has been launched to raise money for a memorial to the Welsh Italians who died when a liner they were on was torpedoed in World War II.

Over 800 people - the majority of them of Italian descent - died when the Arandora Star sank as they were being sent to prison camps in Canada.

A group now plans to unveil a plaque in a church in Cardiff on the 70th anniversary of the disaster in 2010.

Other memorials are already in Liverpool, London, Glasgow and Italy.

Bruna Chezzi, secretary of the Arandora Star Memorial Fund in Wales, said the group, many of whom had relatives on the ship, believed it was time Wales also had a way of commemorating the men.

"A lot of the Italians on the Arandora Star were from Wales and I feel very strongly that something should be done to remember these people," she said.

"Liverpool had their memorial last year and it made us realise that Wales has not got anything to mark what happened.

I would say most of them wouldn't have even known about what was going on in Italy with facism. Innocents were put on that ship
Bruna Chezzi

"Our plans are in the early stages and we're desperate for donations."

The group plan to display the memorial in Cardiff Metropolitan Cathedral of St David.

A number of fundraising events are now being arranged, including an 'Italian Evening' of music and food at St David's Catholic church hall in Swansea at 1930 BST on Sunday.

Ms Chezzi, who came to Cardiff from Italy to teach Italian at the city's university, said the group were aware that they were dealing with a "delicate incident", which is still a highly emotive for many Italians.

It is a moment of history which is not widely known about for many people outside Italian communities.

In June 1940, as Italy entered World War II, Winston Churchill ordered that all male Italians living in Britain - aged 18 to 70 - should be arrested.

Despite many having lived in local communities since the turn of the century - and with many of their sons already fighting for Britain in the war - the men were forcibly removed from their homes by the police and the military and interned.

Following a decision to transport a number of internees to Canada and Australia, the liner Arandora Star left Liverpool for Canada carrying around 1,300 Italian, German and Austrian men.

This was the tragedy that stopped everybody else being interned
George Hill, whose grandfather died on the Arandora Star

A former luxury ship, it had been painted grey for the war and had barbed wire around it.

Crucially, it did not have the Red Cross painted on it to indicate it was carrying civilians.

On the morning of 2 July 1940, off the coast of Ireland, the Arandora Star was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank with the loss of over 800 lives - which included more than 400 Italians who had made their homes in the UK.

"Many of the people on there were British subjects and had been here for decades and worked very hard to create a new life," said Ms Chezzi.

"I would say most of them wouldn't have even known about what was going on in Italy with fascism. Innocents were put on that ship.

"The members of our committee feel very strongly about it.

"We don't want to bring any negatives or politics into our memorial. It's going to be positive with a positive theme."

Raise awareness

The plaque will remember the 53 Italians from Wales who died and recognise an estimated 54 survivors, many of whom were later sent to prison camps in Australia.

George Hill, from Swansea, whose grandfather Michele DiMarco was killed, said it was time Wales had a memorial to the men it lost.

"Why shouldn't they be on a memorial like all the others?" he said.

Michele DiMarco
George Hill's grandfather Michele DiMarco died on the Arandora Star

"This was the tragedy that stopped everybody else being interned. They [the government] realised it was a big mistake and stopped interning people after the Arandora Star.

"So these men lost their lives to save others losing theirs. They saved so many people and that should be remembered.

"They didn't die in vain."

Sculptor Susanna Ciccotti, who has been asked by the group to make the plaque said she felt it was a subject that more people should be aware of.

"My father came here from Italy in 1953, so it was a long time after the Arandora Star," said Ms Ciccotti, from Swansea.

"It's quite a story and strikes a chord. I knew about it from my father but I didn't know the details until I became involved in this project.

"I was so pleased to be asked to do the plaque because it's important that more people know what happened."

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