Page last updated at 08:32 GMT, Saturday, 16 May 2009 09:32 UK

Innocents killed on sunken liner

By Gemma Ryall
BBC news website

The Arandora Star was a tragedy that was barely talked about in Welsh Italian communities for years - and is still a sensitive topic for those who lost husbands, fathers, sons and brothers.

Dragged from the lives they had made for themselves in Britain, the Italian men were arrested and interned on Winston Churchill's orders after Italy joined World War II.

Hundreds were then put on the Arandora Star liner - painted grey with barbed wire and no Red Cross logo to signal they were not soldiers - to take them to prison camps in Canada.

They never made it. The Arandora Star was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the Irish coast, killing more than 800 men , the majority of whom had committed no crime and who were only targeted because of their heritage.

It is only now - decades after the disaster and after relentless research - that many Welsh Italians have been able to get a fuller picture of what happened to their relatives.

As plans are made to erect a memorial to them, here are some of their stories.

The father taken away in front of his young daughter

Giovanni Cavalli
Giovanni Cavalli's daughter Lina, 15, saw him taken away

Andrew Rossi says he has hardly ever witnessed his mother crying - apart from when she talks about the Arandora Star.

"She's so bitter still about it and she's 85 now," he said.

"She doesn't talk about it much because it upsets her and she never finishes telling us about it."

His mother Lina was in her parents' cafe in Neath when police came to arrest her father Giovanni Cavalli, who had moved to Wales from Bardi, northern Italy, after World War I.

She was just 15 and watched as her father was taken away.

"Before they took him away they went through the whole house and café," said Mr Rossi.

"Taking binoculars, radios and anything else they thought could be used against Britain."

Mr Cavalli was taken from Neath to Cardiff, the Isle of Man and eventually on to Liverpool - and the Arandora Star.

"My grandmother was not told anything officially, but she heard through the Red Cross of what had happened, and that he had drowned."

Luigi Rossi
Luigi Rossi died, despite his brother's efforts to save him

Meanwhile, Mr Rossi's other grandfather Raphael Rossi and his wife and children went to live in Swansea, where they opened Rossi's café.

It was here on 10 June, 1940 that his uncles Luigi and Joe were both arrested in the café.

His father Mario was spared because he was born in Swansea.

The uncles were on the Arandora Star when it was torpedoed.

"Both my uncles ended up in the water," said Mr Rossi, who lives in Neath.

"Uncle Joe held up his brother Luigi for about eight hours, but when they were eventually rescued Uncle Joe was told to let go of Luigi as he was already dead.

"Uncle Joe was then taken to Scotland and then transferred to the S.S.Dunera. He then served out the rest of the war in Tatura internment camp [in Australia]."

Mr Rossi added: "After finding out what my grandfather and uncles went through as innocent people who were of no threat to anyone, it makes me cross and angry."

The Italian whose sons fought for Britain

Michele DiMarco
Michele DiMarco had lived in Wales for 30 years when he was arrested

George Hill's grandfather Michele DiMarco was 50 when he died on the Arandora Star.

He had settled in Swansea in 1910, where he ran three ice cream parlours and brought up a family with his wife Maria.

His two sons Gerald and Leslie DiMarco were called up to fight for Britain in World War II in 1939, serving with the South Wales Borderers and the RAF respectively.

"But despite this, my grandfather was arrested after Winston Churchill made a decision when Italy declared war to round up all the Italians in Britain to intern them," said Mr Hill, from Swansea.

"All of our family pictures and stuff were taken at the same time as he was taken away by the police. They thought they could prove he was a traitor or a fascist, which of course, he wasn't.

"My grandmother didn't even know where he had been taken until she heard he had died."

Gerald DiMarco and George Hill
George Hill's uncle Gerald DiMarco had fought for Britain in World War II

Of the liner's sinking, he said: "I think my grandfather had a broken arm at the time, I've been told. I think he must have been trapped down below where a lot of them were.

"Bodies were washed up but my grandfather was never found.

"I never met him because I was born in 1947 and I regret that. If he'd lived I could have been a part of his life. Bitterness can't come, even though I am a bit bitter. Life goes on."

He said his family - especially his grandmother - never talked about the tragedy.

"It wasn't spoken about. People just didn't speak about the Arandora Star," he said.

"My grandmother just got on with things and it was only after her funeral that I started to learn about the Arandora Star and in later life I've researched it."

Gerald DiMarco, who is 92 and still alive, has only started to talk about the Arandora Star in the last five years or so, Mr Hill said.

"Since I started feeding him information and pictures I uncovered doing my research, he has started to talk about it a bit more," he said.

"It's nice to hear memories about my grandfather now, it's wonderful. I hope that the younger generation are made aware of what happened.

"I have five grandchildren and I tell them about the Arandorra Star. I think it's so important they know what happened."

The survivor who was in the water for eight hours

Giuseppe and Carmela Pelosi
Giuseppe and Carmela Pelosi ran cafes in Swansea after moving from Italy

Paulette Pelosi's grandfather Giuseppe Pelosi travelled to Wales from Italy in 1907, settling in Swansea with his wife Carmela, where they ran a number of cafes.

"He was rounded up in June and, according to letters that have been found there, held at an internment camp near Bury, Lanarkshire, until July, when they were put on the Arandora Star with Michele DiMarco, his broher-in-law (George Hill's grandfather).

"My grandfather was with another Swansea man on the ship, Angelo Greco, who had a little votive candle.

"When the Arandora Star went down, he apparently used the candle to get help and my grandfather survived.

"A lot of the men couldn't swim because they came from the mountainous regions of Italy. My grandfather was in the water for eight hours holding onto a piece of wood before he was rescued.

"There was an awful lot of black oil pulling people down. He was very lucky."

Giuseppe and Carmela Pelosi and their children
Giuseppe, pictured with his wife and children, survived the Arandora Star

However, those who survived were taken to Greenock in Scotland and put on another ship - the Dunera - to sail to Australia, a treacherous journey with "horrendous conditions" that took nearly two months.

There, the men were once again put in prison camps.

"He was taken to camp in Tatura [in Victoria] I believe," said Ms Pelosi, from Swansea.

"He was eventually released but he was too worried to come home during the war. So he stayed in the camp for four years.

"He came home after the war and was reunited with my grandmother. He died aged 69 in 1951.

"One of my cousins said when he was away they were told not to talk about it.

"I think now more and more I would have loved to have talked to him about it. Whether he would have wanted to talk about it I don't know.

"He was a very intelligent man and Tatura was like a mini university - a lot of the people sent there were artists. And the food there was great apparently because the head chef of the Waldorf hotel was held there.

"There's so much that happened that we're only now learning about. Time is going on, it's nearly 70 years since it happened. But it's important we know these things."

Print Sponsor

Memorial plans for liner victims
16 May 09 |  Wales
A star which scarred a community
02 Jul 08 |  Scotland
Victims of sunken liner honoured
02 Jul 08 |  Merseyside
Garden to commemorate war tragedy
28 May 08 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West


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