Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Arandora Star

The Arandora Star

The Arandora Star was the one-time flag ship of the Blue Star Line converted as a troop ship in 1939. In July 1940 it left Liverpool on route for Canada with Italian internees and German prisoners of war on board. On 2nd July off Malin Head, the northernmost point of Ireland it was sunk by U-boat U-47 commanded by Gunther Prien.

U-47 had previous been part of the pack that had attacked the British at Scapa Flow and had sunk the Royal Oak.

Unescorted, the Arandora Star painted battleship grey had no distinguishing marks and seemed an easy target to the U-boat commander. He had only one torpedo left, but used it with deadly effect. 682 lives, mostly Italians, were lost. Bodies came ashore on the coast of Scotland and in Ireland, down as far as County Mayo. A four part Youtube video by Archie Lindsey tells the story of the bodies washed up in Ireland – Germans, Italians and the British Army guards.

In early June 1940 Italian joined the war siding with the Germans. The fear of fifth columnists was high and Churchill gave the order for all Italian nationals in Britain to be rounded up and interned. Camps were set up in the Isle of Man, Huyton and elsewhere.

At midnight on the day the Italians entered the war the Chief Constable of Middlesbrough had a list of Italians in the town who were to be rounded up. Shortly after midnight the cells were full of the males from well known Italian families. Their shops and restaurants were damaged in rioting in the town.

On 2nd July this year at a ceremony in the Town Hall a plaque was unveiled to those who lost their lives on the Arandora Star. Ray Mallon, the Middlesbrough Mayor, apologised to the relatives of the families who lost their menfolk. Although a Sunderland flying boat had heard the mayday from the Arandora Star it was 6.1/2 hours before the first ship, the Canadian St Laurent, reached the scene to pick up survivors.

The lost of the Arandora Star was not reported for several weeks and then only after bodies were being washed ashore. Lost of life was made worst by the fact that prisoners and internees were below decks with hatches surrounded by barbed wire. It was said the ship only had about a dozen life boats. Archie Lindsey’s video shows the remains on one that reached the shore.

The Italians originated from places like Arpino and Cassino. 48 of those lost came from Bardi. Where there is a memorial to all who lost their lives with their place of origin. There are other memorials to the Arandora Star in Scotland, at the Italian Church in Clerkenwell and on Liverpool Pier Head.

The lost of the Arandora Star is described in Alastair Maclean’s ‘The Lonely Sea.’ The book ‘From Oblivion to Memory,’ with alternate pages in English and Italian by Maria Serena Balestracci, was signed by the Italian relatives and presented to the mayor at the unveiling of the Middlesbrough plaque in July.

{Based on a Books and Banter talk at Stockton on 14 October 2009. Photo from Google image of the Arandora Star – most of which are linked to other accounts of its loss}

No comments: