Nicola Cua

Nicola Cua

Northern Italy – London
1916 – 1992
Origin: Italy

Nicola’s Early Life

Nicola was born in a small village between Turin and Milan. His family worked on the land, but employment was difficult to find. The family moved to London in 1919 and Nicola grew up in a small flat in Soho. He went to secretarial college and was working as a salesman in a tailors when war broke out.

Nicola’s Internment

When Italy joined the war on the side of Germany in 1940, the British government decided to arrest all Italian men. Nicola was taken away by two plain clothed police officers, but was reassured that his father Giovanni would not be interned.


Listen to Nicola talk about the circumstances surrounding his arrest. © IWM, no. 11485

Nicola was first escorted to Brompton Oratory and Lingfield Park, both used as temporary holding centres. He was then taken by train to Bury.

At Warth Mills, Nicola became friends with a number of other young Italian internees, including Vittorio Tolaini. They were nicknamed the ‘dead end kids’.


Listen to Nicola talk about his group of friends at Warth Mills and how he discovered his father had been interned. © IWM, no. 11485

However horrendous the conditions at Warth Mills, Nicola and his group of young friends managed to have fun and kept the older internees awake at night with songs and jokes.

After three weeks, Nicola and the other Italian internees – which now included Giovanni Cua – were put into groups. The men were taken to Liverpool to be confronted by the huge SS Arandora Star.

SS Arandora Star

Listen to Nicola talk about how he found himself on the SS Arandora Star. © IWM, no. 11485

On 2 July 1940, while en route to Canada, the SS Arandora Star was struck by a German torpedo. Nicola and Vittorio ran to the bridge to dive into the sea. They managed to get to a rescue boat while men around them were dragged under the water by the sinking ship.


Listen to Nicola talk about how he – and his father - escaped the sinking SS Arandora Star. © IWM, no. 11485

The survivors were picked up by a Canadian destroyer, HMCS St Laurent, and taken to Greenock in Scotland. However, their internment story would not end there. A few days later, Nicola and Vittorio were put on board HMT Dunera and taken to Australia.

Treatment on HMT Dunera was so bad that the British guards were court-marshalled on arrival in Australia. Nicola would work in the kitchens alongside Italians who had been chefs back in Britain. He would use these skills when they eventually returned to London.

Life After the War

In 1946, Nicola and Vittorio arrived back in England. Together with Vittorio’s new wife, they started the Sanremo Restaurant in Tooting which they ran for 21 years.

Both Nicola and Vittorio would talk about their experiences of internment, with Nicola leaving an oral history and Vittorio writing a book, Voyage of an Alien. They would also attend annual memorials to the victims of the SS Arandora Star.

Nicola Cua died in London on 30 September 1992. Vittorio Tolaini died a few months later – 53 years to the day after the sinking of the SS Arandora Star.

To listen to Nicola Cua’s full oral history, go to the Imperial War Museum website / catalogue number 11485.

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