The Tragedy of the SS Arandora Star

On 1 July 1940, the SS Arandora Star began its final, fateful voyage, transporting internees from Liverpool to camps in Canada. The ship was hit by a torpedo on the morning of 2 July, killing many of those on board.

By late-June 1940, internees had begun to be moved out of Warth Mills. Most had been transferred to camps on the Isle of Man and, when a new list of names arrived from the Foreign Office, many of the Italians believed they would share the same fate.

On 30 June 1940, hundreds of Italian internees – and some German prisoners of war – were brought to Liverpool from Warth Mills and other smaller camps. Seeing the 15,200 ton ship that they were about to board, the Italian men realised they were bound for somewhere much further away than the Isle of Man.

SS Arandora Star

The SS Arandora Star began life as a refrigerated cargo ship. Originally known as the Arandora, its maiden voyage was on 4 January 1927. Two years later, the ship underwent a full and costly refit, transforming it into a luxury cruise liner. It was also renamed the Arandora Star.

In 1939, the Arandora Star was requisitioned by the British government and converted into a troop carrier. She was painted grey and gun placements added.

Before docking in Liverpool, the SS Arandora Star had rescued Polish refugees trapped by the Germans in the South of France.

A Fateful Passage

On 1 July 1940, the SS Arandora Star set sail from Liverpool. Canada had reluctantly agreed to take Italian internees and German prisoners of war from Britain. Around 1678 men were piled on board a ship designed for 500. Of these, around 734 were Italian internees, many of whom had come from Warth Mills.

The ship wasn’t displaying the International Red Cross symbol to signify civilians were on board, and access to lifeboats was obstructed by heavy wire mesh. It was also sailing without an escort.

At 7am on 2 July 1940, the SS Arandora Star was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland.

Luigi Beschizza

Listen to Luigi Beschizza’s account of the strike on the SS Arandora Star. © IWM, no. 13149

Ivor Duxberry

Listen to Ivor Duxberry, a guard on the SS Arandora Star, describe what he saw after the ship was torpedoed. © IWM, no. 11484

Gino Guarnieri

Listen to Warth Mills internee Gino Guarnieri describe how he escaped the sinking ship. © IWM, no. 11190

The impact of the torpedo killed many of those below deck immediately while others were pulled under the water by the wire mesh or killed diving overboard. The survivors remained in the water for several hours, on lifeboats and holding onto floating debris.

Luigi Beschizza

Listen to Luigi Beschizza describe the experience of being in the water after the SS Arandora Star went down. © IWM, no. 13149

Eventually, the survivors of the SS Arandora Star were rescued by the Canadian destroyer, HMCS Laurent, and taken to Greenock, Scotland.

From here, several of the Italian internees who had been interned at Warth Mills and survived the SS Arandora Star were returned to Liverpool and placed on the SS Dunera for transportation to camps in Australia. They would spend the remainder of the war here.

At Warth Mills Camp

At Warth Mills, preparations were being made to turn the internment camp into a prisoner of war camp. The last Italian internee was Gaetano Rossi, a priest from Glasgow. He was working and living in the office at Warth Mills, charged with sorting through requests for information from people with loved ones on the SS Arandora Star.

Gaetano Rossi

Listen to Italian priest Gaetano Rossi describe dealing with the aftermath of the SS Arandora Star tragedy at Warth Mills. © IWM, no. 12911

The Aftermath

For some two months after the tragedy, bodies of the victims were washed up on the north coast of Ireland and the west coast of Scotland. Though identification proved extremely difficult, they were collected and buried by local people in their cemeteries and graveyards.

A total of 486 Italian internees died on board the SS Arandora Star. Many had spent their final days at Warth Mills.

The Legacy

The tragedy of the SS Arandora Star was most keenly felt in the Italian communities across Britain. But the circumstances that had led to the killing of over 400 men – chefs, waiters, business owners – was now subject to scrutiny.

Lord Snell was commissioned by the British Government to report on the tragedy against a backdrop of growing public antipathy towards internment.

Stefano Paolini presents his talk, ‘The Tragedy of the SS Arandora Star’, at The Fusilier Museum, Bury on Saturday 11 August, 2018. For more information, visit the Events page.

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