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The Story of the Italians in Britain WW2

by Italiani

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Archive List > Civilian Internment

Contributed by 
Italiani
People in story: 
The Italian Community
Location of story: 
Scotland
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3174400
Contributed on: 
24 October 2004

Many aspects of World War 2 are ever present with us through the media eg films, documentation etc.
However one aspect and one people have never been included in any films or books for that matter, and these people lived here in Britain. These people were the greatest immigrant asset that the british people have ever known (at least in recent times). These people were not integrated into the community by some government office. These were the people who were at the receiving end of racist torture. For them there were no government handouts nor did they take jobs "ear marked" for the indigineous population. Infact they created job opportunities. How were these people repayed for this service?
During World War 2 they were "round up" in the middle of the night, sent away from theirfamilies who(in many cases spoke little English), their businesses destroyed,
and in the case of the Arandora Star ship sent to Canada with a skeleton crew and no red cross. On the way the ship was bombed and hundreds lost their lives.
At home the police turned a blind eye as the "mob" looted and detroyed their homes and shops.
These people were the Italians!
They had left their sun kissed landed, their spacious homes to make their fortunes.

Unlike the Irish these people, they did not ask for any special provisions eg. Catholic State schools. They would have made their own way in Education.
They were NO threat to anyone.

Nowadays the British people are trully impressed with Tuscany, where many of these people came from. Then it was a case of "Dirty Tally". The German soldiers prisoners of War were treated much better.
After the war not one of these maltreated individuals ever complained to the British Government nor asked anyone for compensation for waht happened.
Moreover, the vast majority did not support Mussolini and their relatives in Italy.......... Partisans hid escaped allied soldiers from the Nazis. My own grandparents did this. Many people were shot, (in my village of origin,) in Northern Tuscany by Nazi soldiers.

What are they doing now? Well, if we look at the Italian surnames in the Arts, Business and Commerce in Scotland we will found that they outweigh all others in proportion to the numbers in the community.
To name just a few.... Tom Conti, Daniella Nardini, Archbishop Conti, Sergio Casci etc etc
There is one Catholic Private School in the West of Scotland. The Catholic population here is approx. 50% of the total population. Italians are less than 5%. Yet in the school 30% of the pupils are from Italian descent.
In short, the successes of the Italian Community in Scotland far outweigh any other group per capita.

All of what I have said and more now exists on the net. Try searching ship Arandora Star eg.

Go on give us a "new" War film or documentary.

Later, if the BBC does not take up this challenge I will pass this information onto the RAI.

Thanks for reading.

M.A. Biagi

PS Should you weish me to recount an actual story then I could do on request.

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Message 1 - The Story of the Italians in Britain WW2

Posted on: 24 October 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Mr Biagi

I think you have to put things in context. On 10 June 1940 Mussolini declared war on Britain and France; Britain had no intention of attacking Italy and right until the last day did her best to keep Italy out of the war. See Ciano's diary for 10 June 1940, when he told the French Ambassador of the decision Poncet replied "It is a dagger-blow at a man who has already fallen". Ciano concluded that diary entry with "I am sad, very sad. The adventure begins, May God help Italy!"

However, once war had been declared all Italians resident in Britain became enemy aliens, just as British people in Italy became enemy aliens there. There was no question of 'racist torture' as you put it.

You say that 'Partisans hid escaped allied soldiers from the Nazis', that is true, but that wasn't until much after the fall of Mussolini in July 1943. Until then there were no partisans nor were any Allied soldiers roaming around.

Kindest regards,

Peter

 

Message 2 - The Story of the Italians in Britain WW2

Posted on: 24 October 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

See my comments here F1921719?thread=510913 on the duplicate entry of this story.

 

Message 3 - The Story of the Italians in Britain WW2

Posted on: 24 October 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Ignore Message 2 above, I meant to append it to the duplicate entry, sorry.

Peter

 

Message 4 - The Story of the Italians in Britain WW2

Posted on: 27 October 2004 by Italiani

OK so you've read the history books. You have not LIVEd it.

 

Message 5 - The Story of the Italians in Britain WW2

Posted on: 27 October 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Well, as a matter of fact I have. Click here A1993403

Kind regards

Peter

 

Message 6 - The Story of the Italians in Britain WW2

Posted on: 28 October 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

These are the facts, so far as I know them, partly based on 'history books' and partly on my family's experience. On the night of 10 June 1940 mobs ransacked Italian property far and wide, and all over Britain. George Orwell, who had seen reports of this, thought it might be press exageration and went to see for himself by taking a walk down Soho. He concluded "it did seem to have been exagerated in the newspapers, but we did see, I think, three shops which had windows smashed". Indeed the violence against Italians was sporadic, but non-the-less terrifying for victims. No violent attacks were reported in Birmingham or Manchester where there were there were large Italian communities. But in Liverpool, Cardiff, Newport, and Swansea there was rampant mob violence. The worst violence took place in Scotland, particularly in Glasgow, Clydebank, and most of all in Edinburgh.

The responsible newspaper 'The Scotsman' reported wrecking of property and looting in Leith with arson attacks, the crowds jeering and singing patriotic songs, many Italians were taken to hospital with head injuries and possibly (not confirmed) one shopkeeper beaten to death. The police did charge the mob on several occasions with truncheons and there were many arrests. As is usual with mobs 'the wrecking activities seemed to be led by a comparitively small number of young men' - mindless yobos as we would call them now. One prominent Italian restaurant owner, who had his premises ransacked, was a British subject and had served in WW1 in a Scottish infantry regiment, another man, the press reported, had two sons in the Black Watch. "Mobs stormed through the streets of Glasgow, throwing bricks and stones at all Italian premises as the owners and their families barricaded themselves in back rooms, and along the Clyde coast the police had difficulty in containing the rioters." records Juliet Gardiner in 'Wartime - Britain 1939-1945'. But this was not racism, but rather bigotted ignorant xenophobia. Gardiner concludes that "The entry of Italy into the war seems to have been the excuse for some, mainly young, men to vent their xenophobia, frustration at unemployment (the incidents were most serious in areas of high youth unemployment) and, in Scotland in particular, anti-Catholicism.

On the next day, Churchill ordered that all male Italians between 17 and 70 years of age who had been resident in Britain for less than twenty years, and all Italians male or female, who were on the MI5 suspect list were to be immediately arrested and interned. But police forces largely ignored these guide lines. For example, in Leeds my father, probably on the MI5 list, was arrested late at night on the 10th. My grandfather, in his 60s, who had been in England since about 1895 and had no political affiliations whatsoever, being a devout Christian, was also interned. In fact, as with all national groups, the Italians in Britain were a mixed lot, most were patriotic, some, like my father, supported Mussolini, others simply used the Italian Fascist Club as a social ex-patriate club, whilst others were anti-fascists. But MI5 and Special Branch made no distinctions and seemed to have little idea of these gradations. They took the slogan "Collar the lot" quite literally.

I have in my possession a copy of a letter, dated 18 October 1940, to the Officer-in-Command, Metropole Internment Camp, Isle of Man, by my grandfather's parish priest, Rev. John Lucey. He begins "I write in the interests of Mr F. Granelli, 39608, House No.3. For close on thirty years I have known him and his family. My people speak in the highest terms of the man in question and I have always found him to be a most loyal subject, quiet and unassuming in manner and character." - he continues for two pages in a similar vein, and concludes "Let me assure you, that, had I not known the circumstances of this case to the extent to which I do, I would not have approached you in this matter. In the interests of all concerned I sincerely hope the Authority will give immediate consideration to this petition ..", but it fell on deaf ears.

Arrest and internment generally followed the same pattern: two or more Special Branch would call and make the arrest and arrange conveyance to a local police station, followed by finger-printing and a couple or more night in a police station cell whilst special tribunals decided what category the arrested person fell into: "A" - high security risk; "B" - doubtful cases; and "C" - no security risk. But tribunals differed widely in their interpretaion of this. Manchester and Croydon seemed to favour "C", whilst in Leeds you were lucky to be classified "B", seemingly having hardly any deserving a "C". They were then transferred to various collecting points after which most were sent to Warth Mills, a large disused cotton mill near Bury in Lancashire used as a transit camp. This was the worst part as they were ill pepared and there was minimal sanitation, some 60 buckets in the yard and 18 cold water taps for 2,000 men of all ages, there was no electricity nor adequate bedding, most sleeping mainly on the floor.

From there they were transported to the Isle of Man, where accommodation was considerably better. Afterwards, on the whole, treatment was humane (with, as always, exceptions) and I do not agree that "The German soldiers prisoners of war were treated much better", nor do I agree, as I have said, that "These were the people who were at the receiving end of racist torture." Much of the anti-alien hysteria was whipped up by the press, foremost being the 'Daily Mail'. They even printed a letter from a retired brigadier suggesting that all aliens, presumably the families of internees, should be made to wear armbands clearly stating their country of origin - hardly an original idea, shades of the Nazi yellow Star of David armbands here? Pondering on all this later, it made me appreciate what Jews have had to endure for 2,000 years, and how quickly normal sane people can be whipped into a baying mindless mob.

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