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My Father's Internment

by dancingswanlake

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Archive List > Civilian Internment

Alberto selling his ice cream on Burnham beach in 1939/1940.

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People in story: 
Alberto and Luisa Bertorelli
Location of story: 
various UK Somerset Isle of Man
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Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
22 March 2005


Alberto was born on the 31st of August in 1903 in the little village of Gravago, Bardi, in Italy; he was the third youngest of four. He had one brother and two sisters. His family were very poor; they had a smallholding of a few farm animals to support them. It was a hard and frugal life.
In 1920/21 when he was 17 ½ years he left home and went to Wales to work for an Italian family by the name of Carpanini who owned a café; in order to supplement his family back home. The café was situated in the region of Merthyr Tydfil. Alberto worked very long hours from early morning until late at night, as it also involved preparation of food and the washing and cleaning of the utensils used during the day; as well as cleaning the tables, chairs and floors in readiness for the early morning start. In time he became very adept at his job and the Carpanini family were very happy with his work, so much so that he was transferred to the other shops in the area and also learnt the art of baking, which included bread and various mouth watering delicious cakes. In time he was given the responsibility of window-dressing the other shops in the area. He became an expert in this field and enjoyed his work immensely. He also visited the areas of Rhondda Valley and Tredegar.
At some point Alberto did plan to buy a horse and cart to start on his own, selling ice-cream; but unfortunately his cousin Severo Resteghini who was living in Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, became very ill and was asked to give him a helping hand.
In 1934/35 he left Wales and moved down to Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, England, to help his cousin Severo Resteghini. Severo was married, but his wife was unable to take care of the business. Alberto came to help his cousin. In the end Severo was advised to go back to Italy to see whether his health could be improved, but sadly it was too late and died shortly afterwards. His wife then returned to their village in Italy for the funeral, and she too died shortly afterwards due to catching a severe chill and left two young children who were taken care of by their grandmother in Italy.
Alberto, then felt obliged to continue with the ice-cream business, so as to be able to pay off bills that had accumulated owing to the inefficiency of his sick cousin. He built up a very good name for himself and the ice cream he made and his trade increased as time went by.
On the 3rd of June 1936 he married Luisa Antoinetta Dovani at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Burnham-on-Sea. The couple celebrated, by having a meal in the city of Bristol and then returned home. Luisa came from the next village to Gravago, Italy, where the families knew one another well. Luisa prior to her marriage to Alberto was working as a maid for an Italian family by the name of Secci in London.
In August 1937 their first son Giuseppe Romeo Bartolomeo was born and was followed by a daughter Maria Rosa Olga in February 1939.
In August 1939 war was declared and in the following year, all the Italians were taken from their family homes. At about mid- night in August 1940 Alberto was rudely awakened by the local police, handcuffed and taken away to the police station. He and his friend Bernie from Weston-S-Mare were then put on a train to Liverpool. Bernie was then put onto the “Andora Star” which was heading for Canada. Alberto was put onto a boat to the Isle of Man since the “Andora Star” had reached its full capacity. Alberto was suspected of being a fascist because of his friendship with Bernie who was into politics and was being watched by the police. It was very tragic that the boat Bernie was put on, the “Andora Star” was torpedoed not far after setting sail and many lives were lost including Bernie’s
The men were separated from the women. The women, including Luisa with two small children and in the early stages of her third pregnancy was taken to stay in an institution for the mentally retarded in Wincanton, Somerset. Living conditions were very tough and the food very poor, as the rations like butter, sugar etc. were sold on the “black market” Luisa use to melt down her butter rations or lard and keep it in a container but if seen by the matron was confiscated. She also gave birth to her third child, another son Francesco, and brother for Giuseppe and Maria.
It was a time of great anxiety for Alberto and Luisa, as neither knew where the other was taken, or whether one was alive or dead. It was a period of about 6 months before either could communicate to each other by post.
Life in the internment camp was very grim; there was a great shortage of basic facilities and worst of all food. One day Alberto seeing the bread van come to deliver bread, decided on impulse to make a run for it and take a loaf from the van. A great crowd formed around the van to watch and when the guards saw what was happening, raised the alarm and started to chase him. But the crowds opened up to allow him through and closed ranks again so the guards were unable to follow. Alberto was able to share his loaf back in the kitchens. Altogether he was there for a period of two years. When he was eventually released he was relocated to work on the farm with his family so was unable to return to Burnham.
He found work on a farm in a little place called Redlynch in the countryside 6 ½ miles from Wincanton. The family lived in a tied cottage and to supplement Alberto’s meagre wage Luisa did cleaning for the farmer. After a couple of years he moved to another farm where he was paid a slightly better wage. He also grew all his own vegetables as well as having a variety of fruit bushes and fruit trees. Alberto also kept two ferrets for when he went rabbiting and laid traps to catch foxes, so as to be able to skin the animals and sell the skins. The family also enjoyed the occasional chicken, which strayed into their garden. They were enticed into the house by Luisa who sprinkled corn to encourage them in. The farm consisted of cattle, horses, pigs, chickens and corn was also grown. It also had shire horses to plough the fields and the use of tractors. Alberto learnt the art of building and thatching hayricks besides the milking of cows and all the other chores involved in the running of a farm. While there, Luisa was delivered of her fourth child Anthony John Vincent.
In the November of 1947 he and his family were at last able to return to Burnham. About six months later he obtained his licence to manufacture his ice-cream again. On his return he found he had to do many repairs to their home and to the factory where the ice-cream was made. The government had placed evacuees there in his absence and they had done a great deal of damage to the properties.
Alberto had to start his business again in a very small way, making the ice-cream by hand as most of his machinery had been sold or damaged. News soon spread that he was back in the business and with the help of Luisa, started to sell ice-cream from home and by going around the countryside on a tricycle. He built up a good trade and his customers were always very pleased to see him. Later he also managed to rent a place on the Burnham beach and sold ice-cream from a cart. As time went by his sales increased and he was able to purchase a second hand van, which was adapted for the selling of ice-cream. By having the van he was able to go further and accumulate a larger round.
He then purchased a large van for the sale of fish and chips in the winter, which was also adapted for his needs. People at that time were not in the habit of buying ice-cream in wet or cold weather, certainly not in winter. It was a great success but extremely hard work. Time passed by, Alberto sold ice-cream in the summer months and fish and chips in the winter. Eventually with Luisa’s help and encouragement, Alberto bought a little fish and chip shop in Abingdon Street, Burnham-on-sea in 1953. Unfortunately, at that time the health regulation did not permit the sale of ice-cream in the same premises as cooked food; so with sadness Alberto was obliged to give up the ice-cream business. His family at that time were too young to take on the full responsibility of managing on their own.
With time and a great deal of effort he gradually made changes and updated the property to accommodate his family and improve the building, which had been neglected. He also built up a fantastic business, capturing all the local trade. The busiest period was during the summer months when the schools closed and the holiday season began in real earnest. There would be long queues winding out of the shop and way down the street, waiting for the dining-room service and the take away. His customers came from as far away as Birmingham and continued to come year after year to enjoy their favourite food, as well as the sea and the golden sands. Burnham was very popular with families with young children as well as the elderly, due to the safety of the beach and the flatness of the town.
When Alberto was in his early 70s he semi-retired due to being unwell and the business was passed onto his two younger sons Francesco and Anthony. When the two sons took over the management they saw that the current premises had become too small. When the right opportunity came along they bought new premises at the top of Abingdon Street and refurbished, modernised and refitted the new building. It was a great success and was supported by the locals and all the holidaymakers. Alberto continued to help his sons’ part time for a few years more before having to retire altogether. It was a sad time for him since he and Luisa had devoted most of their lives to the business. He enjoyed meeting, chatting and having the great satisfaction of knowing the food he provided was enjoyed by everyone. Sadly on January 22nd 1989 he suffered a stroke and died on the 3rd April 1989 aged 85 ½ years.
He was loved and greatly missed by all who new him in Burnham.

Maria Moreau 26th June 2004

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Re: My father's internment

Posted on: 22 March 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Cara Maria

My own father's story almost is identical to your father's up to 1940. A few months younger than your father, born in December 1903, my father also came to Britain in 1920, and like your father, he was interned in 1940. They had such a hard life, yet astonishingly they thought (at least my father did) that they had it easy compared to seasonal immigrants in the late 19th century. Then, from my father's village on Lake Maggiore, men used to set off on foot in early March for France, crossing the Alps on foot, to work all summer in France as building labourers before starting the long trek home before the winter snows made the Alps impassable.

We seem to share a lot with the Irish and the poor Jews of Eastern Europe and Russia who were mercilessly persecuted and driven out, not by poverty, although many knew that, but by mindless progroms. Fortunately those days of grinding poverty and bigoted ignorance are long past for Europeans.

My father too, like yours, by pure chance, missed being on the doomed Andora Star.

Con affettuosi saluti,



Message 2 - Re: My father's internment

Posted on: 22 March 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

typos, typos! For 'progroms' read 'pogroms'

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