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My Years in Internment Camps: At York and on the Isle of Manicon for Recommended story

by stoke_on_trentlibs

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Ettore Emanuelli
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
29 March 2004

This story was submitted to the the People's War site by Stoke-on-Trent Libraries on behalf of Ettore Emanuelli and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

Ettore Emanuelli:

I was born in South Wales. My father had come over here to work. I was 18 at the outbrak of war. I had a month's free holiday at a camp. I returned to Tunstall as soon as I could.

August 1939
Aged 18, I was on holiday in Italy, attending the summer camp which was sponsored by the Italian Government for the children of Italian immigrants living abroad.

3rd September 1939
Germany declares war. Consequently all frontiers are closed and campers are unable to return to the UK. Those of us who had relatives in Italy were given travel passes and requested to make their way to them and await instructions until such time as arrangements could be made to return to the UK on a group passport as soon as frontiers were reopened. I travelled by train from Monte Sacro, Rome, to Pazienza, then by bus to Bardi and then by farm cart to Grezzo, a small village on the outskirts of Bardi, to the farm belonging to my grandfather. I remained there some ten weeks.

10th June 1940
Italy declares war and that evening I am arrested as "being of hostile origin" and detained under the Defence of the Realm Act Regulation 18b. I was taken to H.M Prison Walton where I was to spend the next seven weeks. We were housed in D Wing, a part of the prison which had not been used since the days of the Suffragettes. Consequently it was in filthy condition with pigeon excrement everywhere.

We were there during the bombing of Liverpool. Iwas in cell No. 16 on the fifth floor landing. To this day I have a dislike of porridge which was served to us in battered aluminium basins. The bedtime bread and cocoa formed a layer of cocoa butter if left to cool. We used to make candles which we used after 'lights out'. Slopping out in the mornings was a very degrading experience and something I will always remember.

Ascot, 31st July - 18th November.
On 31st July we left Walton prison, destination unknown.

We travelled under military escort, by train, eventually arriving at Ascot. Situated on the outskirts of the town and surrounded by pine trees, it was the winter quarters camp for Bertram Mills Circus. We were housed in various buildings and elephant houses.

Administration appears to be non-existant and no provisions were made to feed us. We had not eaten since leaving Liverpool. It was very hot and we were made to strip naked and lined up in rows for a roll call. Several of the older internees fainted. Most of the internees had catering skills, they took over the kitchens, scrubbed some old boilers and soon had a passable vegetable soup. Over the next few weeks conditions improved and we settled down not knowing our future. We remained at Ascot until we were advised of our departure date, 18th November.

Rumours were rife. We were to be shipped to Canada or Australia. In fact we wended up at the York Racecourse camp.

During our ten weeks at Ascot many friendships were formed. A friend of mine, Carlo Rossi, proprietor of the Beacon Hotel in Bristol, was an avid reader of historical novels and was never happier than with a paperback of one of Raphael Sabatini's novels. Two other friends were the Rietti brothers, young Jewish Italians who were in civilian life, Shakesperean actors and who kept us entertained on many occasions.

York Racecourse Camp
We spent some sixteen weeks at York internment camp. The main grandstand and administration buildings had been converted into a detention camp, surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by military guards.

We were housed under and at the back of the grandstand. In some cases these were very cramped quarters. My main recollection of York was the boiled rice which seemed to dominate the main meals. This was sometimes enlivened by the aroma of chocolate from the nearby Terry's Chocolate factory.

We left York on 14th March 1941; destination again kept from us.

Huyton Camp
The camp at Huyton was formed using a half completed council housing estate. Half finished houses and builders rubble were all over the pplace. We were issued with battered aluminium dinner plates which had seen better days. We used builders sand to scour them. I can remember supplementing our greens by using the dandelion leaves which grew in abundance around the site. The camp was surrounded by anti-aircraft guns which made it very difficult to sleep at night.

I recall with pleasure a fellow internee, Mario Collacico, a Stephen Fry look-alike, who had the same sense of humour and wit and who kept spirits alive during our stay at Huyton.

We left the camp on 12th May 1941.

Camp 'M' Peel - Isle of Man
The word on the grapevine was that we were to be sent to the Isle of Man. We looked forward to this with anticipation as we felt that perhaps our wanderings would be over. We were taken under strict escort to Liverpool where we boarded the 'Lady of Man' destined for the Isle of Man. The internees quickly re-named the ship 'H.M. Prison Ship the Lady of Man'. This was due to the excessive military guards and the fact that we were escorted throughout the crossing by a naval frigate or destroyer.

Word had reached Douglas that a ship load of 'dangerous' Nazis was expected and a hostile crowd gathered near the landing stage. The authorities fearing trouble, decided to keep us on board until the following morning when things had quietened down. on May 13th we were taken by train to Camp M at Peel.

Camp M consisted of a row of Victorian guest houses situated at the end of the promenade, enclosed by barbed wire. The guard rooms and administration offices were situated outside the wire at the nearby Crag Mailn Hotel, which we always refered to as The Kremlin.

In spite of our confinement, conditions and the situation were very favourable. Each house was allowed rations for the week and we made our own rotas for cooking and household duties. We began to receive occasional food parcels and mail from our loved ones. We organised and took part in various interests, football matches; a library was established, a drama group was formed. We read a lot and took part in lively discussion groups. Some of us wrote poetry and painted.

Of all the camps, M was the more civilised and we were treated as human beings, not dangerous enemies.

During our internment we had periodically to appear before various tribunals where we were questioned and cross examined as to our loyalty. My last tribunal was to be held on 17th April, 1942 in London. So on 13th April I was called to the Commandant and told that I was being sent to London to appear before the tribunal. I was sent to H.M. Prison Brixton for the hearing and had to remain there to await the result and was eventually released from Brixton on 14th August 1942.

Arandora Star
On July 1st 1940 the 1,500 ton steamship 'Arandora Star' left Liverpool bound for Canada. On board were 1,562 internees, 764 of these were Italians. The remainder were German Jewish refugees and some German prisoners of war. The Italians were housed below decks and the Germans on the top deck which was surrounded by barbed wire. The ship was headed for Canada where the internees were to be detained in internment camps.

On 2nd July 1940 at 7.00am the ship was torpedoed by the German U-Boat U47 commanded by Captain Gunter Prien, known as the 'Bull of Scapa Flow'. The ship was 125 miles west of the Irish coast and sank within 30 minutes. Over 700 lives were lost, the majority of these being the Italians who were trapped below deck. Many of those who perished came from Bardi and the event is brought to mind every year at the memorial chapel which has been erected there.

This event shocked the Italian community and questions were raised in the House. There had been no boat drill and there were insufficient life boats.

On July 2nd 1941, the Camp Commandant at Peel graciously allowed us to hold a commemorative service outside the wire where we were able to consign a wreath of remembrance into the Irish Sea. The memorial card which I designed has words written by fellow internee Giulio Sambon:


A grey-white gull
Majestic, solitary, calling
A lead hung sky with night just falling
A grey-white gull
To the white laced foam of waves retiring
A grey-white gull
To thoughts of home inspiring


Grey-clad, hungry looking wrecks of humanity
Rotting on the shores of life
Their eyes down-cast
Their shuffling feet in Indian file
Circling round the prison ground
While the gods of chance look on ascance
At these rags of men
Whom the fates decreed should pay the price
of the laws of man
Nameless, faceless, just numbered souls in
prison isle
These things, these rags and bones
We must not despise
Pity them if you have a soul
For all they seek is the bitter-sweet
The taste of death to release their souls
From the mental sufferings only the
convicted know
Remember, once, these things, these toys of
Were men, like you and I

E. Emanuelli, 13.5.42

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Message 1 - My years in internment camps

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

Caro Ettore

I read your story with great interest. Did you by any chance meet my grandfather, Ferdinando Granelli, whilst on the Isle of Man? He was in House No. 3, Metropole Internment Camp. He was from Leeds, but originally from Santa Maria del Taro.

My father was also arrested on 10 June 1940 but was released after a few days to return to Italy in exchnge with British nationals in Italy. My story about that is here A1993403.

Best wishes,



Message 2 - My years in internment camps

Posted on: 25 April 2004 by Ron Goldstein

Benvenuto Ettore
I read your graphic story with much discomfort and great interest.
It is a part of the war that I confess I know little or nothing about and I am glad you drew it to my attention.
I am also pleased that Peter is now involved in this discussion, he is a first class archivist and I have no doubt at all that he will be able to enlarge on the subject.
With all best wishes


Message 3 - My years in internment camps

Posted on: 25 April 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

I wasn't going to enlarge on the subject until I saw Ron's post above.

First may I respectfully correct a typo in Ettore's story. He refers to the "1,500 ton steamship 'Arandora Star'", in fact the Arandora Star was a 15,000 ton former luxury liner. On that fateful journey she carried 374 British men (200 Officers and men of the British army, as guards, and 174 crew); 712 Italian internees; and 478 Germans: a total of 1,564. Most of the Italians were ex-pats who had lived in Britain for most of their lives, but the strangest group were the Germans, from Nazis to Jews. Some were fervent Nazis but the majority were refugees, mainly Jewish, who were refugees from Nazi persecution. A good number didn't consider themselves to be German at all, but Austrian, having fled their country after Hitler marched in in 1938.

There was no overcrowding on the ship, although it carried 1,564 this was much less than the 3,000 Polish troops and British refugees she had brought off from France, through the Bay of Biscay, after Dunkirk. In fact some of the troops had themselves been at Dunkirk. One of the German internee survivors, Gerhard Miedzwinski, a 29 year old Jewish engineer who had been in England since 1936, said that "The soldiers were nice chaps, just returned from Dunkirk; we soon made friends ... food was of a nearly forgotten quality" - but there appeared to be little method in the allocation of accommodation. The Italians were divided into two groups: X1 were sent down to A deck, the lowest deck, whilst group X2 were allocated cabins on D deck, the highest. The highest death toll was amongst the Italians, roughly two thirds died. In contrast, about one third of the Germans drowned. For the crew, 42 out of 174, and 37 of the 200 armed guards.

(Continued in my next post, Message 4)


Message 4 - My years in internment camps

Posted on: 25 April 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

(Continued from Messge 3, above)

News that so many Italians on the Arandora Star had drowned got back quickly and the British press soon found an explanation. This is from the Daily Herald of 4 July 1940, typical of the rest "Soldiers and sailors ... told of the panic among the aliens ... All condemned the cowardice of the Germans, who fought madly to get into the boats. 'The Germans, fighting the Italians to escape, were great hulking brutes', said one soldier, 'They punched and kicked their way past the Italians. We had to restrain them forcibly. But the Italians were just as bad. The whole mob of them thought of their own skins first. The scramble for the boats was sickening.' ". Which must have been very distressing to watch from the lifeboats full of the army guards. Still, what can you expect from Eye-ties, Krauts, and Jews? On 9 July the Shipping Minister, Ronald Cross, gave full support in the House to the lurid press reports, he said "Lifeboats and life-rafts more than sufficient to accommodate all passengers were provided." The clear implication being that the internees were to blame for not saving themselves. The internees seemed to have had a penchant for mass suicide, and this was the ludicrous line taken by the Foreign Office in a note to the Brazilian Embassy and Swiss Legation: "More lives would probably have been saved had not many of the prisoners of war and internees refused to make use of the rafts which were at once thrown overboard when the ship was torpedoed."

But the truth was very different. Peter and Leni Gillman in their book "Collar the Lot", from which most of the above is the source, say that "It can be pointed out somewhat harshly that allegations of panic come uneasily from the armed guard, the group with the highest survival rate of all." Eleven internee survivors tracked down and interviewed separately by the Gillmans all said that there was no fighting and little actual panic. Most of the Italian internees on the lowest deck were middle-aged or elderly, clambering up in a badly listing ship was arduous and when they finally did arrive on deck they found that there was no room left on the lifeboats. Age here was a telling factor, in contrast to the German and Austrian Jews who were mostly fit young men who had already survived much in their lives. The Arandora Star carried fourteen boats with a total capacity of not more than 1,000, and twenty small rafts, but not all the fourteen boats were properly launched (two were wrecked in the explosion). Bruno Fehle, a non-Nazi German, stated that there were only ten lifeboats, and this is the exact number counted by the commander of the St Laurent when he arrived on the scene about six hours after the ship had sunk. To add to the misery, the water was deadly cold and covered with thick black oil, few survived in it. There were many acts of courage. Hans Margis, a refugee from Berlin, tells of a Jewish journalist named Moszkowski who became weary of the struggle for space on a crowded tiny raft. He told his companions "I've enjoyed my life, you save yourselves", then he calmly slid into the water and drowned. It was the fourth worst British merchant shipping disaster of WW2.

P.S The third worst disaster was the sinking of the Laconia in which a large number of Italians also died, see here F1764694


Message 1 - Polish Displacement Camp in or around Hermitage Berkshire

Posted on: 28 September 2005 by inspiredmeachelle

Hello everyone,
you are my last hope, I am trying to find my blood father whom as a Polish Army man that was in a Polish Displacement Camp in or around Hermitage Berkshire late 1940s. I never knew him and although I hope he is still alive wish to find him, or learn more about the camp, obtain any pictures of the camp and if at all possible find any family I may have in Poland.
Is there anyone out there that was also at the camp between 1947 and 1949
I know live in Australia
God Bless,

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