- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
IN MY SOLITUDE
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
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
Remember, once, these things, these toys of
Were men, like you and I
E. Emanuelli, 13.5.42
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