June 01, 2011

Being an Immigrant During World War Two

Wars are not only fought along battlelines, but also at home. And while cultural and political tensions are played out on the field of war, they also show themselves in the towns and cities that soldiers are fighting to protect.

One sad story of the home front was told to me by my Welsh grandmother, Norma Roach. it told the tale a family of Italian immigrants, who during World War Two, lived in Maesteg, a small coal town in South Wales. Italians from the Apennine Mountains migrated to the UK during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and many of them settled in Wales. The Welsh Valley people became used to Italian cafés and ice-cream parlours.

One such Italian family was the Bellis, who set up an Italian café in Maesteg, the town where my Welsh family lived for hundreds of years. They were well liked in town, but during World War Two, a policy of internment was brought in for immigrants from Italy, Germany and other enemy countries. After Mussolini declared war in 1940, the British government saw Italian immigrants as enemy aiens and potential spies. To control this unknown quantity, the government decided to send these immigrants to Canada where they could do less harm.

This meant, however, breaking up families. The older Bellis who were Italian citizens were rounded up and put on a boat to Canada – the SS Arandora Star, while members of the Belli family who were born in Wales had to stay behind.

The ironic thing was that the Bellis journeying to Canada on the Arandora Star never completed their journey. It was sunk in the Atlantic by a German submarine. There were over 1200 German and Italian internees on board, and over 800 people died including the Bellis.


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