Wales Breaks its Silence...From Memories to Memorial at the National Waterfront Museum

By Culture24 Reporter | 05 October 2011
A black and white photo of a huge ship in 1940
© Arandora Star Memorial Fund in Wales
Exhibition: Wales Breaks its Silence...From Memories to Memorial, National Waterfront Museum, Swansea, until October 30 2011

In 1940, more than 800 people were killed when the SS Arandora Star, a boat carrying 1,300 multinational internees between Wales and Canada on British government orders, was torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat.

The survivors, who included 53 Italians who had settled or become citizens in Wales, were immediately shipped to prison camps in the Australian outback after returning to the UK.

Created by a group devoted to them, the Arandora Star Memorial Fund, this show tells their story.

"For 70 years, the people of Wales, both Welsh and Italian, remained mostly silent about the tragedy for whatever reason," says curator Paulette Pelosi, a member of the collective who persuaded the Heritage Lottery Fund to support an exhibition and booklet marking the 70th anniversary of the sinking last year.

"As highly emotive stories began to be told to members of the Fund, it seemed a logical and worthy tribute for me to create the exhibition title. The all-important exhibition material came from those who shared their Arandora Star family stories."

They include personal accounts from the few survivors, as well as newspaper articles on the men who drowned, photographs reflecting the history of the settlers and a large model of the ship loaned by a Swansea man whose grandfather died on it.

A photo of a terracota sculpture of the biblical Mary cradling a ship
Susanna Ciccotti's work, Mary Cradling the Arandora Star, exploded in the kiln© Arandora Star Memorial Fund in Wales
A biblical terracotta sculpture of Mary Cradling the Arandora Star, made by Susanna Ciccotti, broke in two after exploding in the kiln, but has been lovingly restored by the artist here.

"Until three years ago I knew nothing of this tragic event and the injustice to the Welsh-Italian community, brought about by the fear and panic of war," says Ian Smith, the Modern and Contemporary Industry Curator at the museum.

"It was only after reading the exhibition panels that I realised as a little boy I was acquainted with one of the survivors – Mr Angelo Greco, who had a cafe in the Hafod, Swansea and made the best ice cream in the world.

"It is a stark reminder of how quickly friends and neighbours can be turned into enemies by events far away from their own doorsteps. We are privileged to host this very special and moving exhibition."

  • Open 10am-5pm. Admission free.
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