November 12, 2012
The devastating loss and sacrifice remembered on 11 November never fails to move me. This year Remembrance Sunday was especially poignant after researching the war experience of Lance Corporal Evan Davies for my recent article on house history. Tragically he died of his injuries just six days before the Armistice.
However, in my own family tree, my connections with the two world wars are complicated. My only direct ancestors who served in the First World War fought for Italy, who joined with the Allies in 1915. When war broke out in Europe, my great-grandfather, Michele Amata and his brother Giovanni had been living in Manchester for 25 years but they made the decision to return to their homeland to fight.
Michele was discharged in 1916 due to injury and returned home to England whereas Giovanni (pictured above) was promoted to Major and awarded the Croce di Guerra for bravery. But in WW2, when Italy sided initially with the Germans, he was interned as ‘an enemy alien’. In fact, he was a 55 year-old biscuit maker whose only ‘mission’ was to support his family. Bound for Canada, he was onboard the SS Arandora Star when she was torpedoed by a German U-boat on 2 July 1940, and sank with the loss of 486 Italian lives. Giovanni survived and spent the rest of the war in a prison camp on the Isle of Man. He never spoke of his experiences.
I find it hard to celebrate my great-uncle Giovanni’s service in the Great War because he and his compatriots were treated so badly by the British authorities during the Second World War. Feelings still run deep in the Italian community in Britain and over seventy years after this terrible episode in their history, the painful experiences of those who survived and perished on that day will have been remembered once more.