Italian Cloister Garden opens in Glasgow, Scotland

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A memorial garden featuring the largest monument dedicated to victims who died aboard a cruise liner which sunk in 1940 was officially opened this afternoon in Glasgow, Scotland

First Minister Alex Salmond joined the Archbishop of Glasgow Mario Conti to open the Italian Cloister Garden next to St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow, Scotland this afternoon

They also welcomed 91-year-old Rando Bertoia, the only living survivor of the Arandora Star, which was torpedoed by a German submarine, killing 805 people.

Rando Bertoia says that being Scottish saved his life.

As a 19-year-old living in Pollokshields, the Italian-born Scot, now 91, was arrested and deported as an “enemy alien” when Mussolini declared war on Britain in June 1940.

Along with hundreds of other Italian nationals who were rounded up from their homes, shops and cafes, Mr Bertoia was aboard the Arandora Star when, on July 2, 1940, on its way to Canada, it was torpedoed by German U-boat ace Gunther Prien, with the loss of more than 800 lives – around 100 of them Scots-Italians. It has been described as the “tragedia dimenticata” – the forgotten tragedy.

However, yesterday Mr Bertoia, the only living survivor, was invited by The Herald to visit the new Italian Cloister Garden at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow, which opens on Monday, and saw the central monument which is dedicated to the Scots-Italians who drowned aboard the Arandora Star.

I could hear the gurgling water coming from the funnels. It took only 20 minutes to sink. I was very lucky indeed

It is the largest monument to the disaster anywhere in the world.

Mr Bertoia believes that because the Scots-Italians were ordered to the top deck, he was inadvertently given a chance of survival because he was able to reach the lifeboats.

Yesterday, as he gazed at the silver mirrored monument, designed to represent the disorienting effects of water, he said: “This brings it all back very clearly, even though it happened 71 years ago.

“I remember embarking the Arandora Star at Liverpool Docks and noticing how luxurious it was, even though they’d removed all the bedding and furniture.

“The Scottish consignment got orders to go up to the top deck, and the English – among them my cousin Luigi, from Newcastle – were sent downstairs. I didn’t really know the others, because they were all in fish and chips and ice-cream, and I was an apprentice at my dad’s terrazzo firm, Toffolo Jackson. But we soon got to know each other.

“At around 6am on July 2, I was woken up by a loud thump and realised we’d been torpedoed. My friends dragged me to a lifeboat. I remember it lurching a bit as it was lowered. From the lifeboat I could see the Arandora Star going down. I could hear the gurgling of water coming from the funnels. It took only about 20 minutes for it to sink and I realised I was very lucky indeed.

“Some of the lifeboats did not go down properly. Some stuck in these boats threw themselves into the water, but that didn’t save them because it was so icy cold. You could see them bobbing on the water for a while, then just disappearing.

“Later, when the roll-call was read out, I didn’t hear my cousin’s name and I broke down. I don’t think any of those who were downstairs survived.”
There were about 20 people in the lifeboat. “We knew we needed to get as far away from the Arandora Star as possible. There wasn’t much else we could do but row and soon we were surrounded by nothing but water and sky. It was quite scary and eery. Nobody said a word. We knew it was a grim end for a lot of poor people.”

Italian Cloister Garden: il discorso dell’Arcivescovo Mario Conti

Every so often in life an opportunity comes along to make a difference. That opportunity arose when I began planning the renovation of St Andrew’s Cathedral. A space to the east of the cathedral, which had lain vacant for many decades, was identified as a suitable place to create a cloister garden, offering space for parishioners and visitors alike to relax and contemplate.
The central monument is an interactive installation, built next to a 200-year-old olive tree gifted by the people of Tuscany, which encourages us to reflect on the great mysteries of life, death and resurrection. What people will see and experience on a visit to the garden is a result of the generosity of today’s Scots-Italian community, who raised the funds to create the installation. – Archbishop Conti


L’architetto Giulia Chiarini illustra il progetto dell’Italian Cloister Garden


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