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The Tides of War

S.S. Arandora Star

SS Arandora Star was hit by one torpedo from U-47 about 125 miles west by north of Malin Head, Co. Donegal. The master, 12 officers, 42 crewmen, 37 guards, 470 Italians and 243 Germans were lost. Many of the bodies were washed up along the Mayo coast during August and September 1940. Image: Public Domain.

Discussing the valuable wreckage from the war being salvaged by coastal dwellers, in the edition of July 20, 1940, the Western People’s Ballina correspondent in a prescient comment wrote following an unseasonable gale on Thursday night, July 11, 1940:

“As if anxious to reward the watchers, nature has provided unusual north-westerly gales during June and July and I shall be surprised if there is not new arrival on our shores to record after a fierce gale which lashed the seas into a fury from the north-west on Thursday night of last week.”

The reporter could never have realised the scale of the tragic offerings that wind and tide were about to send to Mayo shores. By the start of August 1940 evidence of the magnitude of the horror of the war at sea shocked coastal communities when bodies from S.S. Arandora Star, sunk by U-47 off Co. Donegal, were washed up with sickening regularity on beaches along the west coast.

Sailing without an escort, the large passenger-cargo-liner had left Liverpool for Canada on July 2, 1940, and had 479 German internees, 734 Italian internees, 86 German prisoners-of-war, and 200 military guards on board. She was sunk by a single torpedo with the loss of 805 lives. HMCS St. Laurent, alerted by Malin Head radio station, which had received the distress signal from the sinking ship, rescued 119 crew members, 163 guards and 586 Italians and Germans. The survivors were landed at Greenock, Scotland.

North-westerlies brought the bodies of Italian internees and their young British soldier guards, towards the Mayo coast and complex interaction of wind, currents and tides washed the sea-ravaged remains ashore; the scale of the sea-borne carnage had never before been witnessed.

The first bodies from Arandora Star tragedy came ashore in Mayo at Altdarrig, near Carne Golf Links, early on a drizzly Tuesday morning, July 30, 1940. Local men, including three priests, came to the shore after the body seen floating in the surf was recovered by John and Patrick Joseph McAndrew, Binghamstown, and James Cawley and Joseph Lynskey of Cross. 12

Tears were shed by some among the hushed circle of onlookers when the body of Giovanni Marenghi (43) was brought ashore and his few worldly possessions, tokens of a simple life, were laid out on the strand to identify the remains. It was immediately obvious he was a victim of Arandora Star as around the neck was a “Star” life-jacket. Marenghi was one of the hundreds of hardworking Italians in the UK who were so callously rounded up and interned after Italy sided with Germany and fears of an imminent invasion swept Britain.

Giovanni Marenghi’s possessions consisted of a green ship’s berthing card (No 159 in pencil on the back), a receipt for 2/6 signed by J. Harris, Treasurer of the Pontypridd Town Bowls Club, dated 1st May. 1940; a season ticket issued by the Pontypridd Urban District Council in the same name; a food ticket (meat). No. AQ 835543. date of issue 23rd October 1939, by the Pontypridd Food Office. In the vest pocket was a book of British postage stamps. It was these everyday records that helped the police in Pontypridd, working with the Gardai, to identify Marenghi. His brother, Giuseppe, was able to confirm that the signature on the bowls season ticket was his brother’s which was also confirmed by the bowls club’s duplicate record. 13

He was only one of 13 Italian internees out of over 400 Italian casualties, who would be identified; their graves can be found in seaside cemeteries in Mayo, Sligo and Donegal.

In February 1941, Giovanni Marenghi’s remains were exhumed from Glencastle cemetery, at the request of his widow, Mrs. Maria Marenghi, and re-interred at his hometown cemetery in Treforest, Pontypridd, Wales. 14

The poignant scene surrounding the recovery of Marenghi’s remains were repeated later in the month when more tears were shed by local people at Annagh Head after the body of a young British soldier was recovered from the incoming tide.

It was Thursday evening, August 15, 1940, when 19-year-old William Frederick George Chick was retrieved by two local youths Willie Devitt of Annagh, and John Lavelle, along with a farmer, James McAndrew of Annagh, before it drifted on to the jagged rocks. McAndrew and Lavelle waded waist-deep into the sea; Devitt cooperated with a two-line, and they succeeded in bringing the body to the strand.

Girl’s Photo

Wearing a British soldier’s uniform, Fred Chick was one of the 93 British soldiers along with the 77 officers who lost their lives on Arandora Star. His few possessions included an army service and pay book, a pocketbook revealing his mother’s address, 5 Council Houses, Martinstown, Dorchester, Dorset. A member of the Dorsetshire Regiment, he had served in France with the British Expeditionary Force.

Onlookers shed tears as the photo of a girl, probably a sister or sweetheart, was taken from a little pocketbook found in the breast pocket. Other articles consisted of a hair comb, fountain pen, some French coins, probably souvenirs brought away from Dunkirk, and several rounds of rifle ammunition in the hip pocket. 15

Rev. Canon Jackson performed the burial rites at Belmullet Church of Ireland cemetery. A large contingent of Belmullet branch British Legion ex-servicemen along with Belmullet residents were in attendance and floral wreaths were laid on the grave.

In the following days, six other bodies were recovered from the sea, including on Wednesday, July 31, the body of a young man, between 25 and 30 years, found floating in the sea off the Inniskea Islands. The Herculean effort that went into recovering some of the bodies was illustrated in this particular case when the local health officer, Martin Barrett, spent all night at sea leading the recovery operation.

“Nobody has a more unenviable occupation than Mr. Martin Barrett, H.A.O., and S.S.O., Belmullet, who is day and night engaged in the burial of those bodies, On one occasion with the Blacksod Gardai, he procured a boat and had an all-night struggle to recover a floating body off Inniskea islands. All the bodies appear to be victims of the Arandora Star disaster.” 16

The body was towed to the island by three fishermen, and later Sergeant Johnson, Blacksod, and other Guards, with Mr. Martin Barrett, assistance officer, had it conveyed to Blacksod by motorboat. A religious medal showed the deceased was a Catholic leading to the assumption he had been an Italian internee on Arandora Star. The remains were interred at Fallmore.

Pat “Rua” Reilly in later life at Erris Head.

There are many examples of local fishermen and Gardai going above and beyond the call of duty in the risks, they took to recover bodies when seas were rough and their little curraghs had to manoeuvre close to jagged cliffs. To the fore in these recoveries were many of the Inishkea natives who had 10 years earlier left their island home for a new life on The Mullet following the devastating fishing tragedy of October 28, 1927, which claimed 10 Inishkea fishermen.

Pat ‘Rua’ Reilly, who had been born on Inishkea South in 1907 was a survivor of the terrible tragedy that claimed two of his own brothers, Teddy (14) and Sean (22). While most of the islanders were settled around Surgeview, Fallmore and Glosh at the southern tip of the Mullet, in 1933, Pat and his younger brother Willie were relocated to Glenlara at the very tip of Erris Head.

On an unseasonal Tuesday afternoon, July 30, 1940, Erris Head LOP personnel saw a body floating in a rough sea at the base of the 200 feet high cliffs at Glenlara, but the body was washed into a cave and could not be recovered although it had come within about 10 yards of the shore.

It was only thanks to the great courage and risks taken by Garda Sergt. Burns and Guard Donoghue, Belmullet, with Pat ‘Rua’ Reilly that the remains were finally recovered on Friday morning August 2, 1940. As the sea had now calmed, the men set out in a curragh, and entering the mouth of the cave in which the body was floating, their little craft was tossed backwards and forward by the action of the swells, and several times disaster was narrowly avoided.

They succeeded in getting a rope round the floating body which was hauled to the top by a crowd of volunteers who had come to help. A minute search was carried out, but no traces of identification were found. It was the body of a man aged about 25 years, fully clothed in a pinstriped blue tweed suit and black shoes. In the pockets were found a small crucifix, a pack of playing cards, and a three-penny piece. He was buried in Termoncarragh. He was most likely another one of the unfortunate Italian internees on the ill-fated Arandora Star. 17

So many bodies could not be identified after weeks in the sea. To help with identifying the bodies of the Italian victims of Arandora Star, four Italians; one of them a professor of Italian at Trinity College Dublin, visited Belmullet on behalf of Italian Consul in mid-August, staying in Hurst’s Hotel, Ballina, but subsequent reports suggested that they had little success.

100 Bodies off Inishkea

By the second week of August, the enormity of the loss of life on Arandora Star became apparent. “100 Dead Bodies Believed To Be Floating in Sea Off Inishkea”, declared the headline in the Western People of August 10, 1940. The report went on to say that the sea was so rough it was not possible to recover any of the bodies.

Throughout August, the sea continued to give up its frightful harvest of death. At Annagh Head, a body, probably another internee, was recovered from a sea cave; a man, aged about 50 years, wearing blue siege trousers, a blue pullover and black shoes. Two shillings and 3 pence in English money were found in his pocket. He was buried in Termoncarragh.

By the middle of August, the Western People’s Erris correspondent lamented: “the grim toll of the war continues to launch its gruesome significance on the Erris coasts”, reporting that 17 bodies “pathetic relics” had been recovered in the barony; six only bearing papers of identification. 17

The remains of Scottish man, John Connolly (21), dressed in full war kit, were recovered on Bank Holiday Monday, August 5, 1940, in the sea off Inishkea Island. A soldier’s service and pay book were found in the pocket of Connolly’s tunic. Issued in the name of John Connelly, Army No. 318.740, it gave his occupation previous to enlistment as a crofter. His father’s address was given as Rose Lea, Glenmoie Road, Oban, Scotland. He had been attached to Lovat Scouts regiment at Huyton Prisoners’ of War Camp, Liverpool.

On Tuesday, August 6, 1940, at Annagh, an army pay book, found on the body of a 21-year-old Welsh soldier by Garda William Cullen, Belmullet, identified another Arandora Star military guard who found his final resting place in Mayo.

He was Donald Ernest Vere Domican who had enlisted in the Welch Regiment 5th Battalion at Hereford on October 18, 1939, shortly after the outbreak of war. In his pockets were an English half-penny piece, a lead toy soldier, letters and photographs. Son of Ernest Robert James and Amelia Domican of Grangetown, Cardiff, he was buried in Kilcommon Erris Church of Ireland Graveyard, Belmullet, along with his comrades from Arandora Star.

Other bodies both army and civilian could not be identified as in the case of a body washed up at Cross, Binghamstown. It appeared to be that of a middle-aged man wearing grey flannel pants and a grey overcoat or dressing gown. Another body of a soldier washed up at this time had no identification marks or papers.

The body of another soldier, Frank Sidney Carter (27), a Trooper, Royal Armoured Corps Royal Dragoons, was recovered at Annagh Head on Wednesday night, August 7, 1940, and identified by Garda Sergeant Burns. The body was dressed in full uniform and wore a life jacket. Papers on his body revealed his home address as 13 Salisbury Road, Kilburn, London NW6. He was buried in Kilcommon Erris Church of Ireland Graveyard.

Stanley Darnell, a 25-year-old Private in the Royal Army Service Corps, was washed ashore on Friday, August 9, 1940, and he was identified by some papers and two insurance policies in the name of Darnell found on his remains. A resident of Surrey, he was picked up near the Inishkea Islands and buried in Fallmore cemetery overlooking the cold and grey North Atlantic where he had spent his final agonising moments. He was the son of Edith Caroline Darnell, of Morden Park, Surrey.

Further evidence of the bravery displayed by local people was shown by a youth named Willie Nallon, Binghamstown, when he heroically recovered the body of another British soldier, wearing a full battle dress, from the raging surf at Cross, where it was buffeted by the fury of the waves against a chain of rocks.

Willie Nallon was several times knocked down in the surf, but bravely held on to the dead body till he pulled it away from the reach of the waves. The victim’s service and pay book revealed the name of William Goodwin (22), a gunner in the 153rd (Leicestershire Yeomanry) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. A member of the Church of England, he was buried in Kilcommon Erris Church of Ireland Graveyard in Belmullet.18

Burial Costs

Some of the Battle of the Atlantic war graves in Kilcommon Church of Ireland Graveyard, Belmullet. Photo: Anthony Hickey.

Luigi Tapparo (42), another Italian internee on Arandora Star, was washed up at Drumrea. A cook in the Royal British Hotel, Edinburgh, Luigi Tapparo had the foresight to fasten a cord around his neck with a disc, on which was printed his name and address. He was buried in Termoncarragh cemetery.

Luigi Tapparo’s body was taken home to Bollengo, Italy, for burial after the war by his wife and daughter. They stayed in the Imperial Hotel in Ballina and contracted Ballina monumental sculptors Ginty and Sons to carry out the exhumation.18b His headstone, paid for by his family, still stands in the Termoncarragh, the last grave at the southern end of the row of war graves. Alongside his headstone, there are several unmarked graves, which undoubtedly include the bodies of unidentified Italians recovered in August 1940.

By now the bodies coming ashore had been in the water for over a month and identification in most cases was impossible. However, the Gardai took great care to record the smallest detail that might someday make it possible to identify the remains. To the body of a soldier from Wales washed ashore at Fallmore, was attached a medal bearing the inscription:

“Catholic in case of accident send for priest.”

On the body of another soldier, who belonged to the Royal Army Service Corps, was found a gold watch and a wallet and some documents. He was a native of London. On his finger, he wore a gold ring. Both soldiers were on Arandora Star when torpedoed.

Two unknown bodies washed up at Portacloy and one at Rossport, were buried in Kilgalligan graveyard, Carrowteigue. Another unknown body was washed ashore at Fallmore on Saturday evening, August 10, 1940, and buried in Fallmore graveyard.

Understandably, with very little money in the country the cost of caring for rescued seamen, and, the expense of burying the victims of the Battle of the Atlantic, came under scrutiny at Mayo Board of Health meetings. Although it was acknowledged that The Shipwrecked Mariners Association paid for food for rescued seamen, hospital bills and transport costs were causing headaches for local politicians. It was pointed out that the British War Office would pay for costs incurred burying soldiers and sailors, but not the cost of burying civilians which were putting a strain on the board’s budget. 19

Letter From A Mother

Empty lifeboats like those from Arandora Star were washed up on Mayo shores throughout the Battle of the Atlantic. Like ghost ships, the lifeboats kept their grisly secrets. We can only speculate as to the fate of those who escaped a sinking ship. Were they among the rescued or did they die in the bleak grey waters of the North Atlantic unable to scramble into the lifeboat in the mayhem and terror surrounding a sinking ship?

A lifeboat washed up at Blacksod on Thursday evening, August 22, 1940, contained only oars and a British soldier’s helmet. On Monday morning, August 26, 1940, a lifeboat capable of holding 50 persons with the letters ER, believed to belong to the Arandora Star, was washed into a cave at Annagh Head and found by a young man named Willie Kilboy, Annagh. The boat contained several British soldier’s caps and a disc with the inscription: Mackay EL Regimental NO. 95060 – who was Mackay? Did he survive the Arandora Star sinking? Over 80 years later, it’s still a mystery. 20

The grave of Edward George Lane (21) in Ballycastle New Cemetery. Lane was a member of the 7th Battalion, the Devon Regiment, and a guard on Arandora Star. Historical records suggest that there are at least 12 other unmarked war graves to the left under the recently planted leylandii trees. Photo: Anthony Hickey.

The last body, known to be from the Arandora Star (that could be identified), was recovered from the shore at Muingelly, west of Ballycastle, on August 21, 1940. Edward George Lane (21) was a member of the 7th Battalion, the Devon Regiment, and a guard on Arandora Star. His few possessions included a letter from his mother, forwarding him a postal order for two shillings. The letter was dated June 27, 1940, and the envelope had a Devonshire postmark. A letter written in reply was also found in his pocket. The photograph of a girl was also found on him and on it was written the name Hilda Shoreland.

Locals who found his remains noticed the watch on his left wrist had stopped at four minutes past 8 o’clock, less than an hour after Arandora Star plunged beneath the waves. Son of John Henry and Lillian Maud Lane, Kingsteignton, Devon, he is buried in Ballycastle New Cemetery.

His headstone stands forlorn at the northern perimeter of the cemetery, a shelter-belt of leylandii now beginning to encroach on his final resting place. Historical records indicate that at least another 12 unknown victims of the Battle of the Atlantic were buried beside his grave during World War 2. But sadly there is no evidence of their final resting places today; the makeshift grave markings erected at the time of burial long since lost to time and the elements. 21

The last body thought to be a civilian from Arandora Star, but without identification papers, was washed ashore in Mayo at Carrowteigue on Thursday, August 29, 1940, and buried in Kilgalligan cemetery.

Tubbercurry Survivor

The crew of U-47, which sank Arandora Star off Donegal waved off from Kiel U-boat base on another patrol in the North Atlantic. Inset is U-47’s Commander Günther Prien, one of the most decorated German U-boat commanders who went down with U-47 when it was sunk by a British warship off Iceland on March 7, 1941. Images: Public Domain.

As a postscript to the Arandora Star sinking, there was good news for a Tubbercurry family who feared their son had gone down with the ship.

One of the survivors of the Arandora Star tragedy was James Hunt, Powelsboro, Tubbercurry, a steward on the liner. After enduring a week of grief following a telegram from the Blue Star Line informing Mrs. M. Hunt that James, was missing, Mrs. Hunt received a long letter from her son giving a graphic account of his nine hours on a raft with several other stewards until they were picked up by a British destroyer. 22

One of the closing chapters in the terrible tragedy of Arandora Star story was written on 8 March 1941 when Prien’s U-47 was depth-charged by the British destroyer HMS Wolverine, west of Ireland, and sunk in disputed circumstances with the loss of her 45-man crew. Prien had been decorated early in the war for his daring raid into Scapa Flow to sink the British battleship, HMS Royal Oak.

One of the positives to come from the Arandora Star catastrophe and the subsequent outcry was the decision by the British Government to change their policy towards Italian emigrants. There were two more deportation voyages to Canada before the majority of internees were gradually released from their internment camps in Britain.

Clan Menzies Rescue

Lifeboats from the SS Clan Menzies, torpedoed by U-99 on July 29, 1940, with the loss of six lives, reached Erris Head and Achill. Image: Public Domain.
The Irish merchant steamer, Kyleclare rescued survivors from the Clan Menzies, but tragically was herself sunk with all lives lost on February 23, 1943, in the North Atlantic when U-456 fired a spread of three torpedoes. Image: Allen Collection

There were nine Lookout Posts (LOP) dotted around the Mayo coast from Kilcummin in the North of the county to Roonagh near Louisburgh, overlooking Clew Bay, in the south. (See table listing Mayo Coast-Watchers at end of article).

On passage from Sydney via Melbourne and Panama to Liverpool, the S.S. Clan Menzies had a cargo of 4,000 tons of wheat and grain, 2,000 tons of dried fruit, 1,500 tons of zinc and 840 tons of general cargo which were typical of vital supplies needed to keep both Ireland and Britain functioning during World War 2.

About an hour after sunrise on July 30, 1940, Erris Head LOP spotted what was to be the first manned lifeboat from a torpedoed ship to navigate safely to Mayo shores.

Three miles offshore, it was one of two lifeboats that had managed to escape from Clan Menzies that had been sunk just over 24-hours earlier on Monday, July 29, 1940, 150 miles west of Loop Head, Co. Clare. Struck by a torpedo, fired from U-99, which had departed from its base in Lorient, Brittany, six men were killed in the blast, but Captain W.J. Hughes and the rest of his 88 crew made it into two lifeboats; 52 survivors in one boat and 36 in the other.

As the lifeboat came in sight of the Mullet on that summer Tuesday morning, the crew was directed into Broadhaven Bay by the officer-in-charge of Erris Head LOP, Corporal Pat Reilly, landing at Ballyglass harbour, where they were met by local fishermen, the Gardai and Belmullet hotelier, Andrew J. Valkenburg of the Shipwrecked Mariners Society. The Society helped merchant navy survivors throughout the war, providing clothes, food and paying for travel expenses. On arrival in Belmullet Hospital, the 36 survivors from Clan Menzies were checked by local doctors and cared for by the nursing staff. Food and clothing were supplied by Mr. Valkenburg.

Just as the Erris Head coast-watchers were rescuing the first lifeboat, a passing Irish vessel, S.S. Kyleclare, Master Captain J. McKeegan of the Limerick Steamship Company, came to the aid of the second lifeboat.

Kyleclare was on passage from Galway to Ballina, when she spotted the lifeboat, crowded with survivors from the Scottish ship, off Blackrock. Kyleclare took 52 men on board, 38 of them Natal Indians, and landed them safely at Enniscrone Pier at 8pm that evening where the survivors were warmly welcomed and looked after in the local school. Later, the British government expressed its thanks and appreciation for the rescues in a letter, dated November 2, 1940.

A regular visitor to both Ballina and Westport quays, the crew of Kyleclare were familiar with the North Mayo coast. In March 1940, the ship had been grounded on the Moy Bar on its outward journey from Ballina.

The eventual fate of Kyleclare exemplifies the high price paid by Irish merchant seamen during the Battle of the Atlantic which saw 16 Irish ships lost. The Kyleclare was sunk by U-B456 on February 23, 1943, after delivering coal to Lisbon with the loss of her Master A.R. Hamilton of Salthill, Galway, and the 18 Irish crew, including brothers, Able Seamen R. O’Briain and Liam O’Briain; both were married and lived in Dublin. Few families in these islands paid a higher price during World War 2 than the O’Briain family who also lost their father and two other brothers in the Battle of the Atlantic. 23

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.

5 replies on “The Tides of War”

It was fantastic to read the above..
My father was a light keeper at Blacksod, Eagle Island and Blackrock during the war. He told of being on Blackrock when a U boat crew landed looking for supplies and the altercation that ensued.
As my father told it, it was the winter of 1943 and he was stationed on Blackrock as trainee lightkeeper with one other keeper; sorry I don’t have a name for this chap, though it may have been Sweeney. Blackrock lighthouse is over 10 miles west of Blacksod light and Ireland’s most westerly lighthouse. He was stationed there and had as a companion a black dog called “Bess”.
A U-boat crew landed on Blackrock during the night and basically they were looking for supplies of water and food. When they were discovered by the lightkeepers it was obvious that they were armed. And the keepers were under strict orders not to be confrontational.
It got kinda ‘heavy’ when ‘Bess’ decided to protect the island and attacked one of the U-boat crew. The dog was kicked by the U-boat crewman prompting my dad to attack the crewman. A scuffle ensued and my dad found himself locked in a stores cupboard (that was now empty) in the lighthouse with ‘Bess’.”
“The senior lightkeeper was informed not to let my dad out until the U-boat had left.
“And that’s that, not a story about heroics or bravery, but an interesting story that has never been told, to the best of my knowledge.

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Mark, thanks for taking the time to comment.
I have been unable to find any documentary evidence of this raid in the historical records. If anyone has further knowledge or information regarding Mark’s story I would be delighted to hear from them.

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