Looking back it seems like a horror story

THE Sunday afternoons when rows of Italian ice cream vans lined the street outside the house, when there were freshly made bowls of pasta for dinner followed by singing and laughter are the ones that Rudy Muir prefers to remember.

They were the days when his father, a handsome artisan whose fine terrazzo and marble work adorned the foyers of many Edinburgh public buildings, would cook for his ice-cream vendor visitors: folk just like him with dark hair, swarthy Mediterranean complexions and an expressive, melodic language.

It was the late 1930s, before war, and everything in the young Rudy's life was good.

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Back then he was Rudolph Cianfarani, son of Deodato, a hardworking, talented Italian who came to Britain seeking a better life, who married an English girl in Newcastle and made their family home in Edinburgh.

But within five years, Deodato – like many Italian immigrants in Britain at the time – would be arrested as an enemy of the state and interned in the Isle of Wight.

Bad enough, but when he was finally freed, the joy of his homecoming was soured by the discovery that his wife, left penniless and desperate by the sudden arrest of her husband, already had another man to take his place.

It meant that for the young Rudy, the first time he saw his father after years apart, was also the last time he'd ever see him.

To this day he has no idea whatever became of the kind-natured, highly skilled, loving father who used to post comics containing a 6d postal order from his prisoner of war camp in the Isle of Man to the Humbie children's home where the evacuated young Rudy spent the war. And he knows nothing of his father's Italian family or what drove him to leave Italy to start a new and ultimately doomed life in Scotland.

He's now an 83-year-old grandfather, but the memories of what happened when Britain imposed internment on Italian men in 1940 still prompts tears of bitter regret.

"It was the government," he says quietly. "They were wholly ignorant of any danger the Italian community at that time posed.

"It was a botched job. They didn't do their homework and they made so many people suffer.

"I feel for the hundreds and thousands of people that were affected by that one decision.

"And I feel for that one man: my father."

For decades he has kept his thoughts to himself. Now as the 70th anniversary of the government's decision to impose internment on the country's Italian male population looms in June, he's chosen to recall the very personal impact of that one decision in the hope his story might help prompt official recognition for the plight of those it affected.

And he is supporting calls for either an apology or a memorial to mark the 70th anniversary of Italian internment – before the generation still affected by it are gone forever.

"My father was a very skilled man," recalls Rudy. "A gentler and more peaceful man you'd be hard put to find. But he suffered more than any man should have because of politicians."

Rudy was 12 years old when men came to arrest his father one day in early summer 1940.

"They were men dressed in dark suits. I was out playing with my mates, and they asked what was happening with my dad and we laughed it off.

"But there was this strange feeling of foreboding that something not right was happening, that this was something serious.

"I could only stand and watch while they put him in the van. My dad had a kind of puzzled look on his face, as if he was wondering what was happening."

Days earlier Churchill had given his "collar the lot" order, the result of Italian leader Mussolini's decision to enter the war on Hitler's side. For a generation of Italian immigrants who brought to Britain artistic skills like Rudy's father, who opened cafes and ice-cream parlours, or simply laboured hard to make ends meet, it heralded the beginning of years under arrest without trial.

Other nationalities were affected too: Austrian and Germans, ironically many of them Jews who had fled the Nazi uprising.

Some were deported: hundreds perished when the vessel taking them to internment in Canada, the Arandora Star, was torpedoed by a U-boat and sunk just off Ireland.

And some, like Rudy's father, were sent to the Isle of Man camps – within bed-and-breakfast or hotel accommodation, others in sprawling compounds of wooden huts originally used for internment during World War One – surrounded by barbed wire and under constant guard.

Internees dealt with the boredom by setting up artistic and educational projects – one camp boasted a university, another had a drama group and a library. There were lectures, concerts even camp newspapers.

While Rudy's father languished under arrest, his mother, Jean, faced her own challenges.

With one son and four daughters to look after and no income, the once lavish family meals of pasta, mince and tatties, casseroles and home baking were replaced with two slices of bread fried in lard.

Soon she recognised the benefits of having Rudy and his two younger sisters evacuated to the countryside – for a start, it meant fewer mouths to feed.

While his sisters Veronica and Yolanda went to Middleton near Gorebridge, Rudy was sent alone to Humbie in East Lothian where, ironically, the skies overhead saw the early action of the war take place, with the first German bomber to be shot down in Britain coming down in the Lammermuir Hills watched by the evacuees.

Sadly Rudy was out of sight and out of mind. His mother, caught up in her own life in Edinburgh, visited only once, bringing with her the man who would eventually take Rudy's father's place.

"Visitors were allowed once a month, but after a couple of months I realised nobody was coming for me," he recalls. "Post times were exciting, but the same thing happened, not for me.

"I would take myself into the woods and have a good cry."

His interned father, however, kept Rudy in mind. Occasionally a rolled up comic with an Isle of Man stamp would arrive, tucked inside would be a 6d postal order.

After around three years, Rudy went home. He was outside the family home in Loganlea Drive – scene of those pre-war gatherings now home to his mother's new man – when he saw a familiar figure walking towards him.

"It was a Saturday evening," recalls Rudy. "My father just appeared from nowhere, he came towards me with this smile on his face. He was a very handsome man. He gave me a hug and said 'how are you?'

"Then he said he'd go inside and see how my mum was and then we'd go to the pictures together.

"I was very apprehensive as I knew my mother had a new partner – and he was in the house."

What followed might have been laughable if not ultimately so tragic. Rudy watched as the man who would later become his stepfather and whose name he'd eventually adopt – Muir seemed at the time a better option than Cianfarani – leapt in panic from a window wearing only his shirt and socks and ran from the house.

"I never found out what was said," he recalls. "I only know my father came out of the house, spoke with me for a while then said goodbye.

"I never ever saw him again."

Rudy never found out what happened to his father. "I think there was one or two registered letters with money in them that came from Stornoway or Orkney which showed that he was a caring man who didn't want to think of his family being in need if he could help.

"But I've never found out anything else," he sighs.

Churchill's "collar the lot" order was perhaps made with the country's interests at heart but, argues Rudy, "scarred us all for life."

"Looking back on these times all of 70 years ago sometimes feels like a nightmare, a horror story," he says.

"This was a very traumatic experience for a young boy, maybe just old enough to understand why this should be happening.

"When you think how today in modern times we embrace all cultures with care and affection, it seemed so very cruel that this should take place in Great Britain, of all places.

"My father was a very unlucky man. We were a very unlucky family . . .

"Child casualties of war."

IMMIGRANTS' FALL FROM GRACE

THEY came to Scotland seeking a better life. Edinburgh welcomed Italian immigrants and fell in love with their ice cream, food, and Continental ways.

But as war raged across Europe, attitudes began to change. And when Mussolini entered the war on Hitler's side in June 1940, fears that Italians living here could be a potential security threat to the nation reached fever pitch. There were at least 20,000 Italians in Britain and Churchill wanted them rounded up – including those who had lived here for decades.

People turned on the Italian families they had once welcomed and their shops were often attacked.

Amid the shocking scenes there was kindness. Some Italians were looked after by locals, their businesses kept running and returned to them after the war.