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Provost attends significant event to unveil headstone in honour of a victim of World War Two tragedy - the Arandora Star

Provost Arandora Star Ceremony

South Ayrshire Provost, Iain Campbell, attended a special event and held a Civic Ceremony in Girvan, to honour the memory of a victim of the 1940 Arandora Star tragedy. 

Provost Campbell gathered with the family of Francesco D'Inverno, along with others who lost family members in the tragedy, other local dignitaries, representatives of the Italian community and founders of Girvan and District Great War Project (GADGWP), Lorna and Ritchie Conaghan, to witness the unveiling and blessing of the headstone that marks the final resting place of Francesco.  

Francesco was onboard the ill-fated Arandora Star when it was torpedoed and then sank 75 miles west of Donegal, on 2 July 1940.   

When Italy sided with Germany in 1940, many Italians living in Britain, like Francesco, were rounded up as they were deemed 'Enemies of the State'. They were taken to camps with a view to deporting them to Canada and Australia.   

Over 800 people lost their lives in the Arandora Star tragedy - 486 of whom were Italian. 22 Italians whose bodies were washed ashore were identified and buried in cemeteries in Ireland and the Scottish Islands.  The one body that washed ashore on the Scottish mainland, that of Francesco, was buried in Girvan. 

In May 2023, Provost Campbell received an email from Michael Donnelly, a member of the Italian Garden Improvement Group (I.G.I.G.), seeking his help to erect a plaque at Girvan's Doune Cemetery.  The plaque would honour Francesco, however at that stage, no one knew where in the cemetery he had been buried. 

Provost Campbell enlisted the help of Girvan couple Lorna and Ritchie, who commenced meticulous research at the cemetery.  Beginning in the general location of where they knew Franceso might be buried, they photographed headstones to try to build up a picture of where he could be. Next, they sought help from staff at the Council's Masonhill Crematorium in Ayr, where the local burial records are kept. This led to them eventually pinpoint exactly where Francesco had been laid to rest. 

They also discovered that although Franceso was buried in Common Ground, there was no one buried in the same lair as him. This meant that rather than put up a simple plaque, a headstone could be erected to honour him. 

Funds were raised to commission and erect a headstone to mark Francesco's final resting place.  This was unveiled this week (Wednesday 17 April) at a special service to remember Francesco and all of the victims of the Arandora Star.  A Civic Reception was held shortly after to bring local Italian families together to share stories of loved ones long gone, but never forgotten. 

South Ayrshire Provost, Iain Campbell, said: "When I received an email out of the blue last year from Michael I was immediately intrigued and wanted to help.  Lorna and Ritchie of GADGWP are dedicated to carrying out detailed research work in this area, so I knew they would be the best people to contact to try to establish where Francesco was buried.   

"I'm glad to see a fitting tribute now in place to forever mark Francesco's final resting place. It's been an honour to have played a role in his story and to be able to pay my respects to him and the many others who perished following the torpedoing of the Arandora Star."  

Lorna and Ritchie Conaghan of GADGWP said: "We cannot begin to even try and explain what an honour and privilege it has been to have been involved in a monumental project such as this. The support from every corner has been amazing, from the local community to farther afield, it truly has been overwhelming at times. The staff in the various departments at South Ayrshire Council have been incredible in their efforts to help, and without this help this wouldn't have been possible. 

"We would like to thank every single person that has been involved from the very beginning and that is a very long list. Lifelong friendships have been forever forged and it is all down to one man...Francesco. We have had people coming up to us on the street asking how things are going with Francesco and he has become well known to many. Most importantly for us, is the closure that this has brought to his family, because until last year they were still of the belief that he was "Lost- Arandora Star" and his body had never been found. Also, closure to Sandy Ferguson, who had searched for years to find out what had happened to the man (Francesco) he found as a 9 year old boy back in 1940, just before he sadly passed away in September last year. 

"It is not about us, this is just what we do....Giving the Past a Future." 

More information about the Arandora Star and Francesco D'Inverno is available in our 'Finding Francesco' blog at www.south-ayrshire.gov.uk/article/60472/Finding-Francesco