Interviewee of the Month – February 2021
Our interviewee of the month for February is Victor Maddalena (W&M21) who was born in Belfast in August 1936. While Victor and both his parents were born in the United Kingdom, his family were proud to be part of the Italian community in Northern Ireland. Being an Italian in Northern Ireland during the Second World War was difficult with Victor remembering that his parents felt out of place at times; ‘It was a them and us sort of thing. I didn’t notice anything and never had any problem with the people here… so it might just have been during the bit of the war when we were at war with Italy’.
There were many local Italians not as fortunate as Victor and his family. They had a number of friends who were deported; ‘If you were Italian here and you didn’t have a British passport you were deported, you were put on a boat and sent to Australia and all this carry on’. While Victor’s family were safe from deportation many other local Italian families were broken up when their fathers or husbands were deported for the duration of the war. Victor recalled that ‘mother would have taken us to Portrush every year to visit ‘the Forte’s in Portrush. Angelo Forte, he was deported. Nancy, his wife, was left to run their big café there. Nancy was a relative of mother’s and we used to go to Portrush to see her. We always stayed there for a couple of weeks, messed about down the sand, the big dunes and made sandcastles and stuff kids do. We did a lot of fishing.’
Victor and his family ran the City Café on Queen’s Square next to the Albert Clock and lived in a flat above the shop. Victor doesn’t remember much about the first major raid on Belfast on the 7th/8th April 1941 but remembers what his parents said, ‘I’ll tell you how bad it was …. In the cafe, there were sailors, and they were torpedoed at sea somewhere and they were at the cafe. When the Blitz started, their nerves got the better of them and they were rolling about the floor. Now this is only a story I heard I never saw it, but it must have been pretty bad. The whole place was shaking every time the bombs came down. There were whistling bombs and you could hear them getting louder and louder and then BOOM! The whole place went. The aul’ building we were in, there were big archways that the doors were in and big thick walls and we were stuck under the arch for protection in case the roof came down.’
Shortly after the first raid, Victor and his family left the City Centre and moved to Deramore Street off the Ormeau Road to escape future raids. It was there they were living during the infamous Easter Tuesday Raid on the 15th/16th April 1941. ‘We were up there, and the Blitz started. My uncle Ernest had a motorbike and sidecar, and he took us way up to Carryduff away out of the road from the Blitz and we spent the night in a farmer’s barn, a big hay barn. The sidecar had a toolbox at the back of it and me and my cousin sat with our legs in the toolbox… my parents and all… a whole load of people in this sidecar and maybe we weren’t all fitting in. My brother says that he remembers flares coming down and popping on the road when we were driving up, but I didn’t see them’.
This Belfast Telegraph photograph was taken from the top of the Albert Clock shortly after the air raids. It shows the corner of Waring Street and Victoria Street and if you look closely you can see Belfast Cathedral in the background. Nearby, much of High Street was reduced to rubble.
Thankfully Victor and his family all survived the Blitz. In later years Victor was able to visit Casalattico in Italy where some of his family originally came from.
Do you have any memories of the air raids on Belfast? Perhaps you were evacuated away from the city and spent the war in the countryside? If you have memories of the Second World War that you wish to share, please get in touch with our Oral History Project Co-ordinator Michael by email email@example.com or call us at 07588 634847.