The Italian Connection

— #13 Main Street East

Overview Businesses on Main Street (East) The Italian Connection The Willow Tree Legend

Four Italian Families

Newhaven may have had a reputation of being insular and guarded about incomers but, ironically, has never had any issues about integrating people who came from abroad — probably identifying with the time when craftsmen came from the Continent to build the Great Michael.

The businesses of four Italian families — the Crollas, the Gisertiris, the Lannis and the Ranaldis — were well supported and the members of their households highly regarded and fully integrated into the community.

At the start of WW2, Britain adopted a reasonable policy towards  Germans, Austrians and Italians who lived here. Basically, the idea was to sort out from these ‘enemy aliens’ who was anti-Nazi and to leave them free. The basic idea was to separate the anti-Nazis from all these ‘enemy aliens’ and let the former stay free.  However, the evacuation from Dunkirk and Mussolini’s declaration of war against Britain on 10 June, 1940 caused Churchill to issue his famous pronouncement ‘Collar the lot!’. As a result, all German and Italian males between 16 and 70 were rounded up.

Italy’s entry into the war had immediate and dramatic consequences locally. Italian-owned shops down Leith Walk and into the Kirkgate were plundered. Next morning it looked as if a series of bombs, each targeted on an Italian shop, had landed down the entire length of Leith Walk.  

Ben Crolla outside his Ice cream parlour at 28 Main Street. which Jim Park remembers as . . ."the brightest shop in the village. Its large window advertised tobacco and cigarettes. The other window displayed numerous jars of sweeties Inside, everything gleamed with mirrors, shelves full of toffee jars of all kinds and large glasses for ice creams He sold all the Sunday papers It was a very busy shop as it was next to the tram car stop mainly used by the villagers."

However, none of the four Italian shops in Newhaven was affected by the rampaging that had broken out so close at hand in Leith. This was thanks to the spontaneous stance taken by many villagers, predominantly the womenfolk, to prevent any such attacks.

In Chris Garner’s book, Newhaven: A Scottish Fishing Community 1928-1978, he cites the recollections of  Peter Ranaldi, son of the shop owner Jo Ranaldi and 12 years old at the time. Before he was ushered away from the scene, in case of violence, Peter remembers a crowd of people gathering in the Main Street consisting of his older brothers and their pals together with a collection of men and women. They knew that people would be coming from Leith and when the invaders duly arrived, fighting broke out and the incomers were chased away after scuffling in the Main Street. There are stories of women standing against the shop windows, their arms outstretched in order to stop any missiles being thrown at the windows.

If one were looking for an example of community solidarity, this would surely be it and, significantly, women appear to have played a dominant role.

2_8018 Jo Ranaldi, Jnr in his Main Street Shop and Cafe withhis two sons.

Peter Ranaldi and his family tragically lost their grandfather, Jo Snr, when the Arandora Star was sunk by a U-boat on 2nd July 1940 while transporting detainees and some German prisoners of war to Canada. In all, 805 passengers and crew were lost, including almost three-quarters of the Italian detainees. Jo had been crippled from a young age and it was believed that this left him unable to abandon ship.  Ben Crolla, however,  was one of the luck ones and was able to return to the UK and Newhaven after the war.

The Crollas threw a party for all the villagers in Victoria School in celebration of his home-coming. For a few years thereafter the Crolla family also provided a Christmas party for Newhaven’s children free of charge.

Alessandro, or Andrew, Lanni had served during the Great War with the East Yorks Regiment and was allowed to join the Pioneer Corps for the duration of the Second World War.

According to Chris Garner’s research, George Gisertiri had failed his driving test 15 times and was For a few years thereafter the Crolla family also provided a Christmas party for Newhaven’s children free of charge., therefore, to be no threat to Great Britain (other to other road users) and was left free.  The fact that he was married to Mary, a strong-minded Newhavener, would probably be the more likely reason.

Tony Lanni, Mr & Mrs Lanni and Conni Lanni with the construction of the Rank Flour Mill behind. Taken on the promenade at Anchorfield, Newhaven