The continuing search for author, artist & historian Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90)
For a number of years I’ve researched the life of Baron Avro Manhattan, who I first came across in 2012, he spent his last years in a terraced house in my hometown of South Shields. ‘Secrets & Lies’ documentary was produced in 2018, a link is at the end of the post.
Avro’s original name was Theophile Lucifer Gardini, the name change is looked at in post #2. This post focuses on Avro and the Second World War and includes research used to script a second documentary about this fascinating character.
In 1938 Gardini was in the UK listed as a Landscape painter living in Machynllech, Wales, and exhibiting his art in galleries including Bloomsbury Gallery in Mayfair, London.
On 10 June 1940 Italy declared war on Britain resulting in thousands of resident Italians being interned, and in Wales, the Aberystwyth police caught up with Gardini. Added to the prisoners of war, another 4,000 Italians were known to be members of the Fascist Party and this increase led to a problem within the UK.
Following offers from Canadian and Australian governments, more than 7,500 internees were shipped overseas aboard SS Ettrick, Duchess of York, Dunera and Arandora Star. Gardini left port on 3 July 1940 onboard the Ettrick bound for an internment camp in Canada.
Eight month after arriving he suddenly returned to the UK aboard the S.S. Georgic, then two month after that in May 1941 he was released as a ‘special case without restrictions’. A number of questions arise about this period.
Why did he return to the UK from Canada, where was he for the two month before release and why was an Italian who was looked upon as an enemy deemed ‘a special case’ four years before the war ended ?
There is a report that Gardini worked with British intelligence during the Second World War – was he recruited in the internment camp in Canada ? Was this the ‘special case without restrictions’?
Previously Gardini was imprisoned in Italy for refusing to swear to the Fascist oath, I imagine he would have rejected his Italian citizenship and was in hiding from any fascists still living in the UK, we can only speculate until concrete evidence turns up for this period.
During research there has been reports that have been misleading, especially the number of titles on his gravestone. But one he received was confirmed by a reputable organisation.
Listed on his headstone is the title Knight of Malta, reported to be awarded by the British Government for work during the war. To check whether he received this title, I got in touch with Debretts of London – if you’ve got a gong, you will be listed with them.
Friday 7 August 2015 email from Debretts.
‘I’ve been able to find very little about Baron Manhattan with only the Maltese decoration accredited and recorded – quite rightly too, given his admirable behaviour during WW2. Other than that I’m sorry not to be more help – I was hoping to discover something far more mysterious about him!’
Debretts, 16 Charles Street, Mayfair, London.
After the war Avro didn’t return to Italy, he settled in the UK and on 3 October 1949 took an oath of allegiance and became a British National. The certificate read – Teofilo Lucifero Gardini, also added was Avro Manhattan, born in Milan, Italy, 6th April 1910 – although on his death certificate in 1990 he was 76. It wasn’t until December 1953 when he was living in Wimbledon, London that he officially changed his name by Deed Poll.
If you have information about Italian born artist, author & historian Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Link to film:
Check the other posts about Baron Avro Manhattan :
Alikivi April 2021 & update April 2022