The Memoirs of Richard Cyril de Souza
I have been asked to write an account of our origins so that my children and their children can know their ancestry.
Barbara has researched her own family tree and will bequeath documents and papers relating to both her father’s family (the Snashalls of Kent) and her mother’s (the Butlers of Buckinghamshire).
MY FATHER’S FAMILY
My father was Frederick George de Souza and his parents were Frederick Adolphus and Jane (nee Gouge). They are described as Eurasian in his Baptism Certificate: he was born on 8 September 1887 and Jane died a few days later. He was their first and only child. They lived at the time in Ahmedabad (
Western India). My grandfather was the son of a Spanish Portuguese who arrived in India in the middle of the nineteenth century and we have no documents as to his marriage; nor do we know anything of Jane Gouge’s origins except the entries in my father’s Baptism Certificate, and anecdotes I recall hearing from my father’s step-mother, once married to Frederick Adolphus and mother of my father’s half-brothers and half-sister.
My father was known as Pops for most of his life, but I always called him Pa as I felt that Pops was for the grownups. He was held in considerable affection by all his brothers and his sister, by all his children and a large circle of in-laws and friends.
It is sad that I know so little of Pa’s home background as a child and indeed as a young man before he met my mother in
. We do know that his father married again - Louise Blake and the first memory I have of her is as Granny Hall, for, as I am myself one of the youngest in the family, by the time I was born and indeed long before my own parents had met and married, Louise Blake de Souza had been widowed and had married Mr Hall and had changed the names of her children (de Souzas) and brought them up as Anglo Indians with Hall as their surname. Burma
By our grandfather (F A de 5) Granny Hall had three sons, Ernest, Cyril and Philip and a daughter, Louise. There was one son born to Mr Hall, Roland, whom I remember in
before the war. All my father’s brothers were lost on the trek from Burma Burmato in 1942 and Louise was left behind to face the Japanese occupation on her own. We also assumed that Granny Hall did not survive: indeed she had had cancer just before the war started and her leg had been amputated above the knee. In the confusion and drama of the disastrous defeat by invading Japanese soldiers (who were more than amply supported by their airforce, whereas we had nothing but a battalion or two of ill equipped regulars and mobilised civilians) it was all we could do to save our own lives and try to take in repeated news of close relations and dear friends having been lost or badly wounded without ourselves becoming demoralised. It was not until months and years later that we came to realise that individual uncles, cousins or friends were lost forever. India
In the case of the Halls I first re-established contact in 1960 with Louise who had come to live in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex with her daughter, the child of a love affair with an Englishman she had met in the exciting times of the 1945 liberation of
by British and American forces. It was Louise who told me that all her brothers had perished during the war, and that there were surviving children here and there, but she had lost contact with them over the years. Some have appeared in Burma Pakistan, in Canadaand in , but we do not keep in touch now. Australia
Thus Pa’s family history will only unfold if someone researches records of Ahmedabad in 1887 to obtain information about the Gouge family and thereby possibly of Frederick Adolphus de Souza.
What I remember being told is that Pa was sent away to boarding school as a very young boy. I once saw a letter, which Ma had preserved, from him to his father and step-mother pleading with them to buy him a new hat as his was now one year old and all the other boys had returned for the new term completely outfitted with new clothes and new hats. I never discovered if his pleading was successful.
THE WEDDING OF MY MOTHER AND FATHER
The next information I recall was that Ma was all set to enter
to study medicine: (this must have taken some doing for a young woman in 1909 - 1910 from a sheltered Eurasian family, long before the days of women’s freedom of movement brought about by the First World War). Along came F.G deS and thereupon Edinburgh University and medicine were forgotten. Edinburgh
22nd February 1911 was their wedding day. This was to prove a bit of a watershed and was talked about by old friends of the family as an event to remember - certainly photographs recorded a huge affair in the grand Edwardian manner. Ma’s mother, (Harriet Ballard Phaure) was a person of some refinement and taste, by all accounts, and personally supervised and indeed carried out many detailed preparations for her only daughter’s wedding herself. Grandma supervised the tailors, the carpenters, the cooks, the butler, the waiters, the maids -down to the last detail. She personally had the thick bamboo pillars which supported the marquee (pandall in Anglo-Indian patois) covered in fresh moss and then studded with spirals of fresh roses and rose-buds and jasmine. She chose the patterns of the gowns, including those of eight bridesmaids, all of whom were captured for posterity in their wide-brimmed flower bedecked hats, eighteen inch wasp-waists and embroidered voile dresses. Alas all these records were abandoned when we took flight from the Japanese in 1942, but there are one or two surviving photographs which have been copied and distributed to various interested family members. Joe Phaure and Cyril Phaure can be recognised as page-boys in 1911. Yes, the Joe Phaure who aged 87 romped with Edward de Souza his great-grand-nephew in 1992 when many family members met in Wembley to celebrate Bobby Rodgers’ 75th birthday on 26th July 1992.
So it is was in this manner that my father first appears on the Burmese scene. As I said earlier his childhood remains something of a closed book to us because he was not a man to say much about himself. Our family was rather dominated by the Phaures and Ballards and their many connections who all appeared in
Burmajust before and just after the British annexation of Upper Burmain 1887.
MY MOTHER’S FAMILY
So now to the Phaure family. Our grandfather was Francois Charles, born in
Pondicherry, the French enclave in South India, to Theodore Jean Phaure and Louise (nee Bische). Theodore, our great-grandfather was born on 18 August 1825, and I, Richard de Souza was born on 18 August 1925. His mother was Brigitte Lindore. No written record has been found to prove who Theodore’s father was: my mother was told that he was a Frenchman of ‘good’ family named Faure d’Entremont who was disowned by his father because of his liaison with an Indian woman. I am assuming that the Indian woman was Brigitte Lindore, who could have been an Eurasian of Indo-French origin or an Indian Christian woman who had been given the French name Brigitte Lindore in the custom of the time. French and Portuguese colonisers in gave European names to baptised persons in their enclaves and these names were used together with Indian surnames. At one stage it became fashionable and indeed politically and economically correct to drop the Indian surnames. We knew many Indian Christian families who styled themselves Anglo-Indian to obtain the advantages of positive discrimination which was practised by the then British administration. I mention these details to clarify the origins of the Phaures. India
The Faures of Pondicherry were wine merchants of long standing in
. It is not surprising that one of them became involved with a native girl and started a family which was to spread Eastwards to India Burmaand Indo-China ( Vietnam) and in some cases back to . Phaures are now found in France Paris, in England, in Canada, and in . Australia
Our grandfather Francois Charles and his brother Rose sought their fortunes in
, married there, founded families and lived and died there. Rose married a Shan lady from the Burma Highlandsand had Mary and Maud. He died young and his wife sent his daughters to my grandfather’s household where they were brought up with my mother and her brothers. Two of my grandfather’s sisters followed him. Mimi remained a spinster, Alicewas married to Mr Theodore, an Anglo-Indian from . She had been widowed long before I was born and she lived with her son Vincent who was about by mother’s age and had been brought up like her in Madras . We always visited her when we were in Burma Northern Burmaand I have vivid and happy memories of a lovely old Victorian great-aunt who always made a great fuss of us. Vincent was an engineer, like many other Phaures, lovely fellow, too, the Joe Phaure of his time: he never married and looked after his mother and spinster aunt most loyally. When he died his will was found to contain a legacy for my mother in memory of ‘a happy shared childhood’. (It is useful to say that this family of Phaures comprising Francois Charles,Jules, Beatrice, Rose, Alice, Mimi et al were the children of Theodore and Louise Bische of ) Pondicherry
in the nineteenth century. There was an established presence of French, Portuguese and British adventurers, administrators from the East India Company and some Dutch colonisers in Burma Ceylon( ) in the so-called Indian sub-continent. Sri Lanka Burmawas next door to Indiaunder a despotic king, and as the British grew stronger and more confident in their expansionism they established a firm foothold in Lower Burmaand then took over, pushing the Burmese kingdom northwards. In due course there followed intrigues among the French and British at the court of the Burmese king in , compounded by the scheming Queen Supiyalat and the weak King Thibaw. The plotting and counter plotting ended in their dethronement and exile to Mandalay . In their place there followed a strong British administration. India
In the course of Indo-British history there were movements of a specific group of people namely European/Eurasian descendants of the adventurers, merchants, soldiers of the East india Company and the succeeding British Army, who had married and settled in
in previous generations. India
It was against this background that my grandfather who was already in the service of the Burmese authority of the time met my grandmother, the daughter of David Edwin Ballard and Georgiana Cole. D.E.Ballard was a Sergeant Major in the British Army in
. Many such serving soldiers and their families found themselves in India Burma, which proved to be something of an El Doradoand they all settled there in the expectation that the British Empirewould last for all time. They were joined by other Europeans and Eurasians from India and soon formed a thriving community of merchants, doctors, engineers, lawyers and administrators, augmented by the extension of railways, roads, telegraph and telephone installations, and large UK based enterprises in the timber, oil, silver, diamond and ruby industries.
Harriet Ballard married Francois Charles Phaure in the RC Cathedral in
on 5 June 1889. There followed a period of some stability interrupted by the Great War, but without extensive loss of life and breakup of families. My grandparents were separated by twenty years in age and by denomination, for the Phaures were Catholic and the ColeBallards were Church of England; but by all accounts it was a successful, happy marriage, blessed by many sons and one daughter, my mother, Georgiana Louisa, who was their second child, born in 1891. They called themselves Ballard Phaure to distinguish themselves from the large and growing number of Phaures in other parts of Asia and Mandalay Europe.
Like all large families the Phaures had the odd skeleton in the cupboard. As a child I would sometimes overhear whispered stories about someone called ‘Sharl’ and it was some little time before I realised that he was my grandfather, known in the family by his second name, Charles.
Ma said little about her father although she left many anecdotes about her mother, Harriet. I asked Joe Phaure why this was so and he could not say (this was in 1992); but I recalled that I once or twice heard my mother refer to "those men who drove nails in my father’s coffin". "Ah", said Joe, "My father was an excellent entreprenneur and had established himself as one of the worthies of
at the turn of the century. He had the ear of the Governor, Mama rode with Lady Adamson, all their sons were led to high office in the British administration." Joe went on to say his father was a brilliant engineer and that his contribution to the fair city of Mandalay after the British take-over was considerable. In the fashion of the time this meant not just preferment in professional and social life but in financial terms as well. One concludes that gifts in cash and kind were often exchanged for favours and those who did not benefit by this liberal and carefree way of life were naturally envious. Mandalay
Thus a group of men opposed to M. Phaure sought his downfall. When Georgie’ s wedding plans became known the lavish arrangements were seen as extravagance which could only have bee afforded if there were an irregular source upon which Phaure could draw. The Governor’s attention was drawn to the display of wealth; there followed a public disgrace and Grandfather was broken. He died the following November a week after the birth of his first grandchild, Freddie de Souza.
(1911) I cannot recall hearing very much about our family’s activities in the first two decades of my parents’ marriage. We knew that Grandmother married Mr Swyny in 1913 and that Tony Swyny was born in 1915. Sadly she died within a fortnight of his birth and Tony was left to be cared for by our mother, his married half-sister who had four of her own small children to bring up in addition to her young brothers who had been orphaned. To return to the winter of 1911, Grandmother must have faced an enormous problem on finding herself a young widow with several small children. Fortunately she and Ma were very close and shared the task of caring for the large combined household, aided by Mrs Martin, the old family Nurse. Harriet and Swyny had been friends almost since childhood and Swyny had long been a widower with a son, Edward, who had grown up with the young Phaures. Ma told me that she had always thought that Mr Swyny (called Ninny) and Grandmother had been childhoo~wee thearts; Harriet had been persuaded into marriage with F.t.Phaure for reasons of comfort and security by her father, David Ballard who had married F.C. Phaure’ s sister when he was widowed on the death of Georgiana Cole. It is to Harriet’s credit that she was a loving and faithful wife for two and twenty years: but Ma said that she advised her mother to lose no more time when Grandfather had died and assured Harriet that it would be best for everybody concerned if she remarried without further ado. At the very least it would stop tongues wagging as Ninny and his son Eddie practically lived at Rangemore, the family home of the Phaures. And so it was that our family together with the young Phaures and Swynys came to live in Rangemore. I was born there as were my older brothers and sisters and we lived there until I was a year old, when the de Souza family moved to
I gleaned small items of information from my parents, more from Ma of course, as I grew up. Pa had to leave home from time to time to serve the needs of the Raj. During the 1914-1918 war he served in
Iraq(Mesopotamia): there was then a short spell in , and other Indian postings. Ma grew tired of trailing her young family around or leaving them with nannies and housekeepers in Rangemore so when Pa had once again to serve in Lahore in 1921 she stayed behind. David was a baby so she had good reason to remain in India . Pa did not return for three years, so she had a holiday from child-bearing for a while. I was born in 1925. Mandalay
My brothers and sisters were Fred b 1911, the twins Mary and Dorothy b 1913, George b 1914, Herbert b &d 1916, Gladys b 1918, David b 1921, Me b 1925, Daphne b 1927, Joe b 1930 .....at which point the "big girls’ read the riot act and insisted on Ma and Pa having separate bedrooms!
I have no personal recollection of early childhood in Rangemore. My first memory was a burglary in 1928 in Thompson Street Rangoon, and at about the same time, my brother George being carried home with a big grin on his face, knocked-out and concussed by a cricket ball during a game on the "maidan" (a large grassed open space used for ball-games). Maybe this put me off cricket for ever. My next memory was accompanying Ma to the "Globe", a modern American style cinema in
. Ma was the resident pianist, and I recall her piano in a pit below the screen. Next to her piano stood a tall stool on which we as children would sit, allowed from time to time to go with her to work. Early Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Keystone Cops, and Laurel and Hardy films are vivid memories. In 1930 I remember Ma coming home in a taxi, looking faint, and the following morning I recall a howling baby, Joe. Daphne and I had been packed off to friends for the evening and were allowed back home once the baby had been delivered. Rangoon
As I said, the girls "put a stop" to further babies for Ma. She did not return to work, for the depression years had set in and her job was no longer there. Also "tawkiz" had replaced the old silent films increasingly so there was no need for a pianist and music scores with labels saying "gunfire", "tender-scene between lovers", "galloping horses" and so on. However, the proprietors of the "Globe’ never forgot Ma’s loyal service and until they sold the cinema in 1938 we were always allowed free seats: and the best seats too. We always felt quite grand looking over the balcony at the cheaper stalls: over the years our main recreation, apart from games outside our own home and the homes of relatives and our parents’ close friends, was the cinema: first the cinema where Ma used to work and then others which opened as the influence of Hollywood took Rangoon in its stride along with other Eastern cities - Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong.
We grew familiar with all the latest on offer from America -from Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, the stars of the "Gold Diggers" series, to Pa’s favourite Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Charles Laughton, Mae West of course, Henry Fonda, and latterly Priscilla and Rosemary Lane, John Garfield, Deanna Durbin, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, John Wayne - the tout ensemble of Hollywood, and in the 1938-1941 phase Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Attenborough and Coward from England, and all the talent and stars who straddled the planet from East to West.
Australia and Canada were young countries which either had nothing to export culturally or could not afford to: but from England and America we had visiting musicians, from Russia we had magnificent circuses: little else from Europe, curiously nothing from France or Spain or Germany, who sent only teachers to staff Roman Catholic schools. Too busy perhaps with their satellite colonies in Africa and
South America, or preparing for the Second World War. We did of course have other diversions and festivals both Christian and Buddhist. Our school holidays always took account of Buddhist sensibilities although it was a Roman Catholic institution. This enabled us to participate in the Spring Water Festival (which celebrated the annual descent of the King of the Spirits to Earth) when we would douse all our friends with buckets of water from sunrise to sunset on the appointed day (Thingyan). At the end of the year we would mark Thadingyut by a festival of lights when every Buddhist household would be lit with lanterns made of bamboo and coloured paper and hung in strings and circles and pyramids all around their houses and gardens. We would go on sightseeing journeys for the lights and for the pwes (open air music hall) and the generous hospitality of all the citizens who held open house if they could at all afford it.
CHILDHOOD AND SCHOOLING
By 1930, we were living in 24,
49th Street Rangoon, in a rented house owned by a widow, Mrs Machado, who lived in a large stucco house at the end of the street. The Machado family were some eight or more in number, and covered an age span rather larger than ours. One of the younger sons was Dommie (Dominic) who had served an apprenticeship in the Merchant Navy and was an engineer on the steamship line which served India, Burma and
Malaya: B.I.S.N. (British India Steam Navigation) and later SCINDIA (Steamship Company of
The twins by now seventeen, attracted Jumbo Pereira and Dommie Machado and for years we had observed a welcome for Jumbo but coolness towards Dom on my father’s part. Jumbo came from an Anglo-Burmese family (Eurasian). Mr Pereira was a Portuguese who married Lucy Miller, daughter of an English surgeon and a Burmese lady. Jumbo’s family was large, in the tradition of the day, and were part of the close community of prosperous Eurasians who provided senior managers, administrators, service officers and professional men. A further bond arose from the common adherence to the Roman Catholicism of their Portuguese and French ancestors. Jumbo’s elder sister, Isobel, was married in 1923 to Ma’s brother, Ally (Aloysius) Phaure, a Barrister and Bachelor of Laws who was appointed to the Civil
Administration of the colonial government. So, not surprisingly, Jumbo was already in the tribe when he paid court to my sister Dorothy.
My sisters were educated in the convent schools which were run by nuns of the Good Shepherd order of teachers, who were not missionaries, but mostly came from
Britain, Irelandand France, to provide schools for Catholic families in Burmaand the Far East. In effect, like the teaching "brothers" of the (French) order of St John Baptist de la Salle, they were founders of European schools for the children of the colonial administrators and military personnel who had chosen to keep their children and send them to local schools rather than dispatching them to attend boarding schools in Indiaor . England
We boys went to "Brother Schools" as
St Paul’s Rangoonand St Peter’s were known. These were large comprehensives for boys aged 5-16, boarders and day-boys. For people who could not afford the full fees (the boarding fees were graded 1st, 2nd and 3rd) the brothers discreetly made private arrangements. The nuns did not run orphanages, but the brothers did, in a small riverside village called Twante. In the neighbouring villages, there lived a small number of native Christian people, mostly from the Karen community, many of whom were Roman Catholic. They were admitted free, along with Eurasian boys whose fathers had returned to their European homes leaving little or no financial provision for their offspring by Burmese women, who were by custom agreeable to long-term liaisons with ex-patriate Europeans who worked in oil fields, or mined silver, gold, rubies and diamonds, or cultivated teak, other timbers, or rubber, or merchanted the products of mining and cultivation. Once their contracts expired they would cheerfully leave their local "families" and return home, forgetting their Burmese wives and children. Mandalay
Some of these people who came not to colonise or administer the ‘Raj’ but for purely commercial reasons were thoughtful enough on departing for their home countries to leave substantial sums of money with the Nuns or the Brothers for the education and upbringing of their children. Their Burmese ex-wives were always willing to part with their offspring in the knowledge that they would stand a better chance as adults if they were properly nurtured and educated in tne Western mode. Remember that until the end of the Raj there was always a quota of jobs reserved for Eurasians even if only semi-officially. In Burma, unlike India the Ral did not last long enough for racial prejudice to poison the middle classes too deeply, and Eurasian men and women were held in considerable regard by the colonisers, many of whom were themselves married to Burmese ladies or had close relations who were.
At this point I will say a little about myself. I must have been a tiresome little boy because I was so precocious. My brother George and his friends in particular took exception to my articulate manner; they regarded me as effeminate, overly artistic and too well spoken, and took every opportunity to beat me on the head when my parents were not around. Their vigorous dislike was made worse by the fact that my elder sisters were my champions and in order to protect me they spoilt me a little. Thus on occasions when my parents were absent and my sisters were otherwise engaged George and his friends would taunt and tease me until I reacted in what they called an insolent manner and so a smack on the head would be my reward. Of course I howled blue murder, my sisters would appear on the scene and a fine old row would ensue. There were times of course when I would willingly have run away but nobody was likely to have me so I just stayed put, sometimes eating my heart out with self pity.
Then when I was about ten years old I found myself in a class in school which had been given into the care of a young Irish teacher who taught the same class of boys for two years. He was a scant twenty two years of age without any preconceived ideas of the ‘foreign’ surroundings and people among whom he now found himself and in consequence he opened up a whole new world of ideas for me. In a way he set the scene for me to proceed with the questions which my young mind was asking.
Later on I was taught by men of many races, from many countries in Europe, from
Indiaand from the Carribean islandof Jamaica, and of course from herself. I think we were fortunate in this because it opened many doors, and for myself not least because I could soon meet my brother George as an equal. He was academically able and when he had outgrown his adolescent toughness we became good friends and shared a great deal. He was something of a role model when I was in my early teens as he had been to University and I was in a way showing some promise as well. The Japanese War separated us but we met once when I was eighteen and stood as his groomsman on his wedding day in Burma in 1944. We never met again because the British Raj ended, I returned to Lucknow Burmain the Army and then left to live in . George remained in England Indiaand in the troubles that followed the partition of into two countries he was killed in a train which was blown up by terrorists in 1950. India
THE BRITISH IN
BURMA, THE INFLUENCE OF JAPAN
Although the period of British colonial administration was short (Upper Burma was not annexed until 1885) the influence of Imperial British India was felt in
for much longer. Burma
Commercial infiltration had occurred centuries earlier and the British had vied with the French and the Portuguese. At the end of the reign of the Burmese kings there was a fine old ‘dron of intrigue, plots and counter plots in
which .d with the swaggering success of the British group at the t of Thibaw. Mandalay
In fairness to the Raj the virtues of Pax Britannica were soon felt in
Burmaand the next half century proved stable and prosperous under the ‘Heaven Borne, with Burmaregarded, somewhat insensitively, as a . As a child I was taught to regard provinceof India Burmaas ‘Further India’, and it was therefore an intriguing experience to be part of a welcoming crowd when the Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, visited us in great state to confer Separate Status for in 1935. Sir Archibald Cochrane was installed as Governor of Burma accountable to Burma Londondirectly and not through any longer. Alas this was some decades too late for the proud Burmese had by then become disenchanted and were looking elsewhere for inspiration. Nationalism grew and political uprisings began to take place. It seemingly never occurred to the British to confer Dominion Status on New Delhi Burmain line with Canada, Australiaand . This would surely have enhanced and strengthened the link between South Africa Rangoonand . London
The educated and politically aware younger generation in
had benefitted from a beautiful and well run University with standards accepted all over the world. But their aspirations were ignored and so they turned to the new mentor in the East: Burma . In the last few decades Japan Japanhad grown in power and influence and sought expansion in South Asiaand the Pacific. The Japanese encouraged Burmese nationalism and soon this was felt in all social and political affairs. The slogan was ‘ for the Burmans’ and ‘We are the Irish of the East’ Burma
Caught once again between two fires the Eurasian community was faced with the choice of alignment either with our British loyalties and our preponderantly European culture or with our deep and ancient ties of descent and domicile in
Asia. It has been said that the Eurasians and Anglo Indians in Indiafaced a similar dilemma yet it seemed more poignant in for we had tangible evidence of our mixed inheritance in our parents or grandparents and close cousins. We were also not very strong numerically and had no power base. Unlike our counterparts in Burma Indiawe did not consider Englandour homeland: was home. Burma
It hurt and disturbed us when our Burmese playmates sometimes asked, in a teasing fashion but quite often seriously, where we would go when
became an independent nation. Turning to our parents for an answer the question was laughed away; the British would never leave Burma , the status quo was there for good. Ten years later ‘that man Gandhi’ had roused the sleeping subcontinent next door, the Japanese had come and gone, the British had retreated and then returned, and a new philosophy had emerged and had become established in Britain at the end of the Second World War. Our world changed completely and for ever. Burma
MYSELF AND THE FAMILY IN THE YEARS BEFORE THE WAR
Let us return to 1936. My early childhood was slipping away and I began to assert my own individuality. My education proceeded and my success at school was reflected in my position at home and with my relations and friends. I also made friends with young people around my own age group and began to have fun. The misery of the Thirties’ depression was beginning to fade and life for everybody became altogether more relaxed. In that year my sister Dotty was married to Jumbo Pereira. This was the second time that these old Eurasian houses had come together; in the twenties Jumbo’s elder sister Isobel had married my mother’s brother, Ally Phaure. 1936 was quite a good year for our family; in February Ma and Pa celebrated their Silver Wedding Anniversary and several of their brothers and their families had attended the celebrations. In April there was the family wedding of the year and for this event the whole clan of Phaures foregathered in
. I remember my parents rented a house in the same street we lived in to accommodate the visitors from ‘up-country i.e. Rangoon and Maymyo. Mandalay
Preparations were enormous fun for us children. We helped with the cake which my mother insisted she make herself. The recipe went something like ‘separate one gross of eggwhites from their yolks, cream a stone of butter with a stone of sugar’ and on and on it went, to the goggle-eyed delight of all who witnessed this amazing performance. The whole month before the event was given over to a festival of family and friends. Each evening my parents received visitors who were entertained to long descriptions of the bride’s dress, the bridesmaids’ specially designed Spanish style gowns, the wines and the food which were to be served on the wedding day, and all the parties which would take place before the event and for days afterwards. My father was a keen amateur wine-maker and would offer all his visitors a glass or two of strawberry or damson wine or his milk punch made with rum from the Manadalay Brewery; this punch being of the clearest amber colour always baffled me because he used milk which curdled in the process.
Dotty and Jumbo were married on 27 April 1936, my brother George’ s twenty second birthday. (NB twenty five years later Richard George John was born to Barbara and Dick de Souza in Walthamstow,
The next few years were times of great pleasantness especially for me. I was growing up of course and doing well at school, winning recognition thereby. I won a scholarship in 1938 which gave my parents pleasure, although my mother as usual was sparing in her praise. But Pa was demonstrably pleased and rewarded me with music lessons from Miss Strong, a lady whose piano instruction was considered the best in
. So I started at last along the road to being taught proper music where before I had tried to teach myself from the books which my mother had used with her older children, none of whom had shown any interest or aptitude for the piano. Ma refused to spend time teaching me as a result. Burma
I moved into the
Senior Schoolat ’s and my only slight disappointment was that I was persuaded to join the Science stream when I would have preferred to study History, Geography and English Literature. It was a personal disaster that I continued to top my year group all through High School and lost the friendship of my classmate Lee Aik Sim who came from an eminent Chinese family who had lived in St Paul for generations. His brothers who had also gone through Burma ’s looked to him to shine at the top as they had done and had subsequently distinguished themselves in their professions. The rift started when I won the scholarship in 1938 and while I might have seemed a little too pleased with myself I cannot imagine that I had in any way gloated over anybody who had not done as well. I was as it happened the only boy in our school that year who had succeeded and Aik Sim was fully expected to as well in this national competitive exam for thirteen year olds. For a while I was confused and sad for we had been friends and classmates since 1930, as very small boys when we started together at the Primary or Kindergarden stage. But I grew used to his silence after several unsuccessful attempts to heal what I saw as a breach which was one sided and not of my deliberate making. For three years we sat in the same front row in class, marked each other’s work if so required, played games in the same teams yet never spoke to each other again - not until we had left school - but that’s another story. St Paul
Those were happy years for us while
Europestarted to grow turbulent and finally erupted into War. I asked my Mother what this would mean for us as she would remember the Great War. ‘Not much’ was the reply and I thought she had shown more concern a few years earlier when Mrs Simpson ‘robbed our King’. ‘Such a pity’ I heard her say, just as we were beginning to get good enamel saucepans again from ’. I believe there were people in Germany Englandwho were similarly put out when Francefell to the Germans and they could not get their customary or Claret. Burgundy
But for us the War in its early years was not exciting because our own small lives were not much disrupted. Although the Lutwaffe’s raids on
Londonand other British cities sent atavistic thrills of horror and sympathy with our British cousins it was altogether too far away for us to realise or remotely understand what was happening in Europe. Not, of course, until the Empire of the Sun cast its shadow on us I was leaving behind my own plain- sensitive childhood and finding interests both of mind and body. In our family it was hard to find companions of my own age because we had left them all in Upper Burma when we moved to in the South. My eldest two brothers were grown men at work and my younger brother was nearly five years younger than me, so I had no one to ‘look up to’, or for that matter to make any demands on me. On the other hand I had many friends at school and as we were mostly dayboys we would also pursue our friendships outside school. Many of my friends who were boarders were also allowed frequent weekend visits home so we would often spend weekends in groups large or small playing games or rambling or swimming or shooting. Rangoon
My brother David was called Johnson after Jack Johnson a famous boxer of the twenties much admired by my father who was a keen participant and patron of the ‘gentlemanly art of self defence . My mother’s two youngest brothers, Joe and Cyril were champions in their weights in the Police Boxing Associations of Burma and
. Freddie and David were not bad boxers, but David got a broken nose and suffered. George was champion of his class all the years he was at University. My youngest brother Joe, who grew up to be a Naval Officer after his apprenticeship in the Merchant Marine Training Ship Dufferin in the Bombay Seas, went on to become Champion of Western India in 1950. No prizes for guessing who was odd man out...I had tried to enrol in the boxing class at the school (St. Phillip’s) near our home in Rangoon, but was not allowed to because I was a pupil at St Paul’s. Ceylon ’s had a minimum age for boxing which I had not yet reached and I was told to wait a year. When I got to be thirteen I was no longer interested in Boxing. St Paul
Johnson became John. He was four and a half years older than me and as a small boy had gone to live with our Uncle Dave and Aunty May in
, I believe in 1928. He would have been about seven and it was thought that he would benefit by living with them away from the crowded circumstances of my parents home in Mandalay . They were childless and we were told that they had unceasingly pleaded with our parents to spare them this little boy who was one of eight children. They were very attached to him and vice versa. So it was that in our smaller family we three youngest children probably received much individual attention from our parents and more from our older sisters than they had themselves had as children. By 1934 Mary had gone to Rangoon Mandalayto the to do her training as a Nurse. Daddy (as Big Brother Fred was called in the family) was already a fully trained mechanical engineer having served as an apprentice in the Burma Railways, and lived in a Ran goon and General Hospital . So our household in Mandalay comprised our parents, Dotty, George, Gladys and the three small ones, Dicky, Daphne and Joe. Although our own family had been pruned our parents were unfailing in their hospitality and we always had long stay visitors, mostly the older sons of close relations and even closer friends. The ‘Trade Depression’ as it was known in the Thirties left a number of highly qualified people without work. George left Rangoon University in the end without a degree feeling no doubt that he could no longer live on his father and ended in a blind alley in Burma Railways admnistration up-country. There was much sadness at his decision and this was compounded when he fell in love with a married woman and lived with her until they were separated by the Japanese War. Rangoon
During the early Thirties we lived fairly uneventful lives as children; the watershed was 1936 when Dotty got married and our home suddenly acquired more space. I am sure my parents also found that they could afford a few luxuries like travel and holidays, because we began to spend long breaks in the summer at a rented cottage in Maymyo, the pretty hill town in the Shan States of
Eastern Burma. I enjoyed these particularly as we had to change trains at and we would therefore sometimes break journey to stay with Uncle Dave and Aunty May. The great attraction was of course that John had grown into a kind, strong, attractive and scholarly young man who helped me along some of the roads adolescents have to travel. The British used the walled city of Mandalay , where the palace of the Burmese kings and the houses of their servants and courtiers were situated until 1887, as the headquarters of the military units and the inevitable Sahibs’ Club. There were facilities there not to be found elsewhere in the city and we had access to them. John would take me with him and there it was I experienced the thrill of learning to swim, comparable only with the joy of balancing on a bicycle for the first time when I was ten. Mandalay
John came back to live with us in
as an undergraduate in 1939. There was only one University in Rangoon and the campus was within cycling distance of our house. At last I had someone nearer my own age at home and I must say that the next two years were very happy. I was growing up myself, and ‘going into long trousers . The Brothers at St. Paul’s remitted my school fees and I was allowed to keep my State Scholarship, which meant that I could buy a wristlet watch, a bicycle (a New Raleigh Roadster), and have made to measure shoes and a new suit for Mary’s wedding in 1940. Mary had completed her general training in Burma Mandalayand had come to Rangoonto continue her training at the just outside the city. She lived in the Nurses’ Hostel but came home at every opportunity; and as she always used the suburban railway service she was able to visit her twin sister on the way as Dot and Jumbo lived near the mainline station. Jumbo was the Chief Inspector of Carriages and Wagons and was based in Dufferin Hospital while not out touring all over the country. Rangoon
MARY AND DOMMIES’S WEDDING
Mary had left
in the early thirties to meet the wishes of my father who had strongly opposed her relationship with Dommie Machado, and when she returned she appeared to make friends with several other eligible young men. Then after several years away from Rangoon Burma, having served in the Indian Merchant Navy and progressed very well in his career, Dommie visited and they met once again, older now, and realised at once that there never would be anyone else for either of them. My father continued his opposition to their marriage and this nearly caused a shattering division in our family as Ma had threatened to leave him if he did not give in. Mary was already twenty seven years of age and personally arranged for their banns to be published as she was my now determined to go ahead without Pa’s consent if needs be. I remember so well that Saturday night at the end of August 1940 when I heard my father in his room next to mine cry out that he could not let his eldest and rite daughter leave his household without his blessing, and in the middle of the night we were all summoned to a meeting in the sitting room when Pa announced his consent. Rangoon
The next few weeks were spent in feverish preparations for the wedding. Mums spoke to each of her brothers and their wives, her cousins and friends to tell them the good news. There was a frisson of delight in the whole community, for it was felt to be a victory for modern views over the prejudice of centuries of what was really tribalism. Once again but on a smaller scale the cake-making marathon was revived. It seemed to have been a tradition in old Eurasian houses because we have copies of Ma and Pa’s wedding cake photograph which shows its enormous dimensions. That was 1911 and this was 1940. Wines were ordered, Pa’s club was booked for the reception, tailors took up daytime residence at our house, there was much toing and froing of young friends and old. The wedding was a happy occasion in the early autumn, one of the last occasions I recall in the beautiful cathedral in
. The years 1940 and 1941 were busy and happy for our family and our community in Rangoon Burmaalthough the distant rumblings from Europewere disquieting, especially the Battle of Britain. We did what we could as members of the British Empire, raising money for Spitfires and sending one or two young men who had trained as pilots and were keen to join the R.A.F. But on the whole the war was far away and the Americans had not entered, so there was little or no news beyond the crisp items which were offered by the Governor on the Radio and by Reuter’ s international news service.
Life was sweet for a fifteen year old boy on the verge of adult life: increasing physicality was leading to greater pleasure especially on the school playing fields and tennis courts and of course the beautifully equipped gymnasium which had recently been built at
s. The world of books also beckoned excitingly as did music and friendships. Ma’s brother Ally had been transferred to St Paul at a senior level in the legal department of the Revenue Department, and he and Aunty Izzy had taken over the Taborda house near the football stadium just outside the centre of town. Their home soon became the centre for all their young nieces and nephews as they were themselves without children. They were wonderful hosts and we regularly enjoyed their hospitality; and it helped too that Dotty and Jumbo’s house was not very far away from them, so visits were frequently made to both. Ma got on well with her brothers and their wives so the large family of Phaures and all their connections became one large community within which we grew up, quarrelled sometimes, made friends, fell in love and generally enjoyed life. Rangoon
But towards the end of 1941 there appeared some chilling signs from
. We had friends in the Japanese community in Japan Rangoon; our family dentist was a Japanese who had lived in all his life; I had school-mates who had grown up with us; it had always seemed that we were a happy multicultural society. But now a coldness seemed to develop, we saw some families return to Burma Japanand a quiet increase in contacts with . American Volunteer Group pilots who were helping the Chinese in their war with China Japanbegan to appear in public in . In the space of a few months the atmosphere grew tense and we began to wonder. As I turned sixteen I was preparing for the next big academic hurdle, the High School Final Exam, which if completed with enough credit could lead to University; and beyond that if academic distinction were obtained the opportunity of a State Scholarship to Oxford and an assured position in the Burma Civil Service I was naturally keen to achieve; and had been encouraged accordingly by my teachers and the elders of our community. Rangoon
It was absolutely shattering when the Director called the whole school together on the seventh of December 1941 to say that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbour followed with attacks on Singapore and that we were now at war. The parents of all boarders had been advised to collect their sons immediately and day boys were instructed to go home at once. I remember calling at Joe’s class to collect his satchel and going to the shed to collect my bike, and cycling home at breakneck speed in case the Japanese Air Force decided to attack Rangoon. My mother looked dismayed when we arrived for she had just heard the news herself and was trying to collect her thoughts. Could we have possibly known at that moment that our lives had changed forever.
THE WAR IN
The schools in the town had closed and the Headteachers had told their students that it was advisable for them to be with their parents and families while the situation remained uncertain. Of course it never became any clearer, and we went through a limbo of waiting. I remember going to Miss Strong for our usual weekly music lesson and talking almost frivolously about our own phoney war. Are these japs going to invade
? I think they are too scared to spread their war too far. What is happening in Burma ? It all seems so strange. Had we panicked? Should the schools have carried on? Ma carried on. The Christmas season was so near. Cakes were mixed in profusion and sent to the bakery at our school to be baked. Christmas parcels were made and sent to her brothers and their families and life went on as normal. I always enjoyed these rituals before the festival; in former years our manservant Ramadoo had always had to stir the cake mixture because we needed someone sturdy for the task, but he had died earlier that year and we bigger boys had to do the job ourselves. Our friends were roped in to beat eggs, clean and dry the fruit, line tins, butter them and generally run about in merry obedience to Ma and Gladys' instructions. The War? Well what about the War? China
On the twenty third of December 1941 we ordered our pet Gharriwallah (the owner of Hackney Carriage Number 549) to spend the morning conveying Ma and me to Theingyi Zey, the vast covered market at the end of town, to buy stores for the holiday and bring us back home. While we were at the spice stall we heard a curious rumble which grew louder and louder and ended in an explosion. ‘They are here’, the cry went up and we all rushed into the alleyways to see what had happened. Our friend whom we always called Five-forty-nine ran up to us saying ‘Come along I must get you home away from town where you will be safer’. He piled us in without ceremony and galloped down the main streets of Rangoon to get his precious passengers back to 49th Street, regardless of the dog fight taking place overhead between the attacking Japanese warplanes and our minimal defence comprised of the very A.V.G. planes whose pilots we were so snooty about when they strode along the smarter parts of town earlier that year.
Bombs had fallen all along the route back home and beyond so nowhere up to the banks of the
was safe. As we left the carriage there was another roar of a diving plane which strafed the streets below and we ran indoors in terror. I saw Daphne run down the street and I dragged her indoors with us. The house did not seem to have been affected except the large picture of ‘the Sacred Heart’ which had been displaced by the blast. Rangoon River
After that attack of machine-gunning everything went still and quiet and we looked out of the window to see a plane fall and the pilot parachuting downwards. We heard later that when he finally was discovered in the woods behind the town he was headless. The afternoon and evening were spent in receiving visitors all checking on our safety and the fate of friends, family and neighbours whose streets and houses were known to have been in the firing line. Ma’s brother Willie Phaure was distraught because his son Cohn could not be accounted for and their home had been destroyed. Cohn was safe elsewhere however and that was a relief, but poor Uncle Willie - a few weeks later his eldest son was killed at sea, in the Merchant Navy. He was Dicky Phaure, a friendly cousin who sometimes connived at my illicit swimming jaunts in the local creek, which Ma and Pa had put out of bounds. That evening Uncle Ally drove to our house and insisted that his sister and her family take shelter in their house which was considered safer being well out of town. So it was that we left
49th Streetand never returned there to live.
We were joined by Mary and six-weeks old Anne Marie. Their flat was on the ground floor of the Machado family home. It had been made available to Dommie and Mary when they married and they had furnished it beautifully. Anne was born on 1 November 1941 and Dommie by then was back at sea. His ship had called at
Rangoonearly in December just after the Japanese had attacked . The ship’s crew had been refused leave to go ashore so Dommie had to steal away for a few hours one night to see his baby. He never saw Mary or Anne again. Pearl Harbour
We spent a few days at Uncle Ally’s in
Victoria Avenue; there we made a shelter of a large slit trench supported by wooden boards and covered with railway sleepers and a mound of earth. Down to the shelter each time the warning siren went and back in again afterwards grew tiring so early in the New Year Clarry Eadon invited us all to his ‘estate’ in Hlawga which was then well out of the immediate danger zone. My parents were reluctant to accept his offer but he persuaded them, gently reminding them of the frequent occasions when the Eadons had received their hospitality in the past. Ma and Mary took us children to Clarry s house on Hlawga Lake, which was the large natural reservoir for ’s water supply under his control as the Resident Engineer. The only problem was fresh food as there was no nearby village or shops, and for days we breakfasted on Ma's vast supplies of Christmas Cake and traditional sweetmeats which had been prepared for the holiday. We enjoyed this spell of living in real country surroundings. Clarry sometimes broke the strict rules and allowed us to boat on the lake, to fish and to shoot duck so the fresh food problem was partly resolved. Only once was the rough image of country living disturbed, and that was the day Edith Eadon (Babes, the youngest of the Eadons) dashed off in white suit and small silk toque to the church in town to marry James Fencott. Rangoon
The world as we had known it had ceased to exist and the next few months were a phantasma.
We became aware that the Japanese were now thrusting into
Burmafrom Malaya and and there were reports of much wicked behaviour in the southern peninsular region of Tenasserim. There were anxious discussions in the group: whether to remain quietly in the villages or flee northwards to Uncle Dave’s and Aunty May’s house in Siam . Then we heard that Japanese Intelligence had details of all European and Eurasian officials of the British Administration and that reports had been heard of strong arm coercion to cooperate with the invading forces. It was decided to evacuate the women and children; late in January we travelled by railway to the north, stopping each time a warning of air attack was received. There were crying babies, grown-ups riven by anxiety, exposed as we were without menfolk and no defence at all on the ground or in the air. After many grinding halts and starts we eventually arrived in Mandalay to the relief of our uncles and aunts who were waiting without any news of our progress on the journey. The train behind us had been bombed and strafed and the bush telegraph had sent reports ahead of us, with chilling details of casualties. Several names were known to my mother and her family and the news of this wanton killing stunned them into silence. Mandalay
There was a large group of us in ‘
Mayfair’, Uncle Dave’s house, and for the next few weeks we lived quietly, disturbed only by air raid warnings. One morning a telegram arrived to say that Dommie’ s ship had been torpedoed by the Japanese Navy, and there were no details of survivors. Mary insisted on going back to to see if she could find out anything, so I insisted on accompanying her by train. Anne was a tiny baby and was left with Ma and the girls. Rangoon
Another dark, slow train journey and when we did arrive at Rangoon Station we were confronted by Jumbo Pereira and Pa and Uncle Ally who stared at us goggle-eyed, for they were in the middle of clearing as many people out of the capital as possible as the balloon was about to go up advising everyone of the closeness of the invading Japanese. They put Mary and me back into the same carriage we had come down in and packed us back to
. I slipped away from the train before it left Mandalay and went to Dotty’s house near the station. The furniture from our house and Mary’s flat had been removed and left on their ground floor. I picked my way between the chairs and tables and sat before my piano for the last time. This piano had been brought back from Rangoon Englandby my great-grandfather Ballard when he went to for the coronation of King Edward the Seventh; that must have been in 1901. I played a few bars of the popular songs of the day, Run Rabbit Run included. It suddenly occurred to me that I would never touch that keyboard again so I gave a silent scream and ran back to the train and Mary who was getting a bit frantic as the whistle had been blown. London
When we returned to Mayfair we heard the Governor of Burma on the radio assuring the population that everything was under control and that there was no need for a hectic rush away from
Upper Burma. We knew different. It became too difficult to believe the official assurance which was repeated frequently the next few weeks, when we had seen contradictory signs ourselves. Furthermore the Repulse and the Prince of Wales, proud warships of the British Navy, had been sunk off . Singapore will never fall, it was said. It had. Singapore
The climax was Good Friday. The siren went as usual and we trooped down to the shelter for what had become a routine spell of waiting for the All Clear. Only this time there was no All Clear. Just bombs and bombs which seemed never to stop. Half an hour later, though it seemed an eternity, there was quietness again, no All Clear because the installation had been destroyed. So we cautiously emerged into the light only to see the whole town ablaze.
Mayfairwas spared this time and we made our way back indoors thankful if faltering as we turned to see the spire of the Cathedral fall in flames. Was there any way out of all this?
That evening a small group of us young men, mostly cousins wandered to the Railway Station to see what damage had occurred there. There seemed to be some lines out still usable. We also saw trucks full of wounded Chinese soldiers either silent or groaning softly. It was too much to take in as we could do nothing for them and we just returned to
Mayfairutterly miserable. As I got indoors Uncle Dave’s chauffeur called me out again saying that a young Chinese gentleman was asking for me. This young man approached cautiously and stood before me looking straight into my eyes. I realised that here was Lee Aik Sim my schoolmate for the last twelve years who had not spoken to me since 1938. He took my hand saying that he had heard that we were at Mayfair. He was on his way to Chungking in and we would probably never meet again, so he had sought me out to make his peace with his old friend before we parted. He would not come indoors so I walked down the drive and we parted at the gate. I never heard of him again. The next few days were spent in anxious limbo; again there were no menfolk except our elderly uncles to offer any guidance. Out of the blue appeared Clarry Eadon and his fiancee Irene Keely, and George my elder brother. Clarry and Irene went on to Maymyo and I never knew how they got out of Burma, but his advice was to leave as soon as we could for the Japanese were gaining ground rapidly and we would soon be cut off. Ma pleaded with George to remain with the family as we knew nothing of Pa’s whereabouts, nor of Daddy or of Jumbo or any of the younger men of the family of Phaures and de Souzas. George was torn between duty and a stiff upper lip but family ties and the need for a grown man were paramount; John was a scant twenty and had little experience of the affairs of the world; I was sixteen. China
We heard then that Government officials’ families were to be given priority if they wished to pay for flights to
. But no servants were to be included in these priority parties; however arrangements were being made to send them by road overland. This was a route used by the ancient traders and had not been maintained or repaired for generations. In the end it was used when the speed of the Japanese advance cut out any large scale evacuation by air. India
The offer of places on aeroplanes for which fares must be paid created such a dilemma for Ma; without Pa who was ‘ sticking to his post ‘ in Rangoon and with no communication by telephone any more she would have to accept Uncle Dave’s offer to pay for all of us, a considerable sum in those days. Ma also had less than happy memories of
India- sandstorms in Lahore, curious social customs, and a general feeling of strangeness on her visits to Pondicherryin the South as a young girl and to Northern Indiaas a young mother. These experiences in Indiahad made a powerful impression on her: and so she declared that she would prefer to see things out in . Burma
In the sort of family we were it was difficult for the older girls and for that matter even for George and John to argue too forcibly, but I was more brash, and more selfish, and I asked Gladys and Daphne if they were content to face the outrages which the Japanese soldiers were reported to be committing. I took a stand with my mother for the first time, and told her that she was wrong to put her preference above the welfare of all of us, welfare which was seriously threatened if reports were true (and which subsequently proved correct). So Ma and I went to the office where arrangements for evacuation were handled and she paid her precious rupees over. I recall she did not have quite enough for the total required and that her word was accepted as her bond; in due course in
the money was recovered from my father’s modest pension. Meanwhile the invaders were fast approaching India Upper Burmaand despite the idiotic utterances of the Governor over the radio we felt that we should try to get to where the only safe runways were left. This was Myitkyina, which translated means ‘near the Big Rivers, the Irrawaddy. It was at the northern end of the railway line from Rangoonwhich passed through . So George and some other young stalwarts went to the Railway station where luckily they met friends, fellow Eurasians who ran the railways and other public services in the days of Empire. They explained their plan to form a train and get aboard as many as wanted to leave Mandalay for Myitkyina. George and another friend had some experience of the way engines worked, others had seen firemen stoke the boilers. So a train was put together and word was passed round our cousins and friends to join us if they wished to make the effort to flee from the Japanese. Mandalay
We had been told that our baggage on the plane must be limited to 33 lbs per adult and that no details could be given as to what might face us when we arrived at the landing field in the tea plantaions of
. So with all these small babies and toddlers in the party (Audrey and Joe Pereira 5 and 2, Anne Marie 6 months) Dorothy pregnant with Maureen the main concern was that there should be enough tinned food for them. So not much was saved from possessions which had been in our families since the middle of the 19th century. All our homes and furniture left in Assam were ransacked by the Japanese. Pianos and valuable items were said to have been shipped to Rangoon . Japan
Some of our Burmese aunties and their husbands and children refused, understandably, to leave and we told them to help themselves to anything they wished before the invading soldiers got their hands on them. We also told them to offer things they could not or did not wish to save to our Burmese friends and servants. One heartbreaking experience was having to leave our old and faithful ‘Lutchee’ the maid of all work who had been one of the family since we moved to Rangoon in 1928, whose husband Ramadoo had died the previous year suddenly one evening when he and I were opening up Dotty and Jumbo’s house prior to their return from one of their regular sojourns at our house. We could not take Lutchee with us on the plane because she was an Indian servant and could not pass as a relation. In the quiet of later years I was to ponder on this demonstration of racism and our acquiescence in it; and to feel ashamed that nobody had had enough calmness or imagination at the time to put the poor old woman into one of Ma’s frocks and say that she was a relation who had always lived with us, and thereby enable her to be saved as we were. Ma gave her as much money as she could spare and arranged for her to join the group of Indians who were to be travel by road! She must have been one of the many thousands who died on that infamous trek.
So a train was made ready and we collected together what we thought we could save and started on a journey which was to take us to
and a new life. We arrived in Myitkyina and found the place to be a little paradise: it was the source of the Irrawaddy, Burma’s most important river, set in woodland at the foot of the hills, with a collection of exquisite wooden houses, small and beautifully made and decorated with carvings and hangings woven by the tribal Kachins. Ma thought we should go no further and take refuge there. She hated the thought of India . But we did fly out and we were among the last to be able to, because the monsoon suddenly broke and that was the end of the runway. And years later when we met Larry Renny, one of our neihbours from India 49th Streethe told us that his mother and aunts were among those who were trapped in Myitkyina and never heard of again.
We de Souzas boarded the plane as a family, as Ma wanted us to keep together. There were, I think, two other planes which left at about the same time, but many weeks went by before we were reunited with the Phaures in
. We landed on a small field in the heart of the India Assamtea plantations near the . The planters wives were expecting us and bundled the young mothers and children into their station wagons to be driven to their homes where they were offered baths and clothing and food. It was a real ray of hope and mercy for all of us as we had had nearly enough by then. After a short time when we had collected ourselves and our wits together again we boarded a river-boat to take us to the rail-head of Dibrugarh further south along the Brahmaputra and then on to Calcutta by fast train. villageof Tezpur
Waiting for us at Howrah Station was a group of nuns and helpers from the Loretto Convent which had been given over to the evacuees for their temporary accommodation while they decided where to make their long term stay. As we moved among the other people gathered in the Convent there was much excited exchange of experiences. We heaved sighs of relief when we heard of survivors, we sighed at news of those who had been killed or had died of disease or wounds, we gasped at stories of bravery, for example one of our friends who with her two small boys was on a ship from Rangoon to Madras was left to find her way alone in a lifeboat after the ship had been torpedoed. The first trickle of refugees had arrived in India overland and this was encouraging for we could now hope that Pa and Daddy and Jumbo and all the other men who had listened to the Governor’s plea to ‘stick to their posts’ might have been able to make their way northwards to the Western Pass on to Tammu in Assam ahead of the Japanese.
By the next day we were being urged gently to move on because floods of refugees were expected and it was hoped that we would disperse to other parts of
India, away from Bengal and the Eastern provinces which were themselves vulnerable now that the Japanese seemed to be sweeping victoriously across East Asia. So we found ourselves looking at a map of Indiaand finding the very heart of the sub-continent to be the town of Nagpurin the . Let us go there said I and be as far as possible from this war, at least for the time being. South Africa, still a British Dominion, invited Eurasians to the Cape where it was said we would feel at home as the ‘Cape Coloureds’ were ‘on an equal footing with white South Africans. This struck me as somewhat bizarre. We had never experienced direct racial discrimination and had always considered ourselves no less or no more privileged than anybody else, white or black or brown or yellow. Some years later Central Provinces made the same offer. I never favoured either invitation. Australia
So Daphne and I got the support of the others and it was decided that we should go to
. We had to move out of the Convent and were sent to a family in Bilaspur which was a railway town on the Nagpur Calcuttato Bombayline about half way to Nagpurfrom . We spent a few days there while arrangements were made for our reception in Calcutta . When we arrived there we were delighted to find Uncle Freddie and Aunty Enid Phaure installed in the same building with their family. It was specially delightful for John who was reunited with his beloved Quita. Nagpur
The ache of waiting for news of Pa and the others caused some difficulty as nerves were so frayed: it was to the credit of the old people that they remained faithful and so full of hope. I cannot describe our feelings as Pa struggled in one day, almost unrecognisable: he was a stout fourteen stone when we had last seen him in
at Christmas and here he was now a mere eight. He was followed by Daddy and then by Jumbo who had both walked through the infamous Rangoon where a million people died. Here an ox had trodden on Jumbo’s foot which turned septic and which was healed thanks to the goodness of a companion who had saved a small quantity of Sulphanamide tablets when he had abandoned the rest of his army kit. It took a few weeks for them to recover but they were soon recalled to duty, Jumbo to the Army with George, and Daddy to the munitions factory near Hukawng Valley . Pa was nearly fifty five by then and was offered retirement which he willingly accepted. A new chapter in our lives now commenced. Poona
It became clear with the onset of the Monsoon that the Japanese offensive could not proceed beyond the Burmese border and this gave the British forces a chance to regroup and plan a new strategy. We were so relieved to be out of danger and the immediate threat of extinction that we quietly accepted the hospitality of
and went about the task of reordering our lives. India Burmahad long been considered part of the Indian Empire and visits to were commonplace even if not universally enjoyed. For us younger ones it was our first visit, and we found the country and its people strange to begin with. I recall being taken aback by the Anglo-Indian accent at first, then we grew more accustomed to it, their inflexions entering our own flat Burmese voices in the years we spent among them. Ma’s cousins, Maud (Phaure) De Cruze and her son Eric had reached India Mandalayfrom the South at the height of the invasion and had been evacuated with us to Nagpurwhere she shared our home for the five years from 1942 to 1947 spent in . She had a powerful influence in our lives and I was her special care: she called me her Black Diamond. As the situation became more stable we were asked to make more permanent arrangements: in any case my parents and uncles and aunts were anxious to leave the welfare net which had helped us to settle into India . So we had to decide on where we would live at least while hostilities continued and until we could return to India when it was liberated from the Japanese. Burma
MY EDUCATION CONTINUES
Meanwhile in the few short months between May and August the exiled Government of Burma in Simla had arranged for our school leaving exams to be conducted at various centres in
. Ma was invited to India Bombayby her cousin Margaret Phaure (one of the Phaures who had never left India) and who had married another cousin Eugene Phaure, to take Daphne and me to sit the Burmaexam at the centre in . John was also allowed to take a modified degree of Bachelor of Arts in view of his undergraduate years at Bombay University . So with surprising efficiency and competence the small group of dons evacuated from Rangoon to Simla were able to provide us with the valuable qualifications which enabled us to go on to Indian Universities or into careers of our choosing. Rangoon University
It was sweet to stand first in the exam and be offered a scholarship so as there was a well regarded University in
my parents decided to live there. (I must record here that when the Chancellor of Rangoon University wrote to my parents he apologised for misleading us into thinking that I had stood first when in fact another un-named candidate had obtained three more marks in total: the Chancellor went on to say that he regarded the two top candidates to be equal first and that we should not lose any sleep over the matter). Nagpur
offered me a place at once and I took it up in December, a term late in the academic year. This small disadvantage was not a problem for I was able to catch up in the next few terms; but at the end of the second Intermediate (pre-undergraduate two year course of study) I was taken ill first with typhoid fever followed shortly afterwards by hepatitis and only recovered fully because of careful nursing by Mary, who was a qualified Registered Nurse. Universityof Nagpur
I took the exam but was referred in Biology as I had failed the practical. This meant that I would have to take that again the following year. So the whole of the next academic year was spent in social pursuits and lectures and practicals only in Biology. The Burma Government Education Department was fully understanding and continued to pay my scholarship in full, so after the fees had been met I had enough to give my parents a contribution to their household expenses. But I now realise that at eighteen I must have been problem. There were arguments, inevitably, as we lived all together in one household, sisters, the twins with small children of their own, Mary not knowing for certain whether Dommie had survived the torpedoing of his ship, Dottie with Jumbo somewhere at the front, Gladys wondering about her Bobby who had not yet decided on marriage. The wonder of it was there were so few disagreements. I cannot recall voices ever being raised except by Aunty Maudie whose husband was left ‘at his Post’ in
and never heard of again. Aunty Maudie could not get on with Indians: she was captive to the ancient hatred between the Burmese and Indians: her own mother was a Shan from the Burmese hills. Aunty Maudie always wore Burmese htameins (sarongs) and was always militantly foreign while we lived in Burma . India
Just before I was due to resit my Biology exam I had a second attack of hepatitis. I took the exam and failed again.
Shocked at this new situation I quietly applied for a commission in the Indian Army. John was already a lieutenant in the Indian Engineers and many of my contemporaries were joining up, so it seemed the only decent thing to do as I was not going to be a success as a medical student. The process of selection took time and I joined the
Indian Military Academyin in July 1945. Dehra Dun
ARMY AND ADULTHOOD
This was the watershed on the other side of which lay manhood and independence but where there was also loneliness. We were a closely knit family and in
our community had been more like an extended family outside which we rarely ventured. It is true that since 1942 we had lived in a strange environment and we should have become tougher, but we had found friendship with local Anglo-Indians in Burma whose culture closely resembled our own and we continued to live much as we had always done. The reduced circumstances faced by evacuees were tolerated as a temporary setback which would be remedied after the war ended. The standard of living generally was lower in Nagpur Indiathan it had been for us in for the last hundred years but we adjusted quite easily; especially as we were grateful to have survived the Japanese invasion. We had lost our homes, it is true, and Mary had lost Dommie but measured against the enormity of suffering which we knew had occurred all round the world and even in the lives of friends who had survived themselves when their wives and children perhaps or their parents and cousins had perished in the invasion of Burma or on the unspeakable Hukawng Valley route as they tried to escape to India we had so much to be thankful for. Burma
Thinking back to those times it must have been hard for the older generation who had to suffer such sadness. We were happy enough to live rough for a few years, and we of the next generation have recovered all the material comfort that we had lost during the war, but for Ma and Pa and their contemporaries who never left the East after the War they never again had proper houses to relax in or china or glass or silver or linen. Their lives after 1941 were always rough.
As I arrived in the cold wet foothills of the
Himalayasthat August I was elated at the prospect of new experiences. But I was not prepared for the alien environment which greeted me. I had never been away from my family before for any great length of time: my spells as a boarder at ’s had been regular but brief and I had always found it easy to make friends. But here at St Paul it took weeks to settle in: the Indian cadets and the British cadets were equally strange and at the end of the term I found that there were a mere half dozen of my fellows with whom I had been able to make any sort of relationship. Dehra Dun
I had asked to be commissioned into an Infantry Regiment but the senior commanders thought that it would be wasteful when there was a need for officers to be trained for the Corps of Indian Signals. I had already found that it paid to be cooperative in the Indian Army so off I went to the Signals Training Centre at Mhow,
Central India. This had the advantage of being the town where Aunty May and Uncle Dave had made their home for the duration of our Indian exile. So at off-duty times I had the benefit of familiar faces and food and company and was even able to take a few friends ‘home’ to enjoy my Uncle and Aunt’s unfailing hospitality. As all this took place during the Indian winter months the weather was lovely and our taming exercises outdoors were exhilarating. I started to enjoy life in the Army.
There were however some signs that all was not as it should have been. The war with
Japanhad ended with the atom bombs on Hiroshimaand : the European War had already ended months before. It was fully expected that the ‘Emergency’ would soon be declared at an end so there were more officers being trained than were going to be needed in the next few years at least. At the same time there were rumbles of civil strife as the cries for Independence grew louder, and our then British commanders were asked to train us in Internal Security, which bluntly meant firing on Indians when it was thought necessary. I sought an interview with my Commanding Officer and told him that it was not my intention be part of an internal British-Indian force designed to keep control of Nagasaki for The Raj. I had joined the Army to participate in the war against India Japanand if necessary the other Axis powers viz and Italy etc. But as an Eurasian I should know where my loyalties lay said he and reminded me that I had taken an oath of allegiance. There he was wrong for I had enrolled as an Open Cadet in the Indian Army which meant that if I were for any reason not commissioned I would be free to return to civilian life. Germany
He saw no immediate solution and said that I was free to return home and give full consideration to my future, and having reached a decision let the Indian Army know. He was not prepared to say that I was not suitable for a King’s Commission but he found it difficult to decide on a specific course of action. In the event I agreed to go back to
Nagpurto think things over; and I arrived there to find Mary very keen to return to and resume life in the old country. She asked me if I wanted to go back with her and we both left by the first available ship from Burma Calcuttato . Yet again we encountered the Eadons who lived in Rangoon at the time. Aunty Issy and Uncle Ally had already returned to Calcutta to start a rehabilitated Civil Service Department (Revenue). Burma
As we sailed into the
and saw the Shwe Dagon Pagoda on the horizon our hearts leapt. We were home at last. Rangoon River
In 1946, I said goodbye to the Indian Army, and despite our Indian origins, which went back over two centuries I was relieved to meet an opportunity to go back to
. My sister Mary had become used to the idea that her husband had died at sea when his ship was torpedoed by the Japanese navy in February 1942; her daughter was now four and she must have yearned to put some order into their lives. We had never felt at home in Burma Indiaalthough we had been grateful to have found refuge there when we were evacuated from in 1942. The war was over, Burma was entering a period of turmoil and historic tragedies stared at us. We were political innocents, but it seemed that India Burmawould be given independence from the imperial British and become a dominion, so returning to was attractive. Burma
Mary was given free passage on a ‘Scindia’ boat (Dom Machado had been a senior engineer with the company, Steamship Company I.N.D.I.A.) for many years. Mary and Anne luxuriated in the offer of a proper cabin, no other similar accommodation was available, so I decided to travel on deck so as not to miss the chance of an early voyage back to
. We said goodbye to our parents and siblings in Rangoon , sad but excited because we would be among the first to be repatriated and would prepare a place for the rest of the family’s homecoming. Nagpur
We took ship at
, having spent a few days with Clarry and Girlie Eadon before embarking. It was a crowded visit with much to see and do in that city: but we were glad to leave Calcutta Calcutta, and - the four year interregnum was not exactly a nightmare, nor was it a dream. We had made strong friendships, with the Fowler and Du Bois families in particular, and we were sad to leave them, and the country in which our developing adolescent lives were set in the midst of a world war. What could have been terminally destructive turned out to be instructive, in many ways enjoyable. Some experiences were endearing - the friendships, the warmth of Indians almost erased the agony of the upheaval of 1942. We were overjoyed to set sail, however, at the start of the monsoon too! India
Mary and Anne were in a cabin for this voyage which lasted four days.The crossing was not as turbulent as we had feared it might be, and the ships officers allowed me to come and go freely so I was not confined to the deck. Most deck passengers huddled together under makeshift shelters of tarpaulin, cooking their meals on primus stoves. I was able to share the meals which were brought to my sister, and use her bathroom too, so in effect I was just as favoured as other cabin passengers. Mary was a very attractive widow, thirty something (33 now I come to think of it) and quickly found an admirer. He was Khanoo Sen Gupta, who had already been back to Burma a few months earlier and was returning from a visit to India.The Sen Gupta family were long resident in Rangoon; before the Japanese invasion many Indian families had settled there. His brother was an Indian Army surgeon married to a Burmese lady who had trained as a nurse in pre-war days..They had a large house in Kokine, one of the best areas outside the city and the house and annexe had been spared by both Japanese and Allied bombs. It had been used by officers of the Japanese forces and then the British and Americans, so it remained in good repair. Khanoo made a good impression on Mary and me too.
My mother’s brothers had held positions of responsibility in the British/Burmese Government: they had survived the war and were expected to return to the administration which was restored in 1945. This they had done, and Uncle Dave and Uncle Ally (with A. May and A.Isobel) had managed to find apartments in
. Amazingly enough, quite a lot of the town had survived the air-raids of 1941-1945, and the returning British administration was quick and thorough in restoring order out of chaos. Rangoon
Mary, Anne and I were welcomed into Uncle Dave’s apartment, and we set about finding our own place to live. Khanoo visited us shortly after our arrival and hearing of this, (he thought that our pre-war homes might have survived, but sadly none had, except Uncle Ally’s in Victoria Square,) he quickly offered us the top floor of the annexe in Kokine, and we gratefully moved into 103a Kokine Road. We devised make shift beds and sofas out of paliasses (futons) and hpas (cane boxes) and tin trunks covered in floral cottons from the local markets (Thengyi Zay, later Bogyoke Market.)
I set about finding work, to provide an income. I gave English lessons to Chinese boys who could speak (Chinese and) Burmese. The Brothers at
’s (my old school) provided pupils and books and accommodation. While doing this I learnt that the new administration was setting up electronic communication in St Paul and I was paid for helping in the small way I had become enabled by my Army Signals training. Burma
Meanwhile I felt that I had not been given my Army commission in
Indiafor reasons which I had not accepted as valid, so I reported to GHQ in and was granted an immediate interview with the (General Officer Commanding) GOC Burma Army. He listened to my account of the Mhow affair, uttered words of astonishment and offered me an immediate commission in Burma Army Signals. Rangoon
Mary meanwhile had been persuaded to join the administration as a Nursing Sister, as she had practised as a nurse before her marriage in 1940. This was still functioning as a military service so she was commissioned as an Army Nurse, and posted to Maymyo. This was lucky because Anne was looked after by the nuns in the convent kindergarden nearby, and Mary was able to see her as often as she wished.
The two years from 1946-1948 flew. By the end of 1947 I had become convinced that
could recover its self-respect and would in due course take its place among the civilised nations of the world. The (British) Commonwealth was an exciting, hopeful concept; even if Burma Indiaand were not friendly towards each other, we would take our place with honour. My own career as an officer was progressing well; a captaincy at 22 did not seem too bad and I had been assured that my prospects were "outstanding." Social life was enjoyable; I made good friends with British and Burmese colleagues, and quite importantly, with Sikh and Punjabi colleagues who had remained in the Burmese cadre of the old (Imperial) Indian Army, and regarded me as one of "their" sahibs. I had my cousins in Maymyo who had remained there during the Japanese occupation, as they in fact had been obliged to as a result of becoming isolated in the hill state in 1942. When the Japanese left they were able to resume something of their old life-style, and we spent many enjoyable hours together. Pakistan
Maisie Ballard was a gifted pianist; taught in the traditional music school, she discovered jazz and joined her father and a younger sister as a semi-professional trio. She also taught primary school and when her father, (Uncle Robbie
Ma’s cousin) died she virtually supported her family with her teaching and music. When they were ‘liberated’ in 1945 she managed to secure a piano and they were lucky enough to be able to re-occupy their pre-war house which had been used as quarters for Japanese officers and kept in a reasonable state.
Then there were the Davidsons; Sam my army colleague who took me under his wing. he was a pre-war soldier and rose through the ranks ; that plus a Burmese mother made him completely au fait and at ease with the soldiers he now commanded. He married Evelyn Gonsalves whose father was Portuguese and mother Burmese. Their home was always open to me. And of course blowing like a fresh breeze in post-war Burmese social life was the companionship of wartime (emergency) commissioned British officers and in some cases their young wives who had joined them. Their role was no longer imperial, and even though one occasionally encountered the old "Heaven Born" colonial sahibs and their wives, we were open and relaxed with one another, and from that grew many friendships. Ralph Walker and I often visited the local cinema which showed the latest films, and smiled at each as we ordered "SB&C" during the interval. Strawberries and cream in fact, but the little Burmese girls who brought our dishes to us had learnt to say "SB&C" without realising what those initials stood for. (Later on in
, when Ralph Walker took me to see "Bless the Bride" at the Adelphi he apologised for the lack of SB&C in the interval.) My other close friend was Ray Newton , with whom I spent a great deal of time showing him Burmese life as he was intensely and honestly interested in the country and its peoples. London
Social life did not revolve around the Officers Mess as it might have done in the pre-war Raj days. For a start we were no longer socially isolated by race or tribe and for another we still had not emerged from the war-time atmosphere of limited all male activities at work and at play. But there was a club- an officer’s club of course- and we spent many an evening or Sunday morning drinking and eating, and occasionally dancing if a group of Army nurses were present. And I sometimes played the piano........ There were receptions which we attended as a social duty, summoned from time to time by the Governor or some visiting General. I remember meeting a Burmese princess who had caused a great stir in the twenties by marrying an Australian, Bellamy. Their daughter June Rose was much in demand; she combined her mother’s good looks with her father’s build, and proudly displayed her, what was then called embonpoint. I believe that she later married General Ne Win, who was a sort of dictator in the early days of "independent" Burma; but that all ended in tears before tea-time. But that’s another story.
By Christmas 1947 I had become a rather bouncy Captain and was looking forward to a successful career. But one cold winter morning the whole country was traumatised by the assassination of General Aung San and his coterie(or cabinet) - the embryo of Dominion government which Aung San had been negotiating with Clement Attlee in London, whence he had just returned to Rangoon.
Attlee panicked, (so it was said ,but later contested) and fearful of an uprising or civil war which the returning British administration would not be able to contain, tired and bankrupted by war and stripped of Imperial resources, declared immediate independence for Burma. On 4th January 1948
became a republic, outside the Commonwealth. Burma Indiaand had remained within the Commonwealth, and remain so. Pakistan
Almost within days signs of instability appeared. Firstly, the largest non- Burman ethnic group, the Karens, who populated much of the Shan Plateau (bordering Siam) and the Irrawaddy delta triangle, were said to have been promised their own state (via-a-vis Pakistan / India) in return for unswerving loyalty to Britain; and they, further, comprised a very large Christian community in a predominantly Buddhist country. They now felt betrayed and commenced an agitation which was soon to grow and within a year had engulfed the country in civil war. The uncertain future caused a frisson in the Eurasian community, some of whom were part Karen and others part Burman or Shan. One or two individuals declared their preferred allegiance, even changing their inherited European surnames to a Burmese phonic equivalent, others unequivocally declared they would remain British and made immediate attempts to leave for
Australiaor . My brothers and sisters were the last group of Indo-European Eurasians left, and my older siblings had already inter-married with descendants of Burmese/European unions. Canada
My army colleagues pressed me for a declaration of sympathy and I was unable, and unwilling, to prevaricate. I was not racially conscious, not tribally aware, but content and secure in the long respected status of Indo-Europeans, with our inheritance comprised of strains of Portuguese, Indian, French and English all intermingled for at least two hundred years. My mother was born in
Burma, my father in India, Burmahad been part of the Indian Empire until 1935 and I barely remembered gentle taunts in the ‘30s from our friends and neighbours asking what we would do when Burmawas made a "separate" country with its imperial direction no longer coming from . It seemed that with our multi-ethnic inheritance, we could live wherever we wished, in Asia preferably, the New Delhi British Empirestill seeming invulnerable in 1935. Whoever thought of as more than a joke? Just five years later our world was changed. Japan
Even so on our return to
it never occurred to us that we had been disloyal by leaving in 1942. Our flight was spontaneous, and we took refuge in the first safe place, right in the middle of Burma . And it was only as a temporary refuge that we looked upon India , we were not Burmans but we were Burmese and would return when the fighting was over. So to me it was all the same , one could be Karen or Shan or Paluang or Kachin or indeed plainsman Burman or Anglo Burmese or Indo-European or Eurasian or Indian or Filipino by "blood", but whatever one’s genetic background one was still Burmese. Did we not always refer to ourselves as "Do Burmhas?" To be asked to declare for Burman or Karen was an aberrant demand: I stood for India Burma, could and should be a nation with a number of strands brought together in harmonious weave. But no, that was not good enough, and Sammy Davidson took me aside one day and told me to be guarded in my utterances. I asked why and he just said again -’Be careful.’ Burma
Foolish and ignorant, naive and trustful, I believed that the new Union of Burma should succeed. Natural resources were so plentiful and the people were highly intelligent and charming. Buddhism is one ot the most tolerant belief systems and, properly organised, the economics and culture of the country should be able to stand honourably among the civilised nations of the twentieth century.
Ah, but I did not realise what "properly organised" could mean. Sadly the early promise was never fulfilled and we just looked on, helpless, as the fabric of Burmese life unravelled bit by bit.
Meanwhile, in 1947 we carried on quietly. I accompanied (I cannot claim to have led) a small group of Punjabi and Sikh army signals personnel on reconnoitering expeditions in the hilly regions towards
China, the infamous Burma Road. Part of it was the ancient silk route from Chinato - countryside of incredible beauty and grandeur bedevilled by bandits, mostly Chinese, who even then were probably gun-running and drug trafficking. That was the nearest I ever got to "action:" sitting beside Subedar Major whose black eyes and great beard would have intimidated any mortal. Following his advice to keep my hand on my revolver, base-camp in the hills was a welcome sight and I could not get back to Maymyo quickly enough. Very exciting but I was not made of the stuff of heroes and I was glad to be home and dry. Burma
We made trips to
, which suited me fine because Jumbo and Dottie (Pereira, my sister) were back, Jumbo in his job with Burma Railway, and lived there with their three small children, Audrey, Joe and Alan. And I had two English colleagues who were married to Anglo Burmese ladies with connections in Mandalay (Brin and Margot Parsonage (nee Duroiselle) and Dick and Honor Carlyon (nee Wilkinson), so we would make occasional social visits to their families. I also had Uncle Dave Phaure and Aunty May who had retired back to Mandalay and sometimes Joe Phaure and Jeanne (nee Rodgers). Life seemed good and promising. Mandalay
One day Sammy Davidson asked me to join him on a small shikar (shooting expedition for birds and small game) and we bagged just a few jungle fowl. When we returned to his bungalow, about a mile from the unit, where I was quartered, Evelyn his wife, and her Burmese aunt were waiting for us. The Aunt, seeing us carrying the birds we had just shot, asked us not to bring them into the house as it was already evening. Buddhist Burmese people believe that bringing newly killed creatures indoors after dark activates spirit life - our European (Christian if you like) culture did not hold this and I teased the old lady, pranced about with the jungle fowl and took them into Evelyn’s kitchen. I hung them on a rack, beside a pair of long handled brooms. ‘Atavistic animist’ I thought as I glanced at the old lady coldly; she did not return my glance but went to the sitting room and warmed herself in front of the log fire. It was a cold night, and I thought a draught was coming through a window, so I went to make sure it was properly closed. It was closed, but a cold draught was there for sure, so I opened the catch and was about to push the window open and then shut it firmly. It opened alright, and there was no wind about, not even a slight breeze, yet the window remained open and would not be pulled back. It was as if some quite strong force was keeping it from being closed - it took a considerable effort to pull it back, and I found that strange.
As I sat down, I saw the old woman’s lips moving, as if in prayer: she was uttering some sort of mantra, with her eyes closed. Sam and Evelyn were seated too, by this time, so I picked up a magazine and looked at it, not with very much interest or attention. I could see the kitchen and I thought how unlike dead birds the shot jungle-fowl looked - they seemed alive and quite handsome and suddenly they seemed to move, and so did the long -handled brooms. Eerie! And the old Aunt’s mumbling turned to a low grumble: she was deploring my "European" (Bo-kala) arrogance, and blaming me for disturbing the spirits. The wretched window opened, seemingly of its own accord, I went to close it and once again went through the resistance to be closed and having to exert inordinate pulling force to get the window back. I asked Sam and Evelyn if they had noticed anything, but they would not commit themselves at all, except that Sam said, when the evening was over, that he would drive me back to my quarters and not allow me to walk home.
My quarters consisted of an Army issue tent with rigid sides reinforced with bamboo-woven panels, and with lockable windows. Needless to say the window performance was repeated at least twice, until, gentle reader, I succumbed to Christian superstition and lit a candle to the saints of my childhod days. Only then was I able to snatch a few hours fitful sleep. After Mass the next day (Sunday morning at the church next door to our unit) I recounted the tale to the priest-in-charge and a few friends at coffee time. Expecting to be gently derided or even laughed at, I was in fact told to be more respectful of local Buddhist/Animist beliefs, and that, who knows whether it was in fact the case, but local people were foretelling another upheaval in the country in the years soon to follow and that the "spirit world" was sending them a message.
Some days later Sam told me that on his way back home that Saturday night he had encountered a group of Karen soldiers somewhat the worse for drink. He had stopped to chat with them and they had become very communicative. Asked where they were going they openly stated that they were making for my tent to "do me in". They claimed that in their view I was anti-Karen, and I deserved to be eliminated. Sam was horrified, but he calmed down, and thankfully convinced them, at least for the time being, that I was not anti anybody, but stoutly "patriotic" for Burmese freedom. He also told me that I was being transferred to
to take charge of a training unit in Mingaladon. It is only with hindsight that I realised he had worked behind the scenes for he knew what lay ahead and did not want me needlessly sacrificed for a cause that did not inspire my sympathy - viz Karen independence. Rangoon
Students of Burmese (or rather
’s) history will not have been surprised by the years of unrest which followed the withdrawal of European influence in the middle years of this century. Even now, within breathing distance of the new millenium Burma (the real name of the country ) remains unsettled. But ever since records were kept there is evidence of a group of turbulent states and kingdoms, arrogant princes and saintly kings - a bit like Myanmar Europeperhaps? - which eventually became the . kingdomof Burma
Early in 1948 I found myself in Mingaladon having just been promoted to Captain I/C Training Squadron Burma Army signals at Christmas 1947. The organisation of this military base was still to be planned in detail and in the meanwhile all the officers were grouped in tented accommodation around a large shared mess. This was run rather like a large hotel and was used by a conglomeration of army officers - some Indian and British awaiting the dissolution of the imperial regime, others Burmese of various tribal origins, plainsman Burman, Shans,Kachins, Chins, Karens and even some Mons. Shortly after taking up residence I started using the Mess for meals and drinks etc, and I noticed that the atmosphere was somewhat tense. My ‘English’ voice and ‘Indian’ appearance caught many people by surprise when I said, in reply to specific questions, that I was part of the Burma Army, not the Indian Army or indeed the British Army. The initial surprise was almost always followed by a coldness and a withdrawal, and at best a rattle of utterances and questions in rapidly spoken Burmese. In those days I understood colloquial Burmese perfectly and was able to make correct responses, bur alas my accent was as they say "wide of the mark" and usually prompted a scowl or a smirk. Where on earth did this strange foreign person spring from? This was asked aloud on several occasions, and, worse "How can we have you as an officer in the new Burma Army."
On the other hand there was some quiet interest shown by a few of the older men who had either worked with British and Indian Army people and one or two young officers who were forward enough looking to imagine a role for someone like me in a new Burma which would need more than just army officers. One of these young men was a prince of a state in the Plateau and suggested that his father might be interested in engaging me in an administrative capacity. But the strongest if not the loudest siren voices came from my British colleagues both young and those who had served in
Burmafor many years (Brin P.and Dick C: see supra) who urged me to obtain a British passport and either follow the Eurasian exodus to Australiaand Canada, or to "repatriate" to the . UK
Very soon my mind was in a whirl. Our long attachment to Burma where my mother was born, married and had ten children and her constant urge to return ‘home’ to Mandalay each time she accompanied my father to India when he had tours of duty in the Punjab or the N.W. frontier, my father’s acceptance and affection for Burma, especially the Hills and Maymyo, my own happy youth in the country, all this vied with the feeling that I should be adventurous and seek some experience totally on my own while still young enough - I was twenty-two - and then perhaps return to Burma with more to offer having acquired a "proper" education.
This feeling won and I told my senior colleagues that I had a preference for
. So I obtained a British passport, and I saved all my salary for the remaining time I had as an Army Captain. This paid my fare from England to Liverpool/London and gave me a hundred pounds in cash to start a new life. My mother was distressed to lose her son on a journey to the unknown, my father was pleased and encouraging, proud he said that one son of his had inherited an ancestral love of adventure. The Spanish-Portuguese de Souza family were then presented to me as some sort of Vasco da Gamas! Rangoon
And so I set off, May 1948. Down the
Rangoon Riveron the Hendersonsteamer "Salween", bound for Colomboand Liverpooland then who knows where!
There were many shipping lines to
India, notably P & O (Peninsular & Oceanic) and several small companies that plied their ships between the East Coast Indian ports, Calcuttaand Colombo( Ceylon) and Rangoon, Malaya and the East Indies ( ). The only ships that sailed between Indonesia Rangoonand Liverpoolbelonged to the Patrick Henderson Line. They were designed to carry cargo, with limited accommodation for passengers; the cabins were well appointed, as were the saloons, the service which we enjoyed was quite superb and the long voyage on the S.S. Salween to was a holiday the like of which I was never again to experience. Funnily enough I would almost certainly have been making the same journey had I accepted a permanent commission in the Burma Army. The other passengers included two young Burmese Captains who had been colleagues and were on their way to Catterick and Sandhurst on post-graduate courses similar to those I had been offered before I decide to leave England . I was still on “demob” leave and so were one or two others on board and the atmosphere was vaguely “Raj.” I think there were about four Eurasian families, half a dozen Burmese ladies and gentlemen resuming their regular visits to Burma Englandand a dozen or so British people, diplomats and others who had joined the ship at Rangoonhaving travelled from Japanand Hong Kongon ships of other lines which did not proceed West of Burma.
The crossing to
Colombowas as smooth as silk and so it was all the way despite dire warnings about the Bay of Biscay. The only really bad spell was just before Aden– the pitching and tossing was too much for me so I retired to my cabin and remained there for hours, then went to sleep and awoke with a start to find we had docked at . We were nearly choked by a really foul smell that pervaded the whole atmosphere. It was a relief to move off through the Suez Canal and on to Aden . Port Said
We had earlier in the voyage spent over a week at Colombo because the engineers wished to carry out some repairs that required parts from England and these had to be sent by air. In those days civilian air lines were not yet functioning and we were never told how these parts were obtained – presumably by RAF or USAF planes – but all was put right and we resumed our voyage quite happily. A cousin of Granny Hall, Mr Foxwell was a fellow passenger with his wife and two of their children: his eldest daughter was a teacher at a convent school in
. The Foxwells were naturally very pleased to have an unexpected week with their daughter, a nun, and Mother Superior made the school minibus freely available for them all the time we were in Colombo . They generously shared this with those of us who wished to go ashore and we made several visits to that most beautiful city and surrounding countryside and beaches. I remember seeing two or three young English (British) (Scottish) men swimming round the “ Colombo Harbour Salween”, they turned out to be Merchant Navy cadets who were training on the ship for future appointments as officers of the Henderson Line. As passengers, we were not permitted to swim like them, and we were a bit miffed. In any case they were discouraged from socialising with passengers, this privilege was reserved for the Captain and his senior officers. The ship’s Purser was especially helpful when we stopped at Colombo, Adenand with advice on dealing with local shopkeepers and hawkers who rowed up to the ship to sell their wares. One experience, which was apparently a tradition, which developed during all those decades of British travel to and from Port Said India, was the visit aboard by the “Gilly Gilly Man” at . He was a conjuror and provided an entertaining interlude of legerdemain, which was mystifying and intriguing. I sat through his performance in my brief shorts and unlike the other passengers I was the one really dark-skinned Indian looking person in his audiences: he had assumed that I was the customary accomplice usually recruited from the bum-boats circling the ship. He addressed me in a dialect that I did not understand. I looked surprised and uttered something in English, which made him quite confused, and he replied very crossly. The ship’s Purser was in the audience and quickly explained the position to both the Gilly Gilly man and me and everybody started laughing. This seemed to please the conjuror who broke into a huge smile and he then passed his fez round which became quite full. I had been taken for a native of Port Said Colomboin the shops there, now I was taken for a bumboat boy in . Our next port of call was Port Said Liverpool.
I smile at the memory of our innocent amusements, at the time they seemed quite sophisticated. We played charades; we had discussions on the books we were reading. Some of the passengers were good musicians and our (Burmese lady) senior lady passenger Daw May Nyunt had a very pleasant singing voice: her piece was “I’ll walk beside you”, Peggy Mealin too had sung on
radio and had a wide modern repertoire which favoured Cole Porter, Noel Coward and Ivor Novello. So we had a selection including ‘Smoke gets in your eyes’ to ‘I’ll see you again’ and ‘Some day my heart will awake’. Rangoon
We landed at
Liverpoolon a sunny day at the end of June 1948. The previous evening we had said formal goodbyes to the friends we had made on the voyage and exchanged addresses with fervent promises to keep in touch. As we sailed up the Merseyall the passengers collected as is usual in the saloon and we all togged up to meet English friends and relations. The ladies (as we called women in those days) were a great surprise: all of them wore full-skirted dresses and costumes which reached their ankles. This was our first glimpse of the New Look that Dior had just launched as a reaction to the restrictions of wartime fashions.
I had become friendly with Moyra Curtis who was returning to
Englandfrom a visit to . She was engaged as a Nanny to two small boys, children of a diplomat and his wife who had spent the war years in Australia Japanand Hong Kongand were returning home from a post war visit to the far East; in exchange for looking after the children on the voyage her fare was paid to get her home. Moyra had worked out her journey back in stages – Perthto Singapore, then to Rangoonand finally to Liverpool. Her money had run short in Singapore, the she met the Brain family and joined them as Nanny, a short sea trip to Rangoonand there boarded the “ Salween.” Most of us in our early twenties made the voyage quite good fun and we felt a little sad when the journey came to an end. The rubrics of Customs and Immigration were so simple in those innocent days – British passports here please, others over there please. I had very little to declare, not many clothes because I expected to buy woollen things in London, a few tins – yes tins of Australian butter and a few bags of American chocolate. Of course, one hundred cigars that were very well regarded then; “For Churchill of course” said the Customs Officer. “Why yes,” I replied because Pops had specially sent them for the old warrior. I couldn’t understand why the officer winked as he said - “I suppose your old man has sent you home to get you out of Mandalay and its troubles?” “Something like that.” I realised then that I was the only brown face in the queue of British people; all the others had Burmese passports, so there was some interest from my Burmese friends who had assumed I was just visiting Burma England, and from the British passengers who could not understand why I had decided to live in . The latter exclaimed, “Oh Dick, I do hope you are not going to be disappointed.” England
We found our way to
Lime Streetstation and were soon on our way to . Moyra’s mother had met her at the docks and insisted that I sit with them on the train. At lunchtime they asked me to join them for a meal, but I said no and continued to say no despite their persuasion, since I had been led to believe that the British were rationed to the strictest degree. I assumed that Mrs Curtis was already giving up food coupons for Moyra’s meal and it would therefore be an imposition if I allowed her to do the same for me as well. I learnt otherwise only when I was settled at Auntie Pat’s in Finchley later that day, that eating in restaurants was rationed only by a ceiling on price:- half-a-crown at ordinary lunch times and five shillings for evening meals. London
When Mrs Curtis asked me what my first impressions were I thought it was too soon to be able to answer. “What do you think of us?” “I think you all look alike!” She chuckled and said that’s what she thought of Asians as she travelled through
When the boat train arrived at King’s Cross we parted company, having exchanged addresses and telephone numbers. On the platform stood Auntie Pat, whom I had last seen as a boy in
, but we recognised each other at once and she hugged me and grinningly announced that her son had arrived to join her at last. I gave her an enquiring look and she said “Oh yes, I’ve adopted you.” Behind her stood a very large, very handsome old man who came over and asked if I was Captain de Souza. When I said yes, his smile widened and he said, “I’m Rangoon Conway, I’ve heard from my son that you were sailing home on the Salween, and I have been asked to make sure you have someone to receive you.” I introduced him to Auntie Pat, explaining that she was expecting me to stay with her, and asked to be excused for a few minutes while I collected my baggage from the train. I left them talking, and when I returned he had gone. Auntie Pat said that he had sounded very relieved to find her waiting for me and he just slipped away when she was distracted for a few seconds and was lost in the crowd. She could not leave the spot where she was standing, as, she explained, I would have lost her when I returned with my luggage. The station was packed with people, passengers, civilians, military and people in the midst of demobilisation and repatriation and crowds meeting us all. I was sorry to have lost Mr Conway, for I had realised that his son, Major Conway was one of my senior brother officers in Maymyo and must have heard about my departure from the Burma Army and sojourn to . He was rather a pompous fellow but evidently felt that I should be helped on arrival, and made comfortable and welcome in England . When I had recovered from the rush and scramble of the first few weeks I found a telephone number for old Mr Conway and gave him a call to thank him for being kind enough to meet me. He wished me well, but I got the clear impression that he would prefer me to settle into my new surroundings by myself – “call me if you are in any trouble” he said, but there was no specific invitation to visit him in Ilford. London
Meanwhile, getting back to Kings Cross we were trying to get a taxi to take us to Finchley. There was a small excitement growing and Auntie Pat chatted to one or two people – funny how one remembers this fifty and more years later. The war was over only three years earlier, and Londoners were still “matey,” talking quite easily to one another, total strangers as they were. I had difficulty tuning in to a new accent and did not immediately follow what was going on around me. “Oh they’ve decided to welcome you personally” – I looked at her questioningly and at that very moment a cry went up as a car drove into the station carrying the King and Queen and Princess Margaret who were on their way to Balmoral. I could hardly believe it: this welcome for a 22-year-old colonial person! It must have been a good omen, because give or take a few knocks over the years their welcome has lasted well into my old age.
Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was 100 in the year 2000. In 1999 she was still carrying out official engagements with style. But in 1948 some people still felt able to make cattish remarks about her, and Mrs Curtis looked at me and said “Oh that woman. She dresses like a Pearly Queen. Do you know she wore fox-furs at the Braemar Gathering?” “Oh really” I replied with a forced smile and with absolutely no idea of what she meant. What the dickens was a Pearly Queen? A queen who wore pearls? And what was the Braemar gathering? It took time to learn these little bits of English nonsense. Now we call them “Trivial Pursuits.”
Her daughter Terry, who wanted her mother to make her home with her, had called Auntie Pat to
. Terry had married a pilot who had volunteered to fight in America Chinaand they met in in 1941. Her niece in Rangoon cared for Auntie Pat, by now quite elderly: we called her Gussie. She had left London Burmato study medicine in Paris, got away to Englandas war began and worked and lived in from then on. She was a surgeon at London Hammersmith Hospital, married to an Englishman whose parents had emigrated from in the late 19th century. They had a very comfortable house in Golders Green and made me very welcome. They introduced me to the Germany theatre and the first play I saw was Pamela Brown in “The Lady’s not for Burning.” A few months later they went to the Carribean for a holiday where some friends had a yacht. Gussie slipped on the wet deck, struck her head and was killed. So Auntie Pat and the first days in London came to a quick end for me. London
Before she finally left London Auntie Pat helped me to find “digs” with an émigré German Jewish family in Finchley. Mr and Mrs Stern had an adult daughter who was married and had her own family. The Sterns lived in a spacious “mansion” apartment with two spare bedrooms, one of which was occupied by a post-graduate student from
, whom I never actually met. I gather he regarded me as an Indian and left me alone. Of course, I soon ran into minor difficulties: as I had obtained a job as a temporary civil servant at India House on seventy nine shillings a week and paid Mrs Stern sixty three of these scarce shillings for bed and breakfast. I also had to pay five shillings a week National Insurance. Just over ten bob for bus fares and perhaps a second meal every other day. But Mrs Stern guessed, I’m sure, and often left a paste sandwich or fruit pie for me to find in the evening. Lahore, Pakistan
I heard from Moyra one day in August: her mother had bought a house in Kensington and they had moved to Town from their house at Bramley, near
Guildford. Please visit them. So I did. And they slowly elicited what I was doing and how I was living. The following weekend I was invited to stay: and again the next. By then Mrs Curtis had cooked up a tale that my three guineas a week would be most welcome to her as Tim, her younger son, was at sea and his room was free. So I moved in and spent a whole eight or nine months as their guest until I had “settled” in London How kind they were.
Christmas 1948, and 1949 New Year’s Day – very jolly, very friendly, accepted as one of the family. But I also knew I had to “get on” so I decided to study for an external degree at the Polytechnic (now the
.) But things moved more slowly then, and I had to go through a formal matriculation examination for entrance to Universityof Westminster . Compulsory English, Maths and a foreign language plus two other subjects. So I offered Burmese, what else? And English Literature (by cramming Twelfth Night, As you Like it, and modern poets and Economics (by cramming Honor Croome!) So I passed, and set out for London University Inter B.Sc. London University
Meanwhile I’d got fed up with the pittance I was paid as an accounts clerk at India House and wondered if I should look for a “career” in some organisation in
To confound my restiveness I felt that I should get digs of my own and not get into the habit of living with the Curtis family, as a welcome paying guest admittedly, but half committed to a relationship which did not offer a promise of positive development, for all sorts of reasons besides basic cultural difference.
So in 1949 I got a room in
Elgin Crescent, Notting Hill with an Anglo Swiss family called Probst. And for nearly two years I was cared for by Mrs Probst and her brother and sister in their large Victorian house in a part of which would be discovered twenty years later and become one of the world’s smartest addresses. London
I certainly was not without friends: one or two of my ex Army colleagues from
would invite me to their homes, having recently married and started families. I remained on close friendly terms with the Curtis family, and I continued to meet old Burma friends, Peggy and Malcolm Mealin, Victor and Molly Taborda and Stanley Lillywhite who lived in Kensington. Burma
One day in late summer ’49 India House was visited by Frank Anthony, Member of Parliament in
, representing the Anglo-Indian community. All Anglo-Indian members of the High Commission Staff were invited to a meeting which he was to address and as I was nominally Anglo-Indian, although a Burmese born British Eurasian, I was urged to join the meeting. The MP exceeded the bounds of good manners, in my view, castigating the audience for working at the High Commission and being paid by the Indian Government when they had fled their “native land,” in fear of living as Indians, to take refuge in England where they would not be able to find employment in an English business or corporate undertaking, and be happy to “continue in the role as second class citizens.” Anthony’s polemics and logic dismayed me, and I said so when my department boss, Chatterjee, asked how I had “got on” with Mr Anthony. I declared that I had difficulty in identifying with his stereotype and found his opinions unacceptable. To my surprise Chatterjee reacted very waspishly, and despite his own thirty year residence in London, married to an English woman and with English children, said that most if not all the Anglo-Indian staff at India House worked there because they could not or would not be able to find employment in any other organisation or business in London. “Just you try” he sneered and I immediately accepted his challenge. I would, said I, get a job outside India House within days! Delhi
I wandered into the Strand after I’d had lunch in India House canteen, gazed into shop windows thinking hard, and found myself at the North end of
. I was reminded of the old Vivienne Leigh film that she made with Robert Taylor during the war; Waterloo Bridge was where she ended her own life under the wheels of nighttime traffic. And at that moment I was touched on the shoulder by a middle-aged man who asked whatever was wrong, I looked so miserable. I nearly replied indignantly and hastily, but he was so kind and said “come and have a drink, I’ve just got back from Waterloo Bridge and I’ve just been to the High Commission.” “That’s where I work for now” said I “and the pay is so bloody miserable I could not afford a round of drinks, so thanks I shan’t be joining you.” “Don’t be silly,” said he “it’s on me today and you look as though you could do with a drink.” So I agreed and went to Yates Wine Lodge and before long I’d poured out the whole tale about the challenge. “You’ve nothing to worry about,” he assured me. “Just go to County Hall – I know they are looking for educated young people to fill a lot of clerical vacancies.” He even showed me where County Hall was and I walked across the bridge to the big building over the other side of the river. India
When I got there I went into the main entrance hall and was greeted by a large, affable messenger (who later became a good and trusted friend) and on being asked what I wanted I told him I was looking for a job. What sort? Anything. Painting, cleaning whatever. “Oh no sir, you can’t do that,” said he “I’ll take you to the Clerk’s office” he did. The officer in charge was given a whispered message while I waited in the anteroom – the messenger came out and showed me into the office. “I believe you are after a job- what can you offer?” “In what way?” I responded. “What is your background?” So I briefly described my circumstances and to my surprise at being greeted as an officer and a gentleman he sat me down and said that he could offer me an interview for a clerical post in the London County Council at nearly five pounds a week. Could I attend next Monday for interview? I did and was interviewed by an impressive panel chaired by the Deputy Clerk of the Council and comprising several heads of departmental Staff Divisions. The Deputy Clerk (Mr Randall) was encouraging: my education and Army Service qualified me for immediate employment and to take a promotion examination the following autumn (1949) for the “Major Establishment.” So I walked out on Cloud 9 and never looked back.
I started at County Hall in the Comptroller’s Department with a group of lively young people, (all young women) supervised by an elderly Executive Officer in charge of salary payments for several thousand workers on the pay roll of the L.C.C. I took the Major exam – quite stiff because apart from demobbed ex service officers only outside graduates were eligible – and passed well enough to be interviewed for a more senior post in the “administration” cadre. When I was offered an opening in the Comptroller’s Department I accepted, and embarked on a course (for qualification as a municipal accountant eventually) for a London University B.Sc Economics degree as a starter. But the hard slog was very challenging and I was not properly motivated, and like a fool I let my studies slide.
Work at County Hall was quite interesting but
in the fifties was more fun after work and I fell among friends. Indeed I made good friends with a number of people, especially the Allums who lived in Lambeth, whom I met in’53 during the Coronation celebrations at a ball in County Hall. In a way, I grew up with Sheila and Dennis and their friends. And they also accepted my friend John Tytler with whom I’d forged a strong enough friendship to share digs with, and later when he bought a house agreed to share the accommodation and pay him rent. This went on for years, and I suddenly found myself the wrong side of thirty and still a foot-loose bachelor. London
Then I met Barbara Snashall in the winter of ’59. She was a colleague in County Hall and was part of the salaries team, whom I regularly met because every single month I barely broke even – and I haunted their office to check on the next payment I would receive. She wanted a partner for the Christmas Dance, which was always held at the Festival Hall, and I was flattered to be suggested as the one who should accompany her. But I couldn’t let it be seen as too eager so I stipulated that she buy the tickets! And she did.
The rest of that story goes something like “Dear Reader……….etc!”
"Rangemore" the house in Mandalay built by Grandfather Frederick Charles Phaure, was occupied from circa 1886 until 1926. In that period F C Phaure married Harriet Rose Ballard and from 1889-1911 lived there with their children David, Georgiana, William, Frederick, Aloysius, Joseph and Cyril. Ma was their only daughter who married Frederick de Souza in 1911. When Francois died in 1911, Harriet married the man she had always loved, John Swyny in 1913 and they had Tony in January 1915. Harriet died a fortnight later, leaving Ma to bring up her own children, her young brothers Aloysius, Joe and Cyril as well as Tony, a baby to add to the nursery comprising my eldest brother Fred and my twin sisters Mary and Dot, (born 1911 and 1913 respectively) George 1914 Herbert 1916 (died in infancy) Gladys 1918 and David 1921.
So you see Ma was born and grew up in Rangemore, and even lived there after her marriage. I have sent you a copy of a photograph recovered after the 39-45 war, when we returned to Burma. It shows my father (in white suit and "solar topee") standing in front of it.
The house was Victorian Colonial in style, designed for occupation by "Anglo- Indians" who served the Raj. It was built with rendered brick walls embellished with wooden verandahs and porticos. Water was originally supplied by deep wells sunk in the grounds of the house (compound) but later on fresh water was piped from a reservoir to the better off households individually, and to stand-pipes for the less well off groups in the town. Grandfather Phaure was in fact an engineer who worked for the Public Service and would have been involved in the design of roads and water supply schemes for the Municipality of Mandalay.
I was born in 1925 and my father was transferred to Rangoon in 1926 so our (de Souza) family left Rangemore. The older retainers including Gaga Martin my grandmother's nurse/companion who acted as nanny to this large extended family had died by then, as had Mr Swyny who had continued to live as part of the household after Grandmother Harriet had died in 1915.
The older Phaure brothers had grown up and were following their own professions. Dave had married May Nation and had established himself in the Civil Service as the Senior Administrative Officer/PA to the District Commissioner. Uncle Dave and Auntie May had their own home, (photo sent) much of a style, slightly smaller, with Rangemore. My brother John (David) went to live with them and so did Tony Swyny, as they had persuaded Ma and Pa into this arrangement as they had no children of their own.
We lived in Rangoon from 1926 to 1942 (when the Japanese squeezed us northwards) but we spent summers (i.e. April/May) in Mandalay and Maymyo where I remember endless happy times among numerous Phaure and Ballard cousins. The water supply was very good, but until we left Burma in 1942 there was no municipal sewage system, except for Rangoon which was a modern city. In Mandalay, we still had "Materanis" who kept constant watch on the cleansing of commodes. Electricity was widely available in every town and even some of the larger villages. But in country areas oil-lamps were generally in use. There was no gas supply and cooking was done on fire-places made of brick and fuelled by wood and charcoal. Middle class households always had a cook's kitchen separated from the main living areas- the memsahibs had their own little pretty kitchens with oil stoves and ovens (e.g. Perfection and Rippingale stoves) and Primus stoves for boiling milk and drinking water.
I remember very little before the age of five when Joe de Souza my "little brother" was born. Ma had been working to make ends meet, she herself as a girl had enjoyed a very comfortable if not pampered life in her parents household. From 1927-1930 she played the piano in a Rangoon cinema and in a dance band at Rangoon's Strand Hotel, but she gave up the cinema job when Joe arrived, and to spend more time with us children. She gave piano lessons to the older ones, she made all our clothes, she cooked special treats -the family cook did everyday shopping and cooking; she did the "dusting," she mended clothes and sewed curtains and bed-linen. She taught us to read and write but I cannot recall her reading to us as we have done with our children. On the other hand both our parents taught us household skills so that when we were older we could all cook, mend our own socks, polish wooden furniture, fix electrical equipment and do simple carpentry. I think this happened in most colonial households. Our culture was based on the predominating influence of our European ancestry: our "Indian” attributes were our multi linguistic skills, our physical appearance and our attachment to Indian cooking.
We read English books for education and for pleasure; we learnt Burmese as a necessity, acquiring competence at school where it was a compulsory subject but rarely if ever using it at home. All our Burmese cousins and aunts spoke exellent English as did our Burmese friends. We spoke Hindustani to our servants, never English, as it was not polite. My mother spoke Tamil as well as French as additional languages, but not our generation who were born and grew up after the British had taken full control of Burma.
My parents came from similar Eurasian backgrounds, from what would now be called the professional classes. But Pops was born and brought up in India and was totally Anglo-Indian, whereas Ma was born in Burma where the culture was less confined.
I think my grandmother (Mother's mother) was British rather than Anglo-Indian. She was married to an Indo French Eurasian from Pondicherry. It seemed that Ma absorbed quite a lot of her mother's influence. She spoke without a Eurasian lilt, she always wore stockings and on formal occasions gloves and a hat. She loved the smell of roses and lavender and she always read The Lady's Journal. The advertisements told us that "Mrs Gilliss of Tooting always uses Persil" and that if your soap was "Wright's Coal Tar" your children would probably win scholarships to a grammar school. And, yes, "Bovril" would stop that sinking feeling, while "Bile Beans" were worth a guinea a box. But sadly -no papers except the Rangoon Gazette or the Times of India. We used to get the "Illustrated Weekly of India" and sometimes "Onlooker," an Anglo-Indian version of the "Tatler", when we had visitors from Madras Calcutta or Bangalore. Ma's father had siblings in India, who had fanned out from Pondicherry so we occasionally had visitors from these alien places who would bring books, music and fashions with them. When we stayed with Uncle Dave in Mandalay we were allowed to read guess what, the weekly edition of the "Daily Mirror" which was ordered for his office. Presumably this was to keep them in touch with the Mother Country. We got to know Jane, the diary of a bright young thing and Pip Squeak and Wilfred a trio of penguins, two strip cartoons. Also a running story of the Ruggles, a so-called typical middle class London suburban family. So our reading was wide but hardly cultured. At school, however, we struggled with Shakespeare's plays in the original English plus translations in Burmese, Moliere too in translation, Oliver Goldsmith, Jane Austin, Mrs Gaskell, George Eliot etc, all strong Victorian stuff.
Our own family was divided into groups by virtue of the age range (1911-1930 birth dates) there were five boys and four girls. Freddie the eldest was never a boy in my memory, nor was George; the 'big girls' and Gladys were all part of the womenfolk who looked after us, the youngest three, Dickie, Daphne and Joe. I remember we were always addressed as a trio, "Dicky Daphne Joe come to dinner" or "D D & J play time's over, go to bed," or "D D &J have you done your homework?
Joe was five years younger and a little remote from me, Daphne and I were virtuali twins, with all the loyalty, rivalry, affection and dislike that such siblings go through. Daphne was intensely loyal when I was reprimanded or punished for small misdemeanours like cheeky reactions to George or for bigger problems like bed-wetting which took years for me to overcome. She was petted and indulged by our family nurse/nanny/ mother's help whom we called Lutchee. Daphne she called Annapurnama after the semi-divine Himalayan mountain; Joe she called Ajnarayan and I was called Tickybaba. Lutchee always fed the family pets, cats, birds, dogs - and one day caught Daphne eating food from the dog's bowl. This was a family story, matched by my greedy behaviour every time the "mohinga" vendor called. I always succeeded in getting two helpings and stuffing myself in the time every else had taken to eat just one.
Daphne was a very bright girl: we both won scholarships but also she got he archbishop’s prize for standing first in Southern Burma in the RE Exam which was taken by all senior pupils in RC schools. There’s a moral there somewhere.
Our adolescent years started together and we had good fun with the group of young people in our community. Apart from the usual run of outdoor sports and games in the dry season (temperate countries have four seasons, the sub-tropics are either wet and hot or dry and hot and sometimes a little cool and dry) we spent much of the rainy season devising our own amateur dramatics, practising for the Christmas holiday concerts and short plays based usually on Hans Anderson. Daphne claims that I always cast her as the witch and cast my "girl-friend" Hazel Hawken as the princess because Hazel was fair haired and blue eyed. I do not remember this favouritism! I guess I'm in denial as they now say.
Well, as I’ve said, our little world collapsed in 1942. We fled to India, grew up a bit there, returned to Burma in ’46 and ’47. The whole of Asia was in turmoil; it got worse with each succeeding year and we were, in the end, dispersed around the western world, and have each rearranged our lives in new surroundings. Nevertheless, with communications now so much easier keeping in touch is not difficult. We visit one another (not me, I do not travel easily) and write as well. And now we have email!