The tape begins: This tape is being recorded in England, 13000 miles away from the interviewer, Morgan de Souza; therefore I, the interviewee, Lt Col de Souza (Morgan’s grandfather) am reading out the questions for Morgan before answering them.
Q1 When were you born?
A1 I was born on 21st February 1921,
in the town of
Q2 How old were you when war broke out?
A2 When war between
Q3 Did you volunteer for the army or were you forced to go?
A3 Because the Japanese, in addition to invading
Q4 Did you leave any family and friends behind when you left for the war?
A4 Yes, I left my parents, brothers and sisters behind.
Q5 What was the name of your regiment and what was your rank in that regiment?
A5 Initially, I was commissioned an as Officer in the rank of Second Lieutenant, into the Queen Victoria’s Own Madras Sappers and Miners of the Indian Army. ‘Sappers’ is a sort of generic term for the Royal Engineers of the British Army and the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army, which, until 1947, was Officered mostly by British officers. We were what the Americans call ‘Assault Engineers.’
Q6 Were you promoted during the war?
A6 Yes, I was promoted during the war from Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant as a platoon commander, then Captain as the Second-in-Command of my Field Company, then to Major as Commanding officer of the same Field Company.
Q7 Where were you stationed and what countries did you fight in?
A7 From the time I was commissioned I went
Q8 What were conditions like during battle and when you were at base camp?
A8 As you might expect conditions during battle
are never nice though sometimes less nice than at other times. On the whole,
During a long battle, the first time one bedded down to sleep, the noise of exploding shells kept one awake for 2 or 3 nights and then (it is amazing how human nature adjusts) the noise became almost a lullaby to put one to sleep. Three months later, when the battle was over and the shelling stopped, the silence and the absence of our lullaby, now kept us awake again for 2 or 3 nights till our system again adjusted. In the early mornings I had to take some Sappers out to clear the vehicle tracks of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines that the Japanese had laid under the mud during the night. This is always a dangerous job but was made more frustrating as our Polish mine detectors sometimes gave a misleading hum due to buried shell fragments rather than mines. As we could not afford to take chances, we had to examine every warning hum, so it was a slow job.
months later in early 1945, in another sector, we were out clearing tracks
for our accompanying tanks and armoured cars and were being shot at by Japanese
snipers in trees, as we, the Sappers, were working in the open, while the
cavalry were safe behind three inches of armour in their tanks. So you see
‘conditions’ are not very nice for us assault engineers. An incident worthy
of note during this episode was that a young Cavalry Captain disregarded my
warning that we had not finished clearing a certain path and took his armoured
car over it. Result – one half of his vehicle was blasted and he was lucky
to escape with minor injuries. He did, however, receive quite a tongue-lashing
from the Column Commander. Thirty three years later in 1978, that young Captain
named Zia-Ul-Huq became president of
Another uncomfortable experience was what is today termed by the Americans ‘friendly fire’ e.g. one day in April 1944 I was returning from a reconnaissance accompanied by my escort of one British Lieutenant and his platoon of Gurkhas, when we were fired on by our own troops who mistook us for Japanese who are short like the Gurkhas. I have had many a laugh over it since. We had many other laughs too as I recall another incident when a platoon officer, a Scotsman named Jock Meldrum (RIP) built his bridge bank seat on top of a dead mule rather than have the foul-smelling creature removed. The next day a very heavy shower of rain washed away the bank seat and we never ceased to pull Jock’s leg about his ‘mulish’ bank seat.
As regards conditions at base camp that was usually from 5 to 50 miles to the rear, these were obviously better, being away from the fighting, but during the monsoon rains the mud still made things a little unpleasant. However, we could bathe in the streams or use our canvas baths. Food was better, with a few luxuries like fresh meat and canteen supplies like chocolates, cigarettes, beer ration (sometimes only) were available. We also had time to write letters home and listen to some music on the radio instead of the crump, crump, crump of shell fire.
one could write 100 pages about battle conditions but I must stop here, though
I might add that after I returned from overseas to
Q9 Do you hold any grudges against your enemy’s country now?
A9 I was never a prisoner-of-war of the Japanese
but I can understand the bitterness and resentment still felt by those survivors
who went through hell. As for me, I hold no grudges against
Q10 Do you think there was anything good about the war?
A10 I am not quite sure how to interpret this
question especially as there seems to be some overlapping with question 13.
However here goes. All wars are intrinsically evil because of the pain, suffering,
death, destruction of families, nations, cultures, cities etc but the last
world war between the allies and Germany-Japan was good, only in the sense
that it was a ‘just war’ on the part of the Allies since they fulfilled the
conditions for legitimate defence i.e. firstly: all other means to avoid war
were taken by frequent diplomatic discussions by Britain with Germany and
the USA with Japan, but these failed and Germany and Japan were clearly the
aggressors. Secondly: the damage inflicted by these aggressor nations on
Q11 Did you have any diseases or know anyone that did due to the war?
A11 Yes, towards the end of the war, in 1945, I, as well as most troops in my Brigade, developed amoebic dysentery by drinking water from a polluted water point. It took 20 years for me to be cured in 1965. Other than this, I don’t know of anyone else who had a war disease.
Q12 Did you earn any medals?
A12 Yes, five medals.
Q13 Do you think the war was a good thing for the world or not?
A13 it was good in one way in that the if the
Allies had not responded by a ‘just war’ then Germany and Japan would have
conquered the world and who can say what terror, injustices, oppression and
other evils would have been perpetrated in the conquered countries. The end
of the war produced some fresh thinking among the benevolent colonial regimes
resulting in their giving their colonies independence. On the other hand it
led to an arms race. Some may feel that the possession of nuclear weapons
as deterrence by some super powers has, through mutual fear, ensured peace
between the West and