The following is a transcript of a tape recorded in England by David Duncan de Souza for his grandson Morgan de Souza.


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 Mandalay, Burma, now known as Myanmar.


Q2       How old were you when war broke out?

A2       When war between Great Britain and Germany broke out on 3rd September 1939 I was 18 & a half years old, but when Japan came into the war on 7th December 1941 I was nearly 21 years old.


Q3       Did you volunteer for the army or were you forced to go?

A3       Because the Japanese, in addition to invading Malaysia, also invaded Burma on 14th December 1941, our whole family was forced to leave our homes and were evacuated to India. I had just completed 4 out of 6 years of my Rangoon University BSc Engineering course, so, after arriving in India, the Rangoon University (in exile) offered me a handsome scholarship to Edinburgh University, in Scotland. However, I felt it was now time for me to do my bit for King and Country so I declined this offer and volunteered for the Indian Army.


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 back to Burma with my unit, fighting the Japanese. As soon as the war with Japan ended on 15th August 1945, my unit was flown to Bangkok in Thailand as occupation troops for one year, and then into Malaysia for another year. Here although the war was over, we were attacked by armed deserters from the Chinese Army of General Chiang-Kai-Shek and we suffered quite a few casualties.


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, fighting in Burma was very uncomfortable, because of the jungles and the heavy monsoon rains, when everything was inches deep in mud, but I will mention a few major battles. During the battle for Kohima in May/June 1944 when the Japanese were trying to invade India, we lived in bunkers because of the intense and incessant artillery shelling. My home was a hole in the ground 7 feet long 4 feet wide and 6 feet deep, covered by timber logs 6 inches thick and with a layer of earth 12 inches deep on top. Sometimes, during a bad period when night attacks were expected, we slept in our wet socks for 4 or 5 nights at a stretch.


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.


Some 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 Pakistan!


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.


Really one could write 100 pages about battle conditions but I must stop here, though I might add that after I returned from overseas to India, I became involved in another war – this time with Pakistan in Kashmir – during the whole of 1948. I was now married so had to leave a wife (your grandmother) for 18 months. I was then a Major, commanding a different Field Company, but doing similar tasks as in any war. The worst periods were during the battle for a place called Tithwal when 4 of my men were killed by an enemy shell while fixing demolition charges to a bridge, and another battle on the Zozila pass where my unit distinguished itself, and Zozila is now one of the “battle honours” of the Madras Sappers. I will now read out a signal (an army radio message) from my Brigade Commander in 1948. It reads “Personal from Brigade Commander stop. The breakthrough at Zozila had been entirely due to the magnificent work done by you. You have won the admiration of us all. You have never failed me and always done the impossible….. Your work will go down in the history of the Indian Army as the finest achievement stop. I am proud of you.” Another signal from the General Officer Commanding the Division reads: “Complimentary Personal from GOC to CRIE. Convey my congratulations to the two Field Companies for the excellent work done in the last 48 hours enabling the tanks to get through. I consider this a record in my operation.”


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 Japan though I did see a young friend one Lieutenant Wilson (who had been at Engineer Officers’ Training School with me in 1943) killed. I was with him from 10am until he died of a stomach wound at 4pm in the Advanced Dressing Station. It was all so long ago and anyway, did not Christ in his ‘Sermon on the Mount’ preach forgiveness and love of one’s enemy? So as a Christian I should hold no grudges.


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 Europe and the far East were certain, grave and lasting. Thirdly: there were serious prospects of success as was indeed proved. Fourthly: the use of arms did not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated i.e. world wide conquest by Germany and Japan, notwithstanding the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the saturation bombing of Dresden in Germany. There were many bad things done in the war but you asked about good. It released Western Europe i.e. France, Holland, Belgium, Denmark from German occupation but Eastern Europe went from the frying pan into the fire i.e. they came under Russian dominated Communism.


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 Russia. However, an arms race does not wholly ensure peace, because it risks aggravating the causes of war i.e. spending huge sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations of the world and thwart their development. Over-armament increases reasons for conflict and danger of escalation.