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New Songs of the Survivors

By Yvonne Vaz Ezdani

Click here to buy New Songs of the Survivors

‘We came out of our trench as the marshals ran down the streets, blowing their whistles and ordering evacuation,’ recalls Donald Menezes. ‘As we went upstairs to salvage important personal belongings and documents, my grandfather wept. Would his beautiful house and life savings go up in smoke?

‘Arnold, my youngest uncle (younger than me!) and I went up the street to see about the fires. The Sailors’ Homes, a shelter for white foreign seamen, had been hit. But miraculously, no one had been killed. Some seamen were sitting in the upstairs balcony when the bomb hit. The house collapsed like a pack of cards, and as the balcony hit the ground, the men leapt out and ran for their lives. Others escaped by leaping out of doors and windows. The phosphorus pellets emitted from the bombs had ignited fires. Just then, a fire engine arrived and the hose was run out and brought into action. With crowbar and axe, the firemen broke into the locked upstairs of the burning house. Suddenly Arnold and I found ourselves alone with the hose. It twisted like a demon in our hands and broke loose, falling to the ground. Arnold flung himself in a rugby tackle on the hose, and I followed suit. We got it up and into action. At that moment, a fireman opened a window of the burning house and the water blast hit him in the face. There was a laugh from the few bystanders who had collected. With the fires out, Arnold and I ran off to the recreation centre to tell our family the good news. Everyone was happy.

‘Suddenly we heard a high-pitched cry, “Mr D’Cruz! Mr D’Cruz! Winnie! Emily! Eddie is dead! Eddie is dead!” The tragic news about my Uncle Eddie was brought by Ronnie D’Souza, who lived on the next street, close to Eddie’s house. Grandpa and the aunts broke out crying and moaning as Ronnie cried out the news. We all loved Eddie so much. Arnold and I sped to Eddie’s house. The bomb had torn a hole in the iron grill-work of his front porch. Through this hole, Eddie had crawled on elbows and arms and called on a passerby to save his family. He was carried to a passing ambulance and Ronnie saw him and spoke to him before he died.

‘As we entered Uncle’s house, we were met by a scene of horror and death. Aunt Connie’s body had fallen forward from the piano stool in a semi-upright position. Her head, bashed in by the bomb blast, rested face down on the radio set. She had delivered her baby, due that day. It lay dead on the floor. Blood, bones, brains and limbs lay scattered around. But there were no recognisable bodies. Three others had died in that bomb blast; a five-year-old child, Winsome, her Burmese nanny, and Connie’s mother, Mrs Marshner.

‘As we sped to the Rangoon General Hospital where Uncle Eddie had been taken, we saw corpses by the dozens, lying on the roads. Machine-gun bullets had cut open heads and stomachs, spilling out brains and guts. Great holes were gouged in the roads, with water spewing out of burst water mains. Buildings were still burning. Some leaned drunkenly, as if about to collapse. It was a bloody massacre.’

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