This Hiroshima survivor bats for nuclear energy

RAHUL WADKE | Updated on March 12, 2018

Maj Gen (retd) Eustace D'Souza

The near-cataclysmic disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plants has shaken the world and once again focused attention on the inherent dangers in nuclear technology. Environmental activists are shouting themselves hoarse, calling for a complete rethink on nuclear energy, even as nuclear engineers go into a huddle to consider new safety measures for existing plants.

But support for nuclear power and nuclear weapons comes from a rather unexpected quarter — a 90-year-old retired army officer in Mumbai, who had witnessed first-hand the nuclear devastation in Hiroshima in 1946.

Major Gen (retired) Eustace D'Souza of the Maratha Light Infantry had arrived in Hiroshima in March 1946, seven months after the city was completely destroyed by a nuclear bomb. He survived not just the radioactivity there but also Italian and German soldiers in World War II, Pakistani tribal marauders in the Kashmir Valley in 1948, and the Chinese in the 1960s' war.

“Until I came back from World War II, I was not in favour of nuclear weaponisation. In later years, when I saw what the Chinese and Pakistanis can do to India due to common borders, my views changed. These weapons should be the last resort of the Indian forces but that option should be available,” says D'Souza. He also believes that nuclear energy is the answer to climate change as there are no harmful carbon emissions.

Face-to-face with Hiroshima

After joining as a lieutenant in the British Indian Army in 1943, D'Souza fought in various campaigns in Italy during World War II. On Victory Day (May 8, 1945), he was ordered to sail back to India for jungle training at Gudalur, Ooty, in preparation for Operation Zipper to liberate Malaysia.

“In August 1945, just 500 miles off Mumbai, we soldiers learnt about the atomic explosion at Hiroshima and were worried about it. My battalion was selected to be a part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces. In Japan, it was assigned with the task of carrying out search for arms and ammunition among the local population,” he recalls.

His battalion had not faced the Japanese in the war and so did not have any hostility towards them. “But it influenced our mental perspective towards them,” he explains.

In March 1946, he landed at the Kure port near Hiroshima, and was stationed 20 km from the city. On March 6, D'Souza and his fellow officers Maj R.G.D. Nambiar and Capt A.M.M. Lafferty decided to go to Hiroshima.

“We decided to go there as if we were going to a garden, it was that casual. After a short drive, my colleagues asked a local for directions to Hiroshima and we were told that we had already arrived there. But there was no sign of the city. We were shocked that not a single building was in sight. After travelling further, we came across only three buildings, one of which served as a hospital.”

At the hospital, children were being treated for radiation burns. They had horrendous wounds. “There I saw the most terrible sight of my life. Their flesh was clinging to their bones just the way meat hangs from a butcher's hook. They had lost all their hair to radiation. But their spirit was amazing; there was not even a single cry or whimper from them. They were suffering stoically.

“We loitered around the town, even stood at Ground Zero. Very casually, we even inspected the soda water bottles strewn on the streets. They were broken and mangled due to the heat. We touched and saw everything, without worrying about radiation. While in Japan, the British Government never told Indian soldiers about the dangers of radiation exposure. Not a word was told to us,” D'Souza says.

Hellish moments

There were five Christians in his unit and D'Souza requested the local police to look for a priest.

A few days later, a German Jesuit priest visited the camp. He belonged to a seminary on the outskirts of Hiroshima; and D'Souza was amazed to discover that the priest had served at St Xavier's in Mumbai before World War II.

“I have forgotten his name, but he was tall and had fear in his eyes. He had survived the atomic blast and had witnessed the devastation in the city. That explained the fear in his eyes. He told me, ‘What I have seen here, I would not even show the devil'. Such was the impact on him,” he recalls.

Radiation deaths

While in Japan, an Indian soldier died of unknown causes and D'Souza was given the task of cremating him. He believes that radiation killed him.

Years later, in 1952, Maj Gen Dinkarrao Surve, the erstwhile second-in-command of his battalion, died of leukaemia in Mumbai. Nambiar and Lafferty too died of leukaemia sometime later. “They probably picked up radiation during our visit to the city,” D'Souza says.

But none of these tragic happenings can shake his belief in the country's need for powerful defence systems — in the form of nuclear power.

Published on April 21, 2011

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