Declaration of war 1

In 1960, I turned twenty, and got called up. I went on a course for paramilitary sergeants and graduated as a quartermaster on the day we set off for Angola, on 5 May 1961. The company HQ was in Muxaluando. Our job was to protect the convoys of lorries carrying food and coffee from the plantations. We often needed to clear the roads. The guerrillas destroyed bridges, blocked the road with trees, dug holes big enough to fit a car and camouflaged them, laying wooden stakes at the bottom. I commanded a section of eleven men. For two months we were dispatched to a farm to protect the settlers and the coffee cultivation. Once, the farm was attacked. I retaliated, and they never came back.

everything will be alright | 2015 | Pedro Valdez Cardosoeverything will be alright | 2015 | Pedro Valdez Cardoso

In Mucondo, we dug shelters in a circle around the barracks. On the second day I heard noises in the woods, though the guard didn’t hear anything … I told them to get the 60-mm mortar shells ready. Minutes later, a whistle sounded, and they appeared with shouts of “Upa! Upa!”, making a devil of a racket – there were about 450 of them, we learned later. Some jumped the barbed wire and died on the parapets of our shelters. We killed a lot of them with semiautomatic rifles and machine guns. We counted more than 100 dead. There were no casualties on our side. We interrogated the survivors about which whites they had killed, and where they had been active. Afterwards, they were felled with a Mauser pistol shot to the forehead. I said to one of them, who was very injured, “The troops can’t do anything for you, what do you want before you die?” He asked for water, I told the soldier to fetch water but gave him a signal not to go, that it wouldn’t be necessary. I picked up an FBP submachine gun, which wasn’t reliable, and fired a shot to kill him, but he stepped to the side. I said to the soldier, “Hey, 235, kill that man.” The soldier pressed a Mauser to his forehead and killed him. From then on, I began to think that I shouldn’t have done that, but on the other hand that man wouldn’t have been able to get away, he’d have died anyway…

My section went to provide reinforcements to a platoon in the bush. We got close to a river, and on the other side, near the water, on a slope, we saw the manioc moving. I gave orders to shoot. We heard some children cry out, I halted the fire. Were they monkeys? They say that monkeys cry like children. We put a tree down as a bridge and the section crossed the river. We found five women and three children. One of the women was injured. I sent two men up to see if there was anyone who could attack us, but they didn’t see anyone. We took the women and children with us. The soldiers carried the one who was wounded in a stretcher made with sticks and clothes. As we were crossing back, the tree gave way, and the water got us right up to the neck. The wounded woman went under, but we lifted her out. When we got to dry land, I asked the second lieutenant: “The wounded woman… did she die?” The second lieutenant told me to do as I pleased. I sent the children away, and only the woman was left. I remembered what had happened in Mucondo, and I said to the soldiers: “Which one of you is going to kill the woman?” No-one volunteered. “We’ll have to carry her then.” We went cross-country to the jeep, which was a long way away, uphill and downhill. We put her in the jeep, the blood soaking out of her. She died on the way.

The witch-doctors told them that to kill a white man you had to cut his head off, and that the white man’s bullet was made of water. We had to show them that the white man’s bullet killed you. We didn’t take prisoners, and neither did they.We put the guerrillas’ heads on sticks so that when their friends passed by they’d see that the white man’s bullet wasn’t water. We were attacked between Roça Portugal and Mucondo. The GMC and the jeep with the Breda machine gun were up ahead, and we were following in line. They attacked early in the morning, it was still dark. They had machetes, shot guns, and some machine guns which they had stolen from the station chiefs. We killed them all. I took pictures of the heads spiked on sticks, to show people later. Someone said that some of the guerrillas were cannibals and I believed them. The bodies were buried in a ditch we dug with bulldozers. I passed it again fifteen days later. It had rained a lot and the ditch was all ploughed up, and you could see arms and legs. After the commission, which lasted two and a half years, I went home and got an office job at a transport company. I am 78 years old, I have a 54-year-old daughter and a granddaughter who is 27.When something happens that I don’t like, I get an image from the war in my head. If I see an accident, I transpose it onto an attack where two or three enemies get caught. They aren’t real memories, they are generic images of conflict and death. A few years ago I dreamt that I had been posted in Angola as a civilian, in Luanda … they gave me a machine gun and sent me to the front. I was looking for enemies behind every corner… I nearly died laughing.I like talking about the war with friends who fought too, it makes me feel lighter. I’ve been asked if I have feelings of guilt and I say no. I don’t feel guilt or remorse for things I did or didn’t do.


Article produced for project MEMOIRS – Children of Empire and European Postmemories, funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 648624).

Translation:  Alexandra Reza

by Vasco Luís Curado
Mukanda | 25 June 2018 | colonial war, memory, trauma