The night when Goa’s port went up in flames

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By Frederick Noronha

Anyone who followed the intellectual and political discourse in the Goa of the 1960s, and much of the past five decades, would surely know of the Shirodkar duo.

Both named “P.P”, the father (Pandurang Purushottam) was a freedom-fighter and former Speaker of the Goa Assembly. His son Dr. P.P. (Prakashchandra Pandurang) Shirodkar was a journalist turned official, who rose to become the Director of Archives, Archeology and Museum for two decades, and also Executive Director of the Goa Gazetteer.

At present, Dr. Shirodkar is based in Bangalore, coping with a bit of health challenges, but closely keeping in touch with issues linked to Goa, both in cyberspace and otherwise. Dr Shirodkar has recently come out with a book related to a sensational but often forgotten aspect of Goan history.

Some of us might remember it because of the ‘Sea Wolves’ movie, the 1980 war film starring Gregory Peck, Roger Moore and David Niven and shot in Goa. This film, as a quick Google search would remind us, is based on the book ‘Boarding Party’ by James Leason, which, in turn, is based in a real-life incident that took place is “neutral” Goa during World War II.

Dr Shirodkar’s book is called ‘Blazing Midnight’ Its longish subtitle reads: “World War II: German Remote Control at Marmagoa Silenced”.

On the inside cover itself, we’re told more about the book. ‘Blazing Midnight’ is about the “tragic story of three German cargo ships — Ehrenfels, Drachenfels, Braunfels and one Italian cargo vessel Anfora”. All had taken shelter in Mormugao Harbour when World War II began in 1939.

As Shirodkar notes, his book is based mostly on Portuguese archival documentation available at the Goa Archives. “It brings out the truth and exposes thoroughly the Portuguese neutrality during World War II,” says the book. It also gives details about the the exchange of PoWs (prisoners of war) in Marmagoa Harbour, with extensive details about various diplomatic levels involved to transfer the PoWs coming from Japan in the vessel Teia Maru and from the West in the ship Gripsholm.

Dr Shirodkar starts with pesonal reminiscences. He was just over two years old, living with his grandparents at Caranzalem. He was told of this later by his mother, when he was seven. Residents of Dona Paula and Caranzalem cam e rushing towards Panjim, “running with their infants and belongings on their heads screming, crying, wailing, sobbing and shouting”. They were shouting: “Bomb poddlo, bomb polldo” (A bomb has fallen.)

From the episodic, Dr Shirodkar shifts to the factual. In five serious chapters he talks about the intrigue that led to the bombing. A German master spy was suspected to be operating through the ships (or this was the British justification). This resulted in a “blitzkreig” aat the Marmagoa Harbour, and was followed by an exchange of PoWs.

In Chapter IV, he talks about the “fate of the crew”. As Dr Shirodkar points out, the court in Goa came out with the “totally biased contention” of the Portuguese authorities of Marmagoa Port that “no alien ship had ever entered the port on that fateful night” when the ships went up in flames. This put the blame on the German and the Italian ships’ crew.

Some of the sailors from these vessels — like Fritz Dimsak who had his watch repairs shop near the Panjim municipal garden, or Karl Breitkopf — stayed on in Goa. Others had more tragic tales to tell.

Four Germans opted to remain in Goa. E. Tiegel stayed on, as did Dimsak, who lived here till his death. Kurt Beck was Manager with Sesa Goa and Walter Sedlazech was a mechanic at the same firm. Karl Breitkpt and E. sAutter are believed to have stayed till a few years back in Vasco. Harald Finck expired in Goa and was interred at St. Inez. Ernest Truper died at the Aguada Jail and was laid to rest at the St Lourenco Church cemetery, Sinquerim.

Given that the same subject is covered, a comparison with James Leasor’s book Boarding Party is tempting. That book may have the glamour. Does the current one have more factual details and inputs? That’s for the historian to say…

By some coincidence, or perhaps it was meant that way, a translation of P.P. Shirodkar (Sr.)’s memomirs was also almost simultaneously released. Its author writes on the back cover: “If the Indian concept of rebirth is true, and on account of any, if the Almighty willed not to bestow on me a rebirth in India, He should grant me that rebirth in Angola.”

The author was imprisoned in Goa and sent to exile and imprisonment in Angola. His biography was published in Marathi in August 1988. He says that for a decade and half, he could not get down to that because it would reveal the names of the Angolans involved to the Portuguese secret police, the PIDE, in still-colonial times. After 1977-78, he was still caught up in important issues like “caste and class system, temples in Goa, Marathi language” and other “burning issues”.

Needless to say, Shirodkar has been a major player in post-Liberation Goa. But his book calls for closer attention and debate, in that it has the potential to throw interesting light on little-known aspects of Goa’s campaign against Portuguese colonialism.

Blazing Midnight
Dr P P Shirodkar
Pradnya-Darshan Prakashan
BB Borkar Road
Alto Porvorim Ph 9742210126
Pp 206

My Life in Exile
Pradnya-Darshan, as above
Pp 336

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