Gil V. DaSilva – Autobiography

From my birth in October, 1935 until we left Shanghai in June, 1950, we lived at the Emerald Apartments on Rue Ratard. All of the major events during that period occurred while living there: the U.S. declaration of war on Japan in December, 1941; the Japanese surrender in August, 1945; and the Communist Occupation of Shanghai in May, 1949.

A year later, on June 25, 1950, my parents, my brother and I walked out of our apartment with a suitcase each to travel by pedicab to the train station. We had to travel north by train to Tientsin to get a ship to Hong Kong since the Whangpoo River, which we would have taken from Shanghai to go to sea, was blockaded by the Nationalists. At that time, train travel from Shanghai to Hong Kong was not possible as the Nationalists still occupied some areas.

I remember the day when my father, Ted da SilvaClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (34730) to be taken to his personal page , came into the bedroom I shared with my brother, EduardoClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (34732) to be taken to his personal page , to tell us that America had declared war on Japan because of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I was six years old, my brother five years older than me. We were terrified as we had no idea what would happen. We had heard stories of the brutality of the Japanese military.

In those days, people were fairly well-informed by shortwave radio. My father had one. This, of course, soon ended as the Japanese had forbidden its usage when war broke out, although I was told people secretly continued to use them.

I also recall we had a music box at home and one of the tunes on it was "Over There ... the Yanks are coming." My mother, Ann Figueiredo da SilvaClick on the SEARCH icon and enter her number (34731) to be taken to her personal page, told my brother and me that the Japanese would lock us up if we played it. We did play it, one note at a time, and thought we were so brave. Foolish would better describe our behavior.

We had many good friends who were British living in the building and, when the war broke out, they initially had to wear red armbands with a letter "B" on them.

They were eventually interned in one of the camps located within Shanghai as well as the surrounding area, and their apartments were taken over by Japanese military personnel. We were not interned since we were Portuguese nationals and Portugal was neutral in the war.

One British family, the Campbell's, was not interned. The father was Japanese and had been adopted as a baby by an English family. He had worked for the telephone company before the war and, when the war broke out, he declared allegiance to Japan. On weekends, he wore a Japanese military uniform and went for training exercises on the grounds of the building located almost next door to our apartment building. It had been a residence for Japanese bank employees and now housed military personnel. Of course, Campbell was quietly denounced and hated by all of the non-Japanese in the building.

I remember one Chinese New Year when my brother and a couple of others exploded firecrackers in his mailbox. My parents were furious and afraid as to what would happen. It was a foolish thing to do and, fortunately, nothing came of it.

When the war ended, we all wondered what would happen to him and his family. His wife was British. It turned out that he was a spy for the British during the war. He was a valuable agent, highly knowledgeable about communications from his work at the telephone company. He was treated as a hero and the whole family relocated to the UK soon after the war.

Toward the end of the war, there were regular U.S. bombing raids of the airports and other military facilities on the outskirts of Shanghai. They would often occur on Saturday afternoons and many of the apartment building residents would go up on the roof to watch the action. We learned to identify the planes as B-29s, P-38s and P-51s. The Japanese military officers living in the building were also on the roof observing the bombing. We had such contempt for them. They were ridiculously dressed in full uniform and even carried swords.

I was nine years old when we heard of the Japanese surrender in August, 1945. Everybody gathered in the hallways of the apartment building and celebrated throughout the day and night. The children went around kicking the doors of the apartments occupied by the Japanese military.

I was nine years old when we heard of the Japanese surrender in August, 1945. Everybody gathered in the hallways of the apartment building and celebrated throughout the day and night. The children went around kicking the doors of the apartments occupied by the Japanese military.

I still have vivid memories of the time not long after that day, of jeeps coming down Rue Ratard with four GI's in each one and everyone cheering. The neighboring building, which had been used as a barracks for the Japanese military, was taken over by U.S. WACs and we hung around with the U.S. MPs guarding the entrance to the building. They gave us Hershey bars and other items from the K-rations.


Throughout the war, we hadn't had chocolate candy and the other delicious items in the ration boxes. I got to know the fellow in charge of the mess hall and he would let me into the kitchen to try the food being served to the WACs. It was just so exciting. As many will recall, we suffered from malnourishment during the war years. Symptoms included painful chilblains in the winter months and boils in the summer months.

Many of the older girls in the building dated U.S. servicemen and the ones dating sailors took us with them when they went on board the ships. It was so exciting as we had to take Navy launches from the docks on the Bund to the ships. I still recall the name of one of the ships, USS Nashville. For a nine year old, it didn't get any better!

During my years in Shanghai, we only spoke English at home, but the only school I attended was the French section of the Marist Brothers' school on Rue Doumer. The Brothers, mostly from France, were excellent teachers. The fact that they carried a cane which they used to enforce discipline might have made them more effective.

There were two sections to the school, one French, Ste Jeanne D'Arc, and the other English. St. Joan of Arc. The French section occupied the left side of the building and the English section the right. Before classes, we lined up outside the building and walked to the school in two columns, the French section on the left and the English section on the right. We were not to talk while we were lined up. Brother Kevin stood at the top of the stairs at the point where we separated into our respective sections. If he caught anyone talking while standing in line, when we passed him he would use his cane to whack the guilty one.

After World War II, there was a gradual exodus of the Shanghai foreign community as people became uncertain about their future in China. The Chinese Nationalists and the Chinese Communists were at war again and there was a lack of confidence in Chiang Kai-shek's ability to defeat Mao Zedong. Every week, we were attending farewell parties for relatives and friends and going down to the wharves to see them off. The exodus accelerated as the Communist advance continued with limited opposition from the Nationalists.

The Shanghai community scattered all over the world. The preference was to live in the U.S., but that option was not available to many due to quota and other restrictions, so they settled in Australia, Brazil, Canada and many other countries. I recall one Russian family in our building going to the Soviet Union. They were of Cossack origins. I often wondered if the father wound up in a Gulag. My father had been with a U.S. bank since the 1920's and he was assured that, if the Shanghai branch closed, he would have a position with the bank elsewhere.

As the Communist continued to advance, they came closer and closer to Shanghai. There was great concern as Chiang had vowed that his troops would battle door-to-door to defend the city. The fathers and the older residents of Emerald Apartments formed a committee and organized round-the-clock patrols to protect the residents.

One night, we heard gunfire and explosions approaching and tensions were very high in the building. However, during the course of the night, the sounds became less and less and we all wondered what had happened. The next morning at daylight we looked out to see Communist soldiers in the street in front of the building. Chiang's soldiers had melted away into the night.

We stayed on in Shanghai since the U.S. bank where my father worked continued operations. My parents considered sending the two of us to Brazil where we had relatives, but they eventually decided against it. The bank did close in mid-1950 when I was fourteen years old. My father was given a transfer to the Hong Kong branch.

We prepared to leave our apartment, knowing that we could only take the things we could carry. We left the furniture and other heavier items we couldn't take and gave as much as we could to our two servants. For me, the saddest thing was putting down our dog, Fritz, a dachshund. Our German vet told us that was the best option under the circumstances. I will never forget my grandmother asking, "Gil, Will you cry that way when I die?"

I was 14 years old when I left Shanghai for Hong Kong. At that time, we had to first travel north by train to Tientsin since the Whangpoo River was blockaded by the Nationalists. Train travel south to Hong Kong was not possible because of the war. It was an overnight trip with many stops. We stayed several days awaiting the departure of our ship and were relieved when the ship finally sailed away from Communist China.

Chase Bank, which had employed my father for many years, transferred him to the Hong Kong branch. When we arrived, they provided us with an apartment on Kennedy Terrace on the Hong Kong side and I attended King George V School on the Kowloon side. I traveled to school on the Star Ferry across the harbor, and then by bus.

A few months later, my father was transferred to the Tokyo branch. At that time, foreign schools in Japan were scholastically inadequate, so my parents decided to send me to a boarding school in Australia to complete the last three years of high school. I left Hong Kong by ship and arrived in Sydney some three weeks later.

I attended Chevalier College in Burradoo, a three-hour drive from Sydney, run by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. The school was established in 1946 on some 100 acres of land. When I attended, from 1951 to 1953, there were approximately 100 boys enrolled and all of our teachers were priests. Today, it is a coed school with more than 1,200 students. I attended Chevalier for three years and traveled home once to Tokyo for the Christmas holidays. My parents were unable to visit me at the school.

Upon graduation, I returned home to my parents by ship and lived in Tokyo for three years. I attended Sophia University, a Jesuit school, with many students coming from the local foreign community as well as former U.S. servicemen attending on the GI Bill of Rights. While in Tokyo, the U.S. Congress passed the Refugee Relief Act, which among other provisions, gave priority to come to the U.S. to those of us whose original homes were in a communist-occupied-country. We availed ourselves of this opportunity and arrived in San Pedro, CA, by ship from Kobe, Japan, in January, 1957

We settled in New York City where I worked for Chase Bank days and attended Fordham University at night. After graduating with a degree in accounting, I went to work for a CPA firm. Three years later, a client in White Plains, NY, J.A. Sexauer, Inc., offered me a position which I accepted. I remained with them for 35 years, the last 26 years as President. The company, a distributor of maintenance products in the U.S. and Canada, eventually had a field sales force of more than 200 and internal employees of more than 150, operating out of four locations. Since I was appointed president by age 40, it qualified me to become a member of the Young Presidents' Organization, a worldwide organization, for which I also served a term as Chairman of the local chapter. I retired in 2001 and remain engaged in various activities with an office in the Empire State Building. I married Carol Cromack, of Forty Fort, PA, in 1963. We have a son, Todd, born in 1964, a daughter, Tracy, born in 1966, and five grandchildren. Carol and I have lived in White Plains, NY, since 1966.