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The Forgotten Highlander: An Incredible WWII Story of Survival in the Pacific 1st Edition
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“Memorable, vivid, relentless.” (Herald)
“Riveting, powerful, moving.” (Observer)
“Compelling . . .A book that must be read.” (Daily Mail)
“A story of almost unimaginable suffering.” (BBC Radio 4)
“Urquhart grabs our attention with unforgettable stories.” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
About the Author
Alistair Urquhart was born in 1919 and is the last surviving member of the Scottish regiment the Gordon Highlanders who were captured in Singapore. He teaches computer skills in Scotland. He is currently battling skin cancer—a probable result of his years of forced labor in the tropical sun. He lives in Dundee, Scotland.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book tells of the experiences of a Scottish man during WWII. This man appears to be the unluckiest man of the war. Now it certainly could be argued that he at least lived through the war it is hard to say if it was worth it.
Alistair who is the author as well as the subject of the book tells his story of what happened to him in the war.
1. First he was sent to Singapore. The British "plan" to defend Singapore was laughable at best. The British so full of themselves and the arrogance gave little credibility to the Japanese and believed themselves to be so superior than the defense plan was a joke, and most of those in charge, were unfit to be in the military. This has been documented in hundreds of books. So Singapore falls, and any white man especially in a military uniform is rounded up or killed, doesn't matter if they are in the military, are a doctor performing surgery or a man on the street. The "lucky ones" are kept in or near Singapore in prison camps. The unlucky ones- of which the author in one- are loaded like cord wood in train cars and taken to the jungle. The Japanese have decided they need a rail route from the tip of Malaya to Bangkok, and while the British realized the human toll of such an endeavor would be crippling the Japanese now had thousands of slave laborers to make it happen. I won't go into the horrific details of what these men were subjected to, again it is documented here as well as in many other books and scholarly writings, but it is appalling.
After working to build the railroad for a long period of time he is then shipped over to work on the bridge over the river Kwai. The movie depiction of this little endeavor is as accurate as most things Hollywood does, which is to say pure fiction. Here like with the railroad the men are starved, beaten, tortured, and worked until they die. Except a few who like Alistair are near death and shipped off to a camp to "get better"
2. Now that the author is sent in the hold of a ship along with 1000's of other men to be slave labor for anything else the Japanese can dream up. These were known as hell shops and the beatings, torture, and starvation continue. The Japanese though never agreed with, much less adhered to any of the Geneva convention protocols so these ships that are filled with prisoners, are not marked with red crosses and therefore are targets of the U.S. And it's allies. The ship Alistair is on is targeted and sunk. He escapes and spends 5 days drifting in the South China Sea, until he is picked up by a Japanese fishing boat and brought to mainland Japan. Here he is, "made healthy" and sent to work at a prison camp which also supply's slave labor to a coal mine.
It is now 1945.
3. The prison camp is in Nagasaki. One overcast day in August as Alistair is outside he hears a huge explosion and is knocked off his feet by a warm wind. A week later the war is over, and Alistair is driven through what remains of part of Nagasaki and all of the radioactive dust, to a ship to begin his long journey home.
Why the Japanese have never been held accountable, never been forced to recognize and apologize, never been forced to pay for what they did to every country and it military personnel and especially its citizens is an appalling travesty. If you research these acts of barbarism and the blind ambition the Japanese military had for the region not to mention their wish to never surrender, it is impossible to argue that dropping two atomic bombs on them was wrong. The Japanese deserved what they got and got off extremely easy.
Alistair closes the book by detailing the appalling treatment he and so many others received by the British government upon their return home, and what his life was like going forward, especially the permanent damage done to his physical self, and his mental self.
Shockingly he has lived into his 90's.
Urquhart was conscripted to work on the famous Bridge on the River Kwai, all the while surviving on a cup of rice and water per day. Beatings became the norm, and soon, Urquhart was suffering from several different tropical diseases. He worked on the bridge for 750 days.
After his work on the bridge, Urquhart was put on one of the Japanese "Hell Ships" to be sent to a labor camp in Japan. En route, the ship was sunk by an American submarine, throwing Urquhart and his comrades into the water. Some of the prisoners were rescued by friendly submarines, but Urquhart was not as lucky; he was picked up by a Japanese ship and resumed his voyage to Japan. Once there, he began working outdoors in a mine near the town of Nagasaki. By August, 1945, the Japanese were beaten. The first atomic bomb had fallen on Hiroshima and one day while Urquhart was working outside, he was knocked over by an extremely hot blast of air. Looking north toward Nagasaki, Urquhart saw a towering cloud over the city. He did not know it at the time, but he had felt the effects of the second atomic bomb that destroyed the city. Urquhart had somehow managed to survive the war, weighing only 82 pounds at the end. He managed to work his way back to Scotland and began to get back to life.
This is a very interesting story told through the eyes of a former POW. I've read many books about the fate of Allied POWs at the hands of the Japanese, but I'm still sickened each time I read about these terrible atrocities the Japanese committed yet still refuse to admit. Many Japanese companies, including the one Urquhart slaved for, benefited from POW labor, yet they still refuse to admit it. Urquhart had to endure virtually daily beatings, solitary confinement, little or no medical care, and virtually no food and water, yet he survived. it is a testament to all POWs who managed to survive such unimaginable treatment.
I recommend this book to all readers of Pacific War history. Urquhart's story is one of resilience, determination, and stubbornness, and this book accurately portrays the atrocities that Allied POWs were forced to face.
Before reading "The Forgotten Highlander," I read Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" about American POW Louis Zamperini, sobering enough about the hellish conditions. Now I had an inkling, but even armed with that, I could not have imagined "The Forgotten Highlander." What Alistair endured and lived to tell about was so incredible that only one who knows human nature can truly fathom it. "Man's inhumanity to man" may be a catchy phrase, but it captures the depths to which anyone without a moral compass could go. We do ourselves a disservice when we say, "Not I! That could only happen at the hands of imperialist Japanese captors or Nazis." Better to say, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Lest we forget and partake in new atrocities.
This book should be standard reading for military service personnel going into harm's way. Better to dispel illusions of wartime glory before one's first deployment. Alistair certainly never expected his tour in Singapore to end up the way it did. Some day, I hope to see a movie based on his story, as one on Zamperini's experiences is scheduled for release in December. I will see "Unbroken" when it comes out, but only after viewing "The Bridge on the River Kwai" again. And I will keep in mind that Alistair called the latter film "sanitized." Fr. Dennis
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Hopefully this is translated into Japanese, so it lives on for generations as a reminder...Read more