Book Review: The Forgotten Highlander by Alistair Urquhart
The Forgotten Highlander by Alistair Urquhart
This is truly an astonishing war-time memoir from a man who survived three major tragedies/atrocities during the Second World War, events that killed nearly all of his comrades. Alistair Urquhart is either one of the luckiest soldiers of his era, or one of the unluckiest, depending on how you look at it. A solider in the Gordon Highlanders, as a young man he was captured by the Japanese in Singapore and spent the remainder of the war as a POW. During these six terrible years he spent 750 days as a slave in the jungle working on the notorious Bridge on the River Kwai. He was later transported in a Japanese ‘hellship’, where men were crammed in the hulls with standing room only and without water, in a ship without any Red Cross markings. His ship was torpedoed by Allied troops and nearly everyone on board died. Alistair spent five days drifting alone on the South China Sea before being rescued by the enemy. He was subsequently put to work in a mine near Nagasaki. It was only two months later that the nuclear bomb dropped just ten miles away.
This is a sobering account of some of the worst aspects of war in the ‘Far East’. The inhumane treatment of the POWs in this war at the hands of the Japanese is sobering and the book recounts the terrible loss of life and the desperate state of the men who managed to survive in sparse, factual prose. But in the middle of unbelievable adversity Alistair also describes how he managed to hold onto hope and there are accounts of heroism from some of the people he meets that goes onto inspire him in later life. Six decades after enduring hell on earth, Alistair Urquhart finally tells his extraordinary story for the first time. This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in the truth of what happened to POWs captured by the Japanese. It is interesting to note that aged 90, Alistair now teaches computer skills to old aged people (!) and he enjoys ballroom dancing. Alistair Urquhart is an extraordinary man and this is his incredible story of survival.