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The Forgotten Highlander : My Incredible…

The Forgotten Highlander : My Incredible Story of Survival during the War…

by Alistair Urquhart

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1651372,171 (4.3)4
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    Life and Limb by Jamie Andrew (footysphere)
    footysphere: Another amazing tale of survival & the human spirit

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This is a book that is not taught in schools. It is certainly not used or read in Japanese schools.
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. ( )
  zmagic69 | Nov 3, 2016 |
The Forgotten Highlander - Alistair Urquhart *****

I love true stories from the war and have read dozens over the years. Somehow The Forgotten Highlander must have escaped me, but better late than never.

We follow Alistair Urquhart and how after becoming enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders and travelling to Singapore he became captured by the Japanese. Beaten, starved and half dead he was then sent to work on the infamous Burma railways. Being one of the ‘lucky ones’ he managed to survive the work gang, only to be taken aboard one of the Deathships and Torpedoed.

Such a well written book (in what I believe was the authors 90th year) that manages to really transport the reader back to those dark days. He describes the situations perfectly without bogging the reader down in too much detail or allowing his own personal feelings to cloud over his recollections. I enjoyed the way that he described his life before and after the war so that the reader can make up their own minds as to how life changing an experience like this really was, affecting him decades after the event.

If this story should stand for anything then it should be a loud cry out for how poorly our soldiers were treated by the very country they fought for.

A must read for anyone with an interest in the horrors of war or human endurance. ( )
  Bridgey | Jul 7, 2016 |
Alistair Urquhart was conscripted into the Gordon Higlanders in September 1939, in 1941 he was sent to Singapore in 1941. After the Japanese invasion he was taken prisoner and sent to work on the Death Railway and the bridge over the River Kwai.

Having survived starvation,cholera,malaria and the torture and brutality of the Japanese Army he was then packed onto a 'hellship' that was to take him and the other 900 men packed into the hull to work in the mines and factories in Japan. While they were at sea the convoy was torpedoed by American submarines who didn't know that there were POWs on board as the Japanese didn't follow Geneva Convention protocols and paint red crosses on the ships. Urquhart survived the sinking and managed to find a one-man life raft in which he drifted for five days before being picked up, but while many of the survivors were picked up by American ships Urquhart had the misfortune to be found by a Japanese whaler. After being handed back to the Japanese Army he was sent to a prison camp just eleven miles from Nagasaki. After the Japanese surrender the camp was liberated by the US Marines and the prisoners began the long journey home via Nagasaki, Okinawa,Manila,Pearl Harbor,San Francisco and New York before finally boarding the Queen Mary to return to Britain. During the return home the British Army insited that the prisoners sign documents saying that they would never talk about what they saw and experienced as prisoners of the Japanese.
This was a moving portrayal of one man's survival of an experience that he should never have lived to tell about. ( )
  KarenDuff | Jun 1, 2016 |
The vast majority of those of us who feel we have some understanding of the deprivations endured by the allied prisoners of war of the Japanese and their Korean partners will still be taken aback by the searing descriptions contained in this book. The long-term effects, for example, I had not really comprehended. For anyone approaching it without such understanding it will be a distinctly unpleasant shock.

This book and books like it, however, should be required reading for anyone who studies war and for those who glorify it without an understanding of what it can mean. We hear in the West that Japanese schoolchildren do not get taught about the Second World War, well maybe we don't get taught about our nation's defeats either. If any Japanese wishes to understand why many many people would not buy anything made in Japan for decades after the war, though, this book will give them ample explanation.

As a book it does have its drawbacks. The author comes across as someone who thinks quite highly of himself and that sometimes jars, however one can't but think that it may well have been that self-belief that gave him the strength and determination to survive where so many of his compatriots did not. ( )
  expatscot | Oct 11, 2015 |
Ugly story, told well. WW2 was mostly a war fought badly by British leaders. An early and serious error was pouring resources into lost causes such as Europe and Singapore and later Dunkirk, then Crete and Italy. Mr Churchill was an excellent political leader but a woeful military strategist. His troops paid a terrible price for his mistakes as aptly demonstrated by this memoir ( )
  jamespurcell | Aug 21, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Alistair Urquhart could be both the luckiest and unluckiest soldier that the famed Gordon Highlanders ever had in their ranks.

Shipped to Singapore at the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, he quickly sensed that the island fortress was ill prepared for an enemy attack, long before the inevitable demise under the invading Japanese imperial troops.

Captured by the Japanese in Singapore, Urquhart was then shipped off with others on the infamous Burma Railway project. He not only survived working on the notorious Bridge on the River Kwai, but was subsequently taken on one of the Japanese ‘hellships’ and was torpedoed. Nearly everyone else on board died and Urquhart spent five days alone on a raft in the South China Sea before being rescued by a whaling ship. He was taken to Japan and forced to work in a mine near Nagasaki. Two months later a nuclear bomb dropped just ten miles away . . .
This is the extraordinary story of a young men, conscripted at nineteen and whose father was a Somme Veteran, survived not just one, but three close encounters with death - encounters which killed nearly all his comrades.
Alistair Urquhart is now 90 (and is the last surviving member of the Scottish regiment the Gordon Highlanders) and teaches computer skills to Old Age Pensioners in Scotland.
added by Kintra | editLittle, Brown & Coy, Unknown
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An extraordinary and moving tale by an ex-POW and last surviving member of the Gordon Highlanders regiment that was captured by the Japanese in Singapore.

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Skyhorse Publishing

2 editions of this book were published by Skyhorse Publishing.

Editions: 161608152X, 1616084073

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