Book review: The Forgotten Highlander: My Incredible Story of Survival During the War in the Far East

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The Forgotten Highlander: My Incredible Story of Survival During the War in the Far East, Alistair Urquhart, is published by Little Brown, priced £18.99

Let's not beat about the bush, Japanese rule in China and South East Asia during the Second World War saw some of the greatest sustained barbarities of the 20th century, and to be their prisoner was a special hell. Alistair Urquhart, a Gordon Highlander from Aberdeen, was captured at Singapore and forced to labour on the Death Railway and the notorious bridge on the River Kwai. For three years Alistair slaved barefoot and near naked, his starving body covered in sores, scabies and ringworm, enduring fearsome beatings and torture. One in four prisoners died.

Then his story took a turn for the worse. In September 1944, he was packed in the hold of a hellship bound for Japan which was torpedoed by an American submarine in the shark-infested waters of the South China Sea and drifted for days close to death until eventually recaptured.

In Japan, he and his fellow PoWs were paraded as a punishment through a village stark naked. Then someone started to sing Singin' in the Rain and slowly everyone took up the song until it rang down the streets. Even in this terrible hour, their spirits were unbroken.

The Forgotten Highlander is simply told, in keeping with an ordinary man struggling against the unimaginably extraordinary.

We learn that despite the evil that people do, the human spirit will always triumph, and Alistair is a fine teacher.

8/10 Review by Neil Griffiths, press officer with the Royal British Legion Scotland