Tomorrow You Die
Mainstream Publishing, £18.99
THIS really is the PoW memoir to top them all, a blisteringly honest account of Glaswegian athlete Andy Coogan’s horrific ordeal in the Japanese prison camps.
Now 95, Coogan’s testimony is all the more riveting because it is told in his own plain language, lending an honesty to his account that is both charming in describing how this Gorbals boy became an international class runner – he once ran and won in front of crowds of 70,000 at Ibrox and Hampden – and mind-searing in its devastating reports of life and death in the infamous prison camps of Changi in Singapore and Kinkaseki in modern day Taiwan.
But the most shocking revelations come at the end, where Britain requires every returning PoW to sign a solemn undertaking that they will not reveal to anyone what happened to them in the prison camps, or what they saw at Nagasaki. Even then, the British Government was trying to cover up its failure to deal with the Japanese onslaught, and the dreadful consequences of the A-bombs.
What comes across most strongly is that the PoWs’ survival was a matter of everyone pitching in to help each other. In characters such as Doctor Peter Seed and Father Richard Kennedy we meet truly selfless heroes.
And when victory was won, Coogan describes how soldiers felt sympathy for Japanese civilians, despite their hatred for their Imperial Army captors. That relatively few Japanese war criminals were caught and punished remains a scandal.
Coogan’s back pay covering his years of hell in the East was £75 – “but we were still subject to British taxes”. His athletic fitness and his Catholic faith helped him survive, and he has subsequently raised children and grandchildren, but he still has nightmares.
This year Coogan carried the Olympic Torch during the pre-Games relay as recognition for his long post-war service to amateur athletics on Tayside.
This book shows just what a debt we, and indeed the modern democratic people of Japan, owe to him and his generation. «