'The Forgotten Highlander ' - Alistair Urquhart / Robert Burns...

Shereen Nanjiani and Alastair Urquhart ......

Hello Folks,

Yesterday being Sunday I was enjoying my morning cuppa in bed and as usual I was listening to the radio where I was intrigued by this man being interviewed by Shereen Nanjiani... what I heard completely caught my attention - it's not long since Remembrance day and the man being interviewed spoke openly and without great malice on his part... I wonder at the courage he had to live through his experiences...

So, today's blog is dedicated to Alistair Urquhart. (91 years) An astonishing and amazing man, whose ordeal at the hands of the Japanese during the second world war was so extreme that it's scarcely credible that he survived.

He worked on the infamous Death Railway and helped build the bridge over the River Kwai. He survived starvation, cholera, torture and brutality, only to be sent in a rusting hellship to Japan. The ship was torpedoed and he drifted alone for days in a shark infested sea, then when he was rescued and transported to a prison camp near Nagasaki.

Alistair not only survived, he's lived to be ninety-one years old and among other things takes great pleasure in ballroom dancing with his partner Helen. When Shereen, a presenter with the BBC met him, he began by telling how he and his comrades were put into rice trucks to be transported to a Japanese work camp...

They came to think of themselves as the forgotten army - the men who endured years of suffering in Japanese Prisoner of War Camps during World War II. His book is called 'The Forgotten Highlander' and it is the only item on my wish list for Christmas ...

This is a story of almost unimaginable suffering. The POWs were transported deep into Thailand on rice trucks that were more like steel coffins. He, with hundreds of others, was marched through the jungle to a prison camp. Many died from dehydration and exhaustion on the long march. They were then put to work on the building of a railway. It involved cutting a path through a sheer stone cliff face the men came to call Hellfire Pass. The men survived on a few handfuls of rice a day. Many succumbed to disease - cholera, beriberi, tropical ulcers. Their weight fell to five or six stone. Beatings were routine.

In the 1957 film Bridge on the River Kwei the men whistle Colonel Bogie and the officers valiantly defy their Japanese guards. Alistair Urquhart says it was not so. The film sanitises the depths to which the men sank on the building of the infamous railway bridge. For years he went barefoot and naked except for a simple loin cloth. After another death march through the jungle, Alastair Urquhart was taken back to Singapore and, with 400 other men, loaded into the hold of a cargo ship.

There was standing room only. It was airless, fetid, the heat baking. Many died here too. The ship did sink, torpedoed at sea by an US submarine. He spent five days and night alone on a barge. By the time he was picked up by a Japanese whaling ship, he was dehydrated, hallucinating and close to death. He ended up in a camp in mainland Japan. He was there when the war ended. But his prison camp was a few miles from the city of Nagasaki. The blast of hot air from the bomb that fell on August 9th knocked him off his feet. Within days he was on his way home.

He arrived back in Aberdeen in November. For years he'd dreamt of being re-united with his family. When, finally, he was, they scarcely recognised each other. Those who returned came home to a country that did not understand what they had endured, and which, for the most part, did not want to know. Like many of his generation, Alistair Urquhart didn't speak about his experience for 60 years.

His wife died after 46 years of marriage without knowing any of it. I am breaking my silence now, he writes in his book, to bear witness. I am a lucky man, but I am also an angry man, and my business with Japan is unfinished. Germany has atoned. Young Germans know of their nation's dreadful crimes. But young Japanese are taught nothing of their nation's guilt.

Book Details ... The Forgotten Highlander: One Man's Incredible Story Of Survival During The War In The Far East, is published by Little, Brown.

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A HOLLYWOOD blockbuster will be made about the life of a prisoner of war who was named as the winner of the Daily Record Our Heroes Awards 2010. Movie mogul Steven Spielberg is negotiating the film rights to Alistair Urquhart's moving book of life as a Japanese POW At the glittering ceremony on Friday, a room of celebrities, winners and nominees honoured Alistair with a standing ovation as he was named overall winner at the event. With characteristic modesty, the old soldier said: "This means everything to me. It is truly wonderful. I hope I can live up to the honour."

Spielberg was moved by The Forgotten Highlander, the bestselling memoirs Alistair, 91, wrote after 65 years of painful silence. He wants his story to be made into a film as long as it remains true to his ordeal. He said: "For my story to get to the next generations, I want that, for the simple reason that war never solved anything. "I hope one thing they remember from my story is that there is no such word as can't because you can if you really try. The fact I am here today highlights that."

Those words epitomised the courage and endurance of the nominees and winners at the seventh Our Heroes Awards, hosted by Tam Cowan and Jackie Bird at the Hilton Hotel in Glasgow. It was an emotionally charged event and Alistair's story touched many of the guests, including actor Martin Compston. He said: "To be with Alistair is to be in the presence of greatness. I have met a lot of Hollywood names but I can't remember being as starstruck as I am with Alistair. He's a true hero."

He certainly is 'A true brave Scottish Highlander '.

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Many and sharp the num'rous ills Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves regret, remorse and shame!
And man, whose heav'n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

Cheers from the land of the Tartan - Love Kate xxx.