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The Forgotten Highlander: An Incredible WWII Story of Survival in the Pacific

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Overview

Alistair Urquhart was a soldier in the Gordon Highlanders, captured by the Japanese in Singapore. Forced into manual labor as a POW, he survived 750 days in the jungle working as a slave on the notorious “Death Railway” and building the Bridge on the River Kwai. Subsequently, he moved to work on a Japanese “hellship,” his ship was torpedoed, and nearly everyone on board the ship died. Not Urquhart. After five days adrift on a raft in the South China Sea, he was rescued by a ...

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The Forgotten Highlander: An Incredible WWII Story of Survival in the Pacific

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Overview

Alistair Urquhart was a soldier in the Gordon Highlanders, captured by the Japanese in Singapore. Forced into manual labor as a POW, he survived 750 days in the jungle working as a slave on the notorious “Death Railway” and building the Bridge on the River Kwai. Subsequently, he moved to work on a Japanese “hellship,” his ship was torpedoed, and nearly everyone on board the ship died. Not Urquhart. After five days adrift on a raft in the South China Sea, he was rescued by a Japanese whaling ship.

His luck would only get worse as he was taken to Japan and forced to work in a mine near Nagasaki. Two months later, he was just ten miles from ground zero when an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. In late August 1945, he was freed by the American Navy—a living skeleton—and had his first wash in three and a half years.

This is the extraordinary story of a young man, conscripted at nineteen, who survived not just one, but three encounters with death, any of which should have probably killed him. Silent for over fifty years, this is Urquhart’s inspirational tale in his own words. It is as moving as any memoir and as exciting as any great war movie.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
During WWII, Urquhart managed to survive several near-death incidents. Serving in a battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, he was captured by the Japanese in Singapore and sent to Changi prison. From there, he and other prisoners were packed into "steel ovens" (train cars) for a five-day journey north, followed by a six-day forced march through the jungle. At the destination, he survived 750 days working as a slave laborer on the infamous Burma Railway, aka the Death Railway, a project that caused thousands of POW deaths. In 1944, he joined others in the hold of the Kachidoki Maru, where an "overpowering mixture of excrement, urine, vomit, sweaty bodies, weeping ulcers and rotting flesh clogged the atmosphere." When the ship was torpedoed and sank in the South China Sea, 244 of his comrades died, but he survived, drifting alone on the ocean until he was rescued by a Japanese whaling ship and deposited on an island with other shipwrecked POW survivors. Sailing away from the "atomic wasteland" of Nagasaki at the war's end, he went through a succession of military hospitals, eventually arriving home at Aberdeen, Scotland, where he had to deal with recurring nightmares and a difficult adjustment to civilian life. Dredging up painful memories, Urquhart documents the horrors of his war experiences. 24 b&w photos, map. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
“A book you must read.”
The Observer
“Riveting, powerful, moving.”
Financial Times
“A remarkable memoir.”
The Herald [UK]
“Memorable, vivid, relentless.”
The Times [London]
“Urquhart. imprisoned in the Kanyu camps, forced to build the Death Railway, herded on the 'hell ship' Kachidoki Maru, and forced to work in mines around Nagasaki, is in a survival league of his own.”
Library Journal
Urquhart (b. 1919) spent most of World War II surviving hellish experiences that felled many of his comrades. He grew up in Scotland and was conscripted into the Gordon Highlanders regiment of the British army in 1939. Stationed in Singapore, he was taken prisoner of war by the Japanese when British forces surrendered in February 1942. For the next three and a half years, virtually every day held for him a near-death experience. He was forced into labor on the "Death Railway" between Thailand and Burma and later in a mine in Nagasaki, Japan, suffering numerous diseases, starvation, and torture along the way. Not surprisingly, he returned to Scotland afflicted with what we now identify as post-traumatic stress disorder and had difficulty readapting to civilian life. VERDICT In his memoir, Urquhart employs matter-of-fact prose that is somehow perfectly appropriate to describe the horrors he experienced. Although grateful and positive about the many benefits in his long life—he describes himself as a lucky man—he is angry at the Japanese government's lack of acknowledgment of Japan's wartime abuses, and he feels neglected by his own government. His story makes clear that he has every right to feel that way.—Megan Hahn Fraser, Univ. of California, Los Angeles, Libs.
BBC Radio 4
“A story of almost unimaginable suffering.”
Herald
“Memorable, vivid, relentless.”
Observer
“Riveting, powerful, moving.”
Daily Mail
“Compelling . . .A book that must be read.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Urquhart grabs our attention with unforgettable stories.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616081522
  • Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/1/2010
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Alistair Urquhart was born in 1919 and teaches computer skills in Scotland. He is currently battling skin cancer—a probable result of his years of forced labor in the tropical sun. He lives in Dundee, Scotland.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 23, 2010

    Amazing, heart tearing story. A true hero and gentleman

    After meeting Alistair at the USS pampanito, I had to read his book. To make it through everything he did and still be thankful and be able to smile with us, I can't understand that power. He is a true surviver, surviving off love and hope. they gave him nothing in the POW camps but he still fought to survive. Everyone takes a journey in life, most of us choose the route, but to make it through his and the man (true gentleman) he is. how amazing. for all of you that still have war hero parents and grandparents around, hold them close and make sure you appriecated what they did to protect us. Lets never forget, lets never repeat the past. Godspeed Alistair Godspeed.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2014

    A story of one mans will to survive his living hell on earth.

    Actually this book is two stories, the first is a story of ones man will to survive. Along with an eye witness of the horrors of war, and what cruelties men are capable of inflicting on one another. What he and his comrades were put through is almost unbelievable. A must read for any military or history buff.

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    Posted June 7, 2014

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    Posted March 20, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2014

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