Saturday 10 December 2016

Memoirs of a World War II POW bring home horrors of conflict

Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30

The cover of 'A Doctor's War', which recounts tales from a WWII POW camp
The cover of 'A Doctor's War', which recounts tales from a WWII POW camp

There was great media coverage last month of the film documentary of Aidan MacCarthy's World War II years as an RAF doctor and prisoner in Japanese POW camps. It is one thing reading an article, but by reading his war memoir, reprinted three times this year, one learns about his survival. Like when a Sumatran POW went to talk to a friend who visited him outside the camp fence, to learn news of his ill wife. The guards thought he was a spy and beat him and buried him to his neck. After two days in the hot sun, he died. Pleas to give aid were refused.

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MacCarthy had his own beating, when one day he was passing where Japanese guards would sit with their pet monkey. They had gone for lunch. He could not resist saluting the monkey instead. A guard saw him and they beat him until he was semi-conscious and his POW friends were allowed take him away.

Another time he was with a prisoner, dying painfully, when a guard walked in and was angry he was not saluted. Although he hesitated as MacCarthy said he was helping a dying man, he smashed his elbow with his rifle, resulting in an operation without anaesthetic. It became infected and he nearly died only for a medic risking his life to leave the camp to buy the medicine.

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