Cynthia's Reviews > The Forgotten Highlander: My Incredible Story Of Survival During The War In The Far East

The Forgotten Highlander by Alistair Urquhart
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Oct 04, 10

bookshelves: books-read-in-2010
Read in October, 2010

Somehow the Second World War is often thought of as a kinder War than Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan. Urquhart’s memoir graphically details the horrors of ANY war. As a 20 year old he’s drafted into the British army and spends almost his entire war in the hands of cruel Japanese and Korean soldiers as he’s forced to build a railroad in the Malaysian jungle along with other UK and Australian soldiers. His keepers completely ignored the Geneva Convention and its tenets. It would have been easy for Urquhart to slip into self pity while telling his story but he doesn’t, he doesn’t need to, the facts are horrible enough. Almost worse was how he was treated when he returned home. The British government asked for documentation of the atrocities he endured. Of course none existed so he was denied the extra pay that would have provided. Instead Urquhart did what so many veterans did and still do and made the most of the life he had ahead of him.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely There were so many stories like this during the Japanese invasion and occupation here in the Philippines. Nice review. I will be watching out for this book.


Cynthia He said the first place they landed after the Americans rescued them in Nagasaki was the Phillipines. He talked about how welcome and helpful your country was especially the nurses who took care of their horrible conditions. One nurse even wrote him after he got back to Scotland wishing him well.


message 3: by Lisa (new)

Lisa There were more than 22000 Australian POWs held by the Japanese (see http://www.ww2australia.gov.au/behind...) and they were treated appallingly. The death rate was 27% much worse then for POWs held elsewhere. Women were often forced into 'comfort stations' i.e. forced prostitution while the men were kept in brutal conditions and died in their thousands on the Thai-Burmese railway. The Chinese were treated worse than any other group and hardly any of them survived.

The saddest thing was that when these poor young men were repatriated suffering from all kinds of health problems they were often scorned as having had 'an easy war' 'sitting it out over there'. It took a long long time for their stories to be heard.

The Japanese have still never apologised for the treatment of POWs, and of course they have never paid compensation.


Cynthia Actually Lisa 27% sounds low. I didn't go into all the details of the torture they underwent. It was so appalling. They had names for the worst of the worst guards.

How terrible that the vets weren't recognized for what they went through. It sounds like it happened in Australia and the UK. Urquhart talks about how long it took to get home and suspects that his government did it on purpose so the worst of their wounds would have begun to heal AND they'd benefit from all the food the Americans gave them. He weighed 82 lbs when he was rescued and he was one of the healthier ones.

I'm not sure of the situation in Australia post war but England did not have the abundance of food that the US was able to give them. Not having your house and farms bombed helps when you're trying to recover from a war.


Cynthia There's a very touching storyline set in Australia in 'Pacific'.


message 6: by Barbara (new) - added it

Barbara Cynthia, your review really tells the story. I have read much and seen movies (including that episode in "Pacific") which spell out these horrors quite clearly.


message 7: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely I saw that TV special "Pacific" and yes, it was very touching. What Japan did to Southeast Asia is really appaling. If you have the time, check out "Tears in the Darkness" by the Normans. It was published few years ago and it was about the Death March in Bataan where many American and Filipino soldiers died. I heard stories about WWII here in the Philippines but this one was the most gruesome and yet most heartfelt.


message 8: by Barbara (last edited Oct 06, 2010 09:38AM) (new) - added it

Barbara There was an excellent documentary on PBS a while ago about war in the Pacific in which they devoted an entire episode about the Death March. It's a horriying note about man's inhumanity to man.


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