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The Forgotten Highlander: My Incredible Story of Survival During the War in the Far East [Hardcover]

Alistair Urquhart
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (317 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Mar 2010
Alistair Urquhart was a soldier in the Gordon Highlanders captured by the Japanese in Singapore. He not only survived working on the notorious Bridge on the River Kwai , but he was subsequently taken on one of the Japanese 'hellships' which was torpedoed. Nearly everyone else on board died and Urquhart spent 5 days alone on a raft in the South China Sea before being rescued by a whaling ship. He was taken to Japan and then forced to work in a mine near Nagasaki. Two months later a nuclear bomb dropped just ten miles away ...This is the extraordinary story of a young man, conscripted at nineteen and whose father was a Somme Veteran, who survived not just one, but three very close separate encounters with death - encounters which killed nearly all his comrades.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown; 1st edition (4 Mar 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 1408702118
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408702116
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (317 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 157,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`Riveting, powerful, moving' --Observer

`A book you must read' --Daily Mail

Book Description

* An extraordinary and moving tale by an ex-POW and last surviving member of the Gordon Highlanders regiment that was captured by the Japanese in Singapore --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
152 of 152 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Forgotten Highlander 1 Mar 2010
The most incredible story I have ever read. I am a former serviceman and can accept war can be hell, but Alistair's war experience went beyond imagination.
Captured by the Japanese at the surrender of Singapore, Alistair was put to work on the notorious Death railway, and the bridge over the River Kwai, in Burma. Surviving this, he was shipped to Japan, only to be torepoed by the Americans. After drifting for days he was recaptured and imprisoned at Nagasaki where he saw that city's annihilation but was unaware, that it was by the Atomic Bomb.
Alistair's letters home to his family are all typical of the ready prepared version to give the impression of a "holiday camp", where he was working for pay!
Alistair's determination is the reason he survived all the suffering, the hardship, the beatings, and the starvation to eventually write this incredible memoir.
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139 of 139 people found the following review helpful
I had the priviledge of reading the final manuscript of this book a few months ago. It was outstanding and I couldn't help feeling that there are so many riveting "stories" in this book (even if some of them are very harrowing), that it stands on its own special pinnacle amongst war histories.

Throughout it all, I marvelled at Alistair's fortitude, gave thanks for his physical fitness and athleticism and wondered at his ability to keep sane when so many comrades were driven mad by the brutality of the Japanese and the hopelessness of their situation.

His treatment on coming home to Scotland was no less barbarous in its own way and I wondered how he was able to survive it all? I expect his passion for dancing, the love of his family and his own inner fortitude brought him through.

As a child and young adult, I had no real idea about the war in the Far East and only in my 30s was I able to begin to comprehend what Alistair and his comrades went through. I only knew that Alistair felt passionately about not buying Japanese products - so much so that it took me 2 years to tell him that I had bought a Japanese car!

You see this wonderful man is my Dad. Growing up, I had absolutely no idea about what he had gone through. It wasn't until I read his early short memoirs - crafted when he was in his late seventies -- that I had any notion of how incredible his experiences were and what a remarkable man he was to have survived and lived a good life on his return. He was and is an incredible father and uses his experiences to "coach" others on being positive, staying active both mentally and physically and giving back to family, friends and community.

I am so proud of him and astounded that he has written this book (a bestseller too!) in his 90th year. All I can say is that you are an inspiration to us all, Dad. There truly is no such thing as "can't"!
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134 of 135 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Forgotten Highlander 1 Mar 2010
The facinating insights into a by-gone era of Aberdeen's pre-war dance halls are the simple backdrop to this story of a simple man yanked out of his life at the point of reaching manhood to have it changed forever.

This was the lot of Mr Urquhart's generation, but The Forgotten Highlander is no hackneyed World War Two memoir, and I've read a few.

A reader may be familiar with the events that Urquhart found thrust upon him, but never have they been laid so bare as here. The joyous, simple life of dancing away his evenings with the girls of Aberdeen cast a depressing shadow over the man as he fights so hard to suppress these memories to survive.

The Forgotten Highlander is not a book for the faint-hearted yet it demands to read by all. Mr Urquhart never fired a shot, he never asked to be involved in the events in which he found himself and a warrior hero will not be found here. This is a story of an ordinary man who survived some of humanity's most atrocious acts of barbarity and destruction in a century littered with them.

That the man is still alive to again dance the evenings away is a miracle for him, but it is an opportunity for us. The reader will gain an insight in to what man is capable of both in terms of evil and what is required to survive it - for Alistair's war was not one of battles but of the conflict's most grim example of raw physical and emotional endurance. What this memoir offers is an unflinching account and it pulls no punches.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was lucky enough to be given an early copy of this wonderful book. It is a must read for everyone of all ages. I am an avad reader of all types of books, but have never in my life enjoyed one as much as this. Often terrible and heartbreaking but what a story of survival! All credit must go to the author for surviving such hell and all credit to him for having the courage to allow the world to remember events that should never be forgotten. It should make us all proud to have had folk like him giving us the freedom we enjoy today and yet ashamed that we grumble about so little in life. 5 star perfection that I'm about to read again for the third time. I salute you sir.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historic Eye-Witness Account of Horror 4 April 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart's incredible story of survival in the Far East during World War II.

After recounting a childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen, Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on Germany in 1939.

From then until the Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr Urquhart's tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror.

After a wretched journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore's big but useless garrison.

Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in 1941, he is, successively,
+ part of a death march to Thailand,
+ a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
+ regularly beaten and tortured,
+ racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,
+ a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore's docks,
+ shipped to Japan in a stinking, closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
+ torpedoed by the Americans and left drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
+ a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until blessed liberation thanks to the Americans' "Fat Boy" atomic bomb.

Chronically ill, distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life.

Only in his late 80s is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this unputdownable book.

There are very few first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical document.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A very moving and emotional read
I enjoyed this book a lot. I have read books about the horrors of the camps before but not about the hell ships. Read more
Published 20 hours ago by David Beare
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing hero
This is an incredible account of the atrocities POW's had to suffer. Alistair Urquhart showed great bravery in the face of mental and physical cruelty. Well worth reading.
Published 1 day ago by John McEwen
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
Very harrowing story, but a book everyone should read. This is a story of a very, very brave man. I have nothing but admiration for him.
Published 1 day ago by Mrs T
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellently written
I was shocked to the core reading this tragic story. It really is hard to comprehend the atrocities which took place during the war. Read more
Published 2 days ago by John C
5.0 out of 5 stars couldn't put it down.
A horrific yet stunningly written tale of the experiences Alistair Urquhart experienced during his time as a Gordon Highlander. A very powerful and thought provoking read.
Published 9 days ago by Sarah
4.0 out of 5 stars Forgotten Highlander
Very graphic views very hard to believe that people went through so much at the hands of tyranny and survive to tell the tale
Published 11 days ago by K. Lawson
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
excellent read
close to tears at time very well written
was one of the best books ive read couldnt put it down
Published 15 days ago by george h richardson
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to believe its amazing story !
An account which needed to be told .....unbelievable cruelty.....couldn't put this book down .....we might never have heard of this story had this soldier not been so incredible... Read more
Published 22 days ago by judi hayton
5.0 out of 5 stars Very traumatic
How Alistair Urquhart actually survived after all he went through is a miracle in itself. This book made me feel extremely humble.
Published 23 days ago by Marlene J
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the most explicit accounts of the railway
My father was a prisoner on the Burma railway. We bought this book for him to listen to. I never realised just how bad it was for him. Read more
Published 28 days ago by P J HOLLIDAY
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