The Story of Alistair Urquhart: The POW Who Credited the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb for Saving His Life
Serving as part of the Gordon Highlanders’ Second Battalion, Alistair Urquhart was taken as a prisoner of war in February 1941. During his time as a POW, he was forced to march 100 miles to a remote prison, build a railway, endure beatings, and much more during his over two years in captivity. Then, the bomb was dropped.
In February 1942, Urquhart was in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese. He had been sent to help bolster the Allied presence on the island, according to the BBC, but ended up as one of the thousands who were taken prisoner.
He endured a grueling march to a remote prison, ultimately being forced to help build a railway, and took repeated beatings and severe physical punishments.
“They would give us a cup of rice in the morning, about the size of a small teacup, and one to take with us when we went out to work on the railway. But, but the time you got to lunchtime, the rice had fermented. The conditions were as bad as they could possibly be.”
At one point, Urquhart developed a serious ulcer, which he treated himself by applying maggots to the wound.
Two years later, he was transported on an enemy submarine with 900 men when the vessel came under attack by a US sub.
“An American submarine attacked, and the ship just shuddered,” said Urquhart. “Then, suddenly, I popped up like a champagne cork into thick, oily water.”
He continued, “I could hear men screaming, talking to their wives, calling out for their children, singing hymns. I can’t listen to ‘Abide by Me’ to this day.”
Urquhart managed to locate a raft but ended up drifting for five days. He was completely alone and without food and water. Then, he was picked up by a whaler and returned to the custody of the Japanese.
He was sent to a labor camp just 10 miles from Nagasaki, and he was there on August 9, 1945, when the bomb was dropped.
Urquhart was knocked off his feet when the bomb fell on Nagasaki in 1945, but the blast didn’t kill him. In fact, he said that the event halted a plan by the Japanese to massacre the Allied POWs they had captured. The bombing ultimately led to his liberation, allowing him to return home after years as a POW.
He chronicled his tale in a book titled: “The Forgotten Highlander.”
Urquhart lived a long life even after all he endured. He ultimately passed away at the age of 97 at his home in Dundee.