Tuesday 17 August 2010

An extraordinary life

On Monday morning I went along to hear a 90-year-old Scottish pensioner by the name of Alistair Urquhart.

Mr Urquhart has had an interesting life.

As a young man he lived in Aberdeen and was keen on ballroom dancing. In September 1939 he was conscripted into the Gordon Highlanders. They sent him to Singapore where the officers assured everyone that they were safe from the Japanese. Urquhart won a medal for ballroom dancing but was told by a fellow dancer who was in the Signals Corp that the Japanese were indeed a threat to the Lion City. And so it tuned out...

Urquhart was captured and made to march through Singapore seeing the severed heads of thousands of Chinese stuck on bamboo poles.

He was sent to work on the Burma railway. He helped build the Bridge over the River Kwai and cheered when it collapsed under the weight of the first train. The poor workmanship was deliberate. Punishment was meted out by the Korean guards. The Japanese punished the Koreans. The film was crap.

Eventually Urquhart was sent to Japan on a prison ship. Many prisoners died in the over-heated hold just as others had done on the way to the Burma railway. But the prison ship was torpedoed by a US Navy vessel - they had no idea that prisoners were on board. For a while he drifted on a cork life raft alongside a Japanese officer in full regalia.

Eventually a fishing boat rescued Urquhart. He was taken to the mainland to work in the fields outside a major Japanese city. One day Urquhart saw a lone US bomber flying overhead. Suddenly there was a flash of light and a hot wind. The Japanese guards started to run away. The city was Nagasaki...

The survivors were rescued but made to sign affidavits keeping secret the existence of the atomic bomb. But Urquhart "signed with his left hand"!

Arriving in the US, the survivors got a hero's welcome. At Southampton it was a one-way ticket to Aberdeen. Some things don't change.

At the end of the session Urquhart was asked about "this ballroom dancing thing". He still dances four times a week. Why? "It keeps us old folks from causing trouble out on the streets."

And here he is:

1 comment:

David Farrer said...

Comment made on previous template:

it is from scenes such as this that scotias grandeur springs

21 August 2010, 20:21:55 GMT+01:00