Former solider recounts captivity at Probus club

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THE LATEST meeting of the Brechin Probus Club held in the Northern Hotel last Tuesday attracted a large audience, and was opened by chairman Bob Berry.

Bob welcomed members and visitors, some of which included Mr Steve Dempsey, rector of Brechin High School, and a number of pupils that included Charlotte Yeats, Fergus Jill and Craig Joiner.

After taking apologies and dealing briefly with club business, Bob went on to introduce the very remarkable speaker of the day Alistair Urquhart, author of ‘The Forgotten Highlander’ - a book detailing the events which occurred when Alistair was held captive for some 750 days with the Japanese in the Far East.

Alistair (93) was born in Aberdeen in 1920, and now lives in Broughty Ferry. He said that he was conscripted and joined the 2nd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders on September 23, 1939.

The subject of his talk centred on brief accounts from his book. After being held prisoner in Singapore, and stripped of all personal belongings, approximately 600 British and Commonwealth troops were transferred to a supposed ‘holiday camp’ up country which result in forced transportation and route marching over a considerable period of time on a meagre diet of rice.

Alistair worked on the bridge over the river Kwai and at the notorious Hellfire Pass on the Burma railway, where he said a prisoner died for each sleeper laid.

Starvation, malaria, cholera, beri beri and an array of infections and other diseases were part of Alistair’s life, but he managed to survive the brutal treatment.

He praised the care he received from a British doctor called Dr. Matheson who, with no real medical supplies, performed miracles in keeping Alistair and countless other soldiers alive.

Alistair has recounted his experiences to Prince Charles, who marvelled at his will to survive each suffering, and, it seems, assisted in Alistair receive a War Pension.

Alistair answered a number of questions from the floor, responding at one point to a question raised by pupil Charlotte Yeates by advising her that the senior ranking British Officers were treated differently - being held prisoner on the Island of Formosa. His parting piece of advice to his audience was: “No matter how bad things get, never give up!”

The vote of thanks was given by Alex Proctor, after which Alistair signed copies of his book to those who had bought it.