WWII veteran from Newtonhill dies

The story of the building of the bridge over the River Kwai inspired a Hollywood movie.
The story of the building of the bridge over the River Kwai inspired a Hollywood movie.

A World War II veteran who was born in Newtonhill and endured four years of incarceration by the Japanese, during which time he worked on the Death Railway and the building of the Bridge over the River Kwai, has died aged 97.

Alistair Urquhart wrote a book about his experiences in 2010, called ‘The Forgotten Highlander: My Incredible Story of Survival During the War in the Far East’.

He was one of the very last surviving members of the Scottish regiment, the Gordon Highlanders, who were captured in Singapore and endured four years of brutal captivity under the lash of the Imperial Japanese army as they toiled to build the bridge over the River Kwai.

Inmates of worked naked, but for a loincloth, in appalling conditions; many starved or died of disease. He survived being packed into the hold of Kachidoki Maru, a captured US vessel renamed by the Japanese, into which so many PoWs were crammed without food or water that some drank the blood of their fellow prisoners to keep going.

He survived the ship’s torpedoing by an American sub and five days on a cork raft adrift in the South China Sea. And, when eventually picked up by a Japanese whaler, he survived his final prison, a mine near Nagasaki.

Alistair was born in Fairseat, Elsick Place, Newtonhill on September 8 1919. A quote from his memoirs reads: ““In moments of adversity I would often think back to my childhood and I remember going barefoot during the long hot summers we spent down at the Aberdenshire fishing village of Newtonhill, where I was born. My mother’s parents had retired there and lived in a house called “Fairseat” which we nicknamed “Sair Feet”. My elder brother Douglas and I used to go to the beach in the morning. We stayed there all day until teatime, having great adventures that fortunately our parents never knew about. We explored caves, went cliff-climbing and dived off a breakwater that was probably fifteen to twenty feet high.”

The Skateraw Hall History Group said that they were “saddened” to hear that Mr Urquhart had died.

They added: “We, the Skateraw Hall History Group, would thoroughly recommend reading The Forgotten Highlander and how Alistair’s memories of his childhood in Newtonhill helped him to face such challenges. We will shortly be organising an open day when his memories, along with others, will be available to read.”