The remarkable story of the Irish doctor who survived capture in Japan during World War Two and the atomic bomb
Entertainment

The remarkable story of the Irish doctor who survived capture in Japan during World War Two and the atomic bomb

A NEW book by the filmmaker and author Bob Jackson documents the incredible life of a little-known hero of the Second World War.

The author first came across the story of Dr Aidan MacCarthy over sixteen years ago in a Cork city bar.

One punter, who had formerly served in the RAF, told the tale of the west Cork doctor, who was being held as a prisoner of war in Nagasaki in Japan when the first atomic bomb fell.

A Doctor’s Sword is the first complete biography of the Castletownbere man’s life, although a documentary of the same title was released in Irish cinemas in 2015 to critical acclaim, and will debut in the UK this year.

Born March 19, 1913, Aidan MacCarthy graduated in medicine from University College Cork in 1938 before travelling to London in search of adventure.

Advertisement

Indecisive as to whether to join the navy or the RAF on the first day of World War Two, he and his friends asked a hostess in a West End bar to toss a coin.

They joined the RAF the next day.

McCarthy (3rd from left) with RAF chums [Via: Collins Press] McCarthy (middle right) with RAF chums (Picture: Collins Press)
MacCarthy would go on to receive the George Medal in 1941, the highest award for bravery for non-combat personnel when he rescued a crash-landed bomber crew at his RAF base.

In 1944, he was captured by the Japanese and put to gruelling work as a slave for the Mitsubishi Corporation.

The Mitsubishi plant MacCarthy was assigned to just so happened to be the exact target of the American nuclear attack on August 9, 1945, which Dr MacCarthy survived.

After the war, Dr MacCarthy held no ill-feeling towards the Japanese, but didn’t exactly flock to buy one of the Mitsubishi cars popular at that time.

Advertisement

Intrigued by the west Cork man’s miraculous tale, Mr Jackson recently met with MacCarthy’s daughter, Adrienne, to help shed light on his incredible life.

Also a lecturer in Creative Media at Tralee’s Institute of Technology, Mr Jackson explained: “Aidan MacCarthy was one of a handful of people who survived the two events that mark the beginning and end of the Second World War.

“He was evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk after three days of relentless attacks in May 1940, and he was trembling in a makeshift bomb shelter in the centre of Nagasaki when the atomic bomb destroyed the city in August 1945.”

Speaking to Adrienne, Jackson soon learned of another astonishing detail in an already unbelievable story.

On August 15, 1945, the day of the Japanese surrender, Aidan was gifted an ancestral Japanese sword by his camp commandant, whose life he saved from vengeful fellow PoWs.

MacCarthy's Nagasaki camp commandant [Via: Collins Press] Dr MacCarthy's Nagasaki camp commandant (Picture: Collins Press)
Advertisement
“I wasn’t surprised that, in the devastasting aftermath of the atomic bomb, Aidan MacCarthy was the first non-Japanese doctor to assist civilians,” Jackson added.

“I wanted to know more about that samurai sword—especially since there was a possibility that the ashes of the officer’s ancestors were embedded in the handle.

“After Aidan’s widow Kathleen mentioned there was a photo of the Japanese officer somewhere in their belongings, I persuaded his family to look for it.”

The revelation formed the crux of the A Doctor’s Sword documentary, which Mr Jackson produced.

In the film, Dr MacCarthy’s daughter Nicola travels with Jackson to Japan in search of the family of the Japanese commandant.

In a touching meeting detailed both in the book and the documentary, they meet the man’s descendants who credit their existence to the generosity Dr MacCarthy showed to their forebear.

Before the Second World War broke out, MacCarthy had weighed 14 stone.

By the time he returned to Ireland from Japan at the end of the war, he had lost half his body mass—weighing seven stone after years of malnutrition and starvation.

Advertisement

A year after the war’s conclusion, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire before seeing out his years as a medical practitioner in England.

Despite his hardships, Dr MacCarthy lived to the grand old age of 82, passing away in London on October 11, 1995.

A new medical facility at RAF Honington, where MacCarthy served, will be named in his honour after a ceremony in February 2017.

The documentary A Doctor’s Sword will debut in UK cinemas this autumn.

Bob Jackson’s book, A Doctor’s Sword: How an Irish Doctor Survived the War, Captivity and the Atomic Bomb, is out now with Collins Press.