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A Doctor's War

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A Doctor's War. By James Siegel. (Grub Street: 2006. Pg. 160.)
ISBN: 1904943403.

Reviewed by Herbert White - August 10, 2006

A Doctor's War is the unbelievable, yet all too true story of Dr. Aidan MacCarthy experiences during World War II. A RAF medical officer, MacCarthy had either the best or the worst of luck throughout the war. He survived Dunkirk, was captured by the Japanese in Java and interned in a POW (Prisoner of War) camp. While being moved from one camp to another, he survived the torpedoing of a ship he was on, only to be recaptured and interned on the Japanese mainland, where he was to witness the dropping of the atom bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. He had the luck of Job in that he went from one bad situation to another. However, he also was blessed in that no matter what trials he was faced with, he managed to not only survive, but also to help those around him, in his capacity as a doctor, and as a fellow human being.

MacCarthy,s account of his wartime experiences is harrowing and uplifting. He had to endure uncountable horrors, degradation, and physical hardships, yet throughout, MacCarthy maintained his faith, his humanity, and his belief that one day he would return home to his friends and family. Beginning with a brief overview of his younger days and medical education, MacCarthy's biography soon races to the point where he joins the RAF (Royal Air Force) in 1939, and soon finds himself serving in France. His heroic, and hazardous adventure truly began in 1940 when he was evacuated, along with thousands of other British and allied troops, from Dunkirk to the United Kingdom. His adventure does not end until 1945 when he returned home on the Queen Mary after the fall of Japan.

After returning to England from France, MacCarthy spent a short time in England before being posted to Singapore, however, he was captured, en route, by the Japanese while he was on Java. MacCarthy recounts his experiences as a prisoner of the Japanese in gripping detail. He examines not only the horrific aspects of life as a POW, from beatings and malnutrition and how the Japanese and guards interacted with their captivity to how the prisoners coped with the trauma of their captivity and details on what everyday life was like during this period, and how the men tried to sabotage the Japanese efforts as best they could.

A Doctor's War is one of those books that is impossible to put down. From the first word, MacCarthy grabs your attention and, if you are like me, you find yourself, on more than one occasion, holding your breadth as you read this book. In writing A Doctor's War, MacCarthy did not embellish the events he witnessed, there was no need. Rather he has recounted, in an honest and unflinching manner, the raw events he witnessed and endured. He details the good, as well as the bad, and he paints an unforgettable account of one man's personal experiences during an unprecedented period of time. I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the fate of British POWs captured by the Japanese during World War II.

Related Reviews:

Flyboys, by James Bradley.
The gripping story of eight American airmen, captured by the Japanese during a bombing mission of the island of Chichi Jima.

Flying In, Flying Out, by Edward Sniders.
An RAF fighter pilot during World War II, Edward Sniders spent a good part of the war as a POW, interned Nazi Stalag. In this book, Sniders chronicles his life as a prisoner, and his numerous escape attempts.

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