‘There then followed a blue flash accompanied by a very bright magnesium-type flare … Then came a frighteningly loud but rather flat explosion which was followed by a blast of hot air…All this was followed by eerie silence.’
That’s how Dr Aidan MacCarthy described the dropping of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, just over a mile away from his makeshift shelter in the Mitsubishi POW camp.
Bob Jackson first heard of Dr Aidan MacCarthy over 16 years ago while working in a bar in Cork city. One of the regular customers, who had been in the RAF, told a story of a doctor in West Cork with a connection to the atomic bomb in Nagasaki. Intrigued, Bob travelled to MacCarthy’s Bar in Castletownbere where he met Aidan’s daughter Adrienne. He was stunned to learn that not only had Aidan survived the atomic bomb but Kusuno, the Japanese commander of the camp where Aidan had been held prisoner, had gifted his family’s ancestral samurai sword to him – an extraordinary act of sacrifice and gratitude after Aidan saved him from fellow POWs intent on revenge.
On August 20, Bob returned to MacCarthy’s Bar for the launch of A Doctor’s Sword (The Collins Press, price €19.99), the first full biography of this courageous doctor. The launch was co-hosted by Beara Historical Society as part of Heritage Week 2016.
A lecturer in Creative Media at the Institute of Technology, Tralee, Bob said, “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 on August 9, 1945.”
In the intervening years, Dr MacCarthy survived burning planes, sinking ships, jungle warfare, starvation, disease, captivity and slave labour. Aidan spent the final year of the war working as a slave for the Mitsubishi Steel & Arms Works, the Nagasaki factory that was the target of the atomic bomb on 9 August 1945. After the war, he was never bitter towards the Japanese but he did refuse to allow a Mitsubishi car in his driveway!
Bob continued, “I read Aidan’s memoir, which is a fascinating and engrossing account of his story but because of his genuine, self-effacing modesty, it’s often short on detail. Yet his character comes through more in what he does not say. I wasn’t surprised that, in the devastating aftermath of the atomic bomb, he was the first non-Japanese doctor to assist civilians. 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 – and 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.”
After years of searching, Aidan’s daughter Nicola found the photograph and travelled with Bob to Japan to find the family of the Japanese commander. In a moving encounter detailed in A Doctor’s Sword and in the critically-acclaimed documentary of the same name, they met the man’s descendants at a cemetery in Kyushu Island, including his grandson who credits his existence to Aidan’s act of selflessness in saving his grandfather’s life.
A Doctor’s Sword is the astonishing story of Dr Aidan MacCarthy’s wartime adventures, a story of survival, forgiveness and humanity at its most admirable.
A Doctor’s Sword – How an Irish Doctor Survived War, Captivity and the Atomic Bomb by Bob Jackson is published in hardback by The Collins Press, price €19.99. It is available in all good bookshops and online from www.collinspress.ie.
A new medical facility at RAF Honington where Aidan served during the war will be named in Aidan’s honour – the ceremony will be in February 2017.