Prince Harry to honour Cork war hero who was evacuated from Dunkirk and survived atomic bomb drop

Dr Aidan MacCarthy at the age of 82, taken from 'A Doctor's Sword' by Bob Jackson, published by the Collins Press.

Prince Harry is to name a new RAF medical centre in honour of a Cork doctor who was evacuated from Dunkirk and survived the atomic bomb drop on Nagasaki.

Dr Aidan MacCarthy’s two daughters, Nicola and Adrienne, will be present when the medical centre at RAF Honington in Bury St Edmunds is dedicated to their father, a native of Castletownbere.

It was at the Suffolk base that the doctor rescued the crew of an RAF bomber which crash-landed in flames on May 1941.

He was later awarded the George Medal for bravery in entering the burning plane and dragging the crew to safety. His actions on the night, in which he suffered burns, are still remembered by the RAF.

The medical centre which will bear his name will be decorated with photographs and display boards as a memorial to his incredible war story — from his evacuation in Dunkirk through years of captivity in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp to surviving the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki.

A photo of the PoW officers at Keisen, August 1945, with Dr Aidan MacCarthy seated, second from right. Taken from ‘A Doctor’s Sword’.

It is believed he was the only person in the world to have survived the two events.

Nicola and Adrienne, who live in the Beara peninsula port town, will attend the ceremony accompanied by Bob Jackson, author of A Doctor’s Sword.

Adrienne said they were bringing some mementos from their father’s life which will be put on temporary display at the RAF base.

They include MacCarthy’s famous samurai sword, which was given to him by a Japanese officer.

He was lucky to have been evacuated from Dunkirk uninjured. He then survived burning planes, sinking ships, and jungle warfare before being captured in Java by the Japanese.

He endured almost four years of starvation, disease, slave labour, and beatings at the hands of an enemy that had no regard for prisoners.

The doctor was less than a mile from the epicentre of the atomic bomb which destroyed Nagasaki, yet he still managed to survive.

He spent the last year of the war working in the city as a slave for the Mitsubishi Corporation.

Most significantly, he still retained his humanity. Where the instinct of others was to seek revenge, he forgave his captors and was the first non-Japanese doctor to assist in the relief effort following the atomic bomb attack by the Americans on August 9, 1945.

When Japan surrendered six days later, he saved the Japanese PoW camp commandant from being executed by former PoWs intent on revenge.

Then something unheard of happened — the Japanese officer gifted his ancestral sword to MacCarthy.

Nicola and Adrienne MacCarthy, daughters of the late Dr Aidan MacCarthy, from Castletownbere, Co Cork, with the sword presented to him by Japanese PoW camp officer Isao Kusuno. Picture: Darragh Kane

His incredible story was finally revealed in a book written by Bob Jackson, who also turned it into a critically acclaimed documentary.

As part of the documentary, Jackson took MacCarthy’s daughters to Japan where, after a considerable search, they traced and met with the family of the Japanese officer who had given him the sword.

The doctor graduated in medicine from University College Cork in 1939.

He put his medical training to good use in the camp while treating his fellow prisoners, including making a protein-rich maggot soup for those who were ill, smuggling yeast in balls of rice to other camps, and treating eye infections using shaving cream.

On his way to Nagasaki, the Japanese transport ship he was on was sunk by a US submarine. Out of the 1,000 PoWs onboard 35 survived.

One of MacCarthy’s daughters, Adrienne, said they were “absolutely thrilled” that their father was getting such recognition, especially as Prince Harry is turning up to do the honours.

The ceremony at RAF Honington takes place tomorrow. The RAF Red Arrows are to complete a fly-past on the day to honour the doctor.

“We are taking the sword over to be put on display at Honington along with his medals and the food bowl he had at the PoW camp which he used to put his maggoty rice in,” said Adrienne.

“It’s a fantastic honour for him. The RAF was his life and he’d be completely thrilled.”

Her father lived to the age of 82 and only gave up work two years before he died.

Adrienne pointed out that when he left for the Second World War, he weighed 14 stone (89kg). After the treatment meted out by the Japanese he returned home weighing half that.


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