Family hopes to solve mystery behind war-era samurai sword

A family’s quest to solve a Second World War mystery of why a Japanese officer presented a samurai word to an Irish doctor after a nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki could be solved in the next few days.

Family hopes to solve mystery behind war-era samurai sword

A daughter of the late Dr Aidan MacCarthy from Castletownbere, Co Cork, is flying to Japan today in an effort to trace the family of 2nd Lieutenant Isao Kusuno.

Nicola MacCarthy is being accompanied by documentary maker Bob Jackson on the trip and they have already alerted the Japanese media in the hope they can track Kusuno’s relatives.

For years, Nicola and her sister Adrienne — who runs MacCarthy’s pub in Castletownbere — didn’t know the identity of the Japanese soldier.

She was recently going through her mother’s old photograph albums and came across a picture of Kusuno.

“On the back of it was an inscription in Japanese. Bob gave it to a researcher in Japan who translated it. It said ‘To my friend Dr MacCarthy. I give you this sword as a token of our friendship’,” said Nicola.

Initially, it was believed the doctor was given the sword by the officer when the Japanese surrendered on Aug 15, 1945.

But Nicola is convinced there is another reason.

Her father served as an RAF doctor and was captured by the Japanese in 1942.

He spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner in Java and mainland Japan.

“During his time as a POW, he developed a reputation as an extremely resourceful doctor with an incredible ability to care for his fellow prisoners, despite the very difficult circumstances in which he found himself,” said docu-maker Bob.

At 11.02am on Aug 9, 1945, Dr MacCarthy and 198 fellow prisoners crouched in the improvised bomb shelter of their POW camp in the centre of Nagasaki.

When the atomic bomb detonated above the city, he and his comrades were less than one mile from the epicentre of the explosion.

He described a blinding flash of light, and when he emerged from the shelter all of Nagasaki was gone.

Shortly afterwards, Dr MacCarthy and most of the POW’s were moved north to Camp Fukuoka 26, near Keisen.

“It was at this camp that Aidan MacCarthy received news that the war had ended and that he and his fellow POW’s were free to return home to their families,” said Bob.

“Before leaving the camp, he received a gift of Samurai sword and a photograph from the commander of the camp, 2nd Lieutenant Isao Kusuno.”

Nicola said that one theory surrounding the gift was a group of Australian prisoners planned to kill Kusuno and her father saved his life by locking him in a shed.

“We obviously don’t know if that’s true but we’d like to find out. It would be marvellous if we were to meet Kusuno’s family. It would tie up the whole thing,” she said.

She will be in Japan with the documentary team for nine days and will meet a Japanese army doctor who served in one of the same caps her father was interned in.

Last April, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland commissioned a documentary to tell the incredible story of Aidan MacCarthy’s wartime experiences and to follow the search for the officer who gave him the sword.

To this day, the sword takes pride of place in MacCarthy’s bar.

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