Around 20 family members of the late Dr Aidan MacCarthy gathered at RAF Honington, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk to watch the prince unveil a plaque to the memory of the West Cork man who escaped from Dunkirk and survived the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
Pride of place at the ceremony went to the the doctor’s daughters, Nicola and Adrienne, along with Bob Jackson, who wrote a book on the medics extraordinary life A Doctor’s Sword and followed it up with a highly-acclaimed domentary about his exploits.
Adrienne said the prince looked at detais of her father’s life, which were put up on boards on the walls of the medical centre. “He was staggered, really... It was a real honour for us,” she said.
MacCarthy is a hero on the RAF base after he risked his life in May 1941 to save a bomber crew whose plane crash-landed in flames at the airfield. For that he was awarded the George Medal.
She many people based at the 1,000-strong RAF airfield came up to them said they’d read about their father’s heroics.
“He was always a bit of a hero there anyway,” she remarked.
MacCarthy war career is the stuff of Boy’s Own books.
After escacping Dunkirk he survived burning planes and was transferred to Java, where he was captured by the Japanese.
They shipped him off to Nagasaki to work as a slave in a plant run there by the Mitsubishi Corporation.
On the sea journey the ship he was travelling in was torpedoed by an American submarine. He was just one of 35 survivors from the 1,000-plus prisoners of war onboard.
During his incarceration at the hands of the notoriously vicious Japanese, Dr MacCarthy was starved and brutalised.
He left for the Second World War at a healthy 14 stone and came back just half that weight.
Prince Harry also viewed a special exhibition case set up at the RAF base, which displays the famous samurai sword given to MacCarthy by the Japanese officer commanding the POW camp he was interred in at Nagasaki, along with the doctor’s medals and the bowl he used to make protein-rich “maggoty soup” for fellow prisoners who’d fell ill.
“We had a splendid few hours there [at the RAF base]. It was amazing. There was a big band playing and an air show with a Red Arrows fly-past,” Adrienne said.
“It was a really proud day for us and we feel deeply honoured that this medical centre is now named after our father who served 40 years in the RAF.”
Bob Jackson presented the prince with his book on the life of the famous doctor, who remarkably survived to the ripe old age of 82, dying just two years after retiring from medical practise.
“When I was introduced to him (the prince) I presented him with a copy of the book. He spent a lot of time in the medical centre and said it was great that it was named after a serviceman who’d given so much time to the RAF,” Bob said.
The ceremonial sword was given to MacCarthy after he saved the Japanese officer from being killed by POWs. Bob later traced the family of that officer and reunited them with the doctor’s sisters.