About the Doc
A Doctor’s Sword:
A Doctor’s Sword (documentary) tells the remarkable story of Aidan MacCarthy, a doctor from Castletownbere West Cork, who, at 28, joined the RAF in London as the 2nd World war began. Soon after he found himself evacuated from Dunkirk and in May 1941 received the George’s Cross for rescuing the crew of a burning RAF plane which had crashed into a bomb dump on landing. He volunteered for service in Asia as Singapore fell to the Japanese, was captured in Java and survived almost 4 years of brutal captivity enduring starvation, malnutrition, forced labour, beatings and torture as a prisoner of war.
Aidan MacCarthy was a POW at the camp attached to the Mitsubishi Steel and Iron works in Nagasaki when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city at 11:02am on August 9th 1945. This was the beginning of the end of his captivity and he later returned home with a Samurai sword which was given to him as a gift by the POW camp commander at the end of the war.
The documentary tells Dr Aidan MacCarthy’s incredible story of resilience and bravery, and his daughter Nicola’s journey to find the family of the Japanese officer who gave their ancestral sword to her father.
13 years ago, in March 2000 I walked into MacCarthy’s bar in Castletownbere having heard a story about a doctor who had been a POW and survived the atomic bomb in Nagasaki had some connection to a MacCarthy’s bar in the area.
I asked the woman behind the counter if I was in the right place, she pointed to a framed newspaper article on the wall and said “he’s my father”. This was my first introduction to Adrienne MacCarthy who runs MacCarthy’s bar in Castletownbere. I read the article about her father’s experiences during the war and by the time I finished reading Adrienne had gone upstairs and left a Samurai sword on the bar counter. I nearly fell off my stool as she was explained that in the handle of the sword were the ashes of the ancestors of the officer who had given Dr MacCarthy the sword in the ruins of Nagasaki. The incredible craftsmanship of the blade is obvious – it’s still dangerously sharp! Apparently it was still radioactive after the atomic bomb (when I tested it this later turned out not to be the case).
Adrienne told me the details of her father’s story and I later borrowed Aidan MacCarthy’s autobiography ‘A Doctor’s War’ from Cork City Library to get more info (I never returned the book, apologies CCL…).
What struck me when reading A Doctor’s War was that he often describes in one paragraph what someone else would base an entire book or life story on. He casually describes one near death experience after another, how he survived 3 nights being bombed and machine gunned by the Luftwaffe on the beaches of Dunkirk, saved RAF crewmen from a burning plane that had crashed into a bomb dump, endured almost 4 years as a Japanese POW, was almost killed by an American submarine which sank the transport ship bringing him to Nagasaki and how finally he survived the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945. It only recently became clear to me that the factory complex where he was imprisoned was the target of atomic bomb!
I told this story to anyone who would listen for ten years and it always received the same reaction – how come this hasn’t been made into a film? The thing that struck me was that years hearing it people always remembered the details of the story. One of the most interesting things about it for me has always been that somewhere in Japan there’s a family whose father or grandfather gave Aidan MacCarthy their sword. Why did he do it? Where is that family now and would they like to reconnect with their ancestral sword?
Three years ago Gary Lennon (director) and I started making this documentary by interviewing Dr MacCarthy’s daughters Adrienne and Nicola and his wife Kathleen (who sadly passed way in April 2013). Over the past 3 years we’ve compiled more and more primary and secondary sources of information about Dr MacCarthy by developing contacts with the Japanese POW Research Organisation, various researchers and research organisations around the world as well as government institutions in Ireland, the UK and Japan.
As we have gathered these sources together a clearer picture has emerged of the incredible person Aidan MacCarthy was and the odds he overcame to not only survive his ordeal but thrive and lead a normal life after the war. His daughter Nicola has told us that he incredibly held no bitterness toward the Japanese (although he wouldn’t allow a Mitsubishi car in the driveway!).
When we first interviewed the family Kathleen (93 at the time) told us that Aidan was given a photo of the Japanese officer who gave him the sword but that the photo was now lost. This really got Gary and I thinking because if we could find the photo then we could prove for definite who had given him the sword, find the family in Japan and either bring them to Japan or bring the sword to Japan.
I pestered Nicola for three years, calling every few weeks or months to give them an update on how the project was going and always asked was there any sign of the photo. The MacCarthy’s are a self-confessed family of hoarders and according to Nicola in amongst countless boxes and bags of papers, documents, photos and old bills were even the receipt and menus for their parents wedding in 1948. Finding the photo of a Japanese officer who gave their father a sword in Nagasaki almost 70 years previously was like finding a needle in a stack of needles.
That changed one morning in early July 2013 when I got an emotional call from Nicola to say that she had found the photo of the Japanese officer along with a huge collection of other documents, photos from the camps, old newspaper clippings – she had never seen any of these before. I got in the car and drove straight to Castletownbere and there it was, a photo of a very austere looking Japanese officer holding the same sword which hangs on the wall in MacCarthy’s bar in Castletownbere. On the reverse side of the photo was an inscription in Japanese which I took a photo of on my phone and sent it to our fixer in Japan. Allowing for time differences I had to wait until the following morning to get the translation. I nearly fell off the chair when I read the translation of what was hand written on the back of the photo:
“…Dear ???(peels off) friend Dr. MacCathy, I give it to you with the farewell present. I wish you all the best. August 1945, on the day of arrival of peace. KUSUNO (family name)”
This was the golden ticket, the proof that the sword wasn’t taken or surrendered. It proves that it’s a sword of some importance (belonging to the commander of a camp) not something that was mass-produced during the war and it might in fact contain the ashes of the ancestors of the Kusuno family.
We’re now trying to find the family of Isao Kusuno who was 2nd Lieutenant in command of Fukuoka Camp 26 at Keisen in Nagasaki. We hope to find them and bring them to Castletownbere to reconnect with their ancestral sword and hopefully they will be able to tell us why their father or grandfather gave the sword to Dr Aidan MacCarthy.
The background and details of this search will be told in ‘A Doctors Sword’…