First a bookshop smash, now Alistair's POW tale is iPad hit

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By Michael MacLeod

THE memoirs of a 91 year-old Scottish former POW have become a surprise hit on one of the world’s biggest online bookstores.

Such has been the demand for Alistair Urquhart’s novel The Forgotten Highlander on Apple’s iBookstore that it is now listed on its front page.

In an unplanned PR scoop that marketing executives would strive for, it means the Dundee pensioner’s book will appear on the front page of the bookstore app on every one of Apple’s popular new gadgets, the iPad.

The book shines a light on Alistair’s harrowing ordeal after being captured by the Japanese during World War II.

His story was only released in March but quickly became a runaway success across the UK.

It hit the top spot in the Sunday Times non-fiction list and is now in its fifth re-print.

Documentary

And with it now featured on the “new and noteworthy” opening page on the iPad, his huge sales look set to rocket further.

His story has become so highly sought after that BBC and Yesterday TV are battling it out to turn his book into a documentary.

Asked previously if he wanted the book to become such a success, he said he only hoped it would make people think about national service.

He said: “I’m hoping it gets to the right people: the younger generation.

“None of the youth today could stand what we stood.

“I think the worst thing that ever happened to this country was stopping national service.

“It knocks you into shape.”

Jackie Hawker, a specialist buyer for Blackwells books said: “I can tell from our sales figures that the success Alistair had was genuinely unexpected.

“When compared to other historical books it is currently outselling them by some way.

“It is very unusual to hear of a 91 year-old author doing so well on their first book, which is nice news for him I’m sure.”

Torture

The dad-of-two and his comrades were forced to work on a trainline known as Death Railway between Thailand and Burma.

The Japanese also made him help build the Bridge Over The River Kwai and cut a track through the stone cliff-face of Hellfire Pass.

He has refused to set foot in Japan for the upcoming TV documentary, insisting he is still haunted by the torture he suffered at his captors’ hands.

He said: “I was asked if I would go back to Japan to film a part of the programme.

“I told them no way.

“That’s a definite no and will never happen.”

Alistair was just 20 when he was drafted into the Gordon Highlanders and posted to Singapore.

But when the British colony was invaded by the Japanese in February 1952, he was captured and marched past rows of human heads on spikes from the Sook Ching massacre.

Rare public appearance

His story recalls how he was packed into a cattle train bound for Thailand in a 900-mile journey taking five days with no water.

He was one of the few who survived and forced to trek 100 miles into the jungle.

Despite being covered in scabies and lice, Alistair managed to make it without suffering the tragic fates of those whose limbs were chopped by the captors off without anaesthetic.

Alistair also saw some of his friends beheaded before he was rescued by a fellow Scot, a doctor who used maggots to clear dead flesh from his body.

He insists his ordeal left his health ruined to this day.

He said in a previous interview: “From 1942 onwards, I’ve never had a day without pain.

“I have rheumatoid arthritis.

“My spine is collapsing; that causes pain from the neck all the way down.

“I walk in pain. I dance in pain. All I can take for it is six paracetamol a day.”

Although Alistair tends to shy away from publicity and rarely gives interviews, he is due to make a rare public appearance at the Onetouch Theatre at the Inverness Book Festival next month.

By Michael MacLeod

THE memoirs of a 91 year-old Scottish former POW have become a surprise hit on one of the world’s biggest online bookstores.

Such has been the demand for Alistair Urquhart’s novel The Forgotten Highlander on Apple’s iBookstore that it is now listed on its front page.

In an unplanned PR scoop that marketing executives would strive for, it means the Dundee pensioner’s book will appear on the front page of the bookstore app on every one of Apple’s popular new gadgets, the iPad.

The book shines a light on Alistair’s harrowing ordeal after being captured by the Japanese during World War II.

His story was only released in March but quickly became a runaway success across the UK.

It hit the top spot in the Sunday Times non-fiction list and is now in its fifth re-print.

And with it now featured on the “new and noteworthy” opening page on the iPad, his huge sales look set to rocket further.

His story has become so highly sought after that BBC and Yesterday TV are battling it out to turn his book into a documentary.

Asked previously if he wanted the book to become such a success, he said he only hoped it would make people think about national service.

He said: “I’m hoping it gets to the right people: the younger generation.

“None of the youth today could stand what we stood.

“I think the worst thing that ever happened to this country was stopping national service.

“It knocks you into shape.”

Jackie Hawker, a specialist buyer for Blackwells books said: “I can tell from our sales figures that the success Alistair had was genuinely unexpected.

“When compared to other historical books it is currently outselling them by some way.

“It is very unusual to hear of a 91 year-old author doing so well on their first book, which is nice news for him I’m sure.”

The dad-of-two and his comrades were forced to work on a trainline known as Death Railway between Thailand and Burma.

The Japanese also made him help build the bridge over the River Kwai and cut a track through the stone cliff-face of Hellfire Pass.

He has refused to set foot in Japan for the upcoming TV documentary, insisting he is still haunted by the torture he suffered at his captors’ hands.

He said: “I was asked if I would go back to Japan to film a part of the programme.

“I told them no way.

“That’s a definite no and will never happen.”

Alistair was just 20 when he was drafted into the Gordon Highlanders and posted to Singapore.

But when the British colony was invaded by the Japanese in February 1952, he was captured and marched past rows of human heads on spikes from the Sook Ching massacre.

His story recalls how he was packed into a cattle train bound for Thailand in a 900-mile journey taking five days with no water.

He was one of the few who survived and forced to trek 100 miles into the jungle.

Despite being covered in scabies and lice, Alistair managed to make it without suffering the tragic fates of those whose limbs were chopped by the captors off without anaesthetic.

Alistair also saw some of his friends beheaded before he was rescued by a fellow Scot, a doctor who used maggots to clear dead flesh from his body.

He insists his ordeal left his health ruined to this day.

He said in a previous interview: “From 1942 onwards, I’ve never had a day without pain.

“I have rheumatoid arthritis.

“My spine is collapsing; that causes pain from the neck all the way down.

“I walk in pain. I dance in pain. All I can take for it is six paracetamol a day.”

Although Alistair tends to shy away from publicity and rarely gives interviews, he is due to make a rare public appearance at the Onetouch Theatre at the Inverness Book Festival next month.

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