June Butler unsheathes the DVD of A Doctor’s Sword, Gary Lennon’s documentary about Aidan MacCarthy, an Irish doctor, who, at 28, joined the RAF in London as the 2nd World war began.
Ensconced in MacCarthy’s bar in Castletownbere, Co. Cork, hangs a Samurai sword with still razor sharp edges and evidence of it being a working weapon. Such blades were far more than merely a form of defence – they were used as proof of filial devotion and a sign of dynastic honour – once holding great meaning for the person who previously possessed it. Carefully contained inside the worn handle, ashes of ancient warriors lie in state. The sword is accompanied with photographic evidence of its former owner – 2nd Lieutenant Isao Kusono. On the reverse side of the image is a profound declaration of true friendship between Lieutenant Kusono and Dr Aidan MacCarthy, a survivor of the Nagaski bombing and prisoner of war,interned in two separate Japanese camps during the Second World War.
The story of Dr Aidan MacCarthy related in great detail by director Gary Lennon is one that would have even the most hardened of cynics accepting of MacCarthy’s greatness. In this poignant tale, lies the narrative of a medical doctor who truly merited the Hippocratic Oath of ‘first do no harm’ despite the many injustices he himself received.
One of ten children, MacCarthy was born in 1914 to a middle class family and attended Clongowes Wood secondary school as a border. Upon leaving Clongowes, a medical career beckoned and MacCarthy went to UCC where he graduated as a doctor in 1938. Jobs in his home town of Castletownbere were scarce so MacCarthy and a number of his classmates mooted heading to London where they might fare better. War was on the horizon and MacCarthy decided to join the armed forces – his choices lay between the RAF or the Royal Navy – an obliging dance-hall hostess flipped a coin and MacCarthy duly signed up for the RAF. He later claimed all medical checks and paperwork were done with such haste that following his enlistment, MacCarthy arrived back in the local bar before they opened their doors at eleven o clock.
What unfolds in this remarkable story is something far more than miraculous – MacCarthy was marooned for three days and nights at Dunkirk – survived and went on to receive the George Cross for bravery when his direct intervention saved the crew of a crash-landed Spitfire. He was captured in the Japanese attack on Singapore and from there, spent three arduous years in a prisoner of war camp. First in Java, later in Nagasaki. Despite horrendous abuse and torture meted out to those captured by the Japanese, MacCarthy rose above his experiences to emerge a forgiving and empathetic figure having never lost his faith in humanity nor his ability to absolve the actions of others. Of even greater inspiration is the sword that takes pride of place among MacCarthy’s possessions and how it came to be located in a small bar in rural Ireland.
Lennon deals sensitively with the issues surrounding MacCarthy’s incarceration and follows his daughter, Nicola, as she journeys to Japan in search of the history behind the sword. It is clear that this topic is one of great interest to Lennon given that no stone is left unturned in the telling of a truly amazing story. Archive radio interviews with MacCarthy were unearthed in the course of making this film and it is heart-warming to hear his rural burr and kindly tones as his story is relayed without the slightest hint of rancour.
On being asked by the interviewer what he put down his survival to, MacCarthy deftly responded saying that it was “a combination of my Irish Catholic Heritage, my family background, and lots and lots of luck”.
- Directors: Gary Lennon
- Producers: Gary Lennon Bob Jackson
- Format: DVD-Video
- Language: English
- Region: All Regions
- Number of discs: 1
- Classification: Exempt
- Studio: Wildcard Distribution
- Run Time: 70.00 minutes
A Doctor’s Sword can be purchased on DVD in stores including Golden Discs and Tower Records, the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork and the Irish Film Institute in Dublin, MacCarthy’s Bar in Castletownbere and also online on Amazon and the Wildcard Distribution website.