News Archive

TV3 Documentary Monday 9th December 2013 at 10pm

9 Dec 2013

A documentary about Dr. Aidan MacCarthy, a graduate of UCC, and the story of his incredible wartime experiences.

A Doctor’s War was broadcast on TV3 on Monday night 9th December at 10 pm.

Joseph Aidan MacCarthy qualified as a doctor in UCC in 1939.  Unable to find work in Cork, he moved to London where he joined the RAF as WWII began. He served in France and was evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940.  While back in Britain, he received the George Medal for ‘great bravery, in the most appalling circumstances’, saving the crew of a burning aircraft which had crash-landed into an ammunition dump in May 1941.   Volunteering for service in Asia, he was captured in Java by the Japanese and spent over three years as a Prisoner of War, with all that entailed.  As the war entered its final phase, he was shipped back to Japan by sea.  During the voyage the POW transport ship was torpedoed and sunk by an American submarine.  Of nearly 800 POWs on board, less than 40 survived the sinking, including Aidan MacCarthy.  Eventually brought to the relative safety of Japan, he spent the final year of the war working as slave labour in a factory – in Nagasaki.


At 11:02am, 9th of August 1945, he was 800 metres from where the atomic bomb was dropped, and survived by sheltering in a dugout.  He emerged to be a witness to scenes from the end of the world.  He helped to treat the wounded and dying, to establish order in the POW camp and saved the life of a Japanese doctor from vengeful fellow POWs.  That doctor gave him his sword and an inscribed photograph which Aidan brought home to Castletownbere, where they are still kept by his family in MacCarthy’s Bar.   For his bravery, resourcefulness and humanity while in captivity, he was also awarded an OBE.


A Doctor’s War was broadcast Monday, the 9th of December on TV3 at 10pm.   The story is told using interviews, archive footage, animation and an original score.  The makers say that their intention is “ …for this to be a more personal story than the grand narrative you normally hear in historical documentaries”.   That recent search by Aidan MacCarthy’s daughter, Nicola, for the family of the Japanese doctor, their meeting at his graveside and the re-connection of the two families, will form the basis of a feature-length documentary film presently in production, for broadcast in Ireland, Japan and elsewhere. For more information about this project and the search to find the origins of a Samurai sword given to Dr McCarthy following the surrender of Japan, check out: and


Kind regards, Michael Holland, University Curator.

P.S. Another UCC medical alumnus was also a POW of Japan – Maj. Vincent Bennett of the British Army RAMC, who luckily also survived the experience and his story (with his own sketches of life as a POW) can be found at:




Buildings and Estates Office

Foirgnimh agus Eastáit

Western Road, Cork