Saturday, 13 October 2007

What Price Bushido?

This all happened within living memory. The human race has little to be proud of

This was a big one. We were planning to fly the Dak from Plymouth Airport. As part of the advance publicity campaign, and with the help of the airport's PR agency, I arranged a competition through the Plymouth Herald. The idea was for those with powerful memories of the Dakota to send them in to the Herald. The response was overwhelming, but among them was a simple, unembroidered account of Alf Baker's liberation from the Japanese at the end of world war two. His account of flying to freedom in a Dakota, with his stretcher mounted near the forward window, was an obvious winner, and so I invited Alf to join us on board the Dakota.

Alf's a quiet, pleasant-natured gentleman, so when he kindly sent me a copy of his book What Price Bushido I had few defences ready for what I read. He was one of 600 artillerymen captured by the Japanes and transported on one of the infamous hell ships to Rabaul. When he was liberated three and a half years later he was one of only 18 survivors. Alf's story is one of the most powerful accounts I've ever read, not least because it's told without drama, heroism or intention to shock. He's written it in the third person, with "Blackie" Baker as just one of the cast. As he explained to me, "I didn't want to include 'I did this' or 'I thought that' because it isn't my story; it's the story of all of them, all those people who fought disease, famine and cruelty to stay alive".
One of the great privileges of working with Classic Flight through this summer has been the opportunity to speak with people like Alf.
You can buy his book - and I recommend strongly that you do - by sending £12.50, plus £2.50 post and packing, to
Rev Alf Baker
The Anchorage
111 Trelawney Road
Plymouth PL3 4JZ

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