My Father's World War II Legacy

My Father's World War II Legacy

Posted on November 10 by Jonathon Reid in Non-fiction, Recent Releases
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My father's death in 1979 at the age of 65 sowed the seeds of my recently published biography.

Dr. John Reid, severely ill for the last five years of his life due to damage from his almost four years as a prisoner of war of the Japanese, had received a full veteran pension a year before he died. In December 1981, I sat down to write a submission to the Bureau of Pensions Advocates on behalf of my mother, Jean Reid. In question was the veteran widow pension awarded to Cathy Reid, my father’s second wife, whom he married in 1951. My point was that my mother, Jean, who married him in 1939, was a victim of the war as much as my father. She had a right to a portion of the pension.

I thought the submission would take a weekend to complete. It took six weeks. Investigating the personalities and circumstances from all angles to present a fair and balanced case involved far more than I had first thought. By the time the submission was mailed to the Bureau of Pensions Advocates in January 1982, I had mined deeply into my parents’ past.

Yet many questions remained. In the years that followed, I continued to gather information about my father from anyone who knew him. An early and invaluable document was the long letter written to me in 1983 by George Pollak, an American naval officer who was imprisoned in Japan with my father and by the end of the war had become his closest friend. Pollak’s detailed account of their experiences in Camp 3D, and of the strange, sad ending of their friendship seven years later, made me think that a version of my father’s life story could and should be told. By the time I met George MacDonell in 2002, I had amassed an archive of interviews and historical material.

George MacDonell, a sergeant major in the Royal Rifles, was in prison camp with my father in Hong Kong and Japan and knew him well. One Soldier’s Story, MacDonell’s book on his war experience, was published the year we met. Ten years later, when MacDonell was planning They Never Surrendered, a book of eight stories about Allied prisoners of war who “defied their captors,” he asked me to write the chapter on “The Doctor.” In two weeks, I wrote 18,000 words. It was no longer a chapter in George MacDonell's book. The Captain Was a Doctor had begun.