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The Glory of Christmas


n his book, Through the Valley of the Kwai, Ernest Gordon gives a true account of life in a World War II Japanese prison camp. The story is about a man named Angus McGillivray, whose example transformed a hell-hole of a prison camp into a place of caring and concern.

In one camp which was filled with Americans, Australians and Britons, men who had helped build the infamous bridge over the River Kwai, McGillivray was a Scottish prisoner. The attitude in this camp had apparently turned into an ugly, selfish, dog-eat-dog situation. Fellow prisoners cheated on each other. Men had their packs stolen right from under their heads while they were sleeping on them. It was every man for himself. Survival was the name of the game. As Gordon put it, "The law of the jungle prevailed." All this took place until the news of Angus McGillivray’s death was heard throughout the camp.

The men were astounded. McGillivray was a big, strong man and everyone presumed he would be the last one to die. But it wasn’t his death that shocked the prisoners, but the reason for it.

His example transformed
a hell-hole of a prison into a
place of caring and concern.

The Scottish soldiers were called Argylls and had a buddy system that they took very seriously. Their buddy or mate was called their "mucker" and each was committed to the other to ensure the others survival. Angus’s mucker became very ill and wasn’t expected to live. However, when someone stole his mucker’s blanket, Angus gave him his saying he had found an extra one. At meal time Angus would take his rations and force his mucker to eat saying again that he had found extra. Angus did everything he could to keep his mucker alive.

In time the mucker fully recovered. And then to everyone’s surprise Angus suddenly collapsed and died. The doctors found that he had died from exhaustion and starvation.

The cause of McGillivray’s death is what brought about the transformation of the prison camp. They all knew the reason behind his death. Because of Angus’s example, the men began to be concerned for their mates and became less self-centered and more caring and sharing. They decided to get together and use their talents to help each other. "One was a violin maker, another an orchestra leader, another a cabinet maker, another a professor. Soon the camp had an orchestra full of homemade instruments and a church called the ‘Church Without Walls’ that was so powerful, so compelling, that even the Japanese guards attended. The men began a university, a hospital and a library system."

This transformation meant survival for many of the other prisoners and happened because one man, Angus McGillivray, gave his own life to save his mucker.

Continued on Page Two

All articles on this website are written by
Richard (Dick) Innes unless otherwise stated.