The Captain Was a Doctor


A Canadian medical officer and prisoner of war returns from the Second World War a hero — and a very different man.
In August 1941, John Reid, a young Canadian doctor, volunteered to join the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps with four friends from medical school. After five weeks of officer training in Ottawa, Reid took an optional two-week course in tropical medicine, a choice which sealed his fate. Assigned to “C” Force, the two Canadian battalions sent to reinforce “semi-tropical” Hong Kong, he was among those captured when the calamitous Battle of Hong Kong ended on Christmas Day.

After a year in Hong Kong prison camps, Reid was chosen as the only officer to accompany 663 Canadian POWs sent to Japan to work as slave labourers. His efforts over the next two and a half years to lead, treat, and protect his men were heroic. He survived the war, but finding a peace of his own took ten tumultuous years, with casualties of a different sort. He would never be the same.


The Captain Was a Doctor is a haunting exploration of a decorated hero of the Hong Kong campaign during the Second World War....This is a moving story by his son attempting to understand how his father endured the war, and how he left part of himself behind in the prison camps.

Tim Cook, author of Vimy: The Battle and the Legend

This first-rate biography of a complex man who was an outstanding doctor and war hero yet also a damaged and deeply troubled man cannot have been easy for a son to write. Jonathon Reid has done it with insight, intelligence and compassion. The result is a compelling read which has much to say about Canada and the Second World War and, more generally, about the cruelty of war as well as human courage and persistence in the face of appalling odds.

Margaret MacMillan, bestselling author of Paris 1919

This is a story of incredible heroism, and the toll it took in Dr. John Reid’s personal life. Author Jonathon Reid has written with admiration and compassion about the man who did so much to save lives in the brutal POW camps of Japan during World War II. He extends the same compassion to the father who returned from the war a changed man, unable to keep the promises he had made or tell the truth to those who loved him. A poignant and moving book.

Charlotte Gray, bestselling author of The Promise of Canada

Jonathon Reid’s is a splendid and well-written account, carefully researched in his father’s papers and other records. This fine biography tells us much of Canadian courage and character in the greatest adversity.

J.L. Granatstein, author of Canada’s Army

Matchless...The Captain Was a Doctor [is] an unforgettable book.

Carol Bishop Gwyn, author of Art and Rivalry: The Marriage of Mary and Christopher Pratt

Emotionally stirring

Nathan M. Greenfield, author of The Damned

The Captain Was a Doctor is a powerful saga... It is an extraordinary and redemptive reminder of the basic decency in imperfect human beings that can come to the surface, despite a prevailing atmosphere of heightened distrust.

Literary Review of Canada

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