The Rising Sun On My Back
In July we were bombed by low flying Lockheed Lightning’s, and by B29 Fortresses at high level. The factory was finished for good, but the casualties were light, a dozen or so civilians and two prisoners killed. On the 9th August, just before midday the air raid siren sounded and the guards chased us into the shelter. I avoided them and with Robbie, stretched out on the railway embankment, where we were hidden by long grass.
Most of the large plane formations headed for Nagasaki, and on a clear bright day we could see the town under attack. I had earlier heard the drone of a single plane but now all was ominously quiet. It was a particularly bright and clear morning and I was looking expectantly through the fold in the hills towards Nagasaki. As I watched, I witnessed something for which I could offer no explanation. A brilliant blue and white flash momentarily blotted out the town. Then a ball of fire which quickly grew in size to envelope the whole of Nagasaki, appeared to be sucked in towards the centre and thrown upwards into the air. A huge reddish brown cloud developed with a stem of darker colour reaching to the ground. The cloud grew upwards and spread, and changed colour to near white. A gigantic cloud, rising fast, reflected the fires below which had ignited instantly. I suppose the whole event had lasted less than a minute. Many theories were afterwards offered but we could not agree a reasonable conclusion. I could not try to comprehend the enormity of what I had witnessed. Before leaving camp the next morning, we were told that the Americans had used a new type of weapon on the two towns. Tens of thousands of the population had been killed and horribly burned and many were unaccounted for.
On hearing the air raid siren , we were instructed to go immediately to the air raid shelter, and use anything to cover our bare skin. There was no further information they seemed just as ignorant of what had happened as we were. At midday on the 15th August the guards and all the civilians in the factory gathered together in a space between office buildings to hear a radio broadcast relayed through loud speakers. When the long speech was finished, some threw their hats to the ground in fury, some cried, it seemed they could not believe what they had heard, and they were very dispirited as they silently dispersed.
Back at camp we soon learned that the emperor had made his first ever radio broadcast. Another day passed and we began to realise that the war might be finished. Many guards disappeared and then our officers returned from a visit to the camp commandant with the news that Japan had unconditionally surrendered. The Emperor had said that the war had turned against Japan when the enemy had employed a new and cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage was indescribable, and which, should they continue to fight, would result in the ultimate collapse and obliteration of the nation.
He had surrendered to save millions of his subjects from death and terrible injury. Two Generals, a Vice Admiral and several Lt. Generals had committed hara-kiri, but the great majority had accepted the inevitable.
The following morning an American plane flew low over the camp and dropped a message telling us to stay put await further instructions and to mark out an area to receive supplies from air-drops. The next day a number of planes dropped supplies and we stood gaping as dozens of multicoloured parachutes floated down. Several parachutes failed to open and the containers plummeted to earth scattering their contents. One scored a direct hit on a corrugated iron home and the Japanese inside were killed. One prisoner was killed by a tin of food when some containers burst open high in the air and tins rained down on us. How ironic that someone who had survived years of hell should die in this fashion. Hereafter we went to the air-raid shelter whilst a drop was in progress. We received enough supplies for a thousand men - food, clothes, cigars and cigarettes, sweets and chocolates. We didn’t need it all, so we used the surplus to barter with the local people for their daughters and to distribute to the many hungry and homeless in the town.
On the seventh day of our freedom we were visited by an American Marine Officer and his driver, they distributed a news sheet and told us that a railway line was being laid down through Nagasaki ( we asked if he needed some expert help)! And would be finished in time for us to travel to Nagasaki on 30th August.
There was little change in my emotions, it was difficult to realise that the dying might be over and I didn’t really feel free.
On the 30th at the station we were very noisy and jostled for seats in the commandeered train. The journey had been uneventful until we reached the outskirts of Nagasaki. The answer to all our unanswered questions was here before our very eyes, and the devastation which unfolded before us, stopped the noise in the coaches, suddenly, as if a radio had been switched off. We stared in shocked silence through the grimy coach windows. I wondered what massive force could completely annihilate a large city in a single blow, it would appear that science had advanced beyond my comprehension. A few gutted concrete buildings still stood, leaning dangerously as if the merest touch would send them tumbling like a pack of cards, but otherwise as far as I could see, the area was flattened into a mass of untidy rubble, the higher mounds were the remains of large buildings. The surrounding country-side was devoid of trees with blackened stumps of trees and poles pointing skywards like accusing fingers. The devastation was absolute. I was trying to imagine the horrors the population must have suffered, when the train stopped, and we clambered silently from the coaches onto a battered siding. But when I saw the American nurses and sailors waiting to greet us I immediately brightened, my concern for the fate of others was short lived, I was in a hurry to take the next step on our road home.
The band of the carrier Cape Gloucester, was deployed along the dockside in a single file. Everyone looked so clean and spotless in crisp khaki drill and white uniforms. We just stood for a moment, undecided, and then everyone went crazy, dancing with nurses and sailors to a lively jazz tune called “The two o’clock jump”. The dockside was in an uproar and not until the band was sent back to the ship could these bronzed and beautiful super men and women from the outside world, take over.
An angel in uniform spoke to me and I stared at her unable to make my mind function, and as I stood in confused silence, the thought flashed into my mind - this was the moment and here was the evidence I had been waiting for, now I could believe the nightmare was over.
These sailors were the first Americans I had encountered and I instantly liked them - they were very friendly and we could not have chosen more kindly and sympathetic saviours. Rows and rows of beds filled the hangar deck, and our welfare was their only concern. We were bathed, fumigated and clothed in officers tropical uniform, and then came the treat we had all been waiting for, our first civilised meal for three and a half years. When I walked into the mess hall I was almost overcome by the heady aroma and the mountain of fried chicken and tray upon tray of beautiful food.
We filed slowly past the servery, piling our plates, the anticipation alone serving as an appetiser to a meal which in appearance alone was all that I had dreamed of. No more nauseating mildew rice, millet, salt plums, seaweed-cat, dog, lizard, snake and rotten duck’s eggs. When I pushed back my plate, polished clean, there was no room for the tiniest morsel, and my belly was extended - for once I sat back and enjoyed the feeling.
Corn on the cob
Sweet potato and corn
Pancakes and Californian syrup
Ice creams and coffee.
The commander of the planes which had a supporting role in the nuclear raid on Nagasaki, arranged a lecture, and with the aid of aerial photos, which included some of our camp in Fuknoka, presented a very vivid and graphic description of the whole of the operation. Yet I still could not grasp the fact that one plane with one bomb in an instant could have done all that. But at least we were thankful for that bomb, we had been forced to dig a huge pit which was to be our communal grave, and extra machine guns had been dispersed throughout the camp. Our guards had received orders to shoot us if mainland Japan was invaded. I knew and I’m sure everyone else knew that the bomb had saved our lives.
We left Nagasaki on 31st August 1945. The sea was blue and clear, the sun was warm, there was plenty of food and nothing to cause the slightest anxiety as the carrier ploughed her way eastward. I stood, watching the coastline of Japan disappear in the haze and I reflected; I was now twenty- three, but in that short period of three and a half years it seemed I had lived a lifetime, and I felt old. The feeling of loneliness returned, all those men and Dad, all gone. All the links except one, Robbie, in my chain had broken - I turned away, turned my back on Japan and the past, “Why should I care, I made it, I’m going home”.
They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Laurence Binyon “For the Fallen”