I Was There: Hiroshima Bombing, 1945
Thursday 6 August marks 70 years since the US military dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. This bomb, along with a second dropped on Nagasaki three days later, led to the end of World War Two.
5 live's Peter Allen is in Japan and has been speaking to survivors, witnesses, and those involved in the day's events.
The thirteen-year-old girl who survived the blast
Setsuko Thurlow (née Nakamura) was a 13 year old school girl at the time of the bomb, and the youngest of seven children.
I saw a blueish white flash all around me... together with the building, my body was falling"Setsuko Thurlow, Hiroshima bomb survivor
It was her first day in her role as an army decoder, stationed 1.2 miles from the hypocentre of the bomb.
This was unlike most school-age children of Hiroshima who were clearing fire lanes in the city centre that morning and were killed instantly by the bomb.
At 8.15am that morning, Setsuko was caught up in the blast. She remembers the “blueish white flash” that threw her into the air and plunged her into “total darkness and silence”.
Setsuko thought she was “facing death,” but was rescued by a soldier and taken outside, where she witnessed the terrible injuries of other survivors.
They were covered with blood, and their skin and flesh burned and peeling off"Setsuko Thurlow, Hiroshima bomb survivor
“They were covered with blood, and their skin and flesh burned and peeling off,” Setsuko said. “Some were carrying their eyeballs in their hands.”
Setsuko’s parents were unhurt by the bomb, but her older sister Ayako and her baby died from their injuries.
Setsuko later left Japan to marry a Canadian, James Thurlow, and began travelling the world calling for nuclear disarmament.
“You can’t even call them bombs,” the 84-year-old said. “They are more than bombs; they are machines for killing masses of human beings. They should never be allowed to be used.”
The Manhattan Project bomb switch tester
Physics graduate Ben Bederson was 22 when he applied to join the Manhattan Project: the top-secret operation tasked with creating nuclear weapons, based in the New Mexico desert.
Everybody felt that it would save lives... It avoided the necessity of having to invade Japan"Ben Bederson, Manhattan Project veteran
At the time in in Autumn 1943, the New Yorker was not told what the project was for, and his first assignment was about testing the strength of containers for holding explosives.
After being told of plans for the bombs, in June 1944 he was shipped to the Pacific Island of Tinian, where his job was to test ignition switches for the atomic bomb “Fat Man”, which was later used on Nagasaki.
Bederson, now 95, said he “certainly” knew the damage the "Little Boy" bomb could cause when it was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 June 1945, but believed it was “justified” to “end the war”.
“Everybody felt that it would save lives,” he said. “It avoided the necessity of having to invade Japan which would have caused thousands of allied deaths and probably hundreds of thousands of Japanese deaths.”
The British flight mechanic stationed in Hiroshima
Ernest Astley was a British 18-year-old flight mechanic, working on Spitfire 14s with 17 Squadron, when he was sent to Japan, arriving in September 1946.
It was frightening really, that one bomb could kill so many people and do so much damage"Ernest Astley, British veteran
Despite being almost a year after the bombing, on August 6 1945, he said the devastation in the country was still clear, with buildings flattened and “mounds” of green bottles and bicycles welded together.
“It was frightening really, that one bomb could kill so many people and do so much damage” Astley said, now aged 87.
However, he added that the Allied forces would have “been in a lot of trouble” had the bomb not been dropped.
It was essential that they dropped the bomb because they never would have surrendered otherwise"Ernest Astley, British veteran
“It’s mountainous country with a lot of caves and woodland and we would’ve been more or less killing one-for-one,” he said.
Astley visited Hiroshima on three more occasions after that, and on his final trip in 1948 he spoke to a survivor “who agreed that it was the right thing to do” to save Japanese and Allied lives.
“Young girls were already there with sharpened bamboo to kill us with,” he said.
“It was essential that they dropped the bomb because they never would have surrendered otherwise."
The eight-year-old girl who “saw hell”
Keiko Ogura was eight-years-old when the bomb fell. She was at home, around 1.5 miles from the blast’s hypocentre.
A couple victims all of a sudden died in front of me. I couldn’t understand, I was shocked"Keiko Ogura, Hiroshima survivor
Though she, her parents and brothers suffered only minor injuries, her house was destroyed. The ceiling and roof tiles had been blown away, and the doors and window panes shattered.
Keiko has never forgotten the “ghost people” she encountered that day.
She helped bring water from the well for survivors, but says some victims “all of a sudden, died in front of [her]”.
Aged 78 now, and still living in Hiroshima city, Keiko says her experience proves nuclear weapons are “inhumane” and should be banned.
“People are discussing whether they need or should preserve nuclear weapons or not, it’s ridiculous. Because I saw the hell.”