The Rising Sun – Japan revisited

In April 2018 my husband and I visited the country that held my father prisoner of war for 3 years and 6 months. The country today is much different now to how it was then.

Ikuno is a small town in the mountains of central Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

The main industry was mining, producing silver and copper and during the war it served as a prison camp called Osaka #4.

In August 1945 my father came out of the copper mine he’d been forced to work in. He was 24 years old. The prison gates were open and several Japanese soldiers had committed suicide by hari kari. It was a little while before he realised that the war was over. Japan had surrendered, an Atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima on 6th August.

The bomb was reported as being like another sun, it appeared as a fireball with tremendous heat of about 10,000 degrees. The hot flash emitting from it was furious, radiating near 4 km around. The blast flash is said to have been visible on the island of Shikoku some 50 km away. In Miyajima some 19 km away, window panes were broken into pieces and dust shot up several thousand metres into the sky. The city was still on fire 2 days later. Those anywhere near the the impact instantly perished and thousands of people suffered over the next few days, weeks, months and years from the terrible legacy of radiation and its associated diseases.

Then on the 9th of August another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. That was when Emperor Hirohito declared the surrender of Japan. The Americans took control of the country and transported the surviving frail prisoners of war to the many ships that were sent to take them home. My father travelled from Osaka, entering by train through the devastated remains of Hiroshima in an open topped carriage, not knowing the effects of the radiation fall-out that he was subjected to. The ship he boarded was the HMS Implacable which returned him home.

71 years later my husband and I travelled from Osaka through the landscape of mountains and bamboo forests, that I wouldn’t think have changed over the years, and there we were standing next to the remains of the dome in Hiroshima. The memorial peace park consists of a flame in the centre and children’s peace monument all in alignment with the dome. The flame will continue to burn until the day there are no more atomic bombs on earth.

The haunting sound of the peace bell gave a very sombre atmosphere, which is only fitting. Inside the museum there were lots of photos showing before and after; also display cases with many items ravaged by the fire including children’s clothes and a child’s bicycle.

This experience for me was a strange one. The thought of war, which I am so lucky to have never experienced, is so wrong for humanity, yet without this terrible event I would not have been born as my father would not have survived.

Death warrants had been issued for the prisoners.

The Japanese people are still grieving today from what happened on that day in 1945.

The country and the people from our experience was totally different. An extremely clean, high tech, organised country with the most gentle, respectful, kind people who go out of their way to help to make your time in their country as enjoyable as they can.

For more information about my father Harry Wilding’s story, there is a book.

‘A Nice Box Full of Memories’ is written by my daughter Justine, and it is available from The Littleport Society. (Upstairs at The Barn, in Main Street Car Park, every Tuesday afternoon.)

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