August 6 1945 was the day hell came to Hiroshima. With Japan refusing to give up its Second World War campaign, US President Harry S. Truman warned it would face what he called a “rain of ruin from the air.” At 8.15 am that morning he carried out his threat – killing thousands in the blink of an eye. A plane called Enola Gay delivered the weapon that would change the course of history, in the first atomic bombing the world had ever seen. Hitoshi Takayama was a teenage student. “I saw people almost naked and black, burned,” he said. “Their skin looked like rags and it hung. The skin on their hands hung below their nails. They had their upper arms pressed against their torsos and stood there – motionless.
“When I saw those people for the first time, I am sorry to say, I thought: ‘I don’t want to see this. ‘It was so grotesque. They didn’t look human.” Some 70,000 people were killed instantly in Hiroshima. That figure would double by the end of the year, as radiation and severe burns took their toll. Sunao Tuboi miraculously cheated death. He was crossing a bridge on his way to school when disaster struck. “Everybody – children and adults – threw themselves into the river,” he said. “Even if they couldn’t swim, injured people were jumping in – thinking the water would be cold as their whole bodies were burnt and hurt. So the rivers were filled with dead bodies.” In the years to come, Sunao’s health would be shattered by the effects of radiation, but nonetheless he had survived.
After the blast, he sat down and tried to write an inscription marking his own death, using a piece of stone. “I couldn’t do it properly because the skin on my arms was in shreds and I didn’t have any strength at all,” he said. “I believe I was at the borderline between life and death. “I was 20 years old and I was overcome with sadness to think that my life was over.” The strike on Hiroshima and, three days later, a separate atomic blast in Nagasaki, would end World War Two. But, 60 years on, the horrors of what happened continue to haunt survivors and future generations. Doctors warn the medical effects will still be felt for years to come.