Unforgettable words, “Give me water” ; offering pure water to comfort their souls

The story of Toshie Une

When the atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima at 8:15a.m. on Aug.6, 1945, I was 26 years old. Since January of that year I had been working as head teacher at a nursery for children whose mothers were working at the Army Ordnance Supply Depot at the back of Hijiyama Hill, 2.7km southeast of the hypocenter. The depot was a factory producing weapons, repairing and sending them to the war front.

Crying, Running about Children.

There were 26 or 27 children at the nursery on that day. Eight older children were playing outside and the younger ones were sleeping in a big room next to the kitchen. As several kids were starting to wake up and cry, the nursery teachers tried to take care of them. I was in the middle of cooking some pumpkin but I went to give them a hand. Just as I was on my way, it became pitch-dark. I felt something overwhelmed me and I was pushed down on the floor.
I stayed lying down, stricken with fear, but soon I realized the nursery would burn down if I didn’t put out the fire I’d been cooking on. I struggled toward the kitchen and found the contents of the pot scattered around with bits of something glittering in it. The glass from the kitchen windows was broken and had been blown around, but I was just slightly injured.
Getting up, I saw an orange-colored scene, extending as far as the eye could see. I felt as if I was standing in the glow of an evening sunset, despite the fact that it was morning. I couldn’t understand what had happened. I had some idea that the nursery had caught fire, but then I wondered why I felt no heat and could see no fire around me. My first idea was only that the factory had suddenly been hit. The children were moving around and crying “Mummy, Mummy!”, I ran after them and wrapped them in the blankets which were scattered all around the room. I was relieved when they stopped crying so much.
One mother said, “I can’t find my daughter anywhere. Please help me look for her. “We looked for the three-year-old girl and finally spotted her lying under an organ that had toppled over. Pulling her from under there and holding her, her mother shook and patted her. Then saliva-like whitish bubble came from the girl’s mouth, together with a weak cry. Joyfully, he mother shouted out “She is alive! She is alive!”. Other mothers rushed in from the factory. When they found their children, they sat down on the spot hugging them in their arms and started crying together. Since the factory was a military establishment, the mothers couldn’t leave and go home without permission.

Begging in vain for Water.

Since I couldn’t see the older children who had been playing outside, I thought they must have run away. I looked for them with their mothers but we didn’t find them anywhere.
Even during the wartime we had the Fatherless Family Protection Law. According to the law, if an air raid warning was issued, mothers could leave their workplace, come to the nursery and go with their children to the shelter in the back of Hijiyama Hill which was allocated for the Army Ordnance Supply Depot. When all the mothers and children were with us, we went to the shelter together.
Arriving at the shelter, we found so many people there, crowded inside or in front of the shelter, with burns and wounds all over their bodies. “They all look like monsters. Maybe our children were afraid of them and went back to the nursery. We may have passed each other. Let’s go back.” the mothers said. The people were naked, and had swollen reddish faces. From behind it was impossible to tell if they were men or women.
I asked several of the burned people, “What happened? Who are you? How did you get like this? Where are you from?” But their tongues were cut or twisted and they couldn’t utter a word. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. When I tried to hurry back to the nursery as I couldn’t find any of the children there, the people started making gestures, as if they were squatting, scooping up soil and drinking it.
“Uhmmm… Waaatt…” They said, in very weak, unclear voices. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. “Waaatt… giiiiv… ” “What? I can’t hear you. What do you want?” I listened to their appeals and finally I saw what they had been asking for with their gestures. “Water? Water?” I asked them. They nodded. Their expressions changed and they tried to follow me in a gesture of adoration. “Don’t follow me. Wait here! I’ll bring water. Just sit down here!” I persuaded them to stay there and immediately left to get water.
One man, badly injured and bleeding, said to me, “Just now some strange terrible bomb was dropped on the center of Hiroshima. It contains horrible poisonous gas. All the water in Hiroshima is mixed with the gas. If you give them that water, they’ll die straight away. Don’t give them any!” He was shouting at me, repeating his words, “Don’t give them any! Don’t take it!” I was horrified to hear what he said, so I stopped trying to take water to them. They must have kept waiting over there for me to bring them water. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t give them that water. I felt terribly sorry, in agony about this. I could imagine the people over there probably would have died waiting for water I was meant to have brought.

My family.

In the end I kept waiting in the nursery until just before it got dark (about four o’clock), but no instructions came from my superior. With my eldest son and three children who couldn’t find their parents, I set off for my home in Minami-machi. Fortunately my house had not been burned, though it was crushed. There was nothing to do about it so we headed for my husband’s parents’ house. He had been conscripted into the Navy at Kure in 1944. Since he was now a teacher at the Air Force Preparatory School in Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture, he had avoided the atomic bomb disaster. On the 8th and 9th August, relatives of the three children came to collect them. After that I was occupied with the work left in the broken down nursery until the Occupation Forces entered the city.

Prayer for the Souls Who Thirsted for Water.

One day, around 1955, I was climbing Mt. Dai-chausuyama at Koi with my friend, and we came across the statue of the “Taki no Kannon” or “Mercy of Goddess at Waterfall” at the site of the Kyojunji Temple on the hillside. There we found some very pure mountain water. Then the events on that day ten years before came back to me clearly . An encounter with the purest water in Hiroshima led me to make this wish: Id like to let the victims drink this pure water. Ill bring the water to atomic-bomb memorial monuments and apologize to them. Please forgive me. I*ll do it as long as I’m alive and my health allows.
Forty years have passed since then, and I’m now over eighty. On fine days, as I pulling my cart with its water bottles, I am still offering water to over 120 monuments in and around Hiroshima. I wish to console the souls of the victims by offering water from a small clear cup with the words Comfort Water for the A-bomb Victims written on it.
I have never seen such an atrocious way of dying. I never want to see such a hell again nor to be forced to see it. Nuclear weapons annihilate all living things, all created arts and culture, not to mention human beings. My earnest desire is that they will never be used.