Nagasaki: The Forgotten Prisoners with John Willis

An image of the Atomic bomb


If you’ve just returned from seeing Oppenheimer, you may be interested in an upcoming talk at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. Distinguished C4 and BBC TV executive and former BAFTA chair, John Willis, shares one of the most remarkable, untold survival stories of the Second World War. At 11.02 am on 9 August 1945, America dropped the world’s most powerful atomic bomb on the Japanese port city of Nagasaki in an effort to force Japan’s final surrender in the Second World War.

As John recounts in his book Nagasaki: The Forgotten Prisoners, this most European of Japanese cities was flattened in minutes. When the bomb was dropped, hundreds of British, Dutch, Australian and American prisoners of war were working only a mile away from its detonation point as forced labourers, in shipyards and foundries. Their first-hand accounts of this remarkable event at Nagasaki and earlier experiences in the Pacific war form the basis of John’s compelling talk and book.

With painstaking research of diaries, letters, interviews with relatives and scraps of notes that were buried and then retrieved after the war, John has pieced together powerful personal testimonies of the Nagasaki bomb and the events that preceded it in these men’s lives. They had already endured unspeakable hardship as soldiers and prisoners in Malaya, Singapore, Java and Burma and the Pacific theatre of the war, including enforced labour on the infamous Thai-Burma railway.

Much has been written about America’s use of atomic bombs against Japanese cities in August 1945, but personal testimonies, like these, are an integral part of the story that have remained largely untold, until now. These Allied prisoners became valuable eye-witnesses to one of the most remarkable events in modern history as the full force of America’s atomic Manhattan Project was unleashed again to devastating effect just two days after its bomb on Hiroshima.

The widely acclaimed, Christopher Nolan film Oppenheimer explores the foundation of the Manhattan Project has generated a renewed interest in the stories and the morality of atomic warfare and the delicate, strategic balance of nuclear weapons that still underpins the world order to this day.

John Willis is one of the UK’s best-known television executives and programme developers. As Director of Programmes at C4 he oversaw breakthrough series like Father Ted, Cutting Edge and Secret History and iconic British films including Shallow Grave, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Trainspotting. He was Director of Factual and Learning Programming at the BBC. He is a previous Chair of BAFTA and currently Chief Executive of Mentorn Media, which produces Question Time for the BBC. His previous books include Churchill’s Few (2020) and Secret Letters: a Battle of Britain Love Story (2020).

Join us at BRLSI, Queen Square in person or livestream. Tickets £6 or £3 members. Book online here.

Monday 25 September 7.30 – 9.30 pm


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