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This is one of the most remarkable untold stories of the Second World war. At 11:02AM on an August morning in 1945, America dropped the world's most powerful atomic bomb on the Japanese port city of Nagasaki. The most European city in Japan was flattened to the ground "as if it had been swept aside by a broom." More than 70,000 Japanese were killed. At the time, hundreds of Allied prisoners of war were working close to the bomb's detonation point, as forced laborers in the shipyards and foundries of Nagasaki.
These men, from the Dales of Yorkshire and the dusty outback of Australia, from the fields of Holland and the remote towns of Texas, had already endured an extraordinary lottery of life and death that had changed their lives forever. They had lived through nearly four years of malnutrition, disease, and brutality. Now their prison home was the target of America's second atomic bomb.
The prisoners in Nagasaki were eyewitnesses to one of the most significant events in modern history but writing notes or diaries in a Japanese prison camp was dangerous. To avoid detection, one Allied prisoner buried his notes in the grave of a fellow POW to be reclaimed after the war, another wrote his diary in Irish. Now, using unpublished and rarely seen notes, interviews, and memoirs, this unique book weaves together a powerful chorus of voices to paint a vivid picture of defeat, endurance, and survival against astonishing odds.
John Willis is an Emmy and BAFTA-winning documentary maker and former senior executive at the BBC and WGBH Boston, as well as chair of the British Academy of Film and TV Arts (BAFTA). This is his third book about World War II.