After the atomic bomb, a Sydney man’s key role in helping Hiroshima heal

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A treasure trove of previously unread documents reveals details of the crucial role a Sydney man played in healing Hiroshima after the dropping of the atomic bomb that instantly killed an estimated 80,000 people and hastened the end of the Second World War.

The contents are revealed today, on Remembrance Day, as a stark reminder of the horrors of war as services are held around the country.

Clockwise: A Japanese artillery box containing archives material from David Harvey-Sutton, medical man David Harvey-Sutton, and smoke billows from the Hiroshima atomic blast on August 6, 1945.

The papers tell how former Cranbrook pupil and Sydney University medical scholar Major David Harvey-Sutton, who was born in Melbourne, personally organised 1.5 million doses of penicillin and other medical supplies to combat the scourge of TB, cholera and other diseases in the devastated city.

Serving with the 20th Australian Field Hospital, he was a member of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force and appointed as one of two reconstruction advisers by the mayor of Hiroshima, with responsibility for health and sanitation.

Among the papers was a Japanese newspaper cutting of Harvey-Sutton’s speech of reconciliation made one year after the bomb was dropped by the US bomber Enola Gay on August 6, 1945.

He told the crowd of 15,000 survivors in Hiroshima’s Royal Park that the priority was to secure food, clothing and housing and rebuild industry.

Harvey-Sutton at the microphone making his speech in the cutting from a Japanese newspaper.

“For poor people, free medicine and more hospital beds should become available,” he said. “People should receive immunisation shots as directed by the authority. In order to prevent the plague, rats, flies and lice need to be eradicated.

“I trust people in Hiroshima will play the role in preventing future wars, so that the tragic incident of one year ago should not be repeated. Your future Hiroshima will be a great city.”

After the war, Harvey-Sutton settled in Cloncurry, north-east of Alice Springs, to work as a GP. The documents came to light when Colin Randall, president and archivist of the Cloncurry & District Historical & Museum Society, was invited last year to investigate the contents of three boxes.

“The boxes had been in our museum for the last nine years with a cover over them to make a table,” he said. “The treasurer said she’d received them 10 years before and didn’t know what was in them. I couldn’t believe it when I opened the first one.

A pall of smoke lingers over this scene of destruction in Hiroshima, Japan, on August 7, 1945, a day after the explosion of the atomic bomb. Credit: AP

Randall made his discovery known in a presentation to the Australian Society of Archivists earlier this year. “They were stunned,” he said. “The head of the national archives in Brisbane said people would give their eye teeth to see for the first time such primary documents.”

Harvey-Sutton’s papers include his first impressions of the devastated city when he arrived from Kure naval base, whose harbour was “littered with sunken warships half out of the water”.

David Harvey-Sutton and new wife Judith.

He wrote: “On February 4th, 1946 I saw Hiroshima for myself. Before me was an area of four square miles of ashes and rubble with several gutted concrete buildings standing starkly in the desolation and scattered newly built wooden huts, the first attempt at reconstruction. It was a terrible awe-inspiring sight.”

His view was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “saved countless millions from death”. “Moreover, by their deaths, they may have saved mankind from a third world war, the horrors of which can barely be imagined.”

One poignant letter is from a professor who had acted as translator when Harvey-Sutton met the Hiroshima mayor. He wrote: “I have a merchant friend in the city whose only daughter, a budding rose of 21, is suffering from TB at its second stage. The father is very anxious to obtain a small quantity of penicillin … for her treatment. He says he is unable to get it from any Japanese druggists.”

The professor asks, only if permissable, for Harvey-Sutton to obtain the drug. “Thus you will act the part of a good Samaritan and may perhaps save an innocent girl whose life might be prolonged through the help of this wonderful medicine.”

Harvey-Sutton sent a letter proposing marriage to girlfriend Judith (nee Watt) from Indooroopilly, Brisbane, inviting her to come to Japan in January 1947, or alternatively engagement and marriage when he returned in 1948.

She replied on August 21, 1946: “If, darling when you arrive [in Queensland], we find that we truly love each other, then I think the best thing would be for us to be married, have a week’s honeymoon, you go back to Japan, and I come up and join you in January … I long to see you again – my love and kisses dearest one, Judy.”

At the end of December 1946, he returned home to marry Judith and honeymoon in Sydney and the Blue Mountains. She sailed to rejoin him in Japan in 1947.

Harvey-Sutton, one of seven siblings, died in 1999. His one surviving sibling, Alistair Harvey-Sutton, aged 90, from Sydney, said when his brother returned with a wife and a child in 1949 he settled in Cloncurry because he suffered from asthma and the dry climate suited him. “He was a man of exceptional ability and great energy.”

Colin Randall is arranging to visit Japan for further studies at the Hiroshima City Archives. There are also plans to investigate a sister city arrangement. The National Library of Australia recognised the archives and awarded a $9000 Cultural Heritage Grant.

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