Hiroshima atomic bomb memories still fresh for Japanese war bride of WWII digger

Takako Watts remembers washing her newborn sister's nappies in Kure hospital when suddenly the windows smashed.

The then-12-year-old came to learn it was caused by the shockwave from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, 20 kilometres away.

Although it happened 75 years ago, Ms Watts, who is now known as Cherry and lives in Murwillumbah in northern NSW, remembers as if it was yesterday.

"I started seeing all these people with burns coming into the hospital. I thought it was the end of the world," she said.

She remembers leaving the hospital with her mother and sister and seeing the devastation from the bomb.

"All the buildings were smashed to the ground with dead bodies underneath and a massive fire was burning throughout the city.

"We could smell the burning of flesh for days. It was horrible."

Before World War II, Ms Watts had lived a happy childhood; her parents were wealthy and had provided a stable environment for their children.

But that came to an abrupt end.

Kure, Japan's largest naval base and arsenal at the time, was constantly attacked by American bombers, with the family taking refuge in the side of a mountain where caves had been built.

"It was scary being in the cave at night because it was so dark. I would constantly pray to God to stop the war," Ms Watts said.

The mountain caves where Ms Watts and her family would hide during US bomb attacks.(Supplied)

When the war did end, it brought the arrival of occupation forces into cities like Hiroshima and Nagasaki — there was animosity in the ranks of allied soldiers and fear among the local population.

"My mother sent my sister and I away from Kure for fear that we would be raped by the soldiers, but we were allowed to return home when things calmed down," Ms Watts said.
Fraternising was discouraged

Despite the widespread ill feeling towards the occupiers, the young Takako would meet and fall in love with Australian soldier William Watts who was stationed at Kure.

"Bill was very good looking and cheeky and I married him against my parents' wishes," she said.

Ms Watts said they had to marry three times due to international law.

They first obtained permission to marry in 1949 at Kamiyama jinja, they married again in 1952, and then at the British consulate in 1953.

Takako and her husband had two children when they returned to Australia.(Supplied: Margaret Watts)

Mr Watts returned to Australia, and Cherry followed with 12 other war brides and their children on the long sea journey to Sydney in late 1953.

She was travelling with their two-year-old son, Joji, and new baby, Margaret.

"Australians found it difficult to pronounce our Japanese names, so many war brides were called Cherry after Japan's famous cherry blossom trees," she said.
Aussie humour for dinner

The family lived in Murwillumbah with Ms Watts's mother-in-law, Florence, who taught her how to cook local food — with a bit of Aussie humour thrown in.

"Florence was cooking rissoles one evening, and I asked her what they were; she said they were R-soles.

"So the next night I was cooking Bill's dinner, and he asks me what we were having, and I said, 'Arseholes'.

"Well, you should have seen the look on his face!"

No racial tension in small country town

Despite the anti-Japanese sentiment after the war, Ms Watts said she never experienced racism, with many locals becoming life-long friends.

Keiko Tamura, a researcher of Japanese war brides and lecturer at the Australian National University, said Japanese women were treated much better in regional towns than those who lived in the cities.

"They became known as someone's wife or sister-in-law instead of the enemy and country towns grew protective of them," Dr Tamura said.

Ms Watts's family in Japan did not speak to her until she returned for a visit in 1975.

Takako and Margaret live next to each other and love catching up for tea and sushi.(ABC News: Donna Harper)

Bill and Cherry had seven children and ran a banana plantation.

Mr Watts died from emphysema in 1995. He would have turned 100 last November, and Cherry and her eldest daughter celebrated his birthday in a unique way.

"We visited the cemetery where he's buried and poured beer over his headstone and wished him a happy birthday," Margaret Watts said.

Cherry and Margaret had hoped to travel to Japan this year to visit family on the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing but had to cancel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.