In the space for post-enrollment changes and their reasons there is only one word, written in pencil: “Death.”

The school attendance registers that list most of the 541 first- and second-year students at Hiroshima First Municipal Girls’ School who became victims of the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing as they helped to demolish buildings for fire lanes, as mobilized students, are archived at Funairi High School in Hiroshima’s Naka Ward.

The thickness of the materials speaks to the fact that so many students died. Many columns in their report cards had already been left blank, showing how students at that time hardly had the chance to attend classes since entering the school.

“I’m so grateful the records have been kept,” said Miyako Yano (born Miyako Ikeda), a 90-year-old resident of Hiroshima’s Nishi Ward. She was visiting her alma mater in late June and “meeting” with her two best friends, listed as names in the school register.

Yano was a second-year student at First Girls’ School at the time of the atomic bombing, and would go home from school with Yoshiko Fujimoto. They would jump off the Miyuki Bridge together into the river and swim, sometimes gathering double handfuls of freshwater clams. She would take a bath at Fujimoto’s house.

Etsuko Morisaki, meanwhile, lived near Yano’s house in the area of Ujina-machi.

On Aug. 6, 1945, Yano decided to take the day off from school because she had been suffering from terrible diarrhea since the night before. She had asked Morisaki, who came to fetch her for school, to submit a written note explaining her absence.

At 8:15 a.m., when the U.S. military dropped the atomic bomb on the city, the students were helping to demolish buildings on the south side of the present-day Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, approximately 500 meters from the hypocenter.

While it was impossible to recognize who was who, a torn piece of the loose work-pants Morisaki wore helped identify her body.

The word 'death' is written in the space for post-enrollment changes and their reasons in the school register from Hiroshima First Municipal Girls’ School. | CHUGOKU SHIMBUN
The word ‘death’ is written in the space for post-enrollment changes and their reasons in the school register from Hiroshima First Municipal Girls’ School. | CHUGOKU SHIMBUN

Amid the confusion after the bombing, Morisaki’s family vented their grief at Yano: “A hard-working student died, and the one who skipped school survived.” And on hearing from Yano that she had taken that day off, Fujimoto’s sister collapsed in front of her.

On Sept. 1, when Yano attended school for the first time since the end of the war, she found out that all her classmates that were mobilized to demolish buildings had been killed.

“I was deeply shocked. I blamed myself for not going to do the work — even though I wasn’t in good shape health-wise — and not dying with them,” she said.

Yano and a friend who was in the same situation tried to kill themselves. They sat down on the riverbank near the school, trying to throw themselves into the river, but they couldn’t find the courage. When she came home, after dark, she found out her family had been desperately looking for her, which broke her heart.

She tried to avoid being seen, shutting herself away from society, even covering her face with a mask whenever she went out. One day, however, she read a memoir written by the family of a deceased classmate and thought, “I might have met the same fate if it had been a day earlier or later. I must do what I can as an A-bomb survivor.” Yano roused herself, and has worked hard ever since for the A-bomb survivors movement and in peace activities for more than half a century.

“We had been educated to believe it was an honor to die for the country. These children had no other chance but to live amid war. No other children should be forced to endure the same fate,” Yano said, holding the school register with both hands.

Even today, one of the survivors still lives out of view. The 88-year-old woman living in Hiroshima’s Minami Ward was in class No. 5 in the first grade of First Girls’ School. On Aug. 6, she was absent from school because her mother felt unwell and begged her not to go.

“Two friends, who came to pick me up, left for school saying, ‘It’s hot. We don’t want to go. We want to take a day off, too.’ I could never forget their voices and receding figures.” She has been blaming herself for being an “unpatriotic survivor” for 76 years.

The original article was published by Chugoku Shimbun on July 19.

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