Peace Memorial Museum begins showing video of Hiroshima which might be the earliest color footage filmed after the bombing

by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer

On February 22, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (Naka Ward, Hiroshima City) began showing a color video taken from the sky of the devastated city of Hiroshima after the atomic bombing. The film, collected from the Imperial War Museum in London last September, is estimated to have been shot sometime between October 1945 and February 1946. A representative from the museum said, “Although further validation is required, it could be the earliest color footage of Hiroshima taken after the atomic bombing.”

William Courtenay (1896 – 1960), a member of the British military and war correspondent, took videos of Kure City, Osaka and other locales from above after the cities were destroyed in air raids. In the 32-minute video, five minutes and seven seconds are devoted to footage of Hiroshima City. The film covers a broad area including the hypocenter, the ruins of Hiroshima Castle (about one kilometer from the hypocenter, now part of Naka Ward), and Yokogawa Station (about 1.8 kilometers, now part of Nishi Ward). The images of shacks, which were beginning to be built among the ruins, can also be seen. The museum estimates the time of video footage to be between October 1945 and February 1946, based on visible residual damage caused by a typhoon that hit Hiroshima in September 1945 and the stage of the construction of shacks in other photos. The British Commonwealth Occupation Force began its occupation of Hiroshima by February 1946.

Until now, it was believed the first color footage shot after the bombing had been taken by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey around March or April 1946; footage the museum also possesses.

The museum obtained five films and 766 pictures in Britain. After returning to Japan, they confirmed the National Show Memorial Museum in Tokyo possesses three of five films produced by Mr. Courtenay. One of the curators of the Peace Memorial Museum said, “We would be the ones capable of analyzing the contents of, and the locations, in the films. This is a valuable example of color footage taken from the air in the earliest days after the bombing. We will continue to verify the materials.” The re-edited version of the five newly obtained films can be seen in the museum’s special exhibition room on the first floor of the east building through late July.

Black-and-white films taken by Japan Film Corporation (based in Tokyo) and an American photographer John Bockhorst have been confirmed to be the first footage of Hiroshima from the ground after the bombing. Both films were shot on September 3, 1945.

(Originally published on February 23, 2020)