HMAS Murchison at Kure and Hiroshima, February 1946

The following is an incomplete transcript taken from “Her Majesty’s Australian Ship Murchison Sickness from Radioactivity at Hiroshima”, by Noel Jensen-Holme, published in Atomic Fallout, the Organ of the Atomic ExServicemen’s Association, A.C.T. Inc. Volume 5, No. 2, June/July 2013.

(The Murchison arrived at the Japanese port of Kure on 21 February 1946)

“The following day after the arrival of the HMAS Murchison at Kure, Japan, the Captain, Lieutenant Commander John Adams and the ship’s First Lieutenant Dacre Smyth (later Commodore Smyth) called the ship’s company together to inform us that the “Murchison” had received the relatively great honour to be chosen for passage of eight Japanese dignitaries, including a new mayor and his staff, to the atomic bomb devastation, bay port and city of Hiroshima. Captain Adams further stated that the “Murchison” would be the first ship of any nation to be given permission to enter the port of Hiroshima since the nuclear explosion of the city. The Captain assured us that the Americans and B.C.O.F. (British Commonwealth Occupation Forces) Chiefs have declared the port and city as quite safe as far as any particles of radioactive fallout or secondary consequences and side effects, etc.

On February 25, 1946 the Murchison was at anchor in the middle of the port of Hiroshima, among the horrific sight of sunken, or riding at anchor, but now little more than rusting hulks, ships of all shapes and sizes, all completely gutted by the atomic firestorm which had swept through the portside area and the city.

The Japanese dignitaries were taken ashore to what was left of the wharf. Later some 40 of the lower deck crewmembers, including myself, were given 4 hours shore leave to wander around the devastated city. It was amazing that most of the solid bridges over the Ota River, which circles Hiroshima and carried most of the harmful contamination from the atomic explosion, down to the port region, remained serviceable for traffic with only minor damage.

The next day, February 26, 1946, the HMAS Murchison slowly made her way out of the severely damaged port of Hiroshima. The crewmembers seemed to be deeply affected with a mental or spiritual feeling akin to a physical sickness. Over the next month and while returning to Morotai to convoy more Australian troops back to Japan, every person on board the Murchison suffered with a series of unusual medical complaints from minor to quite serious stomach ailments including diarrhoea, headaches, eye problems, unusual body aches and even nervous problems that could be termed depression condition for most of the Murchison crewmembers, regardless of any differences between those who had gone ashore at Hiroshima and other crewmembers who remained on board the ship, including the commissioned officers for some strange reason didn’t go ashore to view the nuclear blasted city, were in the same boat, as the saying goes.

The medical problems were attributed to a severe form of food poisoning, even to the point of tossing any fresh food overboard and then re-stocking when the ship reached Morotai.

It is my firm belief that the health problems on the HMAS Murchison were related to the substances of ionising radiation flowing down the Ota River into the ocean at the port of Hiroshima.

In an aura of mystery with the sickness trouble, no medical officer was contacted which left the treatment to the ship’s sick berth attendant who did a magnificent job looking after everyone including himself. The ship’s crewmembers received no medical advise on any contamination from the nuclear explosion. The ship at no stage received any scientific examination for radioactivity.

This small part of Australian naval history has never received any recognition from either the Australian Governments of all persuasions, the Royal Australian Navy and any of the naval historical groups. Thank you all.
Noel Jensen-Holme

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