The Swedish diplomat Carl-Erik Necker

This morning one can read in one of the Japanese newspapers an article about the so-called Doolittle’s Raiders, who seventy years ago, in 1942, carried through the first American attack on the Japanese islands after Pearl Harbor. It was somewhat of an impossible mission and the real purpose was to boost the American fighting moral, while sending a signal to the Japanese people that fighting will be taken to the Japanese homeland. A number of American fighter planes had taken off from an aircraft carrier and after the attack they continued to China, where those who made it landed.

One of the diplomats who served in the Swedish legation in Japan during the war was Carl-Erik Necker, who was in Osaka on the day of that attack. In the journal Hikari, Vol 3. No 2, 1997, he published a very interesting article (in Swedish) about his life in Japan before and during the war. In it he writes: “”An American aircraft carrier had in the darkness of the night approached Japan and sent a dozen light bombers over several Japanese cities. One of them came to Osaka, I saw it myself from the sixth floor of an office building. It made a daring turn between the buildings, over the river and then disappeared while shooting continuously.”

Mr. Necker and the rest of the Swedish diplomatic personnel was evacuated to Karuizawa in the fall of 1944. His closest neighbour was the famous Japanese poet and novelist Murô Saisei, who later wrote a story about the Swedish family. Immediately after the end of the war on 15 August, the SCAP (Supreme Command Allied Powers) asked the Swedish and the Swiss legations to send diplomats on a mission to the areas around Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to observe the situation for the prisoners of war there. Mr. Necker was the one appointed for the mission on the Swedish side. He writes in his article:

“I was perhaps chosen because I spoke Japanese. On 20 August we all met in Tokyo, were given American ID-cards and free passes for one month on all Japanese railroads. And so, we departed on a special train, the normal traffic had not yet come back to normal. When we woke the day after, the train stood at Hiroshima station. It took an hour or so before the train could continue. In fact, it seemed to us as a great achievement to have any train at all there, only two weeks after the atomic bomb explosion. The station was situated in a rather high place and I had a good view over the city, what little was left of it, that is. Everything looked as if it had been swept away, there were no buildings except the badly damaged observatory, which later was saved as a memorial. I didn’t see much people and the few that moved around were all carrying various forms of bandages.

After a while the train could continue. We stopped at a camp for prisoners of war, consisting of mostly Dutch soldiers. Representing Sweden, at that time the protective power of Netherlands in Japan, I received many greetings to forward to their families in Holland and also to Queen Wilhelmina. We then continued southwards, over the narrow strait separating the main island Honshu from the island Kyushu, and then on to Nagasaki, which was the end point of our journey.  Nagasaki, which was hit by the second atomic bomb was spread over several valleys – in contrast to Hiroshima which was situated on a plain – and this must have contributed to the fact that the damage on buildings was not as big. We visited a camp with American prisoners of war and it was not damaged at all, in spite of the fact that it was more or less just under the very point where the bomb exploded. On the other hand, down by the harbour we could se how the big cranes had been twisted into what looked like giant bundles of yarn.”

When it was time to return to Tokyo they managed to go to a small airfield, where there was still one plane left that could fly. It was commissioned to fly them to the closest American base, near Kagoshima. When they arrived there the base commander said: “ ’Well, boys, now you’ve been really lucky, because we’ve had fighters hanging around here all day, and they have only just gone home.’ It seemed as if the American side still did not judge the situation as stable enough and that there was still a risk of some kind of desperate attack.”

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