Two nuclear weapons were detonated over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945. ‘I Saw the World End’ is a response to those precise moments of destruction from both a British and Japanese perspective.

Created by contemporary artist Es Devlin, working in collaboration with her long-term studio colleague Machiko Weston, this digital artwork has been specially commissioned by IWM.

I Saw The World End

Content warning: the following audio contains graphic language and first-hand accounts so discretion is advised.

Content warning: the following audio contains graphic language and first-hand accounts so discretion is advised.

“A source of power so potent that a man might carry in his hand the energy to light a city for a year. My surroundings turned blindingly white, like a million camera flashes going off at once. Then, pitch darkness. 

Every scrap of solid matter in the world would become an available reservoir of concentrated force.

It would mean a change in human conditions that I can only compare to the discovery of fire, that first discovery that lifted man above the brute.


Early on a dismal, grey London morning in September 1933, as I waited at a traffic light on Southampton Row, the answer came to me in a flash. At 11:02am, the sky turned bright white. My siblings and I were knocked off our feet and violently slammed back into the bomb shelter. We had no idea what had happened.


I saw a young mother running with a headless baby on her back. I saw someone else with his belly ripped open and intestines spilling out. Knowing what it would mean - and I knew because I had read HG Wells. I did not want this patent to become public.


It may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction by which vast amounts of power would be generated.


There was a feeling of great urgency, at the outset. We felt as if the fate of the world was in our hands. Still, to this day, my sister's voices haunt me. I’ll feel guilty as long as I live. I will never be happy.


Blood was pouring out of my flesh. I know it sounds strange, but I felt absolutely no pain. I even forgot to cry.

Uncle Wills does hate Chinese and Japs. So do I.


As a first-hand witness to this atrocity, my only desire is to live a full life.

It is race prejudice, I guess. Hopefully in a world where people are kind to each other, and to themselves. When you have to deal with the beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true.

I pray that this message resonates with young people all over the globe. Please excuse my handwriting.


Silence reigned on the desert. And then out of the bowels of the earth there shot into the sky the herald of another dawn, suddenly it burst into a ball of blinding light that filled my surroundings.


Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds. If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the mighty one. 

‘I’m going to die,’ I thought.


The problem which is posed by the release of atomic energy is a problem of the ability of the human race to govern itself without war.

Dear young people who have never experienced war. Wars begin covertly. If you sense it coming, it may be too late.

All I want to do is forget...all I can do is pray... earnestly, relentlessly - for world peace.

The history of mankind is the history of the attainment of external power. Man is the tool-using, fire-making animal.

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. Then there was a big sound a second or two later and everything went dark. 

The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our modes of thinking.


We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive. Even after the appearance of cherry blossoms in Hiroshima, survivors retained the feeling that they had come close to experiencing the end of the world.

I call them apocalyptic twins because these two threats, climate change and nuclear arms, can destroy the human species.


The climate damage that threatens our whole civilisation. In a dark time, the eye begins to see.

From the first they had to see the round globe as one problem.


Survivors have a special form of witness…what they know, what they've learned is the capacity of our technology, our weaponry to destroy our entire species and much of the planet.

And after seeing the flash, I had a sensation of floating in the air. All the buildings were flattened by the blasts and falling. And, obviously, the building I was in was falling, and my body was falling together with it. That’s the end of my recollection.” 

Voices of War

Photograph depicting the aftermath of the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima.
© IWM MH 29447

‘I went up to the hillside and took a panorama view of the city and found the whole city on fire.’  Kiyoshi Tanimoto, Japanese Methodist minister.

Listen to first-hand testimonies from the perspectives of those who witnessed what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. 

Listen to Voices of War: Hiroshima >

Listen to Voices of War: Nagasaki >

‘I Saw the World End’ created by Es Devlin and Machiko Weston, and Voices of War form part of an IWM programme to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Victory 75 invites reflection on the momentous events that led to the culmination of the conflict and questions the fundamental concept of “victory” when it comes to war. Find out more