- Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Death March of Sandakan : Least we forget!

Death March of Sandakan : Least we forget!

It is a small town, we call as Ranau. There stood the highest mountain in the South East Asia. The Crocker Range is so peaceful, and the birds are singing. Little do we know, that the forest have seen a terrible fate upon 2,500 man of Australia and British descendent. 
Ranau. A green town located near Mount Kinabalu.
It was a very fine evening, when I Decided to explore the stories my self. We drove a white Nissan truck to a Church, near Kg Marakau. I tried asking the Pastor (Father in Catholic Christian) about it, but the Pastor wasn't there. Suddenly, a nice looking middle age woman come and ask what our business going there. We were lucky. The aunty (We call her) hold a key to a mini museum that contain evidence of the tragedy. She then explain to us, everything that she knows about it...

Borneo witnesses one of the greatest tragedy to afflict Australian Prisoner Of War (POW) during the Second World War. This tragic episode happened between the year 1942 until 1943. It started after the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese Empire after the Battle of Singapore which happened from 8 to 15 February 1942. The Japanese Empire with 36,000 personnel fight the British Empire which have a strength of 85,000 standing army. Surprisingly yet, the Japanese won the battle. They kill about 5000 army and captured the rest (80,000). Winston Churchill called this ignominious defeat in Singapore as the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British military history. All of Malaya and Borneo were forced to obey the Japanese rule.
Top: Painter illustration of POW carrying rice.
Middle left: Pasukan pengangkat beras.
Middle right: A POW's dream.
Bottom: Pictures of some of the POW.
About 2,500 Australian and British POW were sent to Sandakan, North Borneo. Nowadays Sandakan is a city in Malaysian state of Sabah. These POW are sent there to construct an airstrip. The first Australians to arrive in Borneo were the B Force. They sailed through the South China Sea in a ship called the Ubi Maru or Hell Ship. We can only imagine, what they would have been through in that journey. There were reports suggesting that these POW may have make contact with American Army in The Philippines.  They then were employed to start building the airfield. At first, conditions were reasonable. After a while, the Japanese start to tighten their control, decreasing food ration to every POW in that camp. Prisoners were made to sign a promise not to escape and the officers were moved to Kuching, in Western Borneo. 

The arrival of The Formosan guard in mid-1943 deteriorate the condition even more. The Japanese started torturing the prisoners in small cage of which the space in it would not allow the prisoners to even stand up! The Kempaitai also did their job well. These harsh conditions were design to suck these soldiers soul. But these prisoners are fighters, they wont give up so easily. 

The prisoners also made contact to a local Australian doctor who was in charge of the government hospital, and some local people. This way they manage to secretly get medical supply, map and materials to create a radio transmitter. Their gold is to make plans for an uprising in the event of Allied landing. 

On May 1945, the Allied started invading North Borneo. Allied airforce bomb Sandakan Airfield to an extent that the Japanese no longer have the desire to repair it. So they began to move the prisoners away from the coast to Ranau, an area of some 255 Kilometres inland. Most importantly, away from the sea to a mountainy place. This way, the POW chance to be rescued and reunited with the allied force was decreased. The march was divided into three parts. The First March, The Second March and The Final March. 

During the marches, the POW are forced to walk for miles. When the Japanese Soldiers were tired they will stop. And when their energy restored they will continue to march. Each prisoner carried a large bag of rice. Bearing in mind that they were already malnourished and suffer beri beri, as a result of harsh condition in The Sandakan POW Camp. Some of them who were unable to stand up, were dragged into the woods, and when the others hear a loud bang, they knew it was a killing party.

Allied force start regaining position in South East Asia. They recapture the islands of Morotai in September 1943. Morotai is very important because of its position. Morotai's recapture enable Allied bombers to reach northern Borneo. With the invasion of The Philippines, and the capture of Palawan Island (an island located 100 miles of Northern Borneo), allied bombers can build airstrip closer to their target. The allied intensified their air raid. The Japanese were oppressed both from the outside and the inside. Within North Borneo, guerrillas war was making some problems. The Kinabalu Guerrillas were take down by Japanese when they massacred Kwok, Panglima Ali and their members on January 1944.  Finally, on 10 June, 1945 the Australian 9th Division began landing in Labuan and Brunei. The landing preludes to a campaign to retake North Borneo. 

After several months of brave fighting, Japanese Army state their official surrender on September 1945. The surrender was done by Lieutenant General Baba Masao near Layang-Layang beach in Labuan. Baba was arrested later on January 1947 on suspicion of committing war crimes. He then command responsibility for the Sandakan Death March which claimed 2,000 ++ Australian and British life. On June 1947, Baba Masao was sentenced to death. He was executed by hanging on August 1947.

Only 6 of the total 2500 POW survived. It is important to stress that, All of them were the ones who escaped from the Japanese captivity. These survivor, were helped by locals who hide them until the war was over. All six of the survivors are Australians. No British POW survived. Imagine 1494 men died during the march. If the 6 survivors didn't manage to escape that hell, suffice to say that... We wont be able to hear the story today. Not a single word of this tragic history can be found in a Malaysian school curriculum. 

To Australians and British army that had served in the island of Borneo, we would like to express our special thank you. To the locals, who helped them, hide them, you are the bravest thing that ever happened during that period. May the lord bless the all of you and grant you a great life, now and in hereafter. 

Least we forget. 

Special thanks to:
Gereja Sidang Injil Borneo, Kampung Marakau.
And the nice Aunty who gave us a nice lecture about this history of ours.

Brave Australians and British soldier who were killed during the Sandakan Death March.

Japanese Bayonets 
Australian Army Slouch Hat
Picture that can be found in the Mini Museum
Picture that can be found in the Mini Museum
Sairah Binti Mardi, the local who helped the Allies Army 
List of local people who assisted the POW in Ranau
Mr Kaingal, an 18 years old Kadazandusun teenager, who help the escaped POWs.
Interior of the Mini Museum
Part of Labuan, nowadays. 
Board of information that can be found outside the church.
A helmet recovered from Sandakan Airfield

Most people who come here are from Australia, and Europe. 

Letters from the POW, sent to their family 

The spirit of Donald Elliot

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