On 15 August 1945, while the world celebrated the end of the Second World War in the Pacific, one of the most tragic chapters of Australian military history was drawing to a close on the island of Borneo.
The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Matt Keogh has travelled to Sandakan in Malaysia to attend commemorative services marking Sandakan Memorial Day, the anniversary of the last prisoner execution at the infamous prison camp, ahead of the liberation of Borneo by Allied forces in August 1945.
“I am honoured to be here at Sandakan to be part of the service recognising the Australian and British prisoners of war (POWs) who suffered and died at the camp, and those who died on the Sandakan to Ranau death marches, as well as the local Sabahans who suffered under the Japanese occupation and risked their lives to help and save Allied POWs,” Minister Keogh said.
“Approximately 2,700 Australian and British POWs, most of whom had been captured at the Fall of Singapore in February 1942, were brought to Sandakan by the imperial Japanese forces in 1942 and 1943. There they were used as labour to construct an airstrip. As the Allied forces advanced in 1945, the POWs were forced to march into the mountains – their destination was the small settlement of Ranau some 260 kilometres west.
“Approximately 2,400 Allied servicemen, including 1,787 Australians and 641 British soldiers died between January and August 1945 at Sandakan POW camp, along the track to Ranau and at Ranau itself.
“By the end of August 1945, just six men survived the marches – all Australians. All had managed to escape, and were helped by local people and hidden from the Japanese forces until the end of the war.”
A day of commemoration and a commemorative service is held in Malaysia each year on 15 August, to honour the memory of those who lost their lives at Sandakan and on the three forced marches to Ranau.
“The bonds of friendship between Malaysia and Australia are strong, and nowhere are they better demonstrated than through the commitment of the local community and the Malaysian Government in recognising this sad chapter in our shared history,” Minister Keogh said.
“Many local Sabahans suffered during the Japanese occupation, and risked their own lives to help and hide Australian POWs who had escaped from the prison camps and the marches. We honour their sacrifice as we honour the POWs who lost their lives here in Borneo.
“Through these annual commemorations, and through the Sandakan Memorial Park here at the site of the former POW camp, we ensure that the sacrifices of all those who died here will always be remembered. Lest We Forget.”
Sandakan Memorial Park is located on part of the POW camp site and commemorates POWs who died on the death marches during the Second World War, as well as the local people who risked their own lives to help the POWs.