Message from His Excellency Boyd McCleary: British High Commissioner to Malaysia
The War in the Pacific is well documented. The sacrifices made by soldiers, sailors and airmen of all races and creeds, who gave their lives across the region are commemorated each year at services in Kuala Lumpur and Labuan on Remembrance Sunday on or around 11 November each year. ANZAC Day services, especially here in Sandakan, keep alive the memory of the Australian and New Zealand actions both in the defence of Malaya and the recapture of Borneo. However, it is to the less well documented atrocity that befell our servicemen following the fall of Singapore that we turn our minds today. I am very grateful to the Sandakan Municipal Council together with Prof. Dick Braithwaite, son of the late Dick Braithwaite (1 of the 6 survivors of Death March) for the vision that led to this dedicated ceremony of commemoration.
After the fall of Singapore many thousands of British and Australian PoWs were sent to camps in Borneo, mainly in Sandakan, where they were employed on airfield construction. In October 1943 after most of the officers were moved to Kuching conditions at Sandakan worsened; the men were starved, beaten and overworked. Fearing an Allied landing at Sandakan in May 1945 the Japanese marched all the prisoners who could stand to Ranau, over 160 miles away. Only 6 of 2,434 who had been at Sandakan before the death marches began survived. Of those remaining at the Sandakan camp prior to the death marches 641 were British.
Those who are now able to follow the death route, or even parts of it, cannot fail to be moved by the enormity of the task imposed upon the starved and sick men, whose dignity had been toppled but whose inner strength, resilience and comradeship remained until the very end. We shall remember them.