Message From H. E. Mr. James Wise, Australian High Commissioner To Malaysia
In 2006, we commemorate the 61st anniversary of the end of World War II, and remember one of the most tragic chapters on Australia's wartime history.
The fall of Malaya and Singapore to the Japanese, and the consequent surrender and capture of Allied personnel resulted in thousands being placed in concentration camps throughout South East Asia. Changi, in Singapore, and the many camps along the Thai-Burma railway including Hell Fire Pass, in Thailand, are well known. The camps in Borneo have been less well known.
Prisoners began arriving in Sandakan in July 1942. At first many thought well of the place. "From the sea it's lovely.... here's some beautiful, peaceful land...." Initially the prisoners were forced to build the airfield, but as the war increasingly turned against the Japanese, the treatment by their captors worsened. Inadequate food, lack of medical supplies, a harsh jungle climate, and brutality gradually reduced the prisoners to skin and bone. Many died. Worse was to come.
In January 1945 there were 2428 Australian and British prisoners alive at the Sandakan camp. The war was drawing to a close, yet Australian and British POWs were forced to undertake three gruelling marches from Sandakan to Ranau, near the foot of Mt. Kinabalu, a distance of about 260 kilometres. Many were too sick to undertake the march and remained at Sandakan they did not survive. Many more (—500) collapsed on the marches, they were killed by their guards or died by the roadside where they fell. The remainder reached Ranau, only to be taken into the jungle and killed by their captors.
Six Australians survived. These few had managed to escape into the surrounding jungle where they were assisted and hidden by local people who, over three years in Sandakan and en route to Ranau, took enormous risks to help the prisoners. Sixty-one years later, it is important that we remember the sacrifice of those POWs and the kindness and courage of Sabahans who suffered with them and for them.
Lest we forget.
H. E. Mr. James Wise