A VETERAN'S REMINISCENCE
(John Pope, Australian Representative)
My name is John Pope and I am from Melbourne, Australia.
I am honoured to be here today and would like to thank the Sandakan Memorial day committee for giving me the opportunity to speak about my family's experience of the horrific years of World War 2.
Few people realise the first shots of the Pacific War were fired at Kota Bharu, Malaya and not Pearl Harbour as Hollywood would have us believe. That was late on the evening of 7th December 1941 over an hour before that well known surprise attack on the other side of the International Date Line.
Hudson Bombers from the Royal Australian Airforce No.1 Squadron based at Kota Bharu attacked the approaching enemy Naval force which they had been observing for 2 days.
Just a hand full of men against an invasion force estimated at 23,000, supported by wave after wave of the soon-to-be dreaded Zeros.
The RAAF bombers fought valiantly, with little fighter support. Flying through heavy anti-aircraft fire they sunk at least one of the approaching ships and more than twenty landing-craft plus direct hits on other naval vessels. Two Hudsons were lost, a third severely damaged, and most of the rest were badly shot-up, but that first landing attempt was turned back.
My uncle, Warrant Officer John Kinder was based there at Kota Bharu. His plane was shot down into the sea in the first four days of the war. He was rescued and transferred to a Singapore hospital for treatment to burns on his feet and other complications. John was discharged from the hospital only hours before Singapore fell, taking up arms with an army reserve force. As a champion boxer he was certainly not afraid of a fight.
This was just the beginning of almost four long years of pain and anguish for both John and his loved ones back home in Australia.
I became interested in the events of these horrific years when I found a box of old letters and newspaper cuttings handed down from my grandmother and my mother.
They told the harrowing tale of my grief stricken widowed grandmother and her daughter desperately searching for news of their much loved only son and brother listed as "missing" by the RAAF after the fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942.
On 20th June 1942, when POW's were allowed to send a brief card home, John wrote from Singapore: "I am now a prisoner of war, have fully recovered, and am now in the best of health; be brave and all will be well." (refer Card No. 1)
Some time later this small pre-printed card was sent from here in Sandakan. (refer Card No. 2)
These cards took over 12 months to be delivered via the Red Cross.
After John's arrival here at Sandakan in July 1942, he was given a position of trust in keeping account of food rations at the canteen - a task which earned him a great deal of respect.
John left Sandakan in February 1945 on the first death march. He was left in charge of four groups of prisoners, who were held at the village of Paginatan for six weeks. Dysentery broke out and terrible atrocities took place there. By the time they left for Ranau, 26 miles away only 50 or 60 men were left alive. The men were so weak and ill that, even though they were beaten by the guards to speed up the pace, the journey took five days. John was one of the forty to arrive at Ranau.
Survivor Bill Moxham later recalled:
"John was a man Australia could not afford to lose, on record of the never ending way he fought for his men on that march."
Back in Australia on this 15th day of August 1945 there were celebrations.... The war was over.... At last the boys would be coming home.... There was no news of John, but at last there was hope!
My older sisters recall being dressed in their Sunday best and taken to greet the troop ships returning home.... But still there was no sign of John.
A letter dated the 13th December 1945 finally shattered my grandmother's life.
"It is with deep regret that I have to inform you that your son Warrant Officer John William Kinder, died of illness at Ranau, Borneo, on the 10th June 1945."
On that June day as the final signs of life drained from his fevered, starved body, I hope that in his heart he knew that soldiers from the Australian 9th Battalion were storming ashore at Labuan to begin the liberation of Borneo. John's work was done, and nobly so.
I would like to share some of the tributes to John from the letters sent to the family.
From a Warrant Officer Engineer in John's Squadron :-
"During the battles, John Kinder was an inspiration to everybody. He led the men everywhere and was without nerve. John has been or certainly should have been recommended for absolute bravery in the face of the enemy."
And these words of comfort from Padre Adam wlio was with John in Malaya and Singapore.
"John Kindefs name is always cropping up wherever I go and in mess after mess the tales of his heroic bravery at Kota Bharu are still spoken. Always his name is mentioned with that true affection and respect that is the right of a great man."
The Padre had earlier written:
"We are very proud of your son John, he has been splendid and has done a really grand job-the story of which some day will be told."
We/I today, I am proud to have had the opportunity to finally tell that story and pay tribute to a man I have never met, but have long admired.
Warrant Officer John Kinder.... Lest We Forget.