RUSTY PRIEST AM
ADDRESS AT THE SANDAKAN MEMORIAL IN BURWOOD PARK
SUNDAY 6 AUGUST 2006 AT 11:00 A.M.
Cr. David Weiley – Chairman Sandakan Community Education Committee
Mr John Murphy MP -Federal Member For Lowe and Committee Patron
Mayor John Faker – Burwood Council
Mayor Angelo Tsirekas City Of Canada Bay Council - Represented by Cr. Neil
Mayor Rae Jones – Ashfield Council
Mayor Bill Carney – Strathfield Council
Father Joe Camellieri – Officiator
2004 Guest Speaker – Mr David Matthews, son of Captain Lionel Matthews GC MC
Other Distinguished Guests, Friends and Relatives of those who lost loved ones at
Ladies and gentlemen, young men and women of Australia.
I am delighted to be here today and honoured to have been invited to deliver the Remembrance address.
As I began to write my address I was to experience sadness and deep regret. I came to realise that some 62 years since those brutal events at Sandakan, the tragic story of the Sandakan camp and the “infamous death marches from Sandakan to Ranau” (a distance of 150 miles) virtually remains one of the least known and commemorated – wartime atrocities.
It is left to memorials, such as the Australian War Memorial, the memorials in Burwood park and Turramurra in Sydney and the ‘Sandakan family’ (the relatives), by the RSL in Bendigo, Maitland and Tamworth; - in Perth and Adelaide; by the 2/10th Field Regiment and relatives in Brisbane, by people at Boyup Brook in Western Australia, by Sandakan Council in Sandakan, by the curator at Kundasang war memorial in Sabah, by Lynette Silver on Anzac day – at Sandakan and also at Ranau, to commemorate the most appalling event in Australia’s war history.
Of Sandakan’s 2434 Australian and British prisoners of war, only six, who escaped, and survived -– and, because of the cover up by the Japanese authorities, it is only from these six survivors that we came to be told their story of the years of unspeakable depravity and deprivation.
How many Australians are aware that three times more men died at Sandakan and Ranau, and in the jungles between them, than died in the heroic battles on the Kokoda track, at Buna, Gona, Sanananda and Milne Bay in New Guinea. And do they realise that the Sandakan men did not die in battle – they were tortured, massacred or allowed to perish of starvation and disease.
I find this fact most difficult to understand and come to grips with, for we Australians have a long tradition of commemorating gallantry and sacrifice. For example, one only has to look at Anzac day where we focus on the Anzac legend and its heroism – relentless, unflinching and unyielding. No doubt, this was the kind of heroism, which sustained POWs throughout those years of unspeakable depravity, torture, disease and deprivation.
Why then has the story of Sandakan and the death marches of Ranau not received the recognition and honour it so richly deserves?
Is it because there are no living survivors of the death marches to remind us and talk to us?
Or, as I have been reminded on a number of occasions, is it because Japan is now one of our major trading partners and we must not put that in jeopardy?
In 1995, New Zealand author James Mackay, in his book “The Allied Japanese Conspiracy “, wrote of the story of Asia’s ‘forgotten army’ – the allied victims of Japanese war crimes whose experiences have been largely overlooked by the international community in the years since the end of World War II. It contains hitherto unreleased material on the extent of Japanese atrocities and the clearest articulation yet of veterans’ anger and the truth behind Japan’s refusal to acknowledge its alleged crimes.
Mackay examines the reasons why, he believes, the “forgotten people” and their families have been the victims of a conspiracy between the former allied powers and the Japanese government, designed to keep the communists out of South-East Asia.
Mackay begins his dedication thus...........
“Lonely are the shallow graves in many tropic lands
Thousands of victims slaughtered by alien bloodied-hands
Bodies ravaged, disease-ridden or beheaded gallant in adversity, sword
scorned not dreaded…”
And finishes with…
“But only the Japanese – not their victims, were covertly rewarded
Collusion and conspiracy, preventing lawful claims
War crimes absolved, human rights abuses disclaimed
With many war victims deprived and abandoned to fate
Their compensation denied, already for many too late
The emperor again exalted, his country recovered and strong
What price justice for a nation that profited from doing wrong?? “…
To this day there has never been forthcoming an official apology from the Japanese nation or the emperor for the horrors of WWII – why?
Why were the Japanese war crimes not followed through in their entirety, perhaps because the 1952 San Francisco peace treaty left them with a ‘way out’, exoneration from all claims for its wartime atrocities.
When one examines the war crimes trials of nasi Germany then a totally different story emerges; those known to have committed crimes against humanity were pursued with unceasing dedication with a view to making them pay for their conduct.
Later, as a nation, Germany was to apologise for the crimes which were committed against humanity by its forces whether or not, they were military or civil personnel. An apology has never been forthcoming from the Japanese nation, and by that I mean the Japanese parliament and the Emperor. Sure there have been a couple of ‘low key’ personal apologies made which virtually are ignored by the Japanese people.
Why should there be, for their knowledge of the events which took place from 1934 onwards in China, Asia and the pacific is virtually non existent, it is almost like there is a deliberate gap in the Japanese history text books and in particular their education curriculum.
Indeed James Mackay in his book, ‘The Allied Japanese Conspiracy’, noted:
“……….unlike Germany, Japan was less forthcoming about atrocities committed.
After its surrender to the allies, problems of language, alphabet and culture – a most trying and alien factor, along with a reluctance to tell the truth, helped assist the Japanese wilfully to conceal atrocities and violation of human rights that the tribunals had no inkling of. Pursuing this wall of silence and following its return to self-government, the Japanese, unlike the Germans, did not and have not, prosecuted any war criminals since self-rule was restored. Barren indeed was Japan’s contrition for war crimes, or so it would seem sorrow if any, the more likely hypothesis on balance of probability, stemming from a regret that it had lost the war, nothing more……….”
Mackay goes on later to say:
“…….with regard to Japanese war crimes, mention must be made of ‘unit’ 731’ and its diabolical plan to launch chemical and bacteriological warfare against allied forces……..”
“……. Emperor Hirohito was personally aware of it, and interested in, the possibility of a Japanese victory through the use of germ warfare
……..General Shiro Ishii headed unit 731 at Ping Fan south of Harbin in northern Manchuria.
-General Ishii was never prosecuted for the many thousands of victims who perished as human guinea pigs under his command. …”
How then can the younger Japanese people avoid making the same mistakes in the future as did their previous generations, if they are not made aware of it as part of their nation’s history?
Quite recently I was somewhat astounded and apprehensive when I watched a TV documentary on the emergence of a proposal to convert the Japanese self defence force to a standing army.
What made it worse was the knowledge that this proposal was said to be supported by America and some other nations.
It was also disturbing to hear one of the young members of the Japanese self defence force say
“…… We must move on from the past….”
Without no recognition of what they were to move on from and with no acknowledgement of Japan’s shameful acts in the past.
Why am I not surprised by that statement, for they just don’t know of the dreadful POW camps, Sandakan and the death marches, the Burma-Thailand railway, the rape of Nanking and countless other examples?
Just as we can no longer speak with a veteran of WWI to learn of the horrors and sacrifices of that war and must turn to history books, so we must face the inevitable, that in a decade or so, we will probably be unable to talk with WWII veterans and their history will fade into history books.
Already we have lost contact with the survivors of the Sandakan – Ranau death marches.
How then do we face keeping the commemoration of Sandakan and its story of ‘those forgotten heroes’ of the Japanese prison camps?
Perhaps what the prisoners of Sandakan deserve of the future is that each generation asks itself the question – what happened at Sandakan?
Owen Campbell, one of the six death march survivors said on a visit to the camp site in 1995
……….”The Sandakan story has got to be brought into the light. That’s what I reckon. Bring it to their (young people’s) notice and then they’ll start to talk and that will bring it further into the minds of the younger generation that is coming up. That’s the only way I can do it. When you realise it’s got to be told then you don’t mind the personal anguish, as long as it does some good somewhere along the line and opens people’s eyes………”
I believe the only way that their story survives into the future, is through the school curriculum as a part of compulsory Australian history.
It will be a long and hard battle to achieve this aim, but if we are to keep faith with “the forgotten army” then we must succeed.
That old adage “a nation choosing to ignore its history does so at its own peril” is very true.
The words of author Lynette Silver, author of that outstanding book – “ Sandakan – a Conspiracy of Silence “, when delivering the Anzac day address at Sandakan in 2005 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII, remind us why we must continue to honour all those who died at Sandakan, Ranau and on the death marches.
‘Remember, all of you, that when the going became tough, our men never gave up. They may have been forced to surrender their physical bodies to the enemy, but never their will, never their minds and never their souls. Indomitable in spirit, they remained unyielding.
All were heroes.
Lest we forget…………….
Thank you ladies and gentlemen.