Message from the Honourable Deputy Chief Minister / Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Sabah
In 1945 more than 2400 allied prisoners, mainly Australian and British soldiers were interned by the Japanese at the Sandakan prisoners-of-war camp. These prisoners had been sent to the camp, after the fall of Singapore, to construct the military airfield.
In the closing stages of the war 1006 prisoners were moved from this camp to the interior town of Ranau, 260 km away, in three forced marches which have become notoriously known as the "Death March". Many were emaciated and sick from the brutality and harsh treatment by their captors, stricken also with Malaria and dysentery, they were totally unfit for the arduous journey through swamps and jungles. Of the 2400 prisoners only six Australians managed to escape during the march with the help of local people. The others died in the camp, perished along the route or were executed.
The Sandakan Day Memorial Service, initiated by the Sandakan Municipal Council in 2003 commemorates the tragic loss of lives among the prisoners of war and the local civilians who assisted them. Many have lost family members, friends, colleagues and loved ones in the tragedy of the war years, resisting the forced occupation or dying in combat in the cause for freedom. Countless stories remain untold of the personal sacrifices and other related acts of bravery among the civilians and soldiers.
This annual service provides a humble reminder of the courage, endurance and sacrifices of the brave soldiers and civilians and their deaths in the face of great hardship and overwhelming cruelty. With this remembrance we enshrine the memory of these brave and spirited people whose selfless actions have paved the path to peace and freedom which we enjoy today. As we make this annual pilgrimage of remembrance we also ensure that future generation will continue to appreciate the sacrifices of these fallen heroes.
I congratulate the Sandakan Municipal Council and the Organising Committee for their outstanding work and dedication in honouring those who served and sacrificed their lives in the name of peace and freedom.