On Sandakan Memorial Day we remember the fallen heroes of the Australian and British prisoners-of-war (POW) who went through the notorious Death March from Sandakan to Ranau in 1945.
It was 1942 when the Japanese began bringing prisoners to Sandakan, eventually imprisoning 2,700 Australian and British soldiers there, the majority of which were captured during the surrender at Singapore.
The prisoners were transported to Sandakan to build airstrips, where they were malnourished and tortured.
It was shortly after the Japanese decided to move the prisoners to Ranau. The prisoners set forth marching for endless days. They spent sleepless nights covered with leeches and mud, 260 kilometres through the untamed Borneo jungle.
Those who were too weak to keep up with the horrendous journey were either killed or left behind to die.
Only 6 Australian prisoners survived by escaping their captors. They were hidden and kept by the locals who took pity on them.
A memorial service is held on the 15th of August every year at the Sandakan Memorial Park, which was once the site of the prisoners’ camp.
Every year during this date, family and friends travel from afar to Sandakan, to lay wreaths in honour of their loved ones and to commemorate these brave souls. Lest we forget.
The Sandakan War Memorial is a must-visit place for family and history enthusiasts to get a deep insights of Sabah’s history and heritage.
Nestled in a tranquil rainforest garden, the park will guide you on a journey to the past, unfolding the terror and heroism of the soldiers during that time.
This place is a site that would simply be lost to time if not for the efforts of the Australian Department of Veteran’s affairs in collaboration with the people of Sabah.
The Sandakan War Memorial preserves wartime relics and displays some remains from the past including rusting machines, excavator, generator and boiler which still lie in their original positions.
The story behind the excavator, though, is an inspiring one – one day, while the machine was parked near the camp’s power plant waiting to undergo repairs, an Australian prisoner sabotaged it and it never worked since then.
The harrowing stories of the two men who got away into the jungle and the four who escaped from Ranau are told through panels on the walls of the Commemorative Pavilion located within the park.
Had these men not escaped, much of the stories of the Sandakan Death March would have been lost to history.
The Death March was one of the grimmest chapters of the Second World War.
A walk inside the park is an eye-opening documentary of the struggles of the past, and in our opinion, a must for those seeking to learn about Borneo’s history.