SANDAKAN: Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia, Miles Kupa, said the shared history of bravery and tragedy in Sandakan and Ranau, and the interactions between the people, are the foundation of the warm personal links between Australians and Sabahans, and between the peoples of Australia and Malaysia.
He said that those bonds between our people and nations, would forever be strengthened by this shared history and common story.
“The story of Sandakan is one of the most tragic and important in Australia’s World War II engagement.
“It is a story that remained neglected for too long, but the story is becoming increasingly prominent in Australia’s consciousness,” said Kupa at the Sandakan Day Memorial Service yesterday.
He said the Australian Governor-General, Quentin Bryce AC, spoke here at last year’s Sandakan Day, and it was another important step towards ensuring the terrible events in Sandakan occupy a crucial and important place in Australian history.
“Two thousand and seven hundred Australian and British prisoners of war were taken to Sandakan. The conditions were appalling. The prisoners were beaten and fed meager rations of rice. :They became ill and malnourished and nearly everyone died when the death marches to Ranau began in 1945,” said Kupa.
Of the 1,060 men who originally set out on the marches, only six survived – two men escaped into the jungle during the marches, and four survived after arriving at Ranau.
For the six Australians who survived, Sabahans provided them with food, shelter and safety.
“We must also acknowledge the bravery and selflessness of the local Sandakan population, and the people of Sabah more generally. During the occupation of North Borneo, 28 local community leaders were murdered, 16 per cent of the community were killed, and their land, homes and resources were decimated. For these local people who risked their own lives to help the Australians, and for that, we
will be forever grateful,” he added.
Meanwhile, acting British High Commissioner Ray Kyles said that we must thank the six Australians that survived that we were able to convey to the world the terrible suffering about the Sandakan story.
He said that the Sandakan story must be told so that people do not forget the bravery of the fallen, of what they endured and of their commitment to service which transcended self-interest to the point of self-sacrifice.
“The Sandakan story must also be told to ensure the families that the sacrifice made was not in vain.
“Their families deserve nothing less, and it is appropriate to have with us today some who lived through those terrible times and others whose relatives died here or close by.
“The story must be told to pay tribute and show our great sense of admiration for the extraordinary courage of the local people who risked their lives in order to help the British and Australian servicemen. Today we remember them too. Lest we forget,” added Kyles.