Wednesday, July 15

Hell On Earth – a tale of cruelty, bravery amid the Death Marches

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‘Hell On Earth’ book

SANDAKAN: The book ‘Hell On Earth’, written by Michele Cunningham, was launched during the Sandakan Day welcoming dinner hosted by the Sabah Tourism Board at Sandakan Municipal Council president Datuk Ir. James Wong’s residence here Wednesday night.

The book tells the heartrending story of an Australian who suffered brutal imprisonment in a Japanese POW (prisoner of war) camp in Sandakan, the very name of which has come to symbolise cruelty and ill-treatment.

In the middle of 1942, after the fall of Singapore, almost 3,000 Allied prisoners of war from Changi to Sandakan were seized by the Japanese and out of all them, 2,500 men had lost their lives.

These unfortunate prisoners lost their lives in Sandakan and Kuching on the infamous death marches. Whether from sickness, starvation, torture, appalling violence, or at the hands of their guards, all the while as they were forced to keep moving along a seemingly never-ending track.

Only six Australians survived the death marches, out of a thousand who left, and one of them was Michele Cunningham’s father, who had survived the death marches in both Sandakan and Kuching.

Through the mateship and common bond of the survivors, Michelle gained access to their stories and, through her book, she gives an account of their courage – of the men who refused to break no matter how harsh they were treated; and of the brave men who didn’t make it.

It is a story of the depths to which the Japanese had sank. ‘Hell on Earth’ is a remarkable story of bravery, brutality, camaraderie and survival.

The ceremony was attended by Special Tasks Minister Datuk Teo Chee Kang, who represented the Chief Minister of Sabah, Australian High Commissioner Miles Kupa, British Deputy High Commissioner Ray Kyles, Tourism, Culture and Environment Assistant Minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming, Sabah Tourism Board chairman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai, Burwood Council deputy mayor Ernest Wong, Boyup Brook Council, Western Australia Shire President Micheal Giles, Sandakan Municipal Council president Datuk Ir. James Wong, local leaders and family members of the POWs.