Sandakan - A History

What Happened at Sandakan?

The year was 1945, the place Sandakan, then the capital of British North Borneo(Sabah) where 2428 PoWs were interned. They numbered 641 British and 1781 Australian military personnel taken during the fall of Singapore. The PoWs were now in their 3rd year of captivity by the Japanese.

They were used as labourers to build a military airstrip in Sandakan. In late 1944 as the Allied Forces won back much of the Pacific, the airstrip itself was destroyed by repeated air operations.

At the beginning of 1945 the Japanese began moving the PoWs, 260 kms west into the mountains to the small settlement of Ranau. After enduring starvation, overwork and beatings, the prisoners were forced on three marches through the jungle and tracks from Sandakan to Ranau.

The losses were tragically high on these gruelling marches between January and June 1945. During the first march from January to March, of the 455 Prisoners of War who set out, over one hundred were lost to either exhaustion or disease. Others were shot or beaten to death. The second march, a ‘more brutal version of the earlier march’ (Laden, Fevered, Starved) from May to June saw similar losses. On 29 May about 530 marchers set out to Ranau, yet only 183 of them reached Ranau on 27 June 1945. There were no survivors at the Wars end, the remainder of the prisoners having died at the Ranau and Sandakan camps.

By the end of August 1945, only the six who had escaped from the death marches had survived – they were all Australians. The two who escaped into the jungle on the second march in June 1945 were helped by locals before being rescued by allied forces. The other four all escaped from Ranau in July 1945 and were also helped by the locals in the area until they too were rescued by allied forces in early August 1945.

The dead PoWs are named on the Honour Roll at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Labuan. Six men survived this most horrific atrocity, just six out the 2428 men. They were:

  • Bombardier Richard (Dick) Braithwaite 2/15 Field Regiment
  • Lance Bombardier William (Bill) Moxham 2/15 Field Regiment
  • Gunner Owen Campbell 2/10 Field Regiment
  • Private Nelson Short 2/18 Infantry Battalion
  • Warrant Officer William (Bill) Hector Sticpewich AASC
  • Private Keith Boterill 2/19 Battalion

The Annual Sandakan Rememberance Service is held each year in Burwood Park. All are welcome to attend. For more information please call the Events Coordinator on 9911 9935.

Sandakan
  • Tue, 23 July 2013
  • Burwood's Sandakan Memorial is one of only siz in Australia and the annuals ervice is a focial point for remembrance...

    Thu, 01 July 2010
  • The Sandakan badge is a tribute to the strength of human spirit demonstrated by all these men. Their determination and courage against impossible conditions and umimaginable treatment...

    Mon, 01 January 2007
  • The death marches of Sandakan remain one of the saddest, darkest moments in Australian history. The tragedy occurred during the closing stages of the Second World War when a besieged Japanese army cut off British and Australian soldiers and, anxious about...

    Mon, 01 January 2007
  • Sandakan Remembered - September 2006. The annual Sandakan Remembrance Service held at Burwood Park pays tribute to this important but overlooked event in Australian Military history...

    Fri, 01 September 2006
  • The year was 1945, the place Sandakan, then the capital of British North Borneo (Sabah) where 2428 Japanese Prisoners of War (POWs) were interned. They numbered 641 British and 1781 Australian military personnel taken during the fall of Singapore. The POWs were now in their 3rd year of captivity by the Japanese. Sandakan Remembrance Service.

    Sun, 06 August 2006
  • In January 1945 the Jaoabese began moving the POW's, 260 kms west into the mountains in what is now known as the "Death Marches". By the end of August 1945 there were only six survivors, who escaped and were eventually rescued by allied forces...

    Tue, 01 August 2006
  • As I began to write my address I was to experience sadness and deep regret. I cameto realise that some 62 years since those brutal events at Sandakan, the tragic storyof 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...

    Sun, 01 January 2006
  • Remembrance Speech by Mr Russ Ewin...

    Sun, 01 January 2006
  • I was here 11 years ago today when Prime Minister Paul Keating unveiled the Memorial to those gallant Australians and British soldiers that died at Sandakan and Ranau. It was a moving address by Paul. I knew personally how deeply he felt. His father’s eldest brother died in Sandakan. I quote some words of his opening comments...

    Sun, 01 August 2004