Sandakan is located in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo Island. Sandakan has the closest airport to get to the Sepilok Nature Reserve with the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Sandakan is also famous for the World War II Japanese prisoner of war camp where many Australian soldiers lost there lives.
The site of the World War II prisoner of war camp has been converted into gardens which the locals call Australia Park.
There is a small museum within Australia Park which tells the story of the prisoner of war camp with some quotes from the 6 survivors who recount the terrible conditions and treatment received from the Japanese soldiers.
Sepilok Nature Reserve is located only 20 minutes by car from Sandakan airport. A taxi from Sandakan airport to Sepilok will cost around RM45 – 50.
Sandakan Death Marches 1945
During World War II when the Japanese forces captured the great base of Singapore in February 1942 they captured 130,000 Allied prisoners. Many of these were to be used as forced labour to support Japans expanding empire throughout South East Asia.
A group of 2700 were transported to Sandakan on Borneo to build a military airstrip at the site of the present day airport. After 3 years of brutality and deprivations most of them were in very poor health. In May of 1945 about 450 of the fittest were chosen to march to Jessaltan (now Kota Kinabalu) where they were once again to work as “coolie” laborers.
Because of threats of Allied air force activity the march was stopped at Ranau, nestled on the lower slopes of Mt Kinabalu – the highest mountain in South East Asia. Any weak men or stragglers were shot or bayoneted where they lay.
A second group set out in late May then a third in June. Half of the men died on the track and eventually the remainder perished at Ranau. The Sandakan prisoner compound was razed by the Japanese – some say to avoid discovery of the war crimes committed there.
Eventually four Aussie prisoners escaped into the jungle at Ranau where they were aided by the local people – at great risk to their own safety.
Two more Australians slipped away from the march and once again locals fed and guided them till they met up with advancing Australian commandos.
of the 2434 prisoners in Sandakan none survived except those six men. 1878 of the total were Australians. This death toll was the greatest atrocity committed against Australian forces by the Japanese Army – surpassing the numbers killed on the infamous Thai Railway made famous in the movie “Bridge on the River Kwai”. Two Japanese Army captains were executed for the Sandakan war crimes and the others imprisoned
The site of Sandakan P.O.W. camp has been transformed into pleasant gardens as a memorial to the many dead where the story of these terrible events can be studied at a public museum.
Sandakan Memorial Day 15th August commemorating the deaths of Australian soldiers in World War II at Sandakan Memorial Park Sabah.