Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Remembering the prisoners of Sandakan.

Download PDFDownload PDF

The Hon. Danna Vale MP Minister for Veterans' Affairs

Media Release Saturday 29 May 2004



Sandakan Remembrance Day this Saturday, 29 May, serves as a reminder of one of the darkest episodes in Australia’s wartime history, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Danna Vale said today.

Mrs Vale said the annual day of remembrance commemorated more than 2000 Australian and British prisoners of war (PoWs) who died in Borneo working as slave labour and on death marches in the last

months of World War II.

“It is 59 years since about 530 weak, malnourished and sick Australian and British prisoners were marched out of the Sandakan PoW camp on a forced march to Ranau,” Mrs Vale said.

“Most died of illness or starvation, or were killed by their Japanese guards when they grew too weak to carry on. By the time they reached Ranau 26 days later, only 142 Australians and 41 British PoWs were left.”

Those who made it to Ranau found only six other men left alive from a group of 455 prisoners who had been marched from Sandakan four months earlier. Back at Sandakan itself, those who had been too weak to join the marches were killed or left to die.

Only six Australians survived the death marches, all by escaping.

“It took many years for the story of Sandakan to be fully told. The annual Sandakan Remembrance Day is an opportunity to reflect on the suffering endured by these men, and to honour the spirit of the PoWs who put aside their own suffering to ease the passing of their mates.

“I encourage all Australians to take the time to learn the story of Sandakan, so that new generations will understand the courage of those who serve in the defence of our nation - and the price that has been paid for that service,” Mrs Vale said.

Media Contact: Claire Bannon 02 6277 7820 or 0423 781 896