During the Second World War, Australian and
British prisoners of war were imprisoned at Sandakan by the Japanese
army. The first prisoners arrived from Singapore to build a military
airstrip in July 1942 and by mid 1943 over 1800 Australians and 750
British were at work.
Harsh living and working conditions existed. The Japanese and Formosan
guards became increasingly hard and prisoner deaths increased through
1943 and 1944. The local people tried to help the defenceless prisoners,
often defying the death threats of the Japanese.
By 1945 the Japanese feared that the allies would invade east Borneo,
consequently 1066 surviving prisoners were moved, in a series of futile
marches, 265km to the west. The 290 hospitalised prisoners left behind
at Sandakan all died.
Over 1000 prisoners died on either the marches or at Ranau camp.
Incredibly six of the starving and emaciated prisoners escaped to
survive and reveal the story of this tragic episode of the war.
Only these six came home from the 2500 prisoners at Sandakan.