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The Death March of Borneo Lest We Forget

Updated on April 25, 2011
Anzac Day Marches are held throughout the country. This one is from Wagga Wagga.
Anzac Day Marches are held throughout the country. This one is from Wagga Wagga. | Source

The 25 of April is Anzac Day in Australia. On this day the nation pays tribute to the soldiers who fought for the freedom, justice and peace we enjoy as Australians. Many of these men and women paid the ultimate sacrifice in their fight for our country.

Australia is a great country and the national anthem Advance Australia Fair extolls the great Australian ideal of a fair go for all:

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history’s page, let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.

In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We’ll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.

In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

This song is always sung on Anzac Day. Before it became the national anthem "God Save the Queen" (and King before that) was the official Australian patriotic song but I digress.

On Anzac Day, official ceremonies often relate the story of The Death March of Borneo.

What happened in Borneo? Lest We Foget.

It was the second world war and the Japanese had captured about 2,400 Australian and Allied troops and about 3,600 Indonesion civilians. These POWs were sent from Singapore (where they were captured) to Borneo to construct an airstrip and a Prison of War camp was set up to accomplish this.

The Airstrip was finally finished but with dwindling rice rations, sickness, tropical ulcers that were so deep that you could see shin bones, only 1.900 of the prisoners survived. And these remaining prisoners were to face a cruel and terrible fate.

The Allied forces bombed the Japanese aristrip, eventually destroying what had been built by their own mistreated troops. As a result of the bombing, the Japanese commander Captain Hoshijima Susumu made the decision to march the remaining POWs - weak and beleaguered - 260 miles west through the jungle from Sandakan to Ranau in Borneo. This was the first of a total of 3 Marches from January to August and some Australians including high school students sometimes follow the track of this march in remembrance and to get some sense of what our soldiers endured in Borneo.

The original POWs of WW2 were in extremely bad shape. It was said this was a march of men so undernourished they were like skeletons. Some had dsyentry,berri berri and some tropical diseases so bad that their legs were swollen and looked like sausages.

Those who could not keep up because of exhaustion were either shot or left to die.

Lest We Forget how these soldiers suffered.

It is often mentioned on Anzac Day, that the second and third marches which occurred in MAY and August happened after the war had been declared over. The Germans surrendered in April and the Japanese on Aug 14.

However, though the war was officially over, the terrible irony is that the soldiers left in Ranau were massacred despite this.

Of 2,400 Australians only 6 survived. They managed to escape into the jungle and were taken in by the Borneo locals who hid them from the Japanese.

Of these 6 only 3 survived the lingering effects of their ordeals to testify at the war trials held after the war.

Lest We Forget.

Related Links

This video is a threnody or Mourning Play of Sandakan


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    • profile image
      Author 6 years ago is horrible to think anyone could be treated this way...lest we forget. Thank-you Mary Ann.

    • profile image

      THAT Mary Ann 6 years ago

      An important reminder that war is horrible and it brings out the worst in all who particpate in the violence. Thank you for this post.