Mary Aird Bath in Kuala Lumpur


by Mary Aird Bath

My second visit to Sabah would certainly be one to remember. It was twelve months exactly to the day since we found this tropical paradise. However this time we were on a mission.

I was asked by Jack Wong Sue to promote his book Blood on Borneo; a book about the forgotten heroes of Sandakan, of whom there were only six who escaped and lived to tell the tale.

The Federal Parliamentarian Hon Graham Edwards, member for Cowan, asked me to raise the Australian flag at the resting place of all the fallen heroes in Labuan. This I did and I diligently, respectfully and humbly raised the flag to the blue skies above. As a mother of three sons it was the least I could do for the Mothers of the fallen but not forgotten diggers of the last world war.

There was also a request from a local lady in Padbury to see if I could find the resting place of her uncle, David Annand, her Dads brother. He left behind a wife and two children, and no doubt a Mother. This family are awaiting the outcome of my very traumatic and at times challenging research, which I hope will bring peace to the Annand family in Campsie NSW.

To do all these duties we travelled far and around the state of Borneo. Labuan is a beautiful little island off the coast of Sabah, accessed only by ship or plane. We sailed across and down the South China Sea and returned at night by plane.

The following week we hired a car and drove to Sandakan, about seven hours over roads that are not fit for cattle. Apart from that the locals do not seem to have any road knowledge, stop signs etc are for city folks! Passing the beautiful mountain of Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South East Asia, made it all worthwhile. Still it was all very nerve wracking, as much as the people are doing their best to update their roads nature itself stands in their way. The tropical rainfalls bring down landslides that hamper their efforts daily. It is another world; one has to experience it to write about it.

Sandakan had not changed since our last visit, steamy hot yet a beauty only a free thinking person could see. The tourists come from far away Singapore, some seeking the truths from the past. There were Americans but their destination or highlight of their trip was to visit the Orang-outangs. That was also our initial drawcard to this very isolated part of the world, however it lead me down many paths and opened my eyes and heart to the abyss of a very sad part of Australian history.

The fetid virgin jungle was a very uninhabitable place for an internment camp that held nearly eighteen hundred Australians, many of whom were young and yet to live an adult life. They had no chance to grow old and weary sit on a veranda and watch the sun go down. The enemy brought them from Singapore to build an airstrip. Their spirits of bravado helped them to sabotage their so called contribution to the invading forces, but sometimes at great expense. You would have to read Blood on Borneo, the book bears witness to the truth and author Jack Sue saw the events.

Sandakan overlooks the Sulu Sea, not too far on lies the Philippines. I was not sorry to leave this now very spectacular yet sad place behind. We travelled back to Sabah with our hearts full, but we still had one more place to visit. Ranau. There is one of the saddest places on earth. It has many commemorative stones and plaques recalling the bravery of Australian diggers.
Lest we forget.