Dedication at Heroes Grave Kuching

At SANZAC College Memorial
Kota Kinabalu

At Completion of our Service Labuan War Cemetery

Ladies with Candles at Sandakan Memorial Park ANZAC Dawn Service

Visit from Schoolchildren after Dedication at Ranau

Our Group at Entrance to Kundasang War Memorial


by Allan Cresswell

Our tour commenced on Friday April 11 th 2003 and concluded twelve days later on Tuesday April 29 th 2003. A total of fourteen persons were on our tour and the Borneo POW Relatives Group was represented by Anita Willmott, Ryan Rowland, Tricia Rowland, Jean Cresswell and Allan Cresswell. The tour was arranged and managed by Ryan Rowland. Others from our Borneo POW Relatives Group traveled with Lynette Silver’s party. Carmel McLean, the Boyup Brook Award winner, and her mother - Bridget, also traveled with us. Four Victorians, Bruce, Beverley, Jan and Allan made the pilgrimage whilst Anita’s niece - Rachel, Mrs Margaret Hubery and her adult daughter, Elizabeth, completed our group.

The tour had many moving experiences, some affecting us all as a group, and others were very individual, personal and spontaneous. Our Victorian friends made their closure at the Dawn Service and at Labuan whilst Anita made hers in Paginatan, at the remains of a Camp Store. Jean was moved by the Sandakan Dawn Service and felt the spirits of the Sandakan soldiers within the confines of Sandakan Memorial Park. She also felt very moved by meeting Mr Alban Lagan at the reception in Sandakan. He is the son of the late Detective Ernesto Lagan who was of Filipino descent. Detective Lagan assisted so many of the POW’s, including Jean’s Uncle Don, in escape plans and as a general courier and informant. He was also heavily involved in assisting Sergeant Wallace in his attempt to escape and the subsequent successful escape of the six from Berhala Island, together with Wallace. He was executed at Kuching after being convicted for being part of the so-called ‘Sandakan Incident’.

It was also a great pleasure to meet Robert Chan at that reception. Robert is the son of Chan Hang Kim and the grandson of Chan Tian Joo who were also imprisoned by the Japanese for assisting the POW’s. Chan Tian Joo gave considerable financial help to Dr Taylor’s POW support network and assisted the POW’s with food, supplies and news. He also supplied food for the Berhala Island escapees via Dr Taylor and Sergeant Koram. After the war Mr Chan received recognition from Australian Minister for the Army who commended him for his assistance to the Australian soldiers and it culminated in 1953 when he received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) from George the Sixth, King of England.

For me there were many highlights during our trip. We received a wonderful welcome at Sanzac College in Kota Kinabalu by the children, teachers and parents. The atmosphere and display of genuine enthusiasm and friendship towards us Australians was something very special indeed. A parade followed by speeches and a formal reception left us all stunned and I even saw a few tears amongst our group. We were treated like royalty. All this on a Sunday and so much preparation by all those involved, and we were only three days into our pilgrimage. And more tears to come later!

The Anzac Day Dawn Service held at the Sandakan Memorial Park was so very moving. Walking together in pitch darkness through the park up to the memorial was such a strange and almost overwhelming experience. We were not alone! Jean said quietly to me, "Can you sense the soldiers here?" I could, and others in our group were experiencing the same feelings. Later during daylight when Jean and I went for a walk around the park we again experienced this same overpowering experience. We then realised that were walking though the POW cemetery.

Another special highlight for me occurred on Anzac Day at the Ranau Memorial, the spot where Gunner Albert Cleary was chained to a stake, beaten and starved until he died. At the conclusion of our dedication there was a spontaneous approach and welcoming by schoolgirls from the nearby school. These girls gathered around Carmel in excitement at meeting an Australian of their own age group. At the same time there was my tall Jean being hugged by the tiniest teacher you could ever see. She then clung onto Jean’s left arm with both her hands and just wouldn’t let go. She was still doing so when I took the photo shown on the left. True fellowship by strangers, recognizing and respecting us as Australians and thanking us for travelling to their country on this very special day. Thanking us also for our soldier relatives who gave their lives at Sandakan, on the marches towards Ranau and at Ranau itself.

The tour was a terrific success and went without a hitch. Although we caught a total of seven planes, not one piece of luggage was lost throughout the trip. This tour will forever remain in our hearts as a successful pilgrimage, a wonderful adventure and where we were fortunate to make many new friends. Photographs of some of the highlights are displayed on this page.

To read a detailed account of this 2003 tour (my diary) and to view many more photographs please click on:        Diary of our 2003 Trip to Borneo