(AWM 041485)
Private Keith BOTTERILL
NX42191 2/19 Battalion

Escaped from Ranau in July 1945



Being duly sworn, gives the following evidence:

By Keith BOTTERILL (One of the six survivors)

I was taken prisoner on 15 February 1942 at Singapore and was confined in Changi.

In June 1942 I left Changi for Borneo on the "Ubi Maru" with "B" Force. We disembarked at Sandakan and remained in the camp there until February 1945. Most of the officers had left during 1943 but Capt. Cook, Capt. Easlop, Lieut. Goode, Padre Greenwood and Padre Donevan were left with us.

The food at Sandakan was comparatively good until about Christmas 1943, when it began to deteriorate. For Christmas dinner 1944, which was perhaps our best meal, we had half an M & V tin of corn and rice with dried fish mixed with it and pork soup. As a rule, we received boiled tapioca, a small tin of rice and about three‑quarters of an M.& V. tin of stew made out of greens, and a small quantity of tapioca. We used to receive a rice biscuit for breakfast while for dinner we had a mixture of watery rice. I was six stone when I was picked up, my weight when I was captured being about 9 stone 6lbs. The food at the camp was not sufficient to keep us in good health and some of the men died of starvation. At the end we were receiving only 75 grams of rice per day.

While at Sandakan we were working on the aerodrome and also building a few roads round the camp and leading to the aerodrome; we were also doing gardening work and wood‑chopping. Tropical Ulcers were very troublesome and men were dying at the rate of seven a day from malaria. There were no medical supplies to treat the sick. When I left Sandakan about 400 men had died and when the last party left about 700 had died of the 1900 originally in the camp.

I was confined in the cage at Sandakan for 40 days and 40 nights, during which time I was bashed every day. I was not allowed to have a wash or a shave all the time I was imprisoned and was seven days without food. On another occasion I was locked up in the cage for twelve days for breaking away from the aerodrome to get tapioca roots; I was caught coming back by the Koreans. On the occasion of my first imprisonment, I had broken into the Q. M. store for food for the sick. After the 40 days were up I had scabies all over my hand. I had no clothes at all except a lap‑lap. Each morning those in the cage were taken and given what the Japanese called "P.T." This consisted of a severe bashing. Men had to be carried back into the cage crying; some collapsed but a bucket of water was thrown over them to bring them too again. At the time I was in the cage, there were 17 others confined. The cage was about nine feet by 18 feet and we could not all lay down together; when we lay on our sides close together, four still had to sit up.

About five Australians were sentenced to imprisonment in the cage for the duration. Capt. Cook requested that these men be given this punishment and I used to see them sometimes three or four times a day in the cage. They had a blanket each as some of the prisoners were dying and it was felt that all would suffer the same fate unless they were given blankets. The cage in which the five were imprisoned was about twenty feet long and ten feet wide and was situated beside the Japanese guardhouse. Altogether there were three cages at the camp and as they were only about five feet high the prisoners were unable to stand upright. Pte. Annear, Pte. Anderson and Sgt. Bancroft were sentenced to be imprisoned for the duration and these three died after about three months. During 1944, Annear and Anderson served more time in the cage than out of it; they were in for twenty days, during which time I was in with them, then they were in for 44 days and subsequently they were in again for six weeks. They had scarcely come out than they were back for the duration. They had been accused of breaking into the Q.M. store for food to give to the sick. They had given food to Pte.Bretts, who would have died had it not been for their assistance; subsequently he did die. He was suffering at the time from dysentery and malaria.

Some of the prisoners who were bashed were in a very weak condition and sick. The sick men were actually beaten more than the others because the Japanese hated them and considered them to be a nuisance. Men were belted with sticks and rifle butts; if they fell down on the ground they were kicked by the Koreans, who sometimes used to kick them in the testicles. On occasions men were made to stand to attention and they, the Koreans brought up their knees into their testicles. If they collapsed, water was thrown over them until they came too again, when the bashing would continue.

I knew Private Darlington and I was in camp at the time he was beaten up. He was given part of the beating on the aerodrome and I actually saw this myself; he was also beaten again at the cage. At this time men were being beaten for nothing at all; if one man stood up to wipe the sweat from his forehead the guard would come over and line us all up and hit us across the back with long thin canes. Darlington said that if he was ever hit for nothing he would hit back. On this occasion he was hit for nothing and he pushed the guard away. The other guards then all came over and began to bash him; they had him down and continued to kick and beat him. He was also made to kneel down with logs behind his knees. One Japanese named Kata was responsible for this beating and others nicknamed Speedo, the Black Prince, Mad Mick and Coffee King were concerned in the bashing. These men were all Korean guards.

During 1942 the officer in charge of the camp Lieut. Okahara and he was responsible for many beatings. One of the prisoners escaped and as a result Okahara was put in charge of the aerodrome work. In about the middle of 1943, Lieut. (now Capt.) Hoshijima took over control from Okahara and he was responsible for the bashing of two Australians, Young and another, ( Bill Young and Jimmy Brown ) in 1943, He poked his fingers into their eyes and later both died. — Apparently our blokes had thought that we were dead, and by the damage done to our faces, that they blinded us; not so— B.Y.

Nearly all of the guards at the camp ill-treated the prisoners. Amongst those responsible for the beatings were Susuki, Kitamura, Shiashi, Yenai, Capt. Nagai, Lieut. Moritaki, Capt. Hoshijima Fukashina, Adoreau, "Kuclid, "Ducks Arse", "Masturbation", "Georgie", "The Boy Bastard" and "Pimple Face" Takashara was a guard at the camp but he did not ill treat the men so much as the others; there were also two Japanese named Nemora and anther named Watanabe and these guards were reasonable in their treatment.

Moritaki used to do everything in his power to make the prisoners feel unhappy. Fukashima used to force sick men out to work and sometimes even drag them from their beds; he used to bash dozens of men every day on the working parties. As a result of the treatment these men received, many died. Nagai was one of the worst guards and although he would not take part in any of the bashing himself, he made all the other guards carry them out. Sometimes we would be carrying the dead up a steep hill and when some of the men fell and rolled down, Nagai would stand at the bottom laughing and then put the guards on to us.

In February 1945 we were given three day's notice to leave Sandakan at the rate of 50 a day, for Ranau. Altogether there were 850 Australians and 120 English and I was in the third party. When I left two parties had already gone. The Japanese who were with us on the march were a lieutenant, a sergeant‑major, a corporal, a lance‑corporal and about 15 privates; we were made to carry their ammunition and rice as well as our own clothes, blanket, groundsheet and provisions. For three days 40 of us had only six cucumbers between us but generally we had a little bit of rice which was just sufficient to keep us alive. Men dropped out from the march as they became too weak to carry on and they were immediately shot.

I saw four men shot when they fell out and this was done by the Japanese sergeant-major. On one occasion an Australian sergeant could not carry on and fell out. He seemed to go off his head and was grabbing Sgt-Maj. Warrington and begging him to shoot him. The Japanese corporal were bayoneted, by the Japanese, 20 miles from Ranau. They were too weak to carry on and fell out. I saw the bayoneting myself; the men were on the ground at the time. The corporal and myself used to go into the gardens for tapioca which we would cook up and make a decent meal of, so I was one of the fittest men in the camp. On this occasion, of the bayoneting and shooting, Shear was on the ground calling out "Don't shoot me" and putting his hands up, but nevertheless he was shot and left lying on the ground.

Of the 50 who started out from Sandakan in my party, 37 reach Ranau. The trip took us 17 days, as we went straight through, marching every day. The Japanese who came with us were in very good physical condition and had more rations than we did on the march. A couple had malaria but they were left behind at the outposts and came along later, when they felt fit enough. I saw these men coming through six weeks later.

There were many deaths at Ranau, mostly from starvation, dysentery, malaria and beri-beri. Our food consisted of rice and the men continued to lose weight.

The prisoners were frequently beaten. Capt. Nagai, was the Japanese officer in charge of the camp. On one occasion Pte Murray was bayoneted by a Korean guard nicknamed "Duck's Arse" and a medical orderly, who took him out to the cemetery and came back oiling their bayonets.

Four of us, including, Murray, Alley and Crist, were to go to Kuching on another march in 20 days time. The men had to be pretty fit to undertake these marches and as I knew where there was a Japanese rice dump, having been taken down there to get a bag for the cookhouse by one of the Japanese, I told these three other men that I had found the dump of rice and thought there might be some soya beans there as well. At night they went down and took a bag of rice and I broke open a box of biscuits which we also found there. We left no traces of our having interfered with the dump and the Japanese would never have found out but we divided the food into four parts and, although three of us concealed our portions in the jungle, Murray hid his underneath the house. I was giving my part to the sick. The Japanese found a biscuit bag and asked who owned it. I told Murray not to say it was his as he would be killed but at length he did admit having stolen the food and he was tied up outside the guardhouse. I said that I would go up and untie him that night and we would escape. However at about five o'clock that afternoon he was taken away and bayoneted.

Memoria told me that he had been bayoneted and killed. Memoria was a friend of Murray and also of Moxham and he used to bring us rice and give Moxham a bit of news. Bashings at Ranau were an every‑day occurrence. All the Korean guards whose names I have mentioned were concerned in these beatings.

When the second party came down in June, there were only four Australians and two British left; all of the others had either died from illness or been killed. Altogether, 480 prisoners left Sandakan in February 1945 and by June there were only six alive; most of them had died from starvation, malaria and dysentery. The Japanese guards were all in good condition as they had plenty of meat, rice, salt and sugar. A few contracted malaria but none suffered from malnutrition. The six who were left were Moxham, Grist, Sgt. Stacey, two Englishmen (Hodges and Frort) and myself.

In June 1945 a further party of 140 arrived at Ranau from Sandakan. Short was one of those in this party. When they had left Sandakan, there were 600 of them, but the remainder had perished on the march. When I made my escape in July, about 100 of these men were still alive; they were then dying at the rate of about seven a day, mainly from starvation. They were given a small cup of rice water a day with about an inch of rice in the bottom. Plenty of rice was available and the Japanese used to get 800 grams a day themselves; they also used to get tapioca, meat, eggs and sweet potatoes and showed no signs of malnutrition. The clothes of the men who died would be taken from them and the Japanese would trade them with the natives for food for themselves. We used to trade the clothes originally to the Japanese for perhaps a Dixie of rice or a couple of bananas and then they used to get up to 60 bananas for the same articles from the natives. Blankets were also taken and traded with the natives.

We were accommodated in a very small bamboo hut. Tropical ulcers were very bad but there were no medical supplies at all to treat any of the sickness. We had an Australian doctor there for some time who used to trade medical supplies away and would not even look at the men who were dying. Subsequently, he died himself. The medical staff sergeant also died. The Japanese then gave us a considerable amount of medical supplies but we did not know how to use them. About four men endeavored to do what they could with the supplies and gave injections to some of the sick; however, they did not do much good. We were also given a bottle of quinine pills but I discovered that these simply went straight through and had no effect.

Two Australians, Creese and Cleary, attempted to escape from Ranau but were recaptured and tortured. Logs were put under their legs or behind their knees and then the Japanese would tread on them and make them scream out in pain.

These men were also starved and the Japanese put the point of the bayonet between their eyes. Cleary was just about dead when the Japanese sergeant told us to take him into the hut, where he died about ten minutes later. He had a chain around his neck and had no clothes. He was out in the open for two weeks with very little food and was in full view of all the natives who passed. During this time, he went down and down in health. At that time the camp commandant, was Susuki, who was subsequently shot by a Korean, before I made my escape. Another Japanese captain was also shot by the Korean.

Then the Americans came over and machine‑gunned the camp on the 25 of April, an Englishman was killed and a few others wounded.

Memoria told Moxham that we would all be shot if the Australians landed and later, after I had escaped, natives who went up to the camp reported first that there were 20 prisoners left and subsequently only six, all of whom they said were stood up and shot after the war had ended.

On 7 July 1945, Moxham, Anderson, Short and I escaped from Ranau. We wanted to get away before we became too weak. We did not discuss our escape with Capt. Cook because we were afraid he may report us, but we asked a lot of men to come with us. However, they were either too weak or too frightened to come after seeing the treatment that had been meted out to Creese and Cleary. I was in the jungle for six weeks after I escaped. On the first night we were out, we broke into one of the Japanese rice dumps and secured food for our escape.

Anderson died on about 28 July; we had then gone about six miles. We were found by a native who was friendly towards us and built us a hut and brought food for us. Another native used to come and chop wood for us. The Major who picked us up (Major Ripley) paid three of these natives 60 dollars each. After we had made contact with the Australians, we were supplied with medical stores and received food by plane. We were still only ten miles from Ranau in September and then moved right into Ranau and camped about 2 miles from the aerodrome……………

It was fifty years ago, at Ranau in British North Borneo, when “Big” Mick Hodges, a member of “Z special forces” floated down from the sky, and rescued “Skinny” Keith Botterill, one of only six survivors from the PoW Camps at Sandakan.

© 2006, Bill Young. All rights reserved.