After the war is over
LONG AGO IN BORNEO
Being an abbreviated version of the tragedy and horror that the men of both, B and E forces, were subjected to by their captors the Japanese, as told by Lt. Col. H. W. S. Jackson. ‑Lt. Col. Jackson had spent quiet some considerable time, both towards the end of, and after the war, tracing these sad events that he now here relates..........
1. When Singapore capitulated in February 1942, the Japanese found themselves with thousands of P.O.Ws. which they had not anticipated, and which now had to be put to work for the Emperor. Within a few months they had organized the Australian and British P.O.Ws. into various forces who were to perform assigned tasks in many parts of the newly expanded Japanese South East Co‑prosperity Sphere. My talk tonight deals with two of these forces namely "B" Force and "E" Force, who were to provide Australia with a tragedy few people still realize.
2. If you ask the average Australian what was the most tragic chapter in Australian military history they would probably say Gallipoli or the battles on the Somme, in France in World War 1, some may even say the Burma‑Siam railway in World War 2, but in fact the correct answer is the story of the British and Australian P.O.Ws. in North Borneo, July 1942 to September 1945. Out of a total P.O.W. population of 1750 Australians and 750 British, there were but six Australian survivors and no British
3. B. Force numbering 1496 Australians departed Singapore on the 8th. July 1942 and arrived at Sandakan, on the North East coast of Borneo, on the 18th. July 1942. A British force numbering 750 P.O.Ws. arrived in April 1943, and joined "B" Force at the 8 mile P.O.W. camp at Sandakan. Their task there was to build an aerodrome for the Japanese.
4. E. Force comprising 500 Australian P.O.Ws. left Changi on the 28th. March 1943 and arrived at Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, on the west coast of Borneo on the 1st. of April 1943. The force stayed at Kuching for a week and then left for Berhala Island, at the entrance to Sandakan harbor, where it arrived on 15th. April 1943 having stopped at Labaun Island en route for coaling purposes.
5. E. Force had to stage Berhala Island for six weeks whilst further accommodation was prepared for them at the 8 mile camp at Sandakan. During this period a number of P.O.Ws. had made plans to escape, which they did on June 4th. the eve of their transfer to Sandakan on the mainland about 2 miles distant. The escapees were four officers and four other ranks (in two parties) who eventually reached the Philippines where they joined the guerilla forces under Colonel Suarez. Two of the escapees were killed in operations with these forces.
6. With the transfer of "E" Force to the mainland the P.O.W. population was increased to 2750 of whom 2000 were Australian and 750 British. From the time of arrival of "B" Force in July 1942 to the arrival of "E" Force in June 1943 there had been considerable contact between the P.O.Ws. and certain key British and Australian civilians who were allowed by the Japanese to continue their normal occupations in Sandakan town. They were mainly doctors, dentists and managers of local lumber industries and public utilities such as light and power, water etc. The main figure in the camp was the "B" Force intelligence officer, Capt. L.C. Matthews, of 8th. Div. Signals, and his opposite number in Sandakan town was Dr. Taylor, an Australian, who lived in North Borneo for a number of years and was the principal medical officer at Sandakan. Each had a willing band of helpers.
7. The P.O.Ws. had built a radio and prepared news summaries which were passed to Dr, Taylor who reproduced and forwarded copies to the British internees who occupied the camp at Berhala Island before the arrival of "E" Force on 15th. July 43. The P.O.Ws. at 8 mile, were able to make many contacts with local Asiatic whilst the work parties operated on the airfield construction project. In addition P.O.W. wood gathering parties had made contact at the small power plant which supplied the 8 mile camp, who in turn, through the operator, Chan Ping, had contact with his former boss Mr. Mavor, the Scottish manager of the Sandakan Light and Power Company. Mr. Mavor was a close associate of Dr. Taylor.
8. The escapes from Berhala Island and subsequent attempted escapes from the 8 mile camp infuriated the Japanese, and it was not until July 1943 that they became aware that there was considerable contact between the 8 mile camp and civilians in Sandakan town. Parcels containing food, medicines. Money was also being raised in Sandakan town for the purchase of these supplies, and some valuables had been smuggled out of the camp for conversion to supplies and money.
9. When two Indian civilian black market operators found out that one of their associates had harbored an Australian P.O.W. escapee (Sgt. Wallace 2/15 Fd. Regt.) they attempted to blackmail him on the threat of informing the Japanese, which they eventually did. Sgt. Wallace had been harbored in the Sandakan area until he was eventually taken to Berhala Island where he joined three, other ranks, from "E" Force and escaped to the Philippines.
10. The Japanese Kempie‑tai arrested Heng Joo Hing, one of Dr. Taylor’s helpers, on the 17th. July 43, and with their usual efficient torture methods were able to obtain the names of other helpers. Other arrests led to further arrests which continued until September 43. The Japanese searched the 8 mile camp on the 22nd. July 43 and found the radio set and some arms together with maps and an incriminating diary maintained by Lt. Wells of 8 Div. Signals. On the 24th. of July they arrested Capt. Matthews and a number of Australian officers and other ranks. They were taken to the Kempei‑tai HQ. at Tannamerah Road and given the treatment. The Japs soon knew the whole story and considered that they had thwarted a break out from the 8 mile camp and a revolt by Sandakan civilians to coincide.
11. The Japanese now considered that the P.O.Ws. would be easier to control without their officers and on 16th. October 1943 all the officers with the exception of a few doctors, padres and administrative officers were arrested and transferred in the SS Tientsin Maru, to Kuching. The arrested military and civilian underground personnel were also loaded onto the SS Subah and departed for Kuching on 25th. October 1943. The arrested underground personnel numbered 29 P.O.Ws. and internees and 40 Asiatic. All were to face trial at Kuching which was the HQ for Borneo P.O.W. and Internees under the control and command of Col. Suga.
12. The discovery of the underground had another detrimental effect on the life of the P. O. Ws.. Capt. Hoshijima, the commandant, considered that the P.O.Ws. were too fit and capable to participate in any revolt. The initial Japanese scale of 17 ozs. of rice per man per day was immediately reduced to 12 ozs, in June 1944 it was further reduced to 8ozs. and in September 1944 it was 6 ozs. When work ceased on the aerodrome in January 1945 because of allied air strikes there was no further official issue of rice by the Japanese. The P.O.W. allowed themselves 3 ozs. of rice from the reserves they had accumulated in anticipation of the day when the Japanese refused to make further issue, as a result of their policy of no work, no rice.
13. After the officers were transferred to Kuching, the treatment of the aerodrome working parties deteriorated, beatings were frequent and P.O.Ws. were incarcerated in wooden cages for periods of up to three weeks for varying offences, including scrounging for food to augment their meager rice diet.
14. As a result of the trials in Kuching, in February, and March 1944, Captain Matthews and eight loyal Asiatic helpers were executed by firing squad on the 2nd. of March 1944. The other arrested personnel were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment ranging from fifteen years to six months. some of these people died whilst serving their prison sentence.
15. The death rate at the P.O.W. camp increased as the rations decreased. During the period, October 1943 to December 1944 one hundred British soldiers were transferred to Labaun Island where they all eventually died, and also approximately 700 Australian and British P.O.Ws. died at the camp in Sandakan. Which left a balance of approximately 1700 left from the 2500 who were there in 1943.
16. By January 1945 the Allies were closing in on North Borneo, both from the Philippines to the east and the Halmaheres to the south and the Japanese plan to prevent P.O.Ws. from falling into Allied hands was put into effect. The East and west coasts of Borneo were not connected by road at that time and between Jesselton on the West coast and Sandakan over on the East, was 250 miles of the most rugged and impregnable jungle country in the world.
17. Two thirds of the way across North Borneo, eastward from Sandakan lay Ranau, a small community of about 400 hundred people, situated on an elevated plateau 2500 feet above sea level, at the foot of the 13455 foot Mt. Kinabalu, the sacred mountain of the Borneo Dusan People. The Japanese had constructed a small airstrip at Renau, and had constructed a "Rentis" (Jungle Track) with imported Javanese labor, from the end of the 15 mile bitumen road from Sandakan to the Ranau village. From there another track had been formed, pre war, to the end of the road which ran 23 miles from Jesselton to Tuaran.
18. The Sandakan‑Ranau track had been constructed with local native supervisors, particularly Orang Turs (Headman) Kanak of the Dusan people and Kulang of the Orang Sungei (River) people. Their joint dislike of the Japanese caused it to be built over the worst features of the country, ranging from mud sucking swamps to razor backed mountains and through streams and rivers without bridges and with only submerged logs and fallen timber for water crossings. These loyal Asiatic Chiefs thought they were making things difficult for the Japanese but unwittingly they made it even worse for the ill‑fated P.O.Ws. who were so soon to use it and to earn for it, the name of the "Death Track".
19. Allied air raids in the Sandakan area commenced in October 1944 and some prisoners were killed by strafing. Work was finally abandoned on the airfield on 10th. January 1945. On the 13th. January HQ. 37 Jap Army sent a signal to the 5th. mixed regt. in the Sandakan area requesting Capt. Yamamoto to take delivery of 500 P.O.Ws. from Capt Hosijima, the 8 mile commandant and to march them across country to Tuaran, they were to carry ammunition and equipment for Jesselton. Such a transfer also suited the Japanese as it would make it easier for them to evacuate the remainder of the P.O.Ws. from Sandakan, if and when necessary.
20. When Captains Hoshijima and Yamamoto conferred on the proposed plan it was agreed that the P.O.Ws. to be chosen would have to be the fittest men in the compounds. At this stage the average P.O.W. was three stone lighter than he was on his arrival at Sandakan. The P.O.Ws. were to be organized into parties, each of fifty men, and they were to be accompanied by the 1st. Company of the 20th. Independent Machine Gun Battalion.
21. On the 24th. of January 1945 a HQ 37th communication stated that the march was to commence as soon as possible. For some unknown reason, Capt. Hoshijima only provided 455 men, 355 Australian and 120 British. The number of parties was thus reduced to nine. The first party set out on the 26th. 0f January 1945, after having received extra rations. Each P.O.W. carried a 50‑60 pound load in hessian packs, of ammunition or equipment on the chest and rice on their backs. Most of the P.O.Ws. were excited at having been chosen for the march as they thought that they were being transferred to a more hospitable part of the country and away from the air raids and possible invasion battles.
22. Yamamoto had planned to cover the 164 mile journey to Ranau in twelve days but soon realized that to average 13-14 miles per day through such rugged country with weakened men carrying heavy loads was an impossibility. At the end of the first day No 1 party, had traveled only six miles. Parties left daily until 6th. of February 1945 when No 9 party comprising all British men left Sandakan.
23. The first P.O.Ws. began to fall out from the march after four days which was near the Tankual Crossing, on the Maunad River, a rest post about 40 miles from Sandakan and in a portion of the track that was knee deep, in mud. The ones who fell out were kept under guard until the main party had disappeared from view and then they were shot and their bodies thrown into the jungle, at the side of the track. The P.O.Ws. could hear the shots and so knew what would happen if they fell out. P.O.W. "Fall Outs" would give away their personal belongings to their mates when they realized they could no longer continue. Those lucky enough to still possess leather boots would enquire of foot sizes before giving them away and would pass on messages of farewell for their mothers, wives and families.
24. N0.1 Party reached Ranau on the 12th. of February 1945 having lost thirteen of their men en route, a further two died on the day they reached Ranau. No. 2 Party reached Ranau on the the 15th. of February, No. 3 on the 16th., No. 4 on the 18th. and No. 5 on the 19th. Nos 6, 7, 8 and 9 parties reached Paginatan (26 miles west of Ranau) around the 20th. of February, where they rested, the original 195 had been reduced to 160. The 260 P.O.Ws. of parties Nos 1-5 had arrived at Ranau with only 150 survivors. Yamamoto realized that they would never survive the trip to Tuaran, over even more mountainous country that they had already traversed.
25. After a month the 160 men who had reached Paginatan had been reduced to 60 only 30 of whom were fit to continue to Ranau. The death rate at Ranau was equally as high, the strain of the march seemed to cause a rapid deterioration to their health.
26. In March 1945, the Japs began the rice carrying parties between Paginatan and Ranau (a distance of 26 miles) P.O.Ws. and surviving Javanese laborers were required to carry bags of rice weighing between 50 and 60 pounds between these two villages, over severe mountain climbs. The men died rapidly, until 27th. of April, when only 65 remained alive, by the 10th. of May only fifty remained and by the 10th. of June they had been further reduced to 18. When the first P.O.Ws. of the second death march reached Ranau on the 26th. of June 1945 only six P.O.Ws. of the first death march were there to watch their arrival. Five of these were Australians and one was British. The five Australians included Pte. Keith Botterill of the 2/19th. Battalion and L/ Bdr. Bill Moxham 8th. Div. 15th. Artillery, who were later to escape from Ranau and survive the war.
27. When the first death march left Sandakan in January 1945, approximately 1245 men were left behind. In February and March 1945, three hundred and seventeen P.O.Ws. died at the 8 mile camp and a further one hundred and four died in April/May. Allied operations and bombings in the Borneo area in May of 1945 caused instructions to be issued by the 37th. Army HQ that the 8 mile P.O.W. camp was to be closed down, destroyed and the P.O.Ws. transferred to Ranau.
28. Capt Takakuwa relieved Capt. Hoshijima as commandant of the 8 mile camp on the 17th. of May 1945 when less than 900 P.O.Ws. remained alive, approximately 400 of whom were hospital cases. Takekuwa realized that unlike the first death march which comprised the fittest men in the camp, he had little chance of moving all the remaining P.O.Ws. overland to Ranau. He planned to burn down the camp and leave by the 29th. of May 1945. On the 28th. of May 1945 there remained a total of 824 P.O.Ws., and Takakuwa planned that twelve parties would be organized into three groups who would in turn lead the march, leapfrogging until they reached Ranau, Stragglers were to be passed along to the rear group for disposal.
29. On the morning of the 29th. of May 1945, the hospital patients were carried out to the open ground in the No.2 compound and left there in rows, some men actually died whilst being transferred, and were thrown into nearby slit trenches. The huts in Nos.2 and 3 compounds were set alight at 0900 hours. The P.O.Ws. in No. 1 compound were told that their huts would be set alight at 1100 hours, the sick were to be taken to No. 2 compound and all those that were fit to walk were told to be ready at 1700 hours, to move in an hour.
30. The Japs pushed a total of 536 men, 439 Australians and 97 British, outside the camp gates. Many of the men were cripples and using improvised crutches. Because of recent air raids and naval bombardments of Sandakan town, many of the P.O.Ws. rose to their feet, because they thought that the Japanese were going to hand them over to Allied Invading Forces. The second death march commenced at 1900 hours, but when the track from the camp reached the bitumen road, they turned right to the east for Ranau and not left to the west for Sandakan town. This last disappointment was the last straw for many who had made such efforts to get to their feet.
31. They reached the 12 mile peg, a distance of four miles, and each man was given 4 pounds of rice, some were given Japanese officers bed rolls to carry. It was 2300 hours and they were told that the rice was expected to provide rations for four days. The first deaths occurred at the end of the bitumen road, at the 15 mile peg. Several of the men on realizing the impossibility of marching any further, ran into the jungle where they were caught and shot. Others simply sat on the side of the road and a Jap guard came and shot them in the head.
32. By 1100 hours on the 30th. of May 1945, they had traveled only one mile along the death track, where they stopped for a rest and commenced to cook a meal. Four allied bombers caused them to scatter into the jungle at 1400 hours and it was 1730 hours before the march could continue. Seven men, all crippled, were unable to continue and remained behind, they were disposed of by the Japs. This became the pattern for the remainder of the march. The Maunad River, the 49 mile peg, was reached on the 6th. of June 1945, and a further rice ration was issued, to last them for another ten days, to Poto, the 103 mile peg. They had passed a skeleton, propped up against a tree with a moldy Australian hat nearby at the Kolapis track junction, and this was their first sight of any sign connected with the first death march, which had passed through there four months previously.
33. When the P.O.Ws. left the Maunad River, 73 of their comrades were left behind and were massacred at Tankual Crossing, by machine gun fire and rifle fire. On the 7th. of June during an air attack on the track, Gunner Owen Campbell of the 2/10 Field Regt, and four companions escaped northwards, into the jungle, the party split into two. Gunner Campbell staying with Pte.Skinner who was suffering from dysentery, whilst Cpl. Emmett with Sig.Webber and Pte. Austin pushed further up the Sapi River. Pte Skinner who thought he was impeding Campbell, cut his throat with the lid of a stolen fish tin, whilst Campbell was foraging for food. Campbell eventually caught up with the others but both Emmett and Webber were shot dead by a Jap river patrol, who they hailed thinking they were local natives. Austin who was very weak, died on the 21st. of June 1945 and Campbell struggled on until the 25 of June, when he became delirious and roamed the jungle like a hairy hermit, until being found by natives from Kampong Maunad, on he 3rd. of July. He was to be harbored until the 20th. of July when, with the help of Kulang and his villagers, he was handed over to an Australian special operations force, who were operating in the area. On the 24th. of July 1945, Gunner Campbell was taken out to sea, loaded onto a seaplane and evacuated to Moratai. He now lives in Queensland and I spoke to him on the phone on the 11th. of March last.
34. Bombardier Dick Braithwaite of the 2/15th. Aust. Fd. Regt. escaped the same day as Campbell, but further up the death track, near the Sapinayou River. He was found by natives from Kampong Sapi who harbored him and took him by prohau to Libaran Island nearby, which they knew was visited by U.S. PT. Boats from the Philippines. On his birthday, the 15th. of June 1945, he was loaded onto the U.S. PT. 112 and taken to the Philippines. He is at present a terminal cancer case at Brisbane.
35. On the 26th. of July 1945, one hundred and eighty three (142 Aust. and 41 Brits.) arrived at Ranau. Behind them on or near the death track lay 353 of their comrades, of the second death march (295 Aust. and 56 Brits.) two of them had escaped. Five weeks later only two of the 183, second death march survivors at Ranau would be alive.
36. The six survivors of the first death march, were kept apart from the second death march survivors, at first, but eventually, on the night of the 7th. of July 1945, L/bdr. Moxham, and Ptes. Botterill, of the first death march, joined Ptes Short and Anderson, of the second death march, in an escape from Ranau. They were found by Pusan natives from the village of Patu Lima on the Jesselton side of Ranau. They were harbored until transferred to a nearby SRD, Party (special Operations) on the 16th. of August, with the exception of Pte. Anderson who had died on the 29th. of July. They were eventually flown out from the Ranau airstrip, when the war had ended.
37. The P.O.W. strength at Ranau was reduced from 189 (six from the first and 183 from the second D. March) on the 26th. of June, to 100 on the 13th of July, down to 72 on the 18th. of July, to 40 on the 26 of July, to 35 on the 28th. of July. On that date W.O. Sticpewich and Pte. Reither were tipped off by a Formosan guard that all of the prisoners were to be executed and so they escaped from the camp at Ranau. They were also harbored by local Pusans but Reither died on the 8th. of August. Sticpewich was also evacuated from the Ranau air strip by light plane to Labaun, when hostilities ceased.
38. Only 32 P.O.Ws. remained alive at Ranau on the 1st. of August 1945 and capt Takakuwa gave orders for their execution, which was carried out in three separate batches. On the 9th. of June 1945 a third death march party, departed Sandakan, numbering 75, bound for Ranau. They were in terrible shape but 1/lt. Moritake, one of Capt. Hoshijima's subordinates considered that they were malingering and should have accompanied the second death march. The leader of the third march was 2/lt. Iwashita accompanied by 37 guards. None of the P.O.Ws. reached Tankual Crossing, the 49 mile peg, and the only Japanese on this party at the end of the war was Ishikawa who died before he could be interrogated.
39. There were 185 P.O.Ws. alive at Sandakan on the 9th. of June when the third death march party left but by the 12th. of July this number had decreased to 53 only. 23 of these were walking cases and on the 13th. of July, Lt. Moritaki ordered that they be taken to the Sandakan aerodrome and executed. The bodies were thrown into slit trenches and buried by Javanese coolies. By the 13th. of August 1945 only 5 P.O.W. were still alive. The last P.O.W. was alive on the 15th. of August and Sgt. Morizuma, who had assumed command on the date of Moritaki's death, 18th July, personally decapitated this last survivor at 0700 hours on that day He pushed the body with his feet so that it fell into the drain, where the head had fallen and the guards shoveled earth on the remains. And so on the 20th. of of August 1945, what little that was left of the 8 mile camp, was left for the jungle to reclaim, when Morizumi and the guards departed for Ranau............
© 2006, Bill Young. All rights reserved.
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