Sandakan remembrance

Today we pause to remember the lives lost of those Australians and other allied personnel who died at the hands of the Japanese military during the infamous Sandakan Death Marches which occurred near the end of the Second World War.

The Sandakan Death Marches are considered to be the worst war crime committed against Australian soldiers in our history.

There were about 1800 Australian prisoners of war (POWs) at Sandakan on the east side of Borneo, along with some 750 British POWs. These men were continuously maltreated and suffered brutal bashings and abuse at the hands of the Japanese prison guards.

The Japanese decided to send the POWs to Ranau on the west side of Borneo. In a series of forced marches, the men were sent off in guarded groups. Whenever any POW collapsed and could go on no longer, he was bayoneted or shot. Those who survived the death marches were not only made to do hard labour, but were kept in conditions so crowded and unsanitary that disease became prevalent and a continual process of dying POWs began.

Only six men were able to escape from the Japanese prison camp at Ranau; these were the only POWs to survive the Sandakan Death Marches – all of the rest of the 2500 men either died from malnutrition or disease (caused by the Japanese not supplying sufficient food and medicine) or were deliberately murdered by the Japanese guards.

The war with Japan ended on the 15th of August 1945. From post-war interrogations, it was discovered that, in an attempt to rid themselves of any witnesses of their misdeeds, the Japanese had murdered the last of the POWs on the 27th of August 1945, twelve days after the war had ended.

Some Australians commemorate the men of Sandakan on the 27th of August (like the Borneo POW Relatives Association of Western Australia, who normally hold an event in Perth on the Sunday closest to the 27th of August; the day the last Sandakan POWs were killed); some commemorate them on the 29th of May (the day of the second death march from Sandakan); whilst others commemorate them on the 15th of August (the end of the Second World War).

However you choose to remember the Sandakan POWs who died, we trust that their sacrifices and sufferings will be remembered by all Australians who value the contributions made by our military forces on behalf of our nation, and who will keep the memory of the Sandakan men alive in their hearts forever.

Lest we forget.

Sandakan”, Australian War Memorial
Sandakan Death Marches”, Wikipedia
Remembering Sandakan, 1945-1999”, Department of Veterans’ Affairs [re. killings on 27 August 1945]
Borneo POW Relatives Association of Western Australia Inc.: A mutual group to help keep the spirit of Sandakan alive: Our Beginnings”, Borneo POW Relatives Association of Western Australia [27 August commemoration]
Sandakan atrocities remembered”, Bendigo Advertiser, 29 May 2006 [29 May commemoration]
Sandakan”, Roll of Honour [15 August commemoration]


  1. The Sandakan Death March should also be remembered for the racist background of the Japanese that allowed it to occur.

    While most historians will tell you that the Japanese military code of Bushido spouted forth the inhumane doctrine that encouraged brutal treatment of POWs, it is also worth remembering – especially for our Leftist friends who like to label us racists when we disagree with their multiculti policies – that the Jap's penchant for mistreating POWs also extended to others from the various nations they invaded.

    It should serve as an example that it is not just the white man who can be racist, and this historical incident reinforces that fact.

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