Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Australian WWII veterans to visit Brunei

A group of Australian veterans will visit Brunei this week to commemorate the liberation of Borneo in 1944.

The Australian Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Mr Alan Griffin, will travel with six Australian WWII veterans to unveil a memorial in Brunei honouring Australia's efforts to end the Japanese occupation in the region during the Second World War.

The commemorative mission honours Australia's involvement in the campaigns in Borneo and the minister said the campaign formed part of the largest amphibious assault undertaken by Australians during the Second World War, and was among the most complex operations carried out by Australians in the war against Japan with more than 20,000 Australians involved.

"It is important to honour our wartime history, especially in the presence of veterans who served our nation so proudly during the operations," Mr Griffin said.

The Australian mission to Brunei this week would honour the contribution made by Australian soldiers in the Allied push against Japan in the Western Pacific.

The Australian Brunei Memorial would be unveiled on Saturday December 13, 2008 at the Muara Pantai on Labuan Island in Brunei Bay.

British North Borneo was the site of the last operation conducted by the 9th Australian Division during the Second World War. The ultimate objective of the operation, codenamed OBOE 6, was the liberation of British North Borneo, which had been under Japanese occupation since 1942.

The operation's immediate military purpose was to secure Brunei Bay for use as a base by the British Pacific Fleet. On June 10, 1945 the 24th Brigade of the 9th Australian Division landed on Labuan Island at the mouth of the bay, while its sister brigade - the 20th - landed on the Borneo mainland at Brunei point. The landings were virtually unopposed. The Australian troops cleared Labuan and crossed into British North Borneo, while the 20th Brigade leap-frogged down the Brunei coast, using watercraft as the main form of transport. These movements resulted in a series of small-scale but relatively costly engagements. The Australian forces remained active until the end of the war on August 15, 1945. OBOE 6 killed 114 Australians and approximately 1,400 Japanese.

The 9th Division was heavily involved in reconstructing British North Borneo from July onwards and rebuilt and re-established a considerable amount of civil infrastructure.

The division developed a warm relationship with the local people and its efforts were recognised by the incorporation of the division's colour patch in the coat of arms of the new Colony of British Borneo. These arms were used until British Borneo became the Malaysian state of Sabah in 1963.

Earlier, other Australia units had landed at Balikpapan in SE Borneo (Dutch Borneo) to secure oil processing and port facilities. Concerted Japanese resistance continued in the region for the next three weeks as the Australians troops advanced inland. The operational tempo decreased thereafter but daily engagements with the Japanese continued until the war's end.

The Balikpapan landings resulted in the deaths of 229 Australians and around 1,800 Japanese.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

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