The Borneo Death March
Only six Australians survived the death marches enforced by the Japanese towards the end of World War II. Three marches claimed another 1,781 Australian and 641 British troops. All who managed it were malnourished, many afflicted with malaria or beriberi. They were beaten along the way, and those who survived were shot or bayoneted.
The atrocities were considered too great for public consumption and were hushed up by governments in London and Canberra for decades after the war.
In more recent years, the trek has been transformed into a pilgrimage for veterans of all wars and people wanting to pay their respects to the fallen along the Sandakan to Ranau route. In doing so, many have attempted to complete the historic trail, but the journey has proven too arduous and none have finished.
The latest expedition was put together Maj. John Tulloch a retired veteran of many conflicts, including Vietnam, where he served with the New Zealand army, and Northern Ireland after transferring to the British military, where he served with the Royal Artillery Regiment.
Tulloch came to North Borneo, now the East Malaysian state of Sabah, in 1999 to commemorate the fallen. After some basic research he realised the vast majority of British soldiers who perished here were from his own regiment and this made it all the more personal.
‘I was determined there must be official regimental recognition for the members of the Royal Artillery and their attached arms and services who tragically lost their lives in such unspeakable conditions,’ he said. ‘Moreover, I felt that in addition, the Royal Artillery should conduct a remembrance march of the 164-mile Death March route in memory of the POWs.’
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