Friday, August 26, 2011

British soldiers re-trace routes of Sandakan-Ranau Death Marches

RANAU: Lieutenant Harry Hyslop thought that after five months of strenuous training, he would be ready for one of the biggest challenges he had ever embarked on.

Although the 23-year-old British soldier knew he was in for a surprise, Hyslop was very much determined to pursue this lifetime opportunity.

Just a few months back, he found out about the Sandakan-Ranau Death Marches.

“I knew that British soldiers served in Myanmar and Vietnam, but not in Borneo. What was more intriguing was the death marches involved Australian and British soldiers. I have never heard of that part of the history until recently,” he said.

And when he heard about a selection process to pick British soldiers to embark on the first ever journey to re-trace the routes of the death marches, it did not take him long to sign up for the challenge.

At least 40 soldiers signed up for the challenge, but after thorough screening, the number was reduced to 14. Hyslop was among the lucky ones.

“It was a challenging experience one could ever feel throughout the march, but it was also equally fascinating. It was fantastic.

“I have always like challenges, it is for physical development. When I learned about the death marches, I was very much intrigued. The more we talked about it, the more I wanted to do it (the walk).

“In a way, I believe it is a way for me to show tribute to the fallen heroes. It is a historical moment that should be re-liven,” he said when met at the Kundasang War Memorial yesterday.

Although he was happy to be able to complete the challenging walk, Hyslop admitted: “I do not think I would have survived if I had walked the walk about six decades ago.”

The Sandakan-Ranau Death Marches were a series of forced marches in Borneo which resulted in the deaths of over 3,600 Indonesian civilian slave labourers and 2,400 allied prisoners of war held captive by the Japanese during World war II at prison camps in North Borneo (now Sabah).

By the end of the war, of all the prisoners who had been incarcerated at Sandakan and Ranau, only six Australians survived, all of whom had escaped.

It is widely considered to be the single worst atrocity suffered by Australian servicemen during the Second World War.

The idea to re-trace the routes was mooted by retired Major John Tulloch of the Royal Regiment of Artillery in England.

“I was visiting Sandakan in 1999 and made a shocking discovery. Of the 641 British soldiers who served here, 400 were from our regiment. So I thought to myself, something must be done to honour them.

“And so I set my course, met up with some expatriates and locals who introduced me to the right group of people. They gave me the encouragement and told me that it can be done,” he said.

Tulloch spoke to several others who shared his passion, and he was more determined than ever to make his dream a reality.

Well like any beautiful stories, Tulloch’s determination and passion pushed through. Fast forward several years later, and after getting the green lights from the relevant authorities, he managed to inspire enough people to re-trace the death marches routes. And as the saying goes, the rest is history.

For the 65-year-old, what was more interesting was the involvement of the Sixth Malaysian Royal Regiment which also sent 15 soldiers to accompany the Britons in their journey.

“We have the memorial service to honour the dead on August 27 annually, but I felt there was something lacking. So by having the walk to re-trace the death marches routes which ends with the memorial service, it would bring a lot of difference, it is like the pinnacle on top of everything,” he said.

Tulloch understands the challenges one has to endure when trekking through the thick jungles.

“I know the jungle very well but that does not mean I lived in the jungles. I grew up in Penang and as a child, I used to run in the hutan (jungle) a lot, as oppose to doing homework … that was my early exposure to jungle life, an early jungle training.”

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: British soldiers re-trace routes of Sandakan-Ranau Death Marches

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