Monday, August 15, 2011

Sandakan war memorial puts right an ‘oversight’


SANDAKAN: A memorial to honour Allied troops who died fighting to liberate North Borneo from Japanese occupation towards the end of World War II was unveiled here yesterday.

The statue of a standard issue 303 rifle with its barrel in the ground and a slouch hat slung across the butt symbolizes the military practice of marking where a soldier has fallen.

A crowd of more than a hundred local and international dignitaries, including veterans from the Australian invasion force, were on hand for the unveiling of the memorial marking the 66th anniversary of the end of the war and the liberation of Sandakan.

For Roy Atkinson of the Royal Australian Air Force, the memorial also commemorated the civilian deaths and the atrocities committed upon them by the Japanese, including a barbaric practice he called ‘hamstrung’, which he discovered upon landing here in 1945.

‘Hamstrung’ was a practice wherein the Japanese would simply sever the hamstrings, behind the knee, on both legs with a knife.

It was inflicted on men, women and children and was designed to stop them from running away or causing trouble.

“We visited the kampung out of curiosity and here was this little boy on the ground dragging himself along by his elbows – he’d been hamstrung – unfortunately we couldn’t do anything for him.

“It makes you bitter and I can understand people who retaliate and do things equally as bad.

“This is how war affects men. I can understand if you lose a mate, you are affected but when it’s callously done (like this), it’s not warfare…but that’s me,” he said.

Historical oversight

The memorial is also designed to address a historical oversight. It is the first of its type constructed in Borneo by Malaysia dedicated to the fallen from all nations in World War II.

North Borneo was a British colony, only joining the Malaysian federation on Sept 16, 1963.

As such responsibility for war graves and memorials in this part of the world has remained almost solely under the auspices of Canberra and London.

Some like Dr Kamarulnizam Abdullah, Associate Professor of Strategic Studies and International Relations at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, believe that this war memorial represented much more to Malaysians, particularly in light of the country’s sometimes tense relations with the West.

He said recent trips by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to the United States and Europe – where formal ties were established with the Vatican – and the deal struck between Australia and Malaysia involving the processing and resettlement of refugees were enormous strides designed to improve Malaysia’s standing.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sandakan war memorial puts right an ‘oversight’
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