Saturday, September 17, 2011

English soldier takes on Borneo trek in memory of POWs

BOMBARDIER Michael Fitzgibbon has made history by trekking 164 miles through the Borneo jungle in memory of prisoners of war who died in one of history’s worst atrocities.

The Middlesbrough-born soldier, of the Royal Artillery, retraced the steps of thousands of prisoners of war (POWs) who lost their lives during the Second World War’s Ranau death marches.

The 26-year-old was part of the first post-war group to follow the route British and Australian POWs were forced to take by their Japanese captors from Sandakan to Ranau in Sabah in 1945.

Of the 2,432 prisoners, only six Australians survived by escaping and all 641 British POWs died, either on the death marches or by execution. More than 400 of these British soldiers were members of the Royal Artillery and its attached arms and services.

The former pupil at St David’s School, in Middlesbrough, who joined the Army straight from school, called the challenge a “once in a lifetime experience”.

He said: “Being Commando- trained I like to think I am always at a decent level of fitness, but I did a little bit more endurance training to build up.

“Humidity was a challenge as it was a different environment. I have been to the jungle before but this was a different type of jungle so there was a lot unknown and it was a case of suck it and see.”

Michael and his 14-strong team took part in a ceremony to dedicate a Royal Artillery memorial in the English Garden of the War Memorial Gardens in Kundasang, Sabah - 66 years after the final POWs were executed at Ranau.

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