"Below us I could see the river. During the war this was a serious torrent, and the weakened solders were forced to try and cross, many were too weak and were swept away to their deaths."
My guts churned, and I felt hollow. A glazed look sweeps across my face as my mind struggled to cope with things. I was truly shocked, not at all for the first time on this journey, but I figured I’d become more or less immune to the whole story by now, as I’d researched most of the horrific details over a long period of time.
We’d stopped off at a stall in a small, near anonymous village in the north of Sabah, Borneo. We were loosely following the routes of the horrific Sandakan death marches of the Second World War, and were in a spot that was used as an impromptu stop off during the marches, where thousands of prisoners of war were force-marched to their deaths.
I was told the story of a local man who had recently passed away, he was enforced as a cook to the Japanese captors, and told the tale of how he was once forced to cook two prisoners for the soldiers to eat. By this stage they were so malnourished that their was no flesh on the bones, so he was told to take out and cook the intestines, it just beggared belief, but it was true and documented along with so many other atrocities.
Our ride was around 250km and 3 days in all, along a mix of jungle jeep roads, palm plantation trails and some hard core. This was more or less along thee lines used in the marches, although many things have changed since then, so conditions are nowhere near as harsh today, and we also chose to skip the impenetrable jungle scrambles, which were near impassable with a bike, and also to skip some of the road sections where logging trucks make conditions treacherous.
The port of Sandakan, is situated on the north coast of Borneo, and was used heavily by the Japanese during the war, and was where they shipped in and initially held the POW's. All in all there were some 2600 POW’s shipped to Sandakan between 1942-43, mostly all Australians, and a fair amount of Brits. They had mostly been captured during the fall of Singapore, and others from the Philippines.
This made the town the obvious starting point for the route, and we literally rode out from the remains of the POW camp, where many were to meet their end.
Maybe you wonder why we did this ride? Well, it had not been followed by bike before, and had a real sense of purpose. There were just 6 survivors from the marches, all of who escaped to safety, and it was the worst atrocity ever in Australian military history, and one of the worse crimes of the war.
Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: The Borneo death march route, re-traced.