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S: Sandakan Death Marches #WW2

April 22, 2021

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge is an annual challenge put out to bloggers, to publish a post from A-Z, every day in April, except for Sundays. April 1 is A, and so on throughout the month. Participants can post on a chosen theme or just do random posts with no theme at all. The theme I have chosen for 2021 is Newspaper Articles About My Family Found in Trove. Trove is the electronic archive for newspapers, books, magazines, photos and much more.

Sandakan Death Marches

Australian prisoners of war were sent to Sandakan in 1941 to build an airstrip. The Sandakan death marches were a series of forced marches in Borneo, from Sandakan to Ranau. Prisoners were treated badly and denied food.

These marches resulted in the deaths of 2,345 allied prisoners of war, held captive by Japan, in the Sandakan Prisoner of War Camp, during the Pacific campaign of World War II. 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.

The Sandakan death marches are widely considered to be the single worst atrocity suffered by Australian servicemen during the Second World War.

Gordon Cresswell Taylor VX50676 was my first cousin once removed, and one of the soldiers who died while marching in these death marches.  His cause of death was enteritis which is a disease of the intestine caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria.

From: The Mercury, Hobart, Saturday 22 September, page 2

DRAMATIC RESCUE OF SANDAKAN DEATH MARCH SURVIVORS
From Graham Jenkins, a Correspondent of “The Mercury”
Labuan. Fri.
A brave struggle to rescue the last known survivors of the Sandakan death march, and the atrocities which preceded it, ended successfully yesterday when four 8th Division prisoners of war were flown from the hinterland of North-west Borneo to safety in tiny RAAF Auster observation planes.

THE pilots first had to over power and disarm some Japanese who were not aware of the end of the war. The rescued men make a total of six survivors of 2,500 prisoners taken by the Japs to Sandakan. The 2,500 included 1,800 Australians. The four men brought in yesterday, were all New South Wales men. All are recovering from their grim experience.

They were in Australian hands in the Ranau district on Aug. 12, but their weak condition prevented their movement through the jungle. A 170 yd. airstrip was carved from the jungle in August, but, despite repeated efforts, the Austers failed to land. When the Japanese capitulated, the men marched to a small air-strip near Ranau, from which their rescue was made yesterday.

The five Austers were led by G-Capt J. R. Fleming, and all landed safely. After taking swords and rifles from the Japs, and convincing them forcibly of the Jap surrender, the pilots took off with the four prisoners, and Major Foster, medical officer, who parachuted into the jungle to give aid, when the prisoners were first dis-covered.

From August 1942, until May 1944, Australian and British prisoners of war at Sandakan, died from floggings, stonings, and other unspeakable acts, one of the rescued men, WO Striepewich, said. In April, 1944, deaths for the month had reached 242 and only 450 Australians and a few British could be eased up at bayonet point from their beds in Sandakan compound for the death march to Ranau.

They set out in parties of 50, one of which he commanded. After two days’ struggle on the difficult trail, six of his men had been lost. After that, they died at the rate of six a day. Only 142 Australians reached Ranau on June 24. Each morning on the march, those too weak to continue were told to remain behind. “They knew then it was all up and would say ‘So long, mate!'” said WO Striepewich.

When those who could, had got under way the Japs would machine-gun the others. WO Stricpewich escaped with the help of a friendly Formosan guard. With the aid of natives, from whom he learned Labuan, had been occupied, he made contact with the Australians on Aug. 9. He was able to tell the Australians of another party of 8th Division men, who escaped on July 7, and within three days, three other men were discovered.


“Gunner Gordon Cresswell Taylor, 4th Anti Tank Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery. He was one of over 2000 Allied prisoners of war (POW) held in the Sandakan POW camp in north Borneo, having been transferred there from Singapore as a part of B force. The 1494 POWs that made up B Force, were transported from Changi on 7 July 1942 on board the tramp ship Ubi Maru, arriving in Sandakan Harbour on 18 July 1942. Gunner Taylor, aged 29, died as a prisoner of the Japanese on 14 April 194” – war service documents

DRAMATIC RESCUE OF SANDAKAN DEATH MARCH SURVIVORS (1945, September 22). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article26152066

https://www.awm.gov.au/

Paul HAM, Sandakan: The Untold Story of the Sandakan Death Marches, ISBN: 9781864711417, (Australia, Victoria, Penguin, 3 June 2013

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6 Comments
  1. It really was cruelty in the extreme. The men went through untold horrors. I’m so sorry for your cousin. My mother’s first cousin was a POW in Germany and they too had a very difficult, and often cruel, time of it, however the Japanese treatment was worse.

  2. an appalling episode in human history – very sad. I have cousins who were prisoners of the Japanese but none at Sandakan.

    • The experiences of the prisoners in POW camps all over were horrific Anne. Let’s hope it never happens again

  3. Such a sad story. Lest we forget.

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