The Sandakan Memorials


Author: Australian War Memorial

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Sandakan has been described as the most appalling single event in Australia’s War history. Yet, for many years Sandakan was little known by Australians and all but forgotten.

In August 1988, Don Wall, a former Prisoner of War of the Japanese on the Burma –Thailand railway, published his book Sandakan-The Last March. Based on archival and anecdotal evidence, this book was regarded as the most definitive account of the Sandakan tragedy to date, and was greeted with grateful acclaim by relatives and friends. This book was without doubt the catalyst that led to the formation of The Sandakan Memorial Foundation.

A committee comprising relatives and 8TH Australian Division veterans was formed and on 1 August 1992 a memorial service was held at Kirribilli Ex–Services Club, Sydney. Attended by more than 700 Sandakan relatives and friends from all states of Australia, the Service was led by the late Father John Brendan Rogers OFM OAM, formerly Chaplain at Sandakan and Kuching Prisoner of War camps. Such was the feeling at that Memorial Service, that a decision was taken on the spot, to establish permanent Sandakan Memorials throughout the Eastern States of Australia to be located in the regions or districts from which significant numbers of Sandakan POWS had originated.

Subsequently a company was formed, to be known as The Sandakan Memorial Foundation Limited.

The establishment of the Sandakan Memorials was not a government project. This was a community initiative, conceived and executed by the friends and relatives of the men who died and by Veterans of the 8th and 9th Australian Divisions with the co-operation and support of R.S.L. Sub Branches and the Australian Army Band Kapooka.

All the Sandakan Memorials in the Eastern States take the form of a topographical scale model, cast in bronze, of a section of the Crocker Range in Sabah. A brass ribbon demonstrates the 265km route of the infamous death marches from Sandakan Camp westward to the village of Ranau in the foothills of Mt. Kinabalu. The viewer is given a clear understanding of the ruggedness of the terrain, which, at the time of the forced marches was covered by dense rainforest and tropical swamps. The sculpture rests on a shelf of Riverina granite quarried at Tocumwal; the whole being supported by brickwork which in turn supports the bronze Honour roll plaques.

The mould for the sculpture was made by Don Wall and Tom Connolly whose father was among the last of the Prisoners massacred at Ranau. All the casts were made at Phoenix foundry, Uralla N.S.W.

These Memorials serve, not only to honour the men who died and to ensure that they are not forgotten, they also serve the living. Ninety per cent of the men who perished at Sabah have no known graves.

The Sandakan Memorial’s established by The Sandakan Memorial Foundation Limited are :

Bendigo, VIC

Burwood Park, NSW

Tamworth, NSW

Wagga Wagga, NSW

Maitland Park, NSW

New Farm Park

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