One of the highlights of my recent trip to Sabah was a visit to Kundasang War Memorial.
The memorial is located in the scenic hill town of Kundasang on the slopes of the mighty Mount Kinabalu.
Kundasang War Memorial commemorates the victims of the infamous Sandakan – Ranau Death Marches which took place in the dying days of World War II. (Kundasang is close to Ranau).
Sandakan Death March
A couple of thousand mostly Australian and British Prisoners of War were based near Sandakan where their Japanese captors put them to work extending an airfield.
In June 1945, fearful of an Allied landing to liberate Sandakan, the Japanese decided to move the prisoners inland to Ranau to prevent them from being released by the Allies. This move took place in three forced marches, described by the prisoners as a ‘265km Slow Walk Through Hell’.
Of the over 2400 prisoners involved, only 6 Australians survived and only because they managed to escape en route. 1787 Australian and 641 British prisoners perished as a result of privations and beatings, bayonet wounds or shootings by their brutal Japanese guards who had little regard for human life. Those few that completed the march as far as Ranau were murdered by their captors, many of them after the war had officially ended.
The Kundasang War Memorial
The memorial was completed in 1962 but in the following decades it fell into disrepair and by 2003 it was neglected and vandalised.
Fortunately, Thai-born Mr. Sevee Charuruks spent RM 800,000 of his own money to restore the memorial to its current pristine condition. Mr. Sevee moved to Sabah over 30 years ago and being retired from his building business took on the care of the war memorial as a labour of love.
Mr. Sevee kindly consented to me taking this photo. His contribution has not gone unrecognised. In 2007 he was awarded the MBE by the Queen and in 2011 he was awarded the Order of Australia. Both of these awards are displayed proudly on the wall of his outdoor museum cum shop.
The Memorial consists of four levels, each with its own pretty garden: The Australian Garden, The English Garden, The Borneo Garden and the Contemplation Garden.
This site was selected for the War Memorial because here, in the shadow of Mount Kinabalu, many of the prisoners of war perished and, according to the local custom, the cloud enshrouded mountain harbours the souls of all those who have died.
Thirty Days Hath September,
April, June and November,
February is alright
It only rains from morning till night,
All the rest have thirty-one,
Without a single day of sun,
And if any month had thirty two,
They’d be bloody raining too!
Aussie POW humour on display at Kundasang War Memorial.