Sandakan Memorial Day preserves special Sabah-Australia bond


The Sandakan Memorial Day recently celebrated its 75th anniversary. — Photos: TRACIA GOH/Sabah Tourism Board

People say “hardship brings people closer together” and this rings true in the stories of friendship and borderless bond between Sabahans and Australians who were prisoners of war (POWs) here, during the World War II.

The sad history of Sandakan Day tells of the 2,500 or so Australian and British POWs, who were held in a camp in Sandakan. All but six of them perished by the year 1945; the six who escaped managed to do so thanks to the kindness of villagers.

Although this is a heartbreaking chapter in Australia’s history, Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia, Andrew Goledzinowski believes that the good, just as the sad, must be cherished like any other stories, and that there is always a silver lining that can be learned and celebrated.

“Those six survived and escaped with the help of Sabahans, that is the important thing. They survived because of the courage and generosity of Sabahans. Though this is a very sad story, it had created this wonderful bond,” he said in a recent interview in Sandakan.

Sandakan Memorial Day celebrated its 75th anniversary on Aug 15, to commemorate POWs who were brought to Sandakan from Singapore by the Japanese Army to build a military airstrip in 1942 during World War II. Almost all 1,400 POWs perished while in Sandakan, while a few died either during death marches or in Ranau, another district in Sabah.

The event was streamed live, and those who wish to watch it can still do so on the Sabah Tourism website.

Goledzinowski said as time went by, the stories had been passed from generation to generation and to this day, the strong bond could still be felt between the people of both countries.

“For the (Australian) generation who survived World War II, North Borneo will always be a special place and we need to have this going among the younger generation. Our job now is to maintain that relationship, though those old soldiers are now gone,” he said. Goledzinowski placing a wreath on the memorial in Sandakan.Goledzinowski placing a wreath on the memorial in Sandakan.

The High Commissioner also spoke fondly of Australia Place located in Sandakan, where visitors, especially tourists, could get a really good cup of coffee and breakfast.

“It is called Australia Place be- cause the Australian 9th division camp was there when they liberated North Borneo (1945),” he said.

Besides that, Goledzinowski explained relations between Australians and Sabahans flourished, especially in education, and medical research, which led to the set up of the Menzies Research Centre in Darwin, Australia and Kota Kinabalu Infectious Disease Centre.

“Back in 2016 research on malaria and tuberculosis was established together, particularly on drug-resistant strains,” he said.

The Australian High Commission has over the years established a good working relationship with the Sabah state government, through the Australian Consulate and is keen to work together in initiatives that benefit the people, he added.

“We always have discussions with the Sabah government, we want this link to be maintained and when the Covid-19 pandemic is over we hope to continue exchanges on tourism and immigration issues,” he said.

With Sabah and its people preserving Australia’s important history during World War II, Goledzinowski is confident the strong borderless bond between Australia and Sabah will continue for years to come. – Bernama

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