KOTA KINABALU: There was a solemn air at the Kundasang War Memorial as large crowds gathered to remember British prisoners of war (POWs) who fell in the infamous 1945 Sandakan-Ranau death marches.
Local dignitaries, led by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Dr Yee Moh Chai, and top brass from the British army, led by Colonel Commandant of the Royal Artillery Major-General CC Wilson, were present at the ceremony to pay tribute to the fallen heroes.
A total of 641 British PoWs died in the Sandakan-Ranau death marches.
A series of forced marches through marsh land and dense jungles in Borneo also caused the deaths of over 2,400 allied PoWs.
Of the figure, many also died in prison camps in North Borneo (Sabah) after they were captured by the Japanese during World War II.
Only six people, all Australian servicemen, survived the horror after they managed to escape.
“This is a simple yet important ceremony to remember all those who sacrificed their lives for a Sabah that we now cherish,” Dr Yee said.
Describing the event as a very moving ceremony, Gen Wilson said while all these were history, the past continues to haunt people these days.
“We had not really understood what the ordeal was sixty-six years ago until Major Tulloch John did all this research and we came to know that the Royal Artillery suffered very badly.
“The death march is a terrible thing to have happened,” he said.
British High Commissioner to Malaysia Simon Featherstone said it was a period of sad history, pointing out that it should be ample reason to work for peace.
The ceremony also marked the unveiling of the Royal Artillery memorial.
The memorial was dedicated to the fallen heroes after 14 members of the British Royal Artillery completed a 12-day trek from Aug 15 to 25 over a 250km long death march trail the first such British effort to retrace the route of the death marches.
Other British PoWs who perished in the death marches were members of the Royal Corps of Signals, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Worcestershire Regiment, Royal Army Service Corps, Royal Army Medical Corps, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Royal Pioneer Corps, Corps of the Royal Military Police, the Army Catering Corps and the Royal Air Force.