A shared dark chapter of WWII


  • Nation
  • Saturday, 15 Aug 2020

TODAY, the world commemorates the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII in the Pacific. For Malaysia and Australia, this is an important date. The number of lives lost and suffering endured is difficult for us to comprehend.

This is a day on which we honour the courage and memory of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of freedom and liberty.

In Sabah, over 2,400 Australian and British soldiers who were incarcerated as prisoners of war lost their lives.

For Australia, what took place in Sandakan and Ranau, and the 260km forced march in between, was one of the worst atrocities suffered by Australian servicemen during the Second Word War.

For many back home, the Sandakan Death Marches are bywords for the cruelty of war.

At ceremonies across Australia today, many will be pausing to remember those who lost their lives in Sandakan and other parts of the Pacific.

The Second World War also brought terrible suffering to the people of Sabah. It is estimated that 14% of Sabah’s population died during the Occupation.

At great personal risk, brave Sabahans aided the soldiers in captivity and sheltered the few who managed to escape. The courage and support they showed to Commonwealth troops remains a beacon of humanity in this dark chapter.

Australia will never forget the high cost borne by the people of Sabah.

The friendship formed during that grim campaign laid the foundation for the strong bilateral partnership Malaysia and Australia enjoy today.

As Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia, I am fortunate to travel the length and breadth of this great country. Everywhere I go, I witness first-hand the strength and vitality of that relationship.

I meet Malaysians from all corners of the country who have deep links to Australia, through family, tourism, education, military or business ties.

The strength of these people-to-people connections are reflected in the ease in which we engage, the warmth of our cooperation and genuine goodwill that is felt on both sides.

As two middle-sized, multicultural, parliamentary democracies, Malaysia and Australia are alike in so many important ways. We are both enriched by our ethnic and cultural diversity.

Our institutions are bulwarks for the values we both hold dear, such as the rule of law, individual freedoms and rights.

In 2015, our prime ministers elevated our relationship to a strategic partnership. This provided a formal framework for working together in areas of common interest, including the norms that define our region, the Indo-Pacific, trade and investment, education, defence and security.

Looking ahead, there is work underway to further expand our bilateral partnership.

Since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, new areas of cooperation are emerging.

Our senior scientists are talking and health engagement is deepening. There are many challenges that are best tackled together.

As we remember those Malaysians and Australians who struggled together through WWII, the Emergency and Confrontation, we are reminded that the world is an uncertain place. Having good and reliable friends remains important – in good times and bad.

And so, my Australian defence force colleagues and I are in Sandakan today, paying our respects to the fallen, and celebrating the warm bonds of friendship that bind us now and into the future.

Lest we forget.

The writer is the Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia.

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