KOTA KINABALU: Peace is the only thing that the people should be striving for, said Sabah Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor as he paid tribute to the fallen Allied soldiers as well as locals on Sandakan Memorial Day
Hajiji said the Sandakan Memorial Day is an apt opportunity for all to reflect on the continued and shared desire for peace, and that war does nothing but destroy mankind.
"As we speak, at this very moment, wars are fought in many parts of the world. Young men and women have been sent to battlefields and we all know the consequences all too well.
“We offer a special salute to all and pray for their safe return to their loved ones," Hajiji said on Monday (Aug 15).
His speech was delivered by Tourism, Culture and Environment Assistant Minister Datuk Joniston Bangkuai at the Sandakan Memorial Park in the east coast Sabah district.
Among those present were the Australian Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel Matt Keogh, British High Commissioner to Malaysia Charles Hay, Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia Dr Justin Lee.
Additionally, Permanent Secretary to the Sabah Housing and Local Government Ministry Datuk Dr Jamili Nais, who represented the state secretary and Sandakan Municipal Council President Benedict Asmat were also present.
Hajiji said the Sandakan Memorial Day was a day to remember brave Allied soldiers and locals who could not speak for themselves.,
He said 77 years ago approximately 2,400 Australian and British prisoners of war (POW) were imprisoned at the Sandakan POW Camp not far from the memorial park.
Half of the 1,066 who were forced to make the treacherous journey to Ranau, over 260km away from Sandakan, perished in the infamous three Death Marches to Ranau, he said.
Only six escaped alive to recount the brutal horrors and atrocities they have suffered, while the rest died in the Ranau and Sandakan camps, he added.
"This shared wartime history between Australia, Britain, and Sabah is a reminder of not only the sacrifice and endurance of those who perished but also the loss and longing of families they left behind,” Hajiji said.
"Today, we join family members and friends to remember this tragic loss. We think of soldiers who came here far away from home to North Borneo, as we were known then, to give their all, to lay down their lives fighting enemies in order to protect us and this land.
"I’m honoured for this opportunity to say a few words to honour those who have given their lives for us all.
“We are grateful and we will always remember them for their sacrifices. They laid down their lives so we could live ours," he added.
Meanwhile, Hajiji said that he is glad that the Sandakan Memorial Park has served its purpose well.
"It bore testament to the concerted effort of the Australian and Sabah governments as well as the Veterans Association, the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL), and the Sandakan Municipal Council, which brought this Memorial Park to fruition.
"Since its completion, this site has seen many returnees – special groups, visitors and especially family members who travelled to Sandakan to honour the memory of their loved ones," he said.
The Chief Minister also lauded the efforts of the Sandakan Municipal Council and Sabah Tourism Board and the organising committee for their continued dedication to hosting the Sandakan Memorial Day.