‘B’ Force Borneo
‘B’ Force comprised 1495 Australians of which 145 were officers were next to leave Singapore following on from ‘A’ Force. They departed Singapore 8 July 1942 on passenger-cargo ship Ume Maru to Sandakan in the State of British North Borneo (now known as Sabah). The conditions were crowded, cramped and very trying. Ume Maru arrived 10 days later on 18th July 1942 and the men marched from Sandakan 8 miles to their internment camp, Sandakan No. 1 POW Camp. Their guards were Formosans (Taiwanese) and not Koreans as was the case in Burma and Thailand, under the command of their Japanese Imperial Army (IJA) and Kempeitai Officers (Japanese Secret Police).
The POWs were addressed and advised by Japanese Guard Commander Captain Hoshijima Susumi they were to construct an airfield at Sandakan.
Hoshijima had been appointed as the Engineering Officer in charge of construction of the airfield but had also been ordered to take over duties as Camp Commander from Lt. Okahara. This post for which he was not suited nor particularly interested in resulted in his subordinates running the camp.
Initially there would be one runway however the Japanese soon realised they were under pressure from successful Allied attacks on many fronts therefore they would require 2 runways. The first task was to construct the necessary road before starting on the aerodrome.
Very early there were several POW escape attempts. This resulted in rations being severely reduced. On 31 July 1942, 11 Australian POWs escaped. Up until this time the camp was not fenced, this changed very quickly as did the severity of punishments.
Eventually all 11 escapees were captured with several shot where they were discovered. The story of this escape, the betrayal of the underground and illicit radio involving several locals including Australian Dr. Taylor and POW Capt. Matthews is another story and not included in this overview of ‘A’ and ‘E’ Forces at Sandakan.
The first runway was completed September 1943. The land dropped away at the end of both runways and became necessary to have landfill. The work was physically demanding and once working on the aerodrome, conditions were hot and the men worked without shade. Their clothing soon disintegrated along with their boots. The men wore loincloths and were without shoes. It is not difficult to imagine how quickly this physically demanding construction work wore the men down; the slightest abrasion from rocks, stones and small flying fragments would open up a small flesh wound and transgress into a debilitating tropical ulcer for which they had no medical cure.
Food supply deliveries from Sarawak became increasingly unreliable and reduced because of the effectiveness of Allied attacks on Japanese shipping.
The food provided, as was the case everywhere, was greatly insufficient for POWs who soon suffered tropical illnesses such as malaria, beri beri and tropical ulcers and the numbers of sick grew alarmingly. There were insufficient numbers of POWs available for daily work parties and guards pulled sick men from their beds to supplement their daily quota of men. Without medical supplies and equipment large numbers of sick men died. In time those who managed to survive would have found every day a challenge to maintain any spirit or long term hope. What was ahead for them?
There existed ‘bash gangs’ who attacked POWs in numbers for the slightest perceived misdemeanour whilst working at the aerodrome. So if one POW was perceived as not working effectively, any number of men in his working kumi could be bashed by a ‘bash gang’. Back at camp bashings and punishments for the slightest infringement could land a POW or POWs in what was known as the punishment box. Prisoners were placed in these small exposed cells without food and water often receiving further spiteful punishment from guards as they walked past. Their miserable and miniscule food could be deliberately spilled onto the ground from where men were forced to eat.
‘E’ Force originally comprised 500 British and 500 Australian POWs, departed Singapore 2 March 1943 sailing on a small cargo tramp ship de Klerk to Kuching, Sarawak where they remained 8 days and POWs were accommodated at the Lintang Barracks.
9 April 1943 – Australian contingent of ‘E’ Force marched out to board Taka Maru, a small steam cargo ship which took 5 days to sail around Borneo coastline via Lubuan to Sandakan. (The British POWs had departed separately). The POWs disembarked at Berhala Island and were accommodated in a POW Camp which had opened 15 August 1942. Conditions were described as ‘pretty good’. The POWs were even allowed to swim under the supervision of guards.
4 June 1943 – Preparations were ready to move ‘E’ Force to the mainland by barge.
5 June 1943 – 8 POWs escaped during the night splitting into groups to make good their initial safety. (Of the total of 23 POWs who attempted escape it was only these 8 men from Sandakan and Berhala Island who were successful.)
6 June 1943 – ‘E’ Force Australians were marched to the jetty – most POWs were not aware of the escape during the night, however it became obvious something was happening as was shown with the skittish behaviour of their guards and the Japanese.
At Sandakan the POWs were split into 3 groups which the Japanese kept deliberately separated. Punishment was severe if the guards found men talking to anybody from another Camp. Some communication was maintained between the Australians in No.1 and No. 3 Camp which were about a mile apart.
The original “B’ Force was at No. 1 Sandakan Camp
Combined British were at No. 2 Sandakan Camp
‘E’ Force Australians POWs were at No. 3 Sandakan Camp (the distance between the two Australian Camps was about 1 mile -however any communication between camps was forbidden and punishable.)
On 15th October 1943, the majority of British and Australian officers were removed and taken to Kuching.
On 17 October 1943 ‘B’ Force was amalgamated with ‘E’ Force.
The numbers of Japanese at the Sandakan Garrison had increased and the process of stockpiling food had begun.
Sandakan was being heavily bombed by the Allies. In a series of air raids commencing October 1944, Australian and Americans together bombed and strafed Sandakan airfield and destroyed about 60 Japanese aircraft on the ground. On Christmas Day 1944 the B24 Liberators finally put the airfield out of commission.
On 10 January 1945 work on the Sandakan airfield ceased.
From now on the POWs’ labour would be used for another purpose along the track between Sandakan and Ranau.
The POWs were now in very poor health. They had been fed minimal food for a very long time and besides suffering from starvation, their emaciated bodies were prone to tropical diseases. But worst of all, the men were subjected to continuing extreme brutal treatment by their Taiwanese guards and Japanese soldiers. The Australian POWs maintained comradeship and caring for mates right up until their reached Ranau. It was here where survivors of the death marches were so desperate for food and such was their wish to survive that they became untrusting of each other.
The First Sandakan to Ranau Death March commenced on 28 January 1945. Of the remaining 470 POWs at Sandakan, 370 Australian and 100 British POWs set out in groups of nine parties leaving in consecutive days, with the last party departing on 6 January 1945. The POWs were each to carry on their backs bags of bags of rice, ammunition or whatever the Japanese demanded.
Before they left Camp, the Japanese Commanding Officer requested to address the accompanying soldiers and guards. They were ordered NOT to leave any sick POWs or stragglers behind. They were to be disposed of. The Japanese planned not to have any POWs assist in any way with an Allied invasion. It can also be said they did not want any evidence of the previous year’s of brutality and starvation known.
The rainy season had not finished and the emaciated POWs had to march through boggy mud with these heavy loads. They were to be provided either very little or no food. The guards sometimes stole food and personal items from the POWs. They also took blankets and clothing from POWS to sell for food – of course the POWs received very little if nothing of the food purchased. There were increasing numbers of guards and Japanese deaths – they were not carrying any supplies, nor their own personal items. This was all allocated to the POWs.
WX9123 Anderson, Cyril William Max (aka Jubelski) d. Sandakan (2) 16.6.45
WX7717 Armstrong, Francis (first to die Sandakan (1) on 30 July 1942 from duodenal ulcer)
WX7444 Attenborough, Arthur Richard – d Ranau (1) 12.4.45
WX10920 Bailey, Neville Ernst d. Sandakan (2) 10.6.45
WX7883 Beard, William Herbert d. Sandakan (2) 10.7.45
WX17864 Bendall, Bertram Alfred
WX9017 Bird, Charles Roland d. Ranau (2) Jungle 26.6.45
WX9283 Browning, John Henry d. Sandakan (2) 16.7.45
WX7702 Burns, Clifford Edward
WX8397 Chipperfield, Robert William
WX9274 Dorizzi, Gordon – d. Sandakan (1) 11.2.45
WX7997 Dorizzi, Herbert
WX12884 Dorizzi Thomas Henry – d. Ranau (1) 11.3.45
WX8092 Dunn, Charles Henry – d. Sandakan (1) 21.3.45
WX9230 Evans, Walter Cyril
WX7999 Ferguson, Reginald Paul – d. Ranau (1) 23.3.45
WX10803 Fotheringham, Thomas Rantoul
WX10994 Gibson, Norman Allen
WX7627 Goldie, James McLaughlan
WX8540 Green, Thomas William (transported to Kuching and joined ‘E’ Force at Sandakan) – d. Sandakan (1) 22.1.45
WX8003 Hack, Alexander Meora
WX8819 Halligan, Jack
WX14830 Haly, Standish O’Grady
WX7851 Harris, Charles – d. Sandakan (1) 27.5.45
WX7029 Hill, Ernest Thornton – d. 25.5.45 Unknown Location
WX9297 Joynes, Colin d. Sandakan (2) 7.6.45
WX8431 Keay, Vivian Albert – d. Sandakan (1) 10.5.45
WX9801 Machonachie, Roy David
WX9384 Morrison, John Campbell – Officer sent from Sandakan to Kuching in 1943. Survived
WX9260 Neale, Stanley Edward – d. 28.2.45 Unknown Location
WX8865 Newling, Rolf Walker – d. Ranau (2) Jungle 13.6.45
WX7634 Osborne, Sydney Albert d. Sandakan (2) 21.6.45
WX4934 Page, Ronald Arthur – d. Ranau (1) 17.2.45
WX8535 Shirley, Arthur Francis died 10 May 1942, Malaria at Sandakan (1) 36 years.
WX8467 Spence, Roderick Heslop Campbell
WX227 Stevens, Alfred – Sentenced 6 years Outram Road Prison, Singapore – Survived
WX14775 Taylor, George Lane
WX9562 Thorley, Ivor Edwin – d. Sandakan (1) 4.3.45
WX8438 Wilson, Ronald Matthew – d. Sandakan (1) 25.12.44
WX7636 Beer, William John
WX9340 Bennett, Henry Patrick
WX7007 Burton Edward George – d. Sandakan (1) 21.2.45
WX8123 Chilvers, Herbert Alfred Thomas – d. Sandakan (1) 31.4.1945
SX11457 Cole, Edwin Cole – d. Sandakan (1) 13.5.45
WX6262 Earnshaw, William Howard – d. Sandakan (1)15.3.45
WX7266 Edwards, George Henry – d. Sandakan (1) 20.3.45
WX12663 Floyed, Arthur Ernest – d. Sandakan (1) 12.3.45
WX9225 Gibbs, Stuart Henry – d. Sandakan (1) 24.2.45
WX17636 Holland, Harold William
WX16416 Holme, Charles
WX8678 Holst, Eric Joseph – d. Sandakan (1) 20.3.45
WX17582 Lake, George – d. Sandakan (1) 8.4.45
WX16439 Lane, Dennis Richard – d. Sandakan (1) 16.1.45
WX7043 Lear, Hold Bernard – d. Sandakan (1) 17.3.45
WX15386 Moran, Ronald Keith d. Sandakan (2) 28.6.45
WX17363 Nash, Claude Ocea – d. Ranau (1) 23.3.45
WX8707 Nazzari, Francisco (Frank) – d. Sandakan (1) 24.4.45
WX12985 Negri, Peter James – d. Sandakan (1) 21.1.45
NX73279 Newman, Cecil William
WX9413 Noble, Frank Richard – d. Sandakan (1) 26.5.45
WX5222 O’Neil, Leslie – d. Sandakan (1) 16.12.44
WX9253 Ross, Donald – d. Sandakan (1) 25.5.45
WX8544 Sevier, Joseph
WX5018 Shevlock, Charles Baden – d. Sandakan 17.6.45
WX4891 Smith, George
WX8731 Smith, Thomas Ernest – d. Sandakan (1) 18.12.44
WX7789 Stanwell, Oliver Moir – d. Sandakan (1) 12.3.45
WX8867 Taylor, George William – d. Sandakan (1) 2.3.45
- WX10289 Thorns, Arthur Stanley (beaten to death 1.8.1945, amongst last group massacred at Ranau (2) Jungle Camp)
WX17882 Trigwell, Allan George – d. Sandakan (1) 4.5.45
WX17593 Turner, Harold Raymond – d. Sandakan (1) 8.5.45
WX10363 Walton, Alexander Brian – Officer send from Sandakn to Kuching in 1943. Survived
WX8706 Wilkie, James – d. Sandakan (1) 17.5.45
- * Died Sandakan No. 1 Camp
- * Died Sandakan No .2 Camp
- * Died Ranau No. 1 Camp
- * Died Ranau No. 2 Jungle Camp
- * Died on March or place of death unknown.
Deaths and known details
- On 7th June 1945, during the Second Sandakan to Ranau Death March Charles Holme, Joseph Sevier, George Smith and George Taylor died. Their official Japanese death records state they died of malaria. However it would be reasonable to assume they were executed by their guards. Their bodies were recovered after the war and laid to rest at the Lubuan War Cemetery.
- Bob Chipperfield and Bert Dorizzi died 11 February 1945 whilst on First Sandakan to Ranau Death March. Chipperfield died 5 miles from Sagadai and Bert Dorizzi 4 miles on the other side of Sagadai. Once again it is highly probable they were both murdered by their guards. When Tom Dorizzi on the next march to Ranau passed the location where Bert was buried, took with him his brother’s dog tags which he recognised.
- Gordon Dorizzi, third of the Dorizzi boys, died at Sandakan No. 1 Camp on 11 February 1945, the same day at his brother Bert. Tom Dorizzi died at Ranau exactly a month later on 11 March 1945.
- Jim Goldie and his mate from Worsley, WA,
Charlie Holme (known as Bubbles) were both on the Second Sandakan to Ranau Death March and although separated at the time, Jim died on the 4th June and Charlie died on 7th June 1945.
- Frank Armstrong WX7717 was the first death in Borneo on 3 June 1942, read about his death.
- One member of ‘B’ Force from 2/4th survived was Alfred Stevens WX2227. Read about his sentence at Outram Road, Singapore.
- There were five men from 2/4th who reached Ranau and died there. Arthur Attenborough WX7444 on 12 Apr 1945, Tom Dorizzi WX12884 died on 11 March 1945, Reg Ferguson WX7999 died on 23 March 1945 (both Dorizzi and Ferguson came from Toodyay), Claude Nash WX17363 died on 23 March 1945 same day at Reg Ferguson, Ron Page WX4934 died on 17 Feb 1945.