‘B’ and ‘E’ Forces, Borneo – Sandakan & Ranau

‘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.

 

‘B’ FORCE

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

‘E’ FORCE

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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. Frank Armstrong WX7717 was the first death in Borneo on 3 June 1942, read about his death.
  6. One member of ‘B’ Force from 2/4th survived was Alfred Stevens WX2227 Read about his sentence at Outram Road, Singapore.
  7. 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.