The following is the address presented by Cheryl Mellor on behalf of 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion ex-Members Assoc (Est 1946) at the invitation Boyup Brook RSL.
SANDAKAN BOYUP BROOK MEMORIAL SERVICE
10 SEPTEMBER 2019
We are here today because of one man’s concept. Ted O’Loughlin’s pain never waivered over the shocking deaths of several of his best mates at Sandakan.
(Please read more about Neil Cleary
In 1939, 28 year old Ted, a rice-farmer from NSW enlisted with AIF, in 1940 became a gunner with 2/15th Field Artillery, 8th Division. The 2/15th arrived Singapore 15 August and in early December were sent to Jahore and north into Malaysia to support other Battalions of 8thDivision.
All other Australian Divisions of 2nd AIF had been sent to ME.
Ted became POW when Singapore fell 15 Feb 1942 – one of about 22,000 Australian POWs Japan captured Singapore, Java, Timor and New Britain. 21,000 from the Army were mainly from the ill-fated 8th Division, including the 2/4th.
By end the war 8,031 men had died.
In the 1980s there was only one Australian memorial to the men of Sandakan – North Shore, Sydney.
Initially and for too many years after the war our Govt tried to cover up the full horror of what had happened at Sandakan. Perhaps to spare the feelings of the dead men’s relatives – however they unwittingly put the survivors and bereaved families through another level of torment – that of silence, and of anguished speculation.
It was 3 years before Ted’s dream of a Memorial was fulfilled. He proceeded to have made a small structure as a memorial stone.
28 years ago in 1991, Ted wrote ‘The reason for this Memorial – I am lucky to be here today and think of what our good mates went through at the hands of our captors. Some of my very good mates who were listed on the Borneo work party said to me ‘We are going to Borneo, half way to Australia and a chance to escape,” I said if the sergeant puts me on the list I will go, but not otherwise. So a few days later I went to Thailand with ‘F’ Force which was not very good. We lost 50% but Borneo lost 99%.”
On 23 August 1991 a ceremony was held at Boyup Brook to mark the unveiling of a memorial to those prisoners who died in Borneo on the Sandakan marches during 1945.
Supply and erection of the original Memorial was totally funded by Ted, a local farmer.
Ted was overwhelmed at the number of people who attended. Word had travelled fast and wide to the families of these men and a large number of former POWs with their wives travelled from Perth and from around WA joining local people and some school children in Shire grounds.
The ceremony was conducted by local RSL President who introduced Ted and spoke of his fine gesture. Ted spoke of the deep feelings he had for those lost mates and all the men who perished in that dreadful tragedy.
There was a Memorial in the eastern states at Sydney’s North Shore and now there was one in the West.
Bernie O’Sullivan, ex-member of 2/4th MGB gave a very moving address, describing what happened to the men of Sandakan.
It had been during the previous five years that Australians first began to learn about Sandakan. For many of those attending it would have been the first time they learnt some of the horror.
Local Clergymen blessed the Memorial and many wreaths laid on behalf of different associations.
At the conclusion, out of town visitors were entertained at local hotel with smorgasbord luncheon again at Ted O’Loughin’s expense. Ted’s wife hosted a lunch for the locals at a local club.
The 2/4th MGB ex-Members Assoc on whose behalf I am speaking is today, is carried forward into the future by the children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Originally formed 73 years ago in 1946 the men needed to remain connected and be there for each other. Too many men returned broken and faced a future of mental and physical health problems. Alcoholism and domestic violence was not uncommon. There were suicides up to 60 years later. Men who could no longer face their dark memories.
Our last veteran died at the end of 2018.
John Gilmour OAM and world acknowledged veteran athlete, attended the Boyup Brook Service earlier that year aged 99 years.
By the end of war this Western Australian raised Machine Gun Battalion, who had trained at Northam, SA and NT and originally destined for Middle East, had lost nearly 40% of its 960 men.
70 of those with 2/4th who did not return are honoured on this Sandakan Memorial.
In 1940 the population of WA was 466,686.
Not even half a million.
Western Australia was a small place.
Particularly rural towns and regions and outlying suburbs that today are no longer farms and market gardens. Family connections were strong. Sporting events from cricket, cycling, football, tennis and even boxing connected towns and regions. Train travel was extensive.
Former Japanese POWs who attended Boyup Brook knew those who died in Borneo 1945, some were mates, some were extended family or related by marriage, or came from same home town or had played footy or cricket on opposing teams.
Boyup Brook became a chance for them to gather, remember and share once again the mateship and luck, which brought them home.
Following the successful 2nd Sandakan Service at Boyup Brook of 1992 discussions led to plans to include with Ted’s original memorial, an additional plaque with names of West Australians who lost their lives at Sandakan.
‘Following the successful attendance at Sandakan Boyup Brook Memorial Service Bernie O’Sullivan from 2/4t, reported in a quarterly news Bulletin called the ‘Borehole’ a decision was agreed to further honour those men by developing the Memorial, so wonderfully introduced by Ted McLaughlin to inscribe the names of all West Australian men who died on an additional plaque.
A joint Committee from 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion and POW Assoc of WA was formed to undertake this task headed up by Bernie O’Sullivan. The Shire of Boyup Brook, through its executive, agreed to the proposed Memorial development and very co-operative in our activity of sponsorship of Sandakan Memorial.
The appropriate Commonwealth Govt. Dept has been contacted requesting acceptance of our proposal and we have sought a grant of finance for the cost (we would accept even part of the cost) of the development.’
It was reported in the Borehole “It was tentatively proposed the next service at Boyup Brook would be conducted on or about 15th September 1993, by which time we hope the Memorial will have been completed. We will keep everybody informed.
Bernie O’Sullivan made an urgent request to 2/4th members, friends and families to recognize the worthiness of the venture and personally subscribe to the memorial of so many of their good mates.
Borehole Bulletin July 1993
ORGANISATIONS & ASSOCIATIONS
‘C’ Company, 2/4th MGB
Ex-Prisoners of War Assocation – WA
HMAS ‘Perth’ Survivors Club – WA
Naval Association of Australia – City of Fremantle Sub-Section
Swan Hardware, Fremantle (Norm Ablett, 2/4th )
Veteran Affairs Department
2/4th Machine Gun Battalion Association
Many 2/4th men and families of Sandakan victims personally donated
The Dedication ceremony of the Sandakan Memorial on Tuesday 14th September 1993 was an outstanding success with more than 500 people in attendance.
It was recorded to be a momentous occasion, a clear day amid the trees made colourful and spectacular by the mounting of the Honour Guard by well drilled soldiers of the SAS Regiment who gave a fitting tribute to the men whose names and memories they guarded.
The Australian Army Band from Perth, wore their full red dress and played before and during the service. Mick Wedge from 2/4th gave the commentary, introducing various parties participating in the ceremony.
Senior Army Chaplain conducted the Service. In the call to worship Head Girl and Head Boy of Boyup Brook High School Janene Beatty and Scott Tweedie joined him in prayer.
The oration was delivered by Bernie O’Sullivan, ex-member 2/4th. A pin could have been heard drop whilst he spoke with emotion and praise for the Men of Sandakan.
The former POWs knew most of those who died in Borneo 1945, some were best mates and some were related by marriage or came from same home town. Boyup Brook became a chance for them to gather, remember and share a reunion.
Former POWs of Japan are unique – unless you had been one – you cannot possibly know. They didn’t have to talk of the horrors because they were there. They understood.
They hurt for their Sandakan mates who had it worse.
October 1994 Service – 300-450 people attended Boyup Brook Service.
It was marked as being a special service in so much as the Memorial was handed over to Lions Club of Boyup Book to care for and arrange future services
Chairman of ex-POW and 2/4th MGB Sandakan Committee, Bern O’Sullivan handed over wardenship to President of Lions Club Boyup Brook, Mr Bay Hales. During his address Bernie O’Sullivan said
‘It is obvious the men of Ex-POWs and 2/4th MGB Assoc. are getting to the stage of their lives where they will not be able to carry out the task of preparing and presenting memorial services such as participated in today.’
He believed the annual recognition of those ‘Men of Sandakan’ is of tremendous importance in the history of the Australian nation.
Bern O’Sullivan went on to say the relationship with Boyup Brook Lions Club had been most cordial and he believed the citizens of Boyup Brook were fortunate to have this group in their midst to come forward and undertake the civic responsibility of wardenship of the Memorial.
Those attending this Service included Ted McLaughlin and several Lions Club President Bay Hales and Members Fred Doust Tony Inglis, Graeme Diggens and Grant Wardle.
The Sandakan Memorial Service was confirmed for Tuesday 5 September 1995. This first Service conducted by the Trust formed by the Lions Club of Boyup Brook.
Bern O’Sullivan, Chairman of the Joint Sub-Committee of 2/4th and Ex-POWs handed over a cheque to the Lions club being the balance still in hand from donations received in the programme of instituting the Memorial.
During the past years I have spoken with family members who shared with me their parents and family’s heartache and grief of not knowing what happened to their sons, husbands, brothers.
Many went to their graves tormented and broken by not knowing.
For too many years after the war our Govt tried to cover up the full horror of what had happened at Sandakan. Perhaps to spare the feelings of the dead men’s relatives. doing so, they unwittingly put the survivors and the bereaved families through another level of torment – that of silence, and of anguished speculation.
POWs did not return heroes of the battlefields.
There were no decorations for them.
It is only recently that a very small number of POWs have been awarded ‘recognition of their attempt to escape!’
Returning former POWs were told not to discuss their last 4 years – to get on with their lives, their families did not need to know what they had been through. POWs had to fight for medical recognition for their ongoing illnesses and pensions for those too ill to work.
It was not until about 1960s when former POWs began writing and publishing their stories that a very different version of events emerged, revealing a stark reality – up until then Australians and historians only had official reports written by Officers in charge – some of whom had not as POWs, been good leaders to their men.
The first I heard about Sandakan Death March was when my parents travelled to Boyup Brook in 1991. Marion and Cowboy Matthews attended annually as did a large number of ‘boys’ from 2/4th MGB with their wives.
I confess to you today, I didn’t really know Sandakan to Ranau death March. I thought it was a group of soldiers marching in Borneo – the going was terribly tough and only 6 men escaped.
Research undertaken during the past few years has made me a humble West Australian. Much of what I have learned has kept me awake at night. I am so very grateful to those brave young men sent to Singapore and have often wept for their parents, wives, siblings and children.
Following the Allied surrender Feb 1942 – Japan faced the prospect of feeding 32,500 Allied POWs – on the positive side they had a workforce of about 32,000.
By mid 1942, 3,000 British and Australian POWs were selected for ‘A’ Force Burma – shipped from Singapore to south west coast of Burma firstly to repair 3 former British aerodromes at Victoria Point, Ye and Tavoy for about 3 months before making their way to northern most point of Thai-Burma Railway in Burma. They would toil on the rail link for at least 12 months and for some it was much longer.
‘B’ Force was next selected by the Japanese to sail to Borneo to construct an airfield for Japanese military at Sandakan, North British Borneo, ‘D’ Force was sent Thailand to work on Hellfire Pass Cuttings. ‘E’ Force was selected to join ‘B’ Force at Sandakan. ‘F’ & ‘H’ Forces were sent to Thailand and ‘J’ Force to Japan.
‘B’ and ‘E’ Forces were made up of British and Australians shipped from Singapore in June 1942 and 1943. Aside from the construction of an airfield, their task included building the necessary roads.
Conditions for POWs were initially bearable – although punishment for the slightest misdemeanor was brutal. The most inhumane were the cages and ‘Bash Gangs’. If the watchful ‘’Bash Gang’ decided one POW in a work party was not working to capacity, the gang would either bash him unmercifully or worse, the entire work party would be physically bashed and kicked.
In 1943 there were two cages at Sandakan. Squat wooden boxes with thick wooden slats 6ft long and 4ft high – something similar for transporting a small animal. 2-3 Prisoners were interned at a time.
Soon a larger cage is built to hold a larger number of prisoners.
A third cage is built in town to punish locals and exhibit Allied POWs to civilians.
There purpose was to isolate, torment and humiliate occupants.
October 1944 a larger one is built. 15ft X 9ft – a place to facilitate group punishments.
As many men as possible crammed inside.
Prisoners are forced to sit cross-legged for days unable to stand.
Maximum sentence is 30 days but some men spend 5-6 weeks or longer
dressed only in loincloths and possibly a loose shirt,
exposed to swarms of mosquitos.
No food for first week, thereafter one serve of rice per day.
They are permitted to two visits to toilet a day. POWs with dysentery and bowel illnesses are obliged to urinate and defecate through bamboo-slatted floor in full view of passing guards and prisoners.
No talking allowed.
Forced to kneel all day because there was no room.
At night they would squash up to lay side by side.
They would each receive a daily bashing by guards.
Most contracted malaria, suffered severe malnutrition and their psychological state deteriorated. Many POWs died as a result of their time in the cage.
One of the six survivors Keith Botterill testified at the War Trials being put in the cage on 3 occasions for stealing food. The longest sentence was 40 days.
First 7 days no food
No water for first 3 days
Then they forced you to drink until you were sick on the 3rd night
Every evening would be a bashing – hit with sticks and fists, kicking
No wash in those 40 days
By the end of 1944 Sandakan airfield was made unusable by Allied bombing raids.
The threat of an Allied invasion was real.
This was beginning of the end.
Three years toiling long hours in unforgiving terrain and tropical weather, Japanese brutality, minimal food no medical supplies, enduring tropical illnesses left the remaining POWs in an appalling weakened condition.
We acknowledge the people of Sabah who endured dreadful deprivation and brutality at the hands of the Japanese.
We would never have the history of Sandakan had it not been for the outstanding courage of the local population who at great personal riskand risk to their families, extended families and their communities, sheltered the escaped prisoners.
The six survivors were so truamatised that really only one man was reliably able to attend war trials for an extended period of time
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to several of young West Australians from around Boyup Brook who perished in Borneo, 1945. I apologise my research covers only the 2/4th.
The 2/4th Committee was grateful of the opportunity to speak at this Service – over the years the history of this Memorial has been ‘lost’ with the changing of Boyup Brook Shire Staff and Council and changes to the ‘caretakers’ of the Memorial. Records of the memorial construction and those historical early events apparently and sadly ‘lost in time’.
This unique Memorial project was achieved with great dedication by the Committee made up by 2/4th and POW Assoc. The funds were generously donated by Sandakan families, members of 2/4th, POW Assoc and former POWs of Western Australia.
Sandakan Boyup Brook was the second memorial in Australia – constructed with minimal funds when seen in comparison with Ballarat and other memorials of today.