How did this boy from Kellerberrin end up at Outram Road Gaol?
Details of the Sandakan Secret Network led by Australian Capt Mattthews, their capture & punishment.
THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN NO UNDERGROUND NETWORK AT SANDAKAN HAD IT NOT BEEN FOR THE BRAVERY & GENEROSITY OF THE LOCAL POPULATION
Sent to Borneo with ‘B’ Force to work at Sandakan Alf Stevens and was arrested for his part in the secret network firstly to operate an illegal radio, accessing medicines and acquiring weapons to prepare for the day the Allies returned to invade North Borneo. He was sent to Kutching the Kempeitai HQ in Borneo. On 19 Oct 1943 Stevens was sentenced to 6 years penal servitude at Outram Road Gaol. His was a ‘soft ‘sentence – Matthews was sentenced to death by firing squad.
Stevens was in fact one of the very few lucky men sent to Sandakan for surely he would have died as all the men (excluding Officers) of ‘B’ and ‘E’ Forces did.
‘B’ Force arrived Sandakan mid-July 1942. About the end of July permission was granted by the Japanese for the Officers to establish a garden outside the compound. What began as a genuine request to keep officers busy during daylight hours (they were not required to work) and to supplement the men’s diet with vegetables became something else entirely.
The Sandakan Underground Story
STUDIO PORTRAIT OF CAPTAIN (CAPT) LIONEL COLIN MATTHEWS GC MC, 8TH AUSTRALIAN DIVISION SIGNALS. CAPT MATTHEWS WAS PROMOTED TO CAPTAIN ON 21 JANUARY 1942 AND WAS TAKEN POW ON 15 FEBRUARY 1942. CAPT MATTHEWS WAS POSTHUMOUSLY AWARDED THE GEORGE CROSS (GC) FOR GALLANT DISTINGUISHED SERVICES WHILST A PRISONER OF WAR (POW) OF THE JAPANESE AT SANDAKAN, BRITISH NORTH BORNEO BETWEEN 1942-08 AND 1944-03. DURING THIS PERIOD HE DIRECTED AN UNDERGROUND INTELLIGENCE ORGANISATION AND ARRANGED DELIVERY OF SORELY NEEDED MEDICAL SUPPLIES, FOOD AND MONEY TO THE POWS. HE WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN ARRANGING A RADIO LINK WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD AND WAS ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR ORGANISING THE BRITISH NORTH BORNEO CONSTABULARY AND THE LOYAL NATIVES IN SANDAKAN INTO READINESS FOR AN ARMED UPRISING AGAINST THE JAPANESE. HE ALSO SUCCESSFULLY ORGANISED ESCAPE PARTIES. ARRESTED BY THE KEmPEITAI HE WAS SUBJECTED TO BRUTAL TREATMENT AND STARVATION BUT STEADFASTLY REFUSED TO IMPLICATE HIS ASSOCIATES. HE WAS TRIED BY A MILITARY COURT AND EXECUTED BY THE JAPANESE AT KUCHING, 1944-03-02. HE CONTINUED TO DEFY THE JAPANESE UP UNTIL HIS DEATH. HE WAS AWARDED THE MILITARY CROSS (MC) FOR OUTSTANDING CONDUCT DURING OPERATIONS IN MALAYA.
Capt. L Matthews, 8th Division Signals established an intelligence network of about 20 officers and NCOs at Sandakan.
Please read further about Matthews
RASigs | Story 3 – WW2 Captain Lionel Matthews. (2021). Retrieved 8 October 2021, from http://pronto.au104.org/RASIGS_Stories/RASigs-Story3.html
Matthews had contact with Dick Maginal, a Malayan employed as a gardener in the Sandakan Camp by the Japanese.
The local population interestingly remained loyal and respectful towards the former British Colonial Administration. Maginal made it known he was sympathetic towards the prisoners and informed Matthews there were Sandakan civilians interned on Berhala Island (8km from Sandakan – small forested island of 5 hectares with prominent cliffs at the northern end) guarded by local constabulary and Japanese soldiers. He managed to set up a meeting between Sandakan No. 1 Camp and Berhala Island via Cpl Ahbin – the local policeman on the Beluran-Labuk Road at the turn off into No. 1 Camp. Cpl Ahbin’s former British Commandant of Police and his boss to whom he remained loyal, was Major Rice-Oxley.
Rice-Oxley was interned on Berhala Island and was able to from time to time, issue phantom commands to his men through collaboration with Matthews allowing preparations to be put into place in the event of an Allied invasion. Another of Rice-Oxley’s faithful men on Berhala Island was Cpl. Koram. (Following the collapse of the secret network and the Trials at Kutchingg, Rice-Oxley was given a one year sentence).
At this time contact was made via Cpl. Ahbin with the Senior Medical Officer at Sandakan Hospital Doctor J.P Taylor, an Australian. The first contact with Dr Taylor was made by Lt-Col E. Shepphard, 2/10th Field Ambulance and Lt. N.Sligo from the RAN. Sligo was the Canteen Officer at Sandakan as well as ‘B’ Force’s Intelligence Officer. The two men were granted permission to walk into Sandakan Township to make contact with Dr. Taylor for the purpose of obtaining medical supplies for the Camp.
What actually transpired was the ground work for an intelligence network . Dr. Taylor (very much aided by his wife Mrs Celia Taylor) to act as the middle man in an organisation that would assist prisoners by raising money and with preparations for escape attempts.
Other players in the clandestine group included Mr. G. Mavor, Manager and Chief Engineer of the Sandakan Electric Supply and his wife, both confined to the powerhouse bungalow by the Japanese. Also Mr. A. Phillips, Manager of the British North Borneo Trading Company and his Malayan wife who were permitted to carry on with their lives as usual.
Dr. Taylor and friends were considered by the Japanese as essential personnel and were not transferred to Berhala Island and permitted to work and remain at Sandakan under a form of house arrest.
Shortly after the meeting with Dr. Taylor, Sligo died of dysentery and his Intelligence Officer role was taken over by Capt. Matthews. Matthews arranged to have Taylor smuggle a parcel of medical supplies into Sandakan Camp at a prearranged location where later it could be collected by the Camp Wood Party.
This detail was under the command of Lt. R Wells, 8th Division Signals. A wireless expert he was placed in charge of the Wood Party which collected wood for the Camp kitchen and the camp’s wood -fired electricity generating boiler. Whilst Capt. Matthews’ movements within the Garden Party became more restricted, Wells who had the run of the surrounding area with his Wood Party, was taken into Capt. Matthews’ confidence becoming his 2 I.C.
Through Dick Maginal, Capt. Matthews was introduced to Ah Ping, the foreman at Sandakan No. 1. Camp Powerhouse and in the employ of Mr. Mavor. Another trusted employee of Mavor’s was the Powerhouse Chief Engineer, Ah Kong.
‘B’ Force had managed to smuggle out of Singapore and into Sandakan some wireless parts which were added to with the aid of displeased local Chinese merchants who had been put out of business by the Kempeitai. In Sept 1942 Dick Maginal obtained a crystal detector and headphones. Cpl Ahbin managed to procure two wireless valves through Lamberto Apostle, houseboy to Mr. G Brown, Assistant to the Conservator of Forests & Director of Agriculture. Mr Brown, who was at that time interned on Berhala Island would later be transferred to Lintang Barracks, Kutching.
Ah Ping obtained the route plans for the electrical and telephone lines. With the expertise of three POWs Lt. A. Weyton, Cpl Small and Mills a wireless receiver was operational by 4 Nov 1942. This network could even convert the camp AC electrical supply to DC by the resourceful fabrication of a chemical rectifier. As the power generator was some distance from the prisoner’s barracks the fluctuating power output was so low that it would need to be increased if it was hoped to receive world news broadcasts.
Lt Wells arranged with Ah Ping that extra wood to be supplied to the powerhouse so that an increase in the camp’s power generation could be made at 2200 hours each night. Wells had Ah Ping seek permission from the Japanese for extra manpower to be made available to help run the powerhouse. The Japanese consented.
The powerhouse is a hundred metres or so outside the prison camp and the final link in the chain. Wells and Matthews conspired to raise the voltage with the help of the Chinese manager, Ah Ping, and an Australian engineer, Sergeant Alf Stevens, who is permitted to live at the powerhouse.
Sgt Alf Stevens from 2/4th had prior to enlistment been an engine driver or boiler attendant at the Union Flour Mills at Kellerberrin.
Now part of the underground network, Stevens would act as the middleman between Capt. Matthews, Ah Ping and Ah Kong. Through Stevens news could be passed back to Ah Ping at the powerhouse and Cpl. Ahbin who could then supply Dr. Taylor with the latest update on the war and the underground from Sandakan No. 1 Camp end. The system worked well thanks to the ingenuity of the prisoners and help of the British civilians and local community.
Big Ben is heard on the illegal Radio Receiver
The chimes of Big Ben, an English accent announcing “This is the BBC” are heard over the receiver on the night 4 Nov 1942 – the first news from the world the men have received in almost a year. The Australian prisoners now tune into BBC Overseas Service, Radio Australia and Voice of America.
A failed business venture and dispute over money between two local traders brings about a betrayal of the network. The Japanese are informed of the network by a spy, Jackie Loh.
Tragically when this underground network came crashing down POWs, civilian internees and locals would all become victims to Kempeitai’s notorious brutality and many would lose their lives.
The informer Loh is thorough with his information to the Japanese.
The Crackdown and Arresting of Matthews and others
Camp Commandant, Captain Susumi Hoshijima arrives on 22 July 1943 arresting Capt. Matthews and their search over two days find in Matthews’s wallet a card from one of the Berhala internees, a list of radio parts secreted into the camp; three maps Sandakan town, Japanese troop positions and their accommodation; and a small notebook – Wells’s BBC news transcripts, which the Japanese describe as a ‘diary’.
The Japanese are not only infuriated by this discovery, they are humiliated. They go all out to pursue the guilty.
Wells, with great presence of mind repeatedly denies any knowledge of a radio despite the BBC transcripts. He takes Japanese guards on a futile rifle through the camp buying time for others to secrete further evidence of his half-built transmitter before abandoning his charade.
At 6pm on July 24, 1943, Hoshijima parades Wells before the prisoners.
“Look at this man,” Hoshijima yells. “You will not see him again!”
Wells is hauled away to a black limousine and driven to Kempeitai headquarters in Sandakan, known as the ‘House of Torture.
‘Japanese secret police are the eyes and ears – and baton-wielders and steel-capped-boot kickers – of the government. Even Japanese soldiers and guards fear them.
Kempeitai agents in Borneo acquire a more sinister role. Being self-regulated in such remote conditions, they endow themselves with virtually unlimited powers, drunk on a godlike freedom to arbitrate between life and death. They are notoriously cruel – are devoid of any restraining conscience. They have been trained to relish brutality. Kempeitai officers typically demonstrate, and appear proud of, the compassionless execution of their duties.’ …………from Paul Ham Paul Ham’s Sandakan: ‘The Untold Story of the Sandakan Death Marches’ by Random House
The House of Torture, Sandakan
The ‘House of Torture’ is a former British local residence at Tanah Merah Road, Sandakan.
Upstairs with a lavish view of Sandakan’s Bay is the office of Commander of local Kempeitai, Seisaku Murakami.
There are four cells beneath the House of Torture: two large rectangular ones, to accommodate male and female prisoners; an interrogation room; and the office of the senior officer “supervising” the interrogations. Upstairs, with a lavish view of the bay, is the office of the commander of the local Kempeitai, Seisaku Murakami. Japanese guards surround the bungalow with bayonets fixed.
Prisoners are crammed into the big cell. Forbidden to talk, smile or look at each other, twelve guards stand over the prisoners at all times.
Each prisoner is brought into the interrogation room, asked a few perfunctory questions and beaten with slaps, kicks and wooden swords. If this fails to elicit the correct answers, harsher measures are applied.
The Torture & Punishment methods
‘The Kempeitai specialises in several hideous forms of torture: the prisoner may be forced to kneel on a plank, specially carved with spikes; a long piece of wood is inserted behind the victim’s knees, and two Japanese guards stand on each end, like a see-saw, severely lacerating the prisoner’s knees. Or a ju-jitsu expert throws the prisoner all around the cell, bashing his body against the walls and floor. The water torture, infamous throughout the Empire, forces the victim to consume large amounts of water: “When the victim’s stomach was full to bursting, a Kempeitai officer would jump on him from the top of a chair,” according to Japanese historian Professor Yuki Tanaka’
After a few days at the hands of the Kempeitai, the victim tends to say whatever he’s told to. Many beg to be killed. For this reason, the interrogators are never sure of the reliability of the information extracted. Their solution in Sandakan is to torture as many suspects as needed to validate the ‘story’ of the underground, the unfolding scale of which enrages and humiliates the Japanese commanders in Borneo.’
….from Paul Ham’s Sandakan Death Marches.
The tortures begin with Dr. Taylor and dozens of local civilians who are each dragged into the torture chamber and flogged to within an inch of their lives. With Taylor’s face looking like raw beef-steak his wife Celia is brought in, the Kempeitai tell her to advise her husband to reveal or the beatings will begin again.
‘Matthews, Wells and Lieutenant Gordon Weynton (who helped build the radio) endure the full spectrum of physical agony: they are variously water-tortured, whipped, thrashed by ju-jitsu experts and racked, a mediaeval form of torture. Their hands are cuffed and tied to a rafter; their legs stretched out on another rafter.
A piece of wood, 1.8 metres long, is placed across the ankles. The rafter to which their legs are strapped is drawn taut. The effect is to stretch the arms and legs, strip all the flesh away from the ankles and almost break the ankle bones.
Wells survives this for two minutes, then falls unconscious. Guards throw water over his face and resume. This time, they strike him repeatedly with a wooden sword and a small hammer.
“They would hit on the one place on the head continually with the hammer,” he later says.
They drive a nail into one ear, puncturing his eardrum. Wells never recovers his hearing in that ear.
On August 16, Wells is forced to consume a large quantity of rice. The guards then thrust a hose into his mouth and pump water into the residual cavity in his stomach. After about four hours, the rice swells up. Wells later describes the excruciating aftermath: “I had not had a motion for 26 days after I had been arrested, mainly because of nervous reaction, the light rations and the floggings. After the administration of this rice, I tried for about three hours to bring it up again. … I was successful in bringing up quite a bit of the soaked raw rice, the remainder of which went through the other way and pulled quite a large amount of my bowel out through the anus. I had to work that in with my own hands. I asked for medical attention, but was ignored. After about a week, I managed to work it all back.’
from Paul Ham’s Sandakan story.
Matthews, Wells and Weynton reveal nothing, never revealing any name or piece of information other than what the Japanese already had.
Morse Code for Communications between prisoners
Waiting in his cell the incredibly courageous Matthews sits cross legged as ordered and taps morse code on his knee to the others informing them the questions he has been asked. He would do this after each round with the Kempeitai returning more battered and bruised – always informing the others with morse code on every topic and his answers to avoid accidental incrimination!
At one time Matthews shares a cell with local boy Johnny Funk who revealed how Matthews taps his message to all telling them he has not revealed anything urging them not to break.
The Funk family are fully committed to the resistance. Alex Funk had supplied the Sandakan maps to Capt. Matthews. These maps are found amongst his belongings by the Kempeitai search of the Camp. The maps detail the Japanese barracks, machine gun posts and communications facilities. They are further provided with Government Forestry maps showing jungle tracks into Borneo’s interior as well as the location of Japanese barracks and buildings.
Worse follows for the local families of the arrested and accused.
Lagan’s wife and four children are singled out. A week after Kempeitai officers break her husband they return his blood stained clothes to her house. She is terrified and further harassed by the Japanese, but she holds firm denying any knowledge of his diary (which she burnt on his instructions).
The Kempeitai take her 10 year son promising him chocolates to talk about his father. They remain at her house for 2 weeks waking her through the night to question her again and again. The Lagan family reveal nothing. She and two of her children are allowed to take Ernesto (Jnr) food. She finds her 10 year son thin and pale. A second visit with fresh clothes finds Ernesto on removing his shirt has a huge blue bruise down one side of his body and a large cut which is now criss-crossed with stitches in his back. Ernesto lies to his mother saying he fell down the stairs.
He whispers to his mother he wants extra food for the five Australians imprisoned with him. The Lagan family have no money – but Katherine’s husband tells her to sell his clothes and shoes to buy more food.
Next Katherine Lagan is ordered to report to Kempeitai HQ every morning, Hoshijima tells her this is her last chance to talk. The Kempeitai again turn on her son Ernesto who is ordered to attend Hoshijima’s office each night where he is showered with chocolates, sweets and toys. Ernesto was carried home by a Jap every night about 2 am. Hoshijima never obtained any further information from the Lagan family.
The Kempeitai turn to other families to harass.
Heng Joo Ming’s wife Siti is beaten up and separated from her husband who pleads for his wife’s release. She is released two weeks later. Mings tells his wife if he survives he will know how to deal with the collaborator Dominic Koh.
(After the war the traitor Koh is sentenced to a miserable 18 months’ prison for his spiteful deed)
Throughout August and September 1943 the arrests continue. In total, the Japanese beat, terrorise and torture 200 prisoners – mostly civilians at the ‘house of torture’.
Further Australian soldiers and brought in.
Sgts Alf Stevens, Joe Weston, Colin Lander and Macalister Blain, Sappers Carl Jensen, Don Marshall and Ted Keating (from Kalgoorlie who died from injuries and illness awaiting trial at Kutching Please read his story) and Private Tom Rumble are arrested, beaten senseless or given the log treatment or other Kempeitai special treatments.
Right: Ted Keating from Coolgardie.
Mrs Mozelle (known as ‘Ma’) Cohen, Mrs Mavor and Mrs Taylor are also arrested and confined to cells.
Mozelle Cohen was the largest financial donater to the Underground. On her arrest she was placed in solitary confinement and later sentenced to pay a very large monetary fine to Japan at the Kutching Trials.
(Mozelle ‘Ma’ Cohen, born in Singapore to Baghdadi parents in the early 20th century.
She married merchant Menachem Cohen and they moved to Sandakan in British North Borneo, the Singapore Jewish community still considered her as one of their own – Asian and Non British women of financial standing who were accepted by the colonials and the locals.
Mozelle Cohen was part of an Asian group of women known for their philanthropy. Now in Sandakan all races “came to her for help, Eurasians, Chinese, Malay housekeepers, nurses, coolies, came to her for assistance. No one ever asked her for anything and was refused, time, sympathy, money, or help.
Following her release she and her husband continued to be harrassed by Kempeitai. In fact were arrested twice. There are two stories as to their demise. One was they were on a ship to Singapore which was torpedoed by the Americans, and the other was Mozelle Cohen was placed by the Japanese in a barrel and rolled around until she died).
Conditions at the POW Camp
Back at Sandakan Prison Camp POWs are held collectively responsible and punished. Rations are severely reduced, their workloads heavier and the guards wantonly deliver irrational and vicious punishment.
Prisoners are moved to Kuching late 1943
The prisoners are moved by sea in late 1943 to Kuching (the west coast of Borneo) to await what will be a show trial. The men are held in bamboo cages measuring 1.8 square metres and 1.8 metres high, with 25 men crammed into each. Matthews normally 95 kilos now weighs 38 kilos. Communication is forbidden, but the Australian signallers continue their finger-tapping morse code messaging.
The Trials and Sentences
Three senior Japanese officers have been flown in from Singapore, such is the publicity attached to the case which opened 3 Feb 1944 at St Theresa’s School, a Catholic convent commandeered by the Kempeitai in Kuching. The trial was designed to enforce discipline and minimise the possibility/spread of resistance and sabotage. There are no lawyers for the defence, and no jury. A prominent observer is Lieutenant Colonel Tatsuji Suga, chief commandant of the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps in Borneo.
On 2nd March, the chained civilian defendants are returned to appear before the judges for their verdict.
The following eight men aside from Capt. Matthews, are condemned to death by firing squad 2 March 1944:
ERNESTO LAGAN (Snr)
HENG JOO MING
ALEX FUNK *
FELIX AZCONA (Jnr)
JEMADER UJAGAR SINGH
WONG MU SING
MATUSUP BIN GUNGAU
* ‘Alexander, Johnny and Paddy Funk were cousins of the late Tun Fuad Stephens and members of the North Borneo Volunteer Force.
Tragically, Alexander together with Jemedar Ujagah Singh, Sergeant Abin, detective Ernesto Lagan, Heng Ju Ming, Wong Mu Sing and Filipino guerilla Lt Felix Azcona were executed by the Japanese for their role in helping the POWs. Many others were tortured and imprisoned until the end of the war.
Johnny and Paddy survived torture and imprisonment. The Australian Government offered them A$92 (RM260) each for their wartime services, which they declined.’
This information from ANDREW HWANG, Malaysian volunteers Group, Kuala Lumpur.
The remaining civilians receive sentences ranging from 6 months to 15 years.
Matthews, Wells and other Australian prisoners of war involved in the underground are led into the courtroom, handcuffed. A Japanese major reads the case for the prosecution – in Japanese. None of the defendants is given a copy of what he has been accused of. Matthews objects and asks for legal representation, which is refused. No witnesses for the defence are allowed.
When asked if they have anything to say – Matthews and Wells respond they believe they have done what they have been required to in these circumstances as soldiers.
The interpreter claimed the prisoners said “We accept punishment according to the law which is fair and just”. In other words, they plead guilty.
The following morning handcuffed Matthews and Wells are led back to the courtroom for sentencing by 50 year old Lt. Col.Egami (father of 7) dressed in his ceremonial role as chief judge who summarises the charges, reads out their sentences and states no right of appeal is allowed.
12 years solitary confinement with hard labour for Wells for violating POW regulations and spreading rumours (Wells expected a death sentence but it transpired a bureaucratic mistake (typo error) spared him.)
6 years penal servitude for Alf Stevens.
Weynton, Lieutenant Gordon (sent to Outram Road Goal Singapore for eight years.)
18 months’ penal servitude for Corporals McMillan and Roffey
Sentenced to death by shooting for Capt Matthews for violating POW regulations, spreading rumours, espionage and planning a rebellion. Matthews and those sentenced to death are immediately led from the court to face their deaths. Capt Matthews was the only person to be given a grave.
The trial and sentences for European civilians
Dr Taylor has admitted nothing. He with the other Europeans are tried on 3 Feb 1944. Deliberate mistranslations condemn them. They have no defence.
Dr Taylor and Gerald Mavor receive 15 years imprisonment with hard labour at Outram Road Gaol, Singapore. Mavor died 5 May 1945.
Dick Marginal received a sentence of seven years.
The remaining are given various prison sentences:
Mrs Moselle Cohen from family of wealthy shop-owners on Berhala Island is the biggest financial backer of funds for POWs and escapees and providing medicines and food through the network. She is fined, sent back to Sandakan where she later dies. One Japanese report states she drowned at sea. Another appalling story alleges Cohen is placed inside a barrel and rolled until dead.
One can never be surprised by the methods and extent of Japanese cruelty.
Some Members of Sandakan’s Secret Underground Network
VX24597 Lionel Colin (The Duke) Capt. Matthews GC, MC – Australian POW, took over Sligo’s role as ‘B’ Force’s Intelligence Officer. He received the sentence of Guilty, Death by Firing Squad.
Marginal, Dick – Gardener employed by Japanese – sympathetic to POWs & loyal to previous British Administration
Cpl Ahbin – Local Policeman stationed at Beluran-Labuk Road at the turn off into No. 1 Camp. Loyal to former British Commandant of Police and his boss was Major Rice-Oxley then interned on Berhala Island with other foreign nationals.
Major Rice-Oxley -Major A. Rice-Oxley, Commandant for the Constabulary & Officer in the volunteer force was interned on Berhala Island. Also interned were Governor Charles R. Smith and other government officials including Harry Keith, conservator of Forests.
With the absence of European officers, the leadership of the police force in Sandakan fell under the command of local policemen Inspector Samuel Guriaman, Sergeant Major Yansalang and Warrant Officer Ojagar Singh.
‘Rice Oxley, ordered the three junior officers to corporate with Dr. James Taylor at the Sandakan hospital. Once the new Prison of War camp at Mile 8 in Sandakan was built to house 3000 POWs captured in Malaya, Singapore and Java, Rice Oxley also instructed his three men to try to begin communicating with the leadership of the prisoners and to build a network of information and to assist them in whatever means possible.
Thus in mid-1942, began the “Sandakan Underground” activities of smuggling letters out of the camp as well as sending in food and what little medicine was available to the Berhala interns which included a large network of Dusun’s, Malays, Filipino, Chinese and European’s in Sandakan who became a part of this underground movement. Led by Dr. Taylor, the underground movement becomes active late 1942.
Aware that there existed Japanese informants within their ranks of the police force, Guriaman, Yansalang and Singh decided to limit the number of people who knew about the Sandakan Underground movement and to restrict all knowledge about their activities to a small group of policemen they knew they could trust.
Building a communication network into the Prison of War camp and to Captain Lionel Colin Matthews, an Australian who was tasked with carrying out underground activities on behalf of the prisoners in the Mile 8 prison camp.’
We wish to acknowledge this above information is from the
Daily Express, Sabah, Malaysia by Avtar Singh
Ojagar Singh this brave Sikh officer stood 6ft tall risked his life and that of his family to assist the Network. He was accused of assisting the Australian prisoners escape from Berhala. He was arrested, beaten and tortured for seven days during which his jaw was broken and his elbow shattered.
Dr Taylor request to treat Ojagar’s injuries were denied. After their beatings the injured men were all forced to stand or squat for hours, forbidden to speak and provided no food.
Ojagar’s strength was beaten down by the violent Japanese beatings and dreadful torture. He admitted he had smuggled letters out of Mile 8 Camp. They were hidden under a chicken cage at his home. He was forced home to show the Japs where the letters were. All he would say was he collected then but would not reveal who had passed them to him.
He was dragged away in front of his terrified pregnant wife and young children, back to the Torture House to be beaten further.
Cpl. Koram – Another of Rice-Oxley’s faithful men on Berhala Island.
Doctor J.P. Taylor – (Australian ) Senior Medical Officer had worked for about 20 years at Sandakan Hospital – Dr. Taylor became the middle man in an organisation that would assist prisoners by raising money and with preparations for escape attempts. His role was pivotal in the success of the network which within 12 months:
Delivers regular food & medicines to prisoners at Sandakan and those on Berhala Island.
Raises cash to pay for supples and arms
Provides parts for the radio and planned transmitter
Actively sabotages Japanese facilities and machinery
Circulates intelligence reports on Japanese activities and transcripts of BBC World Service to key agents, selected officers in prison camps, civilian internees at Berhala Island.
Outside the Prison Camp, Dr. Taylor is the key figure.
While Matthews is the key figure inside Sandakan Prison
The two men have never met, but have forged a bond of trust through secret correspondence.
Above: Dr. Jim Taylor and his wife, Celia at Sandakan.
‘Dr James Patrick Taylor OBE, MB, CH.M,
Born at Yass, NSW, 20.11.1897, died at Sydney NSW. 19.6.1985.
As organiser of the Sandakan Underground, he supplied Australian prisoners of war with food, medical supplies, radio parts and escape funds. He was responsible for several escapes from Sandakan POW Camp. Arrested and imprisoned by the Kempei-Tai October 1943, Dr Taylor endured repeated severe torture until his liberation by Allied Forces in September 1945.’
Dr J P Taylor as principal Medical Officer, North Borneo Trading Company and district surgeon, Sandakan during the Second World War, interviewed by Tim Bowden. Retrieved 8 October 2021, from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1008147
Dr Taylor and Mrs Taylor return to Australia. He suffers ongoing health problems throughout his life but is not awarded any health care or financial assistance by the Australian Government, other than a few thousand dollars late in life. A miserable act by the Dept of Veterans Affairs.
Lt-Col E. Shepphard, 2/10th Field Ambulance – POW Sandakan
Lt. N. Sligo from the RAN – Canteen Officer at Sandakan & ‘B’ Force’s Intelligence Officer. Died illness Sandakan 1942.
POW Sandakan. Lt . Sligo died of dysentery soon after his first meeting with Capt. Matthews. Capt. Matthews then took over the role as Intelligence Officer.
New Zealand born Sligo aged 42 years worked before the war in Malaya as a River Boat Captain and spoke Malay fluently. He enlisted with the Royal Naval Reserve when war broke out, however had been transferred to the Royal Australian Naval Reserve by order of Malaya Command the day before ‘B’ Force left Selarang. He was attached to Australian Army Ordnance Corps and appointed Sandakan Camp Intelligence Officer.
Lt. R Wells – 8th Division Signals.
Australian POW Sandakan & in charge of Camp’s Wood Party. Became 2 I/C to Capt. Matthews.
He was incredibly fortunate to be given a gaol sentence and not death firing squad as Matthews did. It was a error made by typist.
‘Wells joined the Army in early 1940 and commenced technical training in the Signals Corps. He was commissioned on 1 November 1940 and posted to 8th Division Signals. In 1941, Lt Wells’ unit was posted to Malaya. His first duties were associated with high frequency (HF) radio sets that were fitted to Army vehicles. Later during the Malaya campaign he was involved in radio detection operations searching for clandestine radios sending messages to the Japanese; followed by an attachment to Malaya Command as Posts and Telecommunications Liaison Officer. After the fall of Singapore, Lt Wells spent the first few months as a prisoner of war (POW) at Changi until 7 July 1942, when along with 1494 other POWs that made up B Force, he left Singapore on board the Japanese tramp ship Ubi Maru, arriving in Sandakan Harbour on 18 July 1942. After arriving at Sandakan, Lt Wells became active in clandestine underground network with some of the other officers, including Captain Matthews who was later executed. Using the contacts in the local Chinese community the group managed to acquire enough parts to for Lt Wells to initially build a radio receiver and later a transmitter. However, the Kempei Tai had received information from collaborators about some of the underground activity and conducted a major search of the camp. On 24 July 1943 a more thorough search was conduced and a radio parts list was among the incriminating evidence discovered. The list was linked to Lt Wells and when confronted by Captain Hoshijima he eventually led the Kempei Tai party to the transmitter, leaving the receiver in its hiding place. Lt Wells was immediately arrested, paraded to the camp and then transported to the Kempei Tai Headquarters and eventually to Kuching where he was joined by many others arrested for their part in the Sandakan underground.
Lt Wells was brutally tortured as the Japanese tried unsuccessfully to extract information. In February 1944 all the accused were tried by Court Martial and found guilty. On 28 February 1944 Lt Wells and Capt Matthews were both sentenced to death. The Japanese Headquarters at Kuching sent a signal to the Japanese command in Saigon requesting permission to execute two Australian officers. The reply from Saigon only authorised one execution; it was discovered after the war this omission was a simple typographical error in Saigon. Both men were brought before the court again on 29 February 1944, Capt Matthews’ sentence to death was confirmed and he was shot that day. As the court did not have the authority to execute Lt Wells, he was sentenced to 12 years penal servitude in solitary confinement.
Lt Wells was nailed into a crate, loaded into the hold of a ship and transferred back to Singapore to the infamous Outram Road Jail. He was finally released in August 1945 having endured 21 months brutal and cruel treatment from his Kempei Tai jailers, surviving what was probably the longest period of solitary confinement of any allied POW. Lt Wells was one of only a few to survive the Sandakan POW Camp, some officers were transferred to Kuching, six POWs escaped and the remaining POWs died in captivity, many during the infamous Sandakan to Ranau death marches. After the war he studied at Melbourne University, graduating with a BSc and Dip Ed. In 1951 he was again commissioned into the Army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, before resigning in 1960 to continue a distinguished career in communications and engineering in the Public Service.’ (we acknowledge this information from AWM)
Please read 2003 Borneo Bugle
Bugle, B. (2021). Retrieved 10 October 2021, from http://www.borneopow.info/bugle/Borneo%20Bugle8.pdf
Also read about Singapore War Trials
Wells, R. (2021). Otsuka Misao and others – Singapore War Crimes Trials. Retrieved 10 October 2021, from https://www.singaporewarcrimestrials.com/case-summaries/detail/072
Lt. A. Weyton, Cpl. Small & Lt. Mills – Three Australian POWs from ‘B’ Force who operated the wireless receiver by 4 Nov 1942. He is one of three Australians prisoners initially arrested and tortured by the Kempetai at Sandakan.
Mr. G. Mavor – civilian & Manager & Chief Engineer, Sandakan Electric Supply and his wife, both confined to the powerhouse bungalow by the Japanese.
Mr. A. Phillips – civilian & Manager, British North Borneo Trading Company and his Malayan wife who were permitted to carry on with their lives as usual.
Ah Ping – civilian & Foreman, Sandakan No. 1. Camp Powerhouse, employed by Mr. Mavor.
Ah Kong – civilian & Powerhouse Chief Engineer, another trusted employee of Mavor’s.
Cpl Alf STEVENS – approved by Japanese to assist Ah Ping at the Camp Powerhouse. Stevens was former engine operator/boiler maker for Union Flour Mills, Kellerberrin, WA. He would be middleman between Capt. Matthews, Ah Ping and Ah Kong.
Through Stevens news could be passed back to Ah Ping at the powerhouse & Cpl. Ahbin who could then supply Dr. Taylor with the latest update on the war and the underground from Sandakan No. 1 Camp end.
Heng Joo Ming – Chinese businessman & overseer of a coolie workforce (and then was not a member of network) who offers to undertake the theft of radio components from a storage shed located near the airfield and close to his home. He sells to the network.
Ming soon becomes one of the most loyal in the local network. He befriends several Australian POWs including Russ McEwin. Ming smuggles food to McEwin after his severe beating. Also food to Sgt Walter Wallace who is desperate to escape.
These perilous relationships evolve not especially to save the Australians but more because the locals are furious at the Japanese treatment of their families and their country. They see the Allies as their only way to rid their country of these hated occupiers. Every step is financially lubricated.
Ming and Ah Ping fully understand the racial war the Japanese wage against their people. They know their lives continue only at the whim of the Japanese commander. Their only option is to join forces with the Allied guerrillas and prisoners to form a resistance.
LAGAN family – Ernsto (Snr) initially a member of Borneo Volunteers. During early 1943 Ernesto Lagan and Dr. Taylor with the connivance of the Sandakan Governor, set up an emergency fund initially to aid escapees. The fund grows as did the list of local donors. Celia Taylor does most of the clerical work.
Lagan’s bungalow becomes pivotal in smuggling medicines to Sandakan and to Berhala Prison and for others searching for wireless parts.
Night meetings increase to 2-3 times weekly to discuss the prisoners activities, intelligence flow and the state of the interned Berhala cilivians. The locations change from Lagan’s to Dr Taylor’s bungalow and the Funk family’z palatial 11 room estate.
The interned Berhala civilians are concerned about their safety. Will the women and children be moved elsewhere? Rumuors such as the female population of 47 would become ‘comfort women’ and the men executed thankfully proved to be false.
The women and 15 children are moved to Kuching not long after.
Right: Kinzaburo Kono was one several Kempeitai guards who tortured Matthews, Wells and other Australians.
We recommend reading COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY AT THE SANDAKAN-RANAU WAR CRIMES TRIALS Paul Taucher, Murdoch University
Taucher, P. (2021). Retrieved 10 October 2021, from https://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/34351/1/whole.pdf
Below Hoshijima outside Labuan Courts with his Japanese lawyers. He remains cocky throughout his trial and was possibly surprised by his death sentence. He was allowed to write about 20 letters home to his family but was thankfully denied his request to send his nail cuttings back to his family. The Australian prosecutor despised Hoshijima for the horrific loss of lives, the fact he had stockpiled rice beneath his house and well as medicines from Red Cross parcels. Hoshijima ordered the POWs receive no further rice rations after about mid Jan 1945. The POWs were starved to death as well as succumbing to tropical illnesses.
Warrant Officer Ojagar Singh
Sandakan, North Borneo. September 1950. Informal portrait of Mrs Katherine Lagan, the widow of Ernesto Lagan, who was executed on 2nd March 1944 at Kuching for assistance he gave Australian prisoners of war at Sandakan. Mrs Lagan was rewarded for his help by representatives of the Australian-British Reward Mission. In 1946 the Mission led by V18803 Major (Maj) H. W. S. (Harry) Jackson, Australian Government representative, was joined by Maj. R. K. Dyce, representing the British Army, and two journalists from the ABC, Colin Simpson and William McFarlane, travelled to North Borneo to investigate, report and reward the assistance provided to Australian and British prisoners of war (POWs) by local natives. In 1942, 1800 Australian and 600 British POWs were sent to Sandakan from Singapore and Java. Those prisoners still alive in the Sandakan POW Camp in January 1945 were forced to help evacuate the Japanese Imperial Army from Sandakan to Ranau in three brutal death marches where the men were forced to march the 150 miles to Ranau. Any POWs still alive after the last march, were killed. Only six prisoners, who had all escaped during the death marches, were still alive at the end of the war. POWs had made pledges to the local people who had assisted them and the Australian Government decided that these obligations should be investigated and rewarded. (Donor H. W. S. Jackson)
Above Outram Road Gaol
Below: Jock McClaren, with an inspection party at the end of the war – visiting Berhala Island, North Borneo 23 Oct 1945.
BERHALA ISLAND, NORTH BORNEO 1945-10-23. A SMALL PARTY CONSISTING OF VX108088 CAPTAIN L. G. DARLING, PRISONER OF WAR LIAISON OFFICER 9TH DIVISION; SQUADRON LEADER BIRCHALL RAAF; CAPTAIN HOUGHTON, WAR GRAVES; AND CAPTAIN MCLAREN MC, SERVICES RECONNAISSANCE DEPARTMENT (SRD), VISITED BERHALA ISLAND IN SANDAKAN HARBOUR. THIS ISLAND, THE SITE OF THE FORMER BRITISH QUARANTINE STATION AND LEPER COLONY, WAS USED BY THE JAPANESE TO HOUSE ALLIED PRISONERS OF WAR AND INTERNEES. QX21058 PRIVATE R. K. MCLAREN, 2/10TH FIELD WORKSHOPS, LATER CAPTAIN “Z” SPECIAL FORCE, WAS CAPTURED IN SINGAPORE IN 1942. HE ARRIVED AT BERHALA ISLAND ON 1943-04-26 AND ESCAPED FROM THERE ON 1943-06-04, THE EVENING BEFORE THE JAPANESE MOVED THE PRISONERS TO THE SANDAKAN PRISONER OF WAR CAMP. HE WENT TO TAWITAWI WHERE HE AND HIS FELLOW ESCAPEES JOINED THE GUERRILLA MOVEMENT. CAPTAIN MCLAREN IS SEATED IN THE BOW OF A LAUNCH AS IT APPROACHES BERHALA ISLAND.