Former POW Ted McLaughlin wanted to remember his best mates who perished at Sandakan. He followed his dream and was determined introduce a Memorial in Western Australia to honour and remember 130 West Australian young men who perished under the most appalling circumstances at the hands of their Japanese captors.
In 1939, 28 year old Ted, a rice-farmer from NSW enlisted with AIF, and in 1940 became a gunner with 2/15th Field Artillery, 8th Division. The 2/15th arrived Singapore 15 August. In early December they were sent to Jahore and north into Malaysia to support other Battalions of 8th Division.
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 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.
This was also about the time Australians began to learn the terrible truth about those who died there. Their families were never sent anything further other than the one and only Telegram advising their man had died at Sandakan. Families begged for further information and they went on begging.
Ted’s son Joe Mclaughlin believes Ted was so devastated when he learnt the details of the horrific death of his closest mate Gunner Albert Cleary which would have been in the mid to late 1980s. This horrific news spurred Ted to do something and as Joe says, changed Ted.
Cleary and Wally Crease escaped 3 March 1945 from Paginatan having marched there on a rice carrying party from Ranau. The Japanese hunted any escapees down, they considered it a humiliation. Cleary was captured by 12 March and thereafter underwent hours and hours of mindless barbaric torture particularly at the hands of the Japanese guards who had been on duty when the two POWs escaped. The guards had been severely punished by their superiors and took their frustrations out on Cleary.
The Japanese wanted to ensure POWs this was the treatment they could expect if you attempt to escape.
Days later the POWs discovered Crease was dead, having been shot not far from the camp during initial escape.
By the time his friends were allowed to tend to 22 year old Cleary on 20 March – 8 days later and 8 days of torture he was semi-conscious; his battered and wasted body had been removed from the compound by the Japanese and dumped near a gutter at the side of the Meridi track. His mates tenderly cleaned down his filthy body before carrying him back to the hut where cradled in their arms, Cleary died.
(This information is from Lynette Silver’s ‘Sandakan, A Conspiracy of Silence – and relayed by Botterill (one of the successful escapee who had been at Paginaton)
Albert ‘Neil’ Cleary
This first service in 1991 to commemorate the men of
Sandakan was held at Boyup Brook – the first Sandakan Memorial in WA. Ted was so surprised at the 100s of people who came from all around WA. He was then 81 years of age.
Following on from the 1991 an 1992 Service, talks were underway between Ted and a group of former POWs. A Committee was formed by 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion (who had lost 70 men at Sandakan) and Ex-POWs Assoc which was headed up by Bernie O’Sullivan from 2/4th.
The monies required for this larger memorial were from large personal donations made by former POWs, Sandakan family members and corporations. The Shire of Boyup Brook was reported to be most helpful to the working Committee, and approved plans which were formerly approved by Commonwealth Monuments.
In 1993, a Commemorative Service was held with this larger memorial which included names of all the West Australians who died at Sandakan and most importantly incorporated Ted’s original Memorial plaque.
This project was undertaken by a sub Committee made up by 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion and Ex POWs Assoc and headed up by Bernie O’Sullivan, formerly POW of 2/4th, Solicitor. The other known member of this Committee was Les Cody, formerly 2/4th and author of ‘Ghosts in Khaki’ a history of the 2/4th.
It was reported in the 2/4th’s ‘Borehole Bulletin’ to be a spectacular success. The weather was beautiful. Bernie O’Sullivan gave the address and it was said a pin could be heard drop when he talked about the horrors of Sandakan. For many this was the first time they heard this information, as were the services in 1991 and 1992.
The horrors of Sandakan had been hidden away by our Australian Government all this time. Families were never notified details of the deaths of their sons, husbands, brothers . Most were never informed where they had died.
Commendation for Gallantry
Period: Second World War (1939-1945)
Awarded on: 2011
Action: “Gunner Cleary was one of approximately two thousand Allied prisoners of war held in the Sandakan POW camp. The retribution he experienced after an attempted escape was brutal.”
Details: Posthumously awarded
– In 2001, recommended by the Australian Labor Party for a Victoria Cross (VC) for bravery, but his case was dismissed by a special Federal Liberal Government tribunal:
“Available records do not suggest that Cleary, during his period in captivity at Sandakan and Ranau, including his escape, carried out actions or conducted himself in a way which was above and beyond what a serviceman’s duty at the time required. The Tribunal believes there is no basis for it to consider recommending Gunner Cleary for any further recognition under the Australian honours and awards system. The Tribunal also notes that the weight of submissions taken as a whole is against any further recognition of Gunner Cleary”