Sandakan's war history

The stilt fishing village of Sandakan town sits amongst markets, temples, mosques and modern urban blocks, and is a humble reminder that traditional local life has persisted through Sabah’s myriad changes. It’s also in languid contrast to the town’s devastating war history. Once the site of a Japanese POW camp, Sandakan is infamous for its ‘Death Marches’, a series of forced marches from Sandakan to Ranau that saw the deaths of more than 3,600 Javanese civilian slave labourers and 2,400 Allied prisoners of war. By the end of the war, of all the prisoners only 6 Australians survived, all of whom had escaped. It is perhaps the single worst atrocity suffered by Australian servicemen during the Second World War. The Australian war memorial at Sandakan is another humbling experience, though so toois the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre, half-an-hour away from the town’s centre.

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