23rd April, 2016
By PAUL MU
KOTA KINABALU: The history of Japanese occupation in Borneo during the Second World War between the years 1942-45 has been included in a youth development programme in Australia.
It all started in 2003 as a community education programme by highlighting the infamous Sandakan Death March before PASS or the Partnership with Australia, Sabah and Sarawak schools was established.
Borneo Exhibition Group Inc. Western Australia chairman Ryan Rowland said under PASS, students are asked to do an assignment or take part in a competition and winners will then receive a two-week sponsored trip to visit memorial sites starting in Kuching and ending in Kota Kinabalu.
Ryan who led an entourage of Australian war veterans and their family members to pay homage to fallen soldiers at war memorial sites across Sabah, said the trip would encourage local and Australian students to come together to learn about that chapter in history.
“In the beginning we only focused on the Australian side of the story but over the years we realised that during the four years of Japanese occupation there was much more trauma and tragedy suffered by the local people here and left forgotten,” said Ryan during a visit to a Sikh Temple near Sembulan yesterday.
“For us, we continue to keep the memories alive during Anzac Day to remember the fallen soldiers and we would like the locals to join us because the commemoration is not just for the Aussies and New Zealanders but it is for everybody,” he said.
Over the years a lot of Australian war veterans have been unable to travel to Sabah because of their mobility problems due to old age.
“In the next couple of years, we will lose many of them because most of them are now in the 90s and furthermore they are not functioning well mentally and physically. Now we only have three living members who were Sandakan prisoners of war and they are aged 95, 97 and 100 years old,” said Ryan.
“For us we have a very strong responsibility to pass on the history and heritage to the next generation from the information told to us by their forefathers,” he said.
The entourage who travelled here yesterday included two Australian war veterans Len Snell, 95, and Ronald Hatch, 92 who was only 21 years old when they were deployed to serve in Borneo during the Japanese occupation.
“I have come to Sabah every year to visit the memorial sites and this year will be my last because my knees can no longer tolerate the long journey,” said Ronald.
Len was in the infantry unit and was involved in combat when the Japanese first attacked Australia before he was transferred to Papua New Guinea and later to Sandakan to join the liberation forces.
Ronald who was a commander during the war was posted to Labuan and Sandakan and after the war, he was assigned to take charge of captured Japanese soldiers. Both of them are from Perth.
According to Datuk Mike J. Steel, a former captain in the British Army, the visit to the Sikh Temple was a gesture of appreciation for the brave act done by the temple in helping British prisoners of war during the Japanese occupation.
“A marvellous act of courage occurred, the Sikh Temple had an organ and the organist used to practise most evenings.
“This could clearly be heard at the end of hard days by the British POWs. The Sikh organist, used to slip in the tune of ‘God Save the King’ in the middle of his other tunes.
“The Japanese guards did not realise the significance of the British national anthem or thought that the spontaneous act of standing briefly to attention was just plain British madness,” related Steel who is the Expat Group regional representative in Sabah.
The visit to the temple was part of the Australian war veterans’ annual event besides other war memorial sites across Sabah.
The temple building also survived the Japanese bombing campaign as a bomb was dropped but did not explode.
The entourage from Australia was welcomed by the Sabah Sikh Association president, Anup Singh Mannan and former Sabah Tourism Board event director, Datuk Balwant Singh Kler.