Published on: Saturday, April 26, 2014
Among them were some 20 undergraduate students and professors from Judith Cowan University, Western Australia, a dozen Western Australia Premier's Anzac Student Tour, some 17 top brass army officers from Sydney who left for a week-long Death March trek from Bauto to Ranau straight after and a larger group of tourists from Victoria.
War historian Lynette Silver noted the presence of not only a lot of young people but also most of Aussie presence were not relatives of any prisoner of war, which suggests growing public interest on Anzac Day Sandakan in Australia from people who had nothing to do with the Death March personally.
Coupled with growing young people interest, it raises hope for it to last into the future, Lynette said.
Jane Duke, the Deputy Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia, said a whopping 150,000 Australian, New Zealander, British, Indian and Turkish soldiers died in the eight-month Gallipoli campaign and Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the day when Aussie and Kiwi troops landed on the beaches of Gallipoli in 1915, said Duke in her address.
But since then, of the 20,000 Australian defence service personnel who served in Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore during World War Two, 1,800 Australians were killed, 1,400 wounded and more than 15,000 became prisoners of war, one-third of whom died before the end of the war.
But it's the tragic Sandakan story that has come to hold a special place "in our hearts," Duke said, in reference to more than 2,400 Aussie and British POWs who died while incarcerated at the Sandakan camp and on the death marches to Ranau and in Ranau itself.
Amidst it all, Sabahans risked both lives and livelihoods to do what they could ease the burdens of the sufferers, Duke noted.
"At this place, under this tree and in front of this cenotaph, we remember them," Duke said.
Beyond WW2, 86 Aussie and Kiwi troops died during the Emergency and the Confrontation against Malaysia.
Duke said although Anzac Day's original purpose is to honour the sacrifices made by all servicemen and women in all wars, in Sandakan and elsewhere in Malaysia, Anzac Day remembers those Australians who died on Malaysian soil in WW2, the Emergency and Confrontation.
The good part is out of this carnage and conflict, enmity can turn into friendship.
In this resect, Anzac is also to celebrate the special friendships that has grown out of these tragic events.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman said the sacrifices of the Australian troops are not easily forgotten and the bond that it had forged between Malaysia and Australia.
In his speech read by Datuk Siringan Gubat, Minister of Resource Development and Information Technology, Musa cited how Australia came to this part of the world to help Sabah during WW2 and again in 1965 during the Confrontation to help when Malaysia was just a young nation that was in need.
Datuk James Wong, President of the Sandakan Municipal Council, hosted a welcome dinner to all the Anzac Day participants at his residence on Thursday night.
Datuk Joniston Bangkuai, Chairman of Sabah Tourism Board, praised Wong for "always supporting" the welcome dinner.
"It is great to see everyone back in Sandakan for this significant annual event," Joniston said in his brief welcome speech.
"We really appreciate the effort of all of you who have travelled all the way to Sandakan to commemorate this event.
Citing the presence of relatives of prisoners of war, he said their stories that they can share with friends were "extremely important" for passing on the tales of history, some of which may be penned out in books yet, Joniston noted.