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Not all of 2,428 PoWs died in the Death March: Expert
Published on: Friday, August 19, 2005
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Kota Kinabalu: It is not true that a total of 2,428 Australians and British prisoners-of-war (PoWs) died in the Sandakan-Ranau Death March in 1945.Australian author-cum historical consultant, Lynette Ramsay Silver, 58, clarified that of the total dead (2,428), only 1047 died on the three forced marches between January and June 1945 while the rest (1,381) died at the PoW Camp in Sandakan.

According to her, they (2,428) were initially incarcerated by the Japanese at the Mile 8 Sandakan PoW Camp before being sent off on the marches. The total number of PoWs at the camp was 2,434. Only six Australians survived.

"The 1,381 PoWs never left the Sandakan PoW Camp. Of the 1,066 soldiers who left Sandakan for the three Death Marches, 1047 died and the rest (19) survived; 445 died on the first march (end of January-February 1945), 527 on the second march (end of May 1945) and 75 on the third march (June 1945).

" On the third march, none of the 75 PoWs got to the Mile 42 Peg to TempiasÉthey didn't reach Kg Paginatan or Ranau at all.

By the end of August 1945, all PoWs were dead except for the six Australian survivors. No British survived," she said.

The 1047 PoWs, and not 2428, died on track, at Kg Paginatan or at the PoW Camp in Ranau, she added. "This is a misconception."

Silver made the clarification Monday, in her briefing to 36 members of the Death March Re-enactment Expedition at the Sandakan Yacht Club.

Among them were Defence Advisor from Kuala Lumpur, Captain David Garnock, 50, a naval officer, 10 Australian soldiers and 10 Malaysian soldiers.

Silver, who was accompanied by her husband Neil, said the misconception is so bad that it was even inscribed on a new memorial unveiled in Canberra in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial recently, which reads:

"In memory of the 1,787 Australians who died on the Death Marches in the final months of the Second World War."

The figure, she said, is the total number of Australians who died in North Borneo (now Sabah).

"The bulk of them died in SandakanÉthey didn't die marching at all. But people keep on saying it. So, even in Australia, the misconception is still there."

She attributed this to interviews by journalists on the radio and television, saying that they all died on the Death Marches.

"And because of this misconception, the families who have heard stories of the prisoners who couldn't keep up being murdered, all think that everybody was murdered in the jungle in North Borneo.

Asked whether correction was been made on the memorial, she said:

"The public perception will not be corrected until the officials get it right. As it is already inscribed in stone, the chances of having it changed are very slim.

"The families who went to see the memorial were very upset about it because they knew that that wasn't true."

For the benefit of participants retracing the Death March, Silver also screened a video tape showing Keith Botterill, one of the six Australian survivors, speaking in an interview (before he died) as part of a documentary that was shown on television in Australia.

"He talked about the smell of death and what it was like on the death march. Some of those who watched the video wept." He died in Australia in 1997.

"If you think the going is going to be hard and it will be a very great challenge, think that you have a place to sleep at night, something to eat, somewhere to have a shower, even though they may not be quite basic.

"If you get tired, you can get a ride in a support vehicle. But the prisoners-of-war (PoWs) had no shoes, no medical assistance, hardly any food," she told the participants.

According to Silver, at one stage, the only food Botteril and 40 men on the first march had for three days was three cucumbers.

"They would not have stayed alive on the big climb over the mountain had some native people living in the forest not come out and given them food in exchange for an army metal plate.

"And that gave them enough energy to get to Tampias."

Giving encouragement to the walkers on the re-enacted march, Silver said no matter how bad things would go on their walk (if at all), or how hard it would be, it would be nothing compared to the first Death March 60 years ago.

"Of course, the prisoners had the ultimate encouragement to keep going. If they stopped, they would be shot."



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