Sandakan Death March
Wayne Wetherall has been working very closely with respected Historian and Author Kevin Smith on researching the route of the Sandakan Death March.
Wetherall has also worked closely with Military Historian Carl James, on uncovering the mystery of what happened to Captain Sam Templeton and 6 other 39th Battalion members in the Oivi Kokoda area during 1942.
Wayne Wetherall below shares some of Kevin’s thoughts on the Sandakan Death March
From Telupid to Tampias on the Sandakan – Ranau Track
The Aussie Digger of the 1940s did not have the level of trained fitness possessed by the modern Digger, although he did have the benefit of a typically healthy lifestyle. Yet he had in his lifetime experienced the Great Depression of the 1930s and its greater or lesser debilitating health effects.
As British and Australian soldiers moving along jungle tracks between Sandakan and Ranau in 1945 started their climb into the mountains beyond the kampong at Telupid, many bore the scars of their wounds from combat in Malaya and Singapore, even from recent bombings of their Sandakan POW camp. There were those who were still suffering from illnesses that had first emerged while they were in Changi in 1942. Certainly almost every one of them was suffering from malaria, beri-beri, dysentery, from one or more of up to a dozen other serious illnesses, and from utter exhaustion. Some were aged in their forties. They had three years or more of a dreadful captivity behind them. Many were bruised and battered from ill-treatment by their guards.
Although they were tenacious and stubborn in confronting the terrible difficulties of the track, these men were suffering and greatly weakened as they progressed upwards through the ranges and climbed the steep slopes of the mountain valleys.
Now we are being told (Tham Yau Kong of TYK Adventure Tours) that only the very fittest of present day experienced trekkers could possibly handle the toughest, steep section of the route that these prisoners of war traversed in 1945. This statement followed the trek by very fit British soldiers on 21st August 2011. Tham stated that the track followed by these soldiers “ . . . is considered too tough for general trekking groups, due to the precipitous terrain and difficult access. General treks along the Sandakan Track currently ascend Taviu Hill via an easier, more accessible route a short distance away.”
I believe this statement constitutes further evidence that criticism of my published map is ill-founded, and questionable in its motivation.
Let me quote from my latest book, “Stories from Sandakan: 2/18th Bn.”, although other quotes could equally well be offered from my earlier book, “Borneo: Australia’s Proud but Tragic Heritage”.
Regarding the first march to Ranau I wrote on p. 127:
“Beyond Taviu, struggling towards Melapi the prisoners kept moving. At Melapi there was a change of direction as the Liwagu now came from the west out of a narrow valley or gorge, its green sides rising precipitously in places to 2,500 feet high above them. The path along the river valley became troublesome, men fell down the steep inclines and had to claw their way back up again. Landslides were common along this part of the Liwagu valley and riverside cliffs were sometimes badly washed away. There were times when the rush of the river would wash away an unfortunate soul who had fallen. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The columns passed the Miru kampong, but then found they all confronted a vertiginous climb out of the valley. With a gradient steeper than one in three, it was an all but impossible climb, but they pushed on.”