'It was a one way trip'

Second death march to Ranau
May-June 1945

The Australian and British POWs on the second march to Ranau left Sandakan camp on 29 May 1945. Of about 530 marchers, only 100 were in any condition to embark on such an ordeal. Many knew themselves they would not get far. Within a day, one of the groups--group 2--which had left with 50 POWs had already lost 12. As with the first march, a Japanese detachment had been assigned to deal with those who fell out. As a Japanese soldier with this death squad later testified:

On the way from Sandakan to Ranau I took my turn in S/M Tsuji’s [Sergeant-Major Tsuji] party twice. The first time three were killed I think and on the second four were killed. On the first occasion I killed one, but not on the latter occasion. Captain Takakua [Captain Takakuwa Takuo] ordered me to do it and S/M Tsuji was present when I killed the man. There may have been a few Formosans ... who did not get a turn in the killing parties.

Australian Army hats
Australian Army felt hats found at Sandakan POW Camp, 1945.
AWM Robertson Collection, 121/6

Nelson Short was on the second march and he recalled the bravery with which many POWs faced their end:

And if blokes just couldn’t go on, we shook hands with them, and said, you know, hope everything’s all right. But they knew what was going to happen. There was nothing you could do. You just had to keep yourself going. More or less survival of the fittest.

Dick Braithwaite became quickly aware of the purpose of this forced march:

It was a one-way trip when we started to hear shots, and you felt there was no hope for anyone who fell out.

In short, this second march was simply, if this were possible, a more brutal version of the earlier march. Rations were always totally inadequate and proper medical attention non-existent. They ate whatever they could find in the jungle. Nelson Short recalled eating snails and tree ferns. To urge them on, they were beaten with rifle butts. Men died daily of their illnesses-- some with their mates close by, others after wandering away alone into the jungle. Men who could not walk any further were shot, bayoneted or, in some instances, beheaded. One or two were killed so that a guard could take from them some treasured personal possession. About 113 died within the first eight days and a group of about 35 were massacred near Tangkul.

The survivors of the second march reached Ranau on 27 June, 26 days out from Sandakan. By that time there were only 183 of them left--142 Australian and 41 British POWs. This second march had indeed been a death march.

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