Malaysia was the scene of both victory and dreadful tragedy for Australia during the war in the Pacific against the Japanese forces in the Second World War. Three official memorials in Malaysia commemorate both the trials endured by Australians and our ultimate triumph.
The Parit Sulong Memorial commemorates the Battle of Muar and its tragic aftermath during the Second World War. The memorial is situated within the Community Park at Parit Sulong, near by the site of the massacre. Consisting of a central memorial area and two interpretive panels, the Memorial is a dignified, simple marker to this significant and tragic event.
History of the Battle of Muar
In January 1942 an Australian and Indian force engaged in a desperate battle against the Japanese Imperial Guards Division that ended at Parit Sulong.
Weakened by defeat at the Muar River, the 45th Indian Brigade and a support battery of the 2/15th Field Regiment retreated and an Australian force was sent to restore their lost position. The 2/29th Battalion with a troop of the 4th Anti-Tank Regiment was deployed first. The 2/19th Battalion followed, with men of 8th Division Signals maintaining communications.
Surrounded and outnumbered, this combined force was ordered to fight its way out by the senior surviving officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Anderson, 2/19th Battalion. Fighting hand to hand and under incessant aerial and artillery bombardment, they reached the outskirts of Parit Sulong to discover that the village and the only avenue of withdrawal, the bridge spanning the Simpang Kiri River, were already in Japanese hands.
Although Anderson's men gained control of the village they were unable to force the enemy from the bridge. On the morning of 22 January, Anderson, fearing annihilation, ordered his men to break out through the jungle. During the battle and retreat over 300 Australians died, however, with the assistance of the local people and especially the Chinese community many of those who survived later reached British lines at Yong Peng.
For his brave leadership, determination and outstanding courage during the battle, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Anderson received the British Commonwealth's highest award, the Victoria Cross.
In the aftermath of the battle nearly 150 severely wounded Australian and Indian soldiers were left together at Parit Sulong under the charge of Captain Rewi Snelling, who indicated their willingness to surrender to the advancing Japanese. These soldiers were left behind in the expectation that they would be treated humanely. Instead, their Japanese captors herded them into buildings on the western side of the bridge, mistreated them and denied them medical attention.
Late on the afternoon of 22 January 1942, the prisoners were forced outside, machine-gunned, doused with petrol and set alight. Only three men were known to have survived. Sadly, this massacre was not an isolated incident.
Sergeant Ron Croft, Lieutenant Ben Hackney and Private Reg Wharton all survived the massacre by feigning death amongst the carnage and sustaining wounds from kicking and bayonets in silence and stillness.
After this, with extensive wounds, they made their escapes with the help of the local Malaya and Chinese communities, even though their presence put these communities in grave danger.
When the fighting had passed, the Japanese established a Kempei Tei (military police) headquarters in the village. Many local people, including those suspected of assisting Australian or Indian soldiers, were executed or severely mistreated, while others were forced to flee. Harsh treatment continued until the end of the Japanese occupation of Malaya (now Malaysia) in September 1945.
After the War
After the war, investigators pursued those Japanese who had been involved in these tragic events. The evidence of Lieutenant Ben Hackney, one of the survivors, was instrumental in bringing Lieutenant-General Nishimura, commander of the Imperial Guards Division, to justice. He was hanged for war crimes in 1951.
Those left behind at Parit Sulong...met a fate largely typical of what many had already experienced, and many more were to experience, at the hands of the Japanese Lionel Wigmore, The Japanese Trust
The Bridge at Parit Sulong
by Lynette Ramsey Silver
Massacre at Parit Sulong
by Gilbert Mant
A History of the 2/29 Battalion – 8th Australian Division AIF
by R W Christie
The Grim Glory of the 2/19 Battalion AIF
by the 2/19th Battalion AIF Association
We are pleased to advise that Sandakan Memorial Park including the Sandakan Memorial Pavilion and Visitors Information Centre has reopened to the public.
To ensure the health and safety of everyone at the site, visitors are asked to wear face masks and follow social distancing and hygiene practices. Temperature checks will also be undertaken upon arrival, and details collected as required by the Standard Operating Procedures issued by the Malaysian Government and local authorities.
The Sandakan Memorial Park commemorates a tragedy and an atrocity. The tragedy was the death, between January and August 1945, within sight of Allied victory in the Pacific War, of approximately 2,400 Australian and British Prisoners of War held by the Japanese in the Sandakan POW camp, North Borneo. The atrocity was the manner of the death inflicted upon them by their captors - starvation, overwork, beatings and punishments and the forcing of over 1,000 sick and weak POWs on three marches under brutal physical conditions.
In 1942 and 1943 the Japanese brought to Sandakan about 2,700 Australian and British POWs, the great majority of whom had been captured at the surrender at Singapore in February 1942. They were used as a labour force to build a military airstrip. In late 1944, as the Allies advanced in the Pacific, the airstrip was bombed and destroyed. Early in 1945 the Japanese decided to move the POWs 260 km west into the mountains to the small settlement of Ranau. On three forced marches between January and June approximately 500 prisoners died. The remainder died at the Ranau and Sandakan camps.
Of all those who had been alive in January 1945, by the end of August only six - all Australians - survived. Two of the six escaped into the jungle during the second march in June 1945. Assisted by local people, they were eventually picked up by Allied units. Another four escaped from Ranau in July and again, with the help of local people, were fed and hidden from the Japanese until the end of the war.
Today the POW dead, whose bodies were recovered, are buried in the CWGC's Labuan War Cemetery. Those who could not be identified or who have no known grave, are commemorated on Memorials to the Missing at Labuan and Singapore.
The Memorial Park is on the site of the Sandakan prisoner of war POW camp. Within the park a commemorative pavilion holds educational material and includes a scale model of the original POW camp. A path winds through the park past preserved wartime relics. Signs and seats around the pathways provide rest points, and at points of significance there are numbered posts linked to the park brochure providing information on the former POW camp. The brochure may be obtained from the pavilion.
An obelisk of black granite commemorating those who died is also located within the park and is the venue for various events including the annual Anzac Day, 25 April, and Sandakan Day 15 August services.
The motif used in the Park depicts flowers representing people of the three nations who suffered at Sandakan during the Second World War. The design is taken from the stained glass window created by Australian glass artist Robin Seville within the pavilion and is repeated on the granite memorial and decorative gates.
An audio guide, developed in consultation with ex-prisoners of war, Sandakan family members and historians, incorporates first-hand accounts of the camp. The guide takes visitors on a tour of the Park, bringing the story of Sandakan to life.
You can download the Sandakan memorial audio guide and transcript.
Sibuga Forest Reserve, Jalan Labuk, Mile 7 Sandakan
Commemorative pavilion with information & scale model of POW camp
Open 9-5pm, 7 days
Trail past items of interest
Brochure at pavilion
Mrs Doris Wong on behalf of the OAWG.
Friendship Windows at St Michael and All Angels
Family and friends of those who died at Sandakan raised funds to install stained-glass Friendship Windows, at the Anglican Church of St Michael and All Angels, Sandakan. These are open to the public for viewing, from 2.30-3.30pm, Mondays to Saturdays.
On 10 September 1945, Lieutenant-General Masao Baba, Commander of the 37th Japanese Army surrendered to Major General George F Wootten of the 9th Australian Division at Surrender Point, one of several such ceremonies that concluded the war in the Pacific in the Second World War.
The Surrender Point Memorial on Labuan Island is on the site of the surrender. It is set in a small park near Timbalai overlooking the South China Sea on the western side of Labuan Island.
Regrettably this memorial has been vandalised.
The Office of Australian War Graves is currently in consultation with the Labuan Corporation for options for a significant refurbishment of this site.
For further information or enquiries on this matter, please email WarGraves [at] dva.gov.au.