Darwin Defenders Commemorative ServicE

Sandakan Commemorative Service

Sunday 3rd March 2024 – 11:00am

Strathdale Park

Cnr. McIvor Road & Crook Street, Strathdale



Sandakan Memorial Scholarship Trust

Donations can be made directly to:

Sandakan Memorial Scholarship Trust
BSB:      112 879
Account:    412 115 015

If you require a receipt, please email Lynette Silver on lynettesilver@gmail.com



Origins of Sandakan- ANZAC Portal

Approximately 455 prisoners of war (POWs) left Sandakan in the first march. They left the camp in different groups between January and March 1945. By the end of June, 5 months later, only six of the group from this first march were still alive at Ranau.


Trying to survive with only 4 days rations – rice, some dried fish and salt – and burdened with Japanese equipment – sacks of rice, ammunition and other items – the men struggled through the swamp, jungle and mountain forest. Those too weak to continue were shot or beaten to death.


Many of the men had been sent on rice-carrying parties between Ranau and Paginatan, a village approximately 20 km before Ranau. Men from some of the groups on the first march just wasted away there and died. Others, who couldn’t complete the 9-day trips, were either shot or bayoneted to death.

Those who survived the first march to reach Ranau were herded into insanitary and crowded huts. Many died from dysentery. By 26 June, only five Australians and one British soldier were still alive at Ranau. Those POWs who had remained at Sandakan were also suffering from malnutrition and disease.

Between February and May, 885 Australian and British prisoners died at the camp. In May, after a large Allied sea-air bombardment of Sandakan, the Japanese evacuated the remaining ill and malnourished 800 or so prisoners and burned their camp. Approximately 500 of those well enough to move were gathered in 11 groups for the second march to Ranau. Those too incapacitated to move were left behind in the burnt-out camp to die.

The second march left Sandakan camp on 29 May 1945.

The men on the second march to Ranau were sicker and even more malnourished. They ate what they could find in the jungle – snails and tree ferns – and the Japanese guards beat them with their rifle butts to urge them on. Those who couldn’t walk any further were shot, bayoneted or in some cases, beheaded. Only 183 of the men (142 Australian and 41 British POWs) survived the second march to reach Ranau on 27 June, 26 days after they left Sandakan.


On 28 July, when four Australians managed to escape, there were about 40 POWs still alive at Ranau, despite the beatings, bashings and tiny rice ration they were given. In August 1945, the Japanese massacred the surviving prisoners. Evidence suggests that these last survivors were put to death on 27 August, 12 days after the official Japanese surrender.


Only six soldiers, all of them Australians, survived the Sandakan death marches by escaping into the jungle:


The men were helped by local peoples after they had escaped the Japanese. Without these survivors, we may never have discovered the fate of more than 2000 Australian and British POWs.