The Last POW Camp Memorial (Tugu Peringatan Kem Tawanan Perang Terakhir) Ranau

In 1942, Japanese forces invaded the Pacific Island of Borneo, in turn transporting thousands of Allied Prisoners of War from Malaya and Singapore to camps in Sabah. For three years prisoners were required to build and maintain airstrips and aerodromes for the Imperial Japanese Army. In 1945 the war tipped in the Allies favour and consequently, conditions in the prison camps started to worsen – starvation, torture and illness increased, as well as the death toll.

At the largest camp at Sandakan, fears of an Allied invasion drove the Japanese captors to commence the ‘Death Marches’ to the village of Ranau 260 kilometres away. According to historians, the first group of 470 men left between January and March of 1945, assigned with the task of setting up a new camp at Ranau. Forced to walk in the tropical heat on limited rations and suffering from severe illness, numerous men were left to die on route or were executed by their captors. By June, only six of the men who made it to Ranau were still alive. A second group of 536 men set off in May, this group far weaker than the first and made to endure less rations, arrived at Ranau three weeks later with only 183 men. A third group of 75 men were forced to march in June but after only 50 kilometres they had all perished. It has been proposed by historians that almost 1,400 men were left at the Sandakan Camp to die of starvation or to be shot by their prison guards.

Only a month later in July, the camp at Ranau had a total of 32 prisoners. While most succumbed to their injuries, malnutrition and illness, a fortunate six managed to escape the campsite and were able to live the remainder of the war in the jungles of the surrounding countryside. On the 1st of August, 17 of the men were shot dead, with the remaining 15 killed on the 27th of August – 12 days after World War II had been officially declared over. Later in 1945, the Australian Army recovery team located the bodies of those who died in and around the Ranau Camp, burying their remains in the cemetery at Labuan.

During the 1990s, historian Lynetter Silver located the site of the last POW camp at Ranau after many years of it being left untouched in the jungle. In 2006, herself and the now owner of the land Dr. Othman Minudin, opened the site to interested trekkers and tourists. Understanding the significance of the site Lynetter Silver and Dr. Minudin organised funding for the building of a memorial at the site of the Last POW Camp. In 2009, 64 years after the last prisoners were killed at Ranau, the memorial was unveiled at a ceremony attended by government officials and the families of those who died on the death marches.

The base of the memorial is made up of 1,047 rocks from the nearby Liwagu River, each representing one soldier who left Sandakan on one of the three deaths marches and did not survive. The main part of the memorial consists of another 183 rocks from the Liwagu River, each of these symbolising the men who died or were killed at the Ranau Camp. At the very top of the memorial, four slabs of rock signify the four men who escaped from the Last POW Camp and survived. Surrounding the memorial, 15 trees have been planted to remember the 15 surviving men who were killed after the war had concluded. The stories of the ‘Death Marches’ are presented in English, Chinese and Bahasa as a means to communicate to the increasing number of visitors the horrors of war. Small commemorative ceremonies are held at Ranau each April on ANZAC day.