Closure in wartime murder

THE son of a former Lismore doctor, killed by the Japanese in the days after the end of World War II, has helped unveil a memorial to 183 Australian and British prisoners of the infamous Sandakan Death Camp, who were murdered after the war.

Bob Oakeshott had always wanted to know the truth about what actually happened to his father, Dr John Oakeshott, who served as a captain in the Australian Army, and recently undertook a six-day trek to the prisoners' last campsite, Last Camp, near Ranau in North Borneo.

“We learned that they were escorted to Kenipir near Ranau under the auspices of being released, but the Japanese High Command ordered that no prisoners survive,” he said.

“So, 12 days after the end of hostilities, as they sat under a tree, the order was given to shoot them.

“Our group, comprising Robert Seccombe (grandson), John Oakeshott (grandson), Harriet Bradwell (grand-daughter, nee Oakeshott), and myself planted 15 Poinciana trees at the site.”

The trees commemorate the last of the 183 soldiers to be murdered, including Dr Oakeshott.

Dr Oakeshott's daughter, Betty Seccombe, said her father was highly respected in Lismore.

“He had a flourishing practice in Magellan Street, and was deputy superintendent at Lismore Base Hospital,” she said. Mrs Seccombe said the respect given to her father was obvious in the way people spoke about him.

“Mum was always quite proud of dad and remembered their great devotion,” Mrs Seccombe said.

“Sadly, she died in 1983 never knowing what happened to him.

“He had declined the opportunity to escape and elected to stay with his men. That was very honourable.

“I was only nine years old when dad went to Malaya as a captain in the 2/10th Australian General Hospital, Australian Army Medical Corps.

“We knew that it would be dangerous, but we never expected not to see him again. Still, we do have wonderful memories of him.”

Dr Oakeshott was one of 2428 Australian and British allied servicemen who died in 1945 as prisoners of the Japanese at Sandakan and nearby Ranau.

Strong evidence gathered from locals at Ranau suggested 'the last POW survivors at Ranau were not shot until 12 days after the official Japanese surrender'.

The date of the atrocity, August 27, 1945, was verified by the Australian War Memorial and the Australian War Graves Commission.

The Lismore RSL Sub-branch also wants a monument erected in Memorial Park, to pay tribute to the six local men who died at Sandakan.

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