Tony White, who survived Sandakan.
Tony White, who survived Sandakan.

Sandakan memorial welcomed

THE concept of a memorial in Lismore to remember locals who lost their lives at the notorious Sandakan POW Camp or on the equally notorious death marches has attracted a lot of attention.

With Remembrance Day services held across the region this week, the idea of such a memorial, which would help give some closure to the families who never knew what happened to their loved ones, is being put forward by Lismore Rotary.

Another person who would like the memorial is Goonellabah’s Betty Barnett, who wasn’t even a teenager when her brother, Private John ‘Snowy’ Bryant left to serve in World War II.

“I only remember the pride when John was leaving on the train,” she said. “We received cards (censored by the Japanese) but we never saw him again. Mum was told that he was a POW; he died on the march; and he died of malaria. Sadly, she died never really knowing what happened.

“Realistically, a memorial would definitely help give some closure for us. It would be somewhere to go to sit and meditate; maybe even have a laugh – John would like that.

“I’d like to know where he is so I could visit that place. It’s sad not knowing.”

Some did survive Sandakan, but only because they were sent to Kuching in Sarawak. One of those is 89-year-old Tony White of Ballina.

Mr White said he was a lieutenant in 2/20 Battalion 8th Division AIF at just 19.

“We sailed for Malaya in February 1942 and became POWs later that month,” he said.

“We were sent to Changi, but some of us were only there a few months before being sent to Sandakan.

“The Japanese told the AIF it was sending 1500 men to Sandakan, saying that it was a rest camp; it was far from that.

In late 1943, the Japanese were fearful that the officers would stage a revolt, so some officers were moved to Kuching.”

The Japanese were not signatories to the Geneva Convention and ran their camps as they saw fit, which cost the lives of many Australian POWs.

Mr White said he was in favour of a memorial to the local men who died at Sandakan.

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