THE lives of the thousands of Allied soldiers cruelly taken during the Sandakan Death Marches were remembered in Tamworth on Saturday.
February 15 this year marked 72 years since the fall of Singapore, when many Australian troops were taken prisoner by Japanese forces, with more than 2300 taken to a POW camp at Sandakan.
Only six Allied prisoners survived the Sandakan-to-Ranau death marches.
No survivors were from Tamworth, and the city is one of a handful of places to have a memorial to the worst atrocity committed against Australian soldiers.
Tamworth RSL Sub-branch president Bob Chapman said this service was important to the people of Tamworth, with many soldiers on the death marches coming from our region.
“Unlike most, if not all, of the other memorials, many of the names on others are those who served. This memorial bears only the names of those who died at war, because none of our local soldiers made it home from the death marches,” he said.
“The soldiers knew if they could not go on, they would be shot, beaten or bayoneted to death. This service pays tribute to them, their families and their memories.”
Mr Chapman said the ceremony went “really well”, with good support from the Australian Defence Force’s Basic Flying Training School staff and students, as well as the RSL Brass Band, which played prior to, during and after the ceremony, and the 209 Australian Army Cadets, who formed the catafalque party.
“The guest speaker did a great job and I was pleased with the day,” he said.
Keynote speaker Corporal Ben Poulton said the spirit of the World War II diggers and those who had gone before and since lived on in the modern soldier.
He spoke of the sacrifices and hardships the soldiers endured at the hands of their Japanese captors, and the cruel fate that awaited the soldiers who survived the death marches and made it to Ranau, where they were executed.
Corporal Poulton also outlined the history surrounding the marches and the POWs after the fall of Singapore.
Mr Chapman said the sub-branch now turned its attention to the annual general meeting on Sunday, February 23, at Wests’ Diggers and then they’d be into Anzac Day preparations.