At the Save The Children Book Fair at UWA last weekend I noticed a book in the War/Military section. On the back it said "DEATH MARCH... WITH ONLY SIX SURVIVORS". I knew that I had to get this book and I knew what the story would be about. My copy is 25 years old but still in good nick. It took less than a week to finish.
|From Hell To Eternity by Peter Firkins|
The Japanese transferred many Allied POWs from Singapore to Sandakan. For three and a half years they forced them to build an aerodrome, starved, bashed and tortured them and failed to treat them according to the Geneva Convention (although the Third Geneva Convention is most appropriate), of which Japan was not a signatory. To the Japanese allowing yourself to become a prisoner was shameful and they therefore felt that prisoners could be mistreated in any manner.
When the Allies, Americans mainly, were looking to land in the area of Sandakan the Japanese forced the POWs to march to Ranau whereupon most of them malnourished men perished due to starvation or were murdered by the Japanese guards. There are some horrendous tales of maltreatment which I'd rather not go into. Some of the men weighed less than five stones (38kg) having been 10-12 stones in their prime. One of the six survivors, warrant officer Bill Sticpewich, maintained records of the war crimes committed and was instrumental in the Japanese being punished for their crimes in 1946.
An amazing story of survival most of the story revolves around the time spent as POWs as the marches themselves took between two and three weeks at the end of the war. It's still a harrowing read in places and not for the faint-hearted. Anybody wanting to read about the worst treatment of Allied soldiers (I'm sure that the German concentration camps were far worse and perhaps the Srebrenica massacre is the only comparable cruelty in living memory) should read this book. A hugely recommended read for those interested in real war experiences and not fiction. The language used is not taxing and just about the only terms requiring clarification were those relating to local Malay words.