“I’m dreaming of Australia, the land we left behind…”
These are the despairing words carved into black stone at the Kundasang War Memorial and Gardens, one of the first memorials created to remember the victims of the Sandakan Death Marches of 1945.
Over 1,000 Australian and British Prisoners of War perished in Sandakan, Malaysia during the three death marches from the Sandakan POW Camp to Ranau, Malaysia during World War II. A mere 6 men survived, all of them Australian soldiers who had escaped. The memorial was built to commemorate both the victims of the marches themselves and the people of North Borneo who risked or lost their lives to help the POWs by hiding escapees from the Japanese and feeding them until the war ended. The death marches are considered to be the single most atrocious calamity to ever be endured by Australian servicemen during the World War, and three Japanese commanders were eventually tried and put to death for the war crimes.
In 1962 the memorial was erected, and it’s a calm and peaceful place to visit despite being located behind a bustling farmers’ market. The gardens are made up of four sections, one for each distinctly different homeland and culture of those who lost their lives, and one for contemplation. There is an Australian Garden, an English Garden, a Borneo Garden, and a Contemplation Garden and Pool.
If you visit the memorial you are welcome to watch a video and learn more about the death marches, but if you don’t have the stomach for it you can simply smell the roses of the English Garden, admire the orchids of Borneo, run your fingers across the smooth white pebbles of Kundasang in the Australian Garden, or go to the pool and contemplate the sacrifices, sadness, and all-too-human fallacies of war.