Area Covered in Investigations
Map by Ron Taylor
When Japan surrendered unconditionally on 15th August 1945, troops of 9 Australian Div. who had landed on Labuan Island, Muara Island and at Brooketon on 10 June 1945 extended their area of control to the Papar River and South to approximately one mile beyond Miri. After the surrender the 9 Australian Div. area of responsibility was increased to include the whole of British Borneo - British North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak.
It is in this area Enquiry Teams one to ten were set up and conducted Investigations between 15th August 1945 - 27th November 1945. Particular attention was paid to the areas in which PoWs were known to have been, namely Sandakan, Ranau, Jesselton, Labuan, Brunei, Kuala Belait. Miri and Kuching.
Tasks of Contact Temas
The primary task was briefly:-
- Identification of all recovered Allied PoWs and Internees.
- Collection of casualty Information.
- Locating graves of all deceased Allied PoWs and Internees.
The PoW Contact and Enquiry Teams were also responsible for supervising the filling-in by all recovered PoWs and Internees of Interrogation Forms, War Crimes Questionnaires and Interrogation Forms.
Sources of Information
The following are the main sources from which information on all PoW matters were obtained:-
- Interrogation of recovered PoWs and Internees particularly WO1 W Sticpewich, ex Ranau.
- Japanese Death Certificates, a link to these here.
- Japanese Documents captured prior to 15 August 1945.
- Japanese documents and records handed over after 15th August 1945.
- Interrogation of surrendered Japanese.
- Interrogation of native and local inhabitants.
- Personal inspection of areas in which PoWs were situated including cemeteries and exhumation of deceased PoWs.
- GSO 3 (I) 9 Australian Div.
- Forward Advance Patrol reports.
- ‘B’ Sec FSS 9 Australian Div.
- Interrogation of Japanese captured prior to 15th August 1945
- 23 Australian War Graves Unit
- BBC AU
Troops of 9 Australian Div. also assisted in producing valuable identifications particularly by the recovery of personal gear, marked equipment etc. from PoW Compound areas.
Situation Prior to 15th August 1945
A total of 407 allied PoWs had been recovered in the Papar - Miri area up to 15th August 1945 and 6 Australian PoW had been recovered from British North Borneo. The 407 comprised of 307 Indians and 100 Indonesians, nearly all of whom had come into our lines during our advance to Miri.
Latest information from an forward advance patrols concerning Allied PoWs in British Borneo was that approximately 20 PoWs were alive on 26th July in the Ranau area and that possibly there were still a few sick PoWs at Sandakan who had been too ill to leave on the marches to Ranau.
It had been established with reasonable certainty that of the 300 PoWs who were on Labuan Island in late 1944, approximately 200 had died there. The remainder had been taken to Brunei with many dying en route to Miri where native reports indicated that the 40 odd survivors had been killed by the Japanese. Frequent aircraft recces down the Riam Road and activity by Forward Advance Patrols had failed to produce any evidence that Allied PoWs were still alive in that area
Information concerning Allied PoW’s at Kuching was particularly scanty, the only known reliable figure being 2600 in October 1944 which was taken from a Japanese document captured in the Beaufort area. It was considered unlikely that the PoWs had been moved from that area and allowing for deaths a maximum estimate of 2300 was taken as a reasonable figure for the Kuching area. Nationalities of the PoWs were believed to be Australian, British, Dutch and possibly Indians but there was no indication whether the figure of 2600 included Internees. A recovered Indonesian PoW stated that there were some Australian officers at Kuching and that the senior officer was Lt Col A.W. Walsh - this proved to be correct.
At this time it will be appreciated from the information concerning Allied PoWs in British Borneo was incomplete and in many cases considerably out of date.
Movements of PoW Contact Teams from 7th September 1945 - 25th November 1945
The following is a brief summary of the movements of the PoW Contact Teams for the period of operations:
Teams Nos 1-10 incl under command Capt. E.C. Givney arrived Labun
Five teams under Capt. Givney arrived at Kuching with relief force
14th Sep. - 7th Oct.
Remaining five teams operate on Labuan. completing Interrogation Forms ‘A’ and War Crimes Questionnaires at 2/4 AGH, 2/6 AGH, 2/1 CCS and 9 Australian Div. Recovered PoW and I Reception Camp
Capt. Givney and party returned Labuan and commenced Interrogation Forms as above
Lt. G.R. Campbell carried out investigations at Keniogan and collected evidence of treatment by Japanese of PoW and natives in Beluran - Boto area
11th Oct. - 2nd Nov.
Three Contact Teams under Lt W.A. Jones carried out investigations in Brunei-Miri area
8th Oct. - 25th Nov.
Three contact Teams under Capt. G.M. Cocks visited Sandakan with 9 Australian Div.
Tps. Capt. Cocks remained behind after Japanese were withdrawn and carried out investigations along the first quarter of the track to Ranau
31st Oct. - 14th Nov.
Three Contact Teams under Capt. A.F. Boyland carried out investigations on Labuan and in the Jesselton area.
Two Contact Teams under Capt. T.L. Mort marched from Keningau to Ranau to conduct investigations in the Ranau area
All Contact Teams concentrated on Labuan
Chronological Sequence of Events After 15th August 1945
Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on 15th August 1945. The surrender had been anticipated in early August and plans to recover all Allied PoWs at the earliest possible date after hostilities ceased were well in advance.
Aircraft had been over the Sandakan-Ranau-Keningau track almost daily and had taken many photographs of Kuching and the Lintang Barracks area.
On 16th August and again on 19th August mosquito pilots of the RAAF reported seeing 100-200 white PoW including nuns at Lintang.
Leaflets telling of the surrender were dropped throughout the 9 Australian Div. area particularly in places where it was thought that PoWs might still be alive. A special Leaflet signed by Commander 9 Australian Div. was dropped over Lintang on 19th August.
Forward Advance Patrols who had been operating in the Ranau and Boto areas for the last four months intensified their searches for PoWs still living in the area and in the third week of September when the surrender had formerly been proclaimed to even the most isolated Japanese in British Borneo. The Forward Advance Patrols commenced covering the entire Sandakan-Ranau track as well as sending runners south of Sandakan to the Goromanton Caves area.
Crates of food and medical supplies were ready at Labuan to be dropped by parachute as soon as General MacCarthur gave the signal. This did not come immediately as premature action may easily have resulted in treachery by the Japanese and the PoWs being killed outright. It was essential that all Japanese troops guarding PoWs were aware of the surrender before supplies could be dropped.
The signal communications of the Japanese 37 Army in Borneo were by no means complete and it was a considerable while before all the Japanese commanders were notified by their own HQ that the war was over.
On 27th August a Japanese emissary plane from Singapore was seen on the airstrip at Kuching and it was obvious that the garrison there was aware of the surrender.
On 30th August an air supply dropping into Lintang Barracks commenced. The first drop consisted of:-
- 200 lbs of medical stores
- 2500 lbs of rations
- 300 lbs of comforts
From then until 11th September, except for two days when they were weathered out, C47’s dropped supplies daily into the Barracks. These supplies were handed intact by the Japanese to the PoWs and undoubtedly saved many lives.
A message was laid out on the ground at Lintang on 2nd September reporting that 1740 males, 243 females, 38 children and a total of 410 stretcher cases were in the compound. This was invaluable information and gave HQ 9 Australian Div. a firm figure to work on.
Following a visit by Col. A.G. Wilson, GI 9 Australian Div., to Kuching by Catalina on 5th September arrangements were made for the senior Australian officer at Lintang, Lt. Col. A.W. Walsh, to be flown to Labuan on 6th September for discussions with Command 9 Australian Div.
Lt. Col. Walsh returned to Kuching on 7th September accompanied by Col. W.W. Lempriere, Admin 9 Australian Div, who arranged for the Australian medical officers to be flown to Kuching and function in the camp. They arrived on 8th September, their stores including 45 pints of blood, atebrin, sulpur drugs, penicillin and a wireless set to operated by Royal Corps of Signals personnel in the Compound.
On 11th September the Relief Force under Brig T.C. Eastick, CRA 9 Australian Div., reached Kuching and the PoW were once again free people.
On 9th September 1945 Col. C.E. Cummings, Cmd 1 Australian Beach group, visited Sandakan to issue orders to the local Japanese Commander and he was advised that the last PoWs at Sandakan had died in early August. No records of PoWs were held at Sandakan as the PoW Staff and Guards had all departed for Ranau and had taken the records with them.
Efforts to locate any PoWs on the Sandakan-Ranau track were not successful and the only four survivors who had escaped from Ranau at the end July and who had been looked after by an Forward Advance Patrols were flown out on 9th September.
There were many unconfirmed reports and rumours of PoWs still being alive in the 9 Australian Div. areas all of which were investigated and found groundless. The Goromanton Caves, Sapong Estate and Keningau were the areas most frequently mentioned.
As a result of a direction from HQ AMF further pamphlets were dropped in the 9 Australian Div. area during the last week of November in a final effort to confirm what has already been accepted here as a fact - That there are no longer any PoWs still alive in British Borneo.
Personnel Engaged in Investigations
The following personnel comprised the ten Contact Teams who operated in this are.
- Team No 1 NX3089 and NX103753
- Team No 2 NX5214 and QX33868
- Team No 3 NX118443 and NX168723
- Team No 4 NX199110 and QX35859
- Team No 5 VX98361 and VX88330
- Team No 7 VX20664 and NX20664
- Team No 8 QX16120 and NX147641
- Team No 10 VX81028 and WX27760
- Team No 11 NX100113 and VX78401
- Team No 12 NX28207 and NX49673
Capt. E.C. Givney departed Labuan for Australia after his return from Kuching.
Capt. T.L. Mort took over and has been responsible for co-ordinating and controlling the work of all Contact Teams since then.