The Experience of A Lifetime

15 Oct

On September 27th 2010 I flew to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo to participate in retracing the footsteps of the Australian POW’s who, in 1945 undertook what is now known as the Sandakan – Ranau Death March.

I joined a team of students and ex-students, teachers and parents from Lindisfarne Anglican Grammar School, Tweed Heads, a group of local support staff and Lynette and Neil Silver. Our goal? To retrace the steps of the POW’s as they struggled through the jungle on an almost impossible journey.

What followed was not only a taxing physical experience but an emotional and spiritual one as well. Each was allotted a soldier to trek for and to commemorate at the point of their death. We visited what could only be called sacred sites from the Sandakan POW Camp site to Paginatan to Quailley’s Hill to Ranau and the Last camp. We laid stones for a new memorial, met the Ring Lady, said mass at the Last Camp, and visited Morokai Village School, which is adjacent to the track the soldiers took and so much more.

We were exhausted by our efforts physically, but more importantly, we were moved by the courage and spirit of ordinary men who simply wanted to survive. Men who kept on going when giving up would have been much easier. Men like Padre Wardale-Greenwood, Keith Botterill, Richie Murray, Ron Sullivan and Allan Quailley.

I have written he following poem which refers to the track and its emotional impact. Sandshoe Willie and other pro-POW supporters were tasked by to survey a track for the Japanese. Thinking it was for troop movements they made it as hard as possible. Unfortunately it was for moving the POW’s. (A small book of poetry based on this trip is being prepared – please let me know if you would be interested in a copy.)

Sandshoe Willie
did you have to
this track you marked
was for us mate
what were you thinking
not about broken down men
loaded down with
mosquito nets and
the stuff they make you carry
while riddled with beriberi
ulcers to the bone
no shoes
all skin and bone
breathing skeletons
of men.

Sandshoe Willie
this track is red
with mud
and blood
of men bayoneted
and shot
rolled over the edge
lent against a log
it gives no rest
no respite
from the pain
of rifle butts
and boots
no play to lay your head
rest your legs
take a breath.

Sandshoe Willie
this track
me back
to when they walked
it first
I feel their hands
upon my shoulders
their breath on
my neck
I see the footsteps
one step ahead
and wait for the sound of
another farewell
it maybe years later
but I am back there
in the moment.

Sandshoe Willie
this track makes me cry.

Glenn Loughrey

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