Visiting Sandakan, we got a real sense of life in Borneo before and during second world war. Before WW2, the British controlled Sabah and high on a hill, overlooking the bay is Agnes Keith House. Agnes Keith was actually an American and her husband was Conservator of Forests. When Agnes, a journalist, married Harry and moved to Borneo, she wrote three novels, describing her life there. “Land Below the Wind” is her most famous book and I plan to track it down now I am home.
The lovely home, a classic piece of colonial ‘tropical’ architecture was destroyed during WW2 but was rebuilt in 1946. In 2001 it was restored and opened as a museum to give a ‘snap-shot’ of life before the world changed and also to pay hommage to the talent of Agnes Keith.
More sobering was the visit to the Sandakan Memorial Park where 2700 Australian and British prisoners of
war were held from 1942-1945. In early 1945, face with defeat the Japanese walked these prisoners on what became known as the “Sandakan-Ranau” death marches. I walked in the jungle for two days with water, good shoes and good health and found it taxing. These men were malnourished, without much clothing and certainly no shoes. Only six men survived and they were the men who managed to escape.
The Australian Government has a very moving memorial and interpretive stations and I was moved to tears by the suffering experienced in what is now a very tranquil park.
After our reflections at the Memorial we experienced a bit of pre-war nostalgia and had lunch at the English Tea House. Emerald Green lawns, the music of Bing Crosby, croquet and sipping Pimms while over looking Sandakan harbour it was easy to imagine ex-pat life. The meal was delicious as well!
We then caught a plane to Kota Kinabalu and spent two days lazing by the pool, reading and napping during the heat of the day instead of being out in it like we had for the previous 11 days! BLISS 🙂