Borneo, Ranau and World War 2

The Sandakan Death Marches

World War 2

The Japanese occupation of North Borneo became official in May 16, 1942, and divided North Borneo into two governorates. Ranau was under the Governorate of the West Coast Territory (西海州 seikaishū) and was directly administered by a district officer (郡長 guncho) with the help of village headmen.

At first, the Japanese were not interested in the Interior Residency, but soon, demands for the collection of foodstuffs increased. They also realized the strategic importance of controlling the Interior. The Japanese set up a garrison in Ranau to control the local people; it was one of the strongest army posts in the Interior. Village headmen were given orders to gather as many groups of labourers as possible from villages all over the district, to work for the Japanese in upgrading existing roads, mainly the one leading to Sandakan, and also to construct an airstrip in Ranau near a detention camp of Australian prisoners of war. Ranau served as an important junction for the Japanese troops from Sandakan heading to Jesselton and also for the troops from the Interior proper marching as reinforcements towards Kudat.

Towards the end of the war, Ranau stood witness to the infamous Sandakan Death Marches. The first march started in January 1945. 470 Australian prisoners of wars left Sandakan and by June, only 6 remained alive in Ranau. The second march of 536 prisoners began on May 29, 1945. Along the way, two prisoners managed to escape into the jungle and were later saved by the allied units with the help of locals. Only 183 prisoners reached the Ranau camp on June 24, 1945. Another four prisoners successfully fled the camp and were led to safety by a native teenager who found them hiding in the jungle along a river. They were also rescued by Allied paratroopers later.

In June 1945, the Japanese captors moved with the prisoners 8.3 km (5.2 miles) south of Ranau to a second jungle camp near the Kenipir River to escape from the air raids of napalm bombs by the allied planes. By August 1945, all survivors of the marches were killed.

Three memorials were erected in remembrance of the marches. The Ranau Memorial, also known as the Gunner Cleary Memorial was constructed in 1985 in memory of the tragic death of Gunner Albert Neil Cleary from the first Death March. The Kundasang War Memorial built in 1962 is a memorial park dedicated to the Australian and British servicemen who died in Sandakan and on the marches, and also to the locals who assisted the prisoners of wars. The Last Camp Memorial was newly unveiled in 2009 in remembrance of the exact spot where the Death March ended.

Ranau - A Brief History

Ranau (pronounced [ra.naʊ]) is a town as well as a district located in Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. The landlocked district is situated in the West Coast Division, commencing in the northern part of the Division and continuing in a southerly direction, while bordering the Sandakan Division to the east until it meets the Interior Division border. Ranau sits 108 km (67 miles) east of Kota Kinabalu[5] and 227 km (141 miles) west of Sandakan. As of the 2010 Census, the population of the district was 94,092, an almost entirely Dusun ethnic community.

Ranau is noted for its hilly geographical structure and is the largest producer of highland vegetables in the state of Sabah. Tourism and highland agriculture are the major industries, as the district is at 1,176 m above sea level. Its many tourist destinations attracted half a million tourists in 2009. These include Mount Kinabalu (the tallest mountain on Borneo), Kinabalu Park, Poring Hot Springs, Kundasang War Memorial, Death March Trail, Mesilau, and Sabah Tea Garden.

Ranau's diverse flora ranges from rich tropical lowland and hill rainforest to tropical mountain, sub-alpine forest and scrub on the higher elevations and particularly abundant in species with examples of flora from as far as China, Australia and the Himalayas, as well as pan-tropical flora. Kinabalu Park has been recognized by UNESCO as a Center of Plant Diversity for Southeast Asia. In December 2000, the Kinabalu Park was designated by UNESCO as Malaysia's first World Heritage Site.

Ranau was home to the largest mining project in Malaysia, the Mamut Copper Mine,[11] before it ceased operations in 1999. At the peak of its mining activity, Ranau was transformed into a thriving township. The mining company constructed the Ranau Bridge across Liwagu River, the Ranau Golf Course, and also made donations to school building funds, buses, and bus shelters.

The origin of the name "Ranau" comes from the Dusun word ranahon, which means paddy fields. The Dusun people who live in the highland grow mountain rice on the hills (called tumo/dumo), where the mountain rice is called parai tidong in Dusun). The people in the lowlands of Ranau use traditional water-filled paddy fields for rice cultivation. Over time, “Ranahon” was shortened to “Ranau.” As the central district administration is nearer to the lowland, the name “Ranau” was adopted as the official name for the district.

References to Mount Kinabalu had also appeared in early maps of the East Indies made by Europeans cartographers, where it was referred to as Mount St. Pedro or Mount St. Pierre. The name Mount St. Pedro was used by map makers such as Gerardus Mercator in his India Orientalis map published around 1595, Nicolaes Visscher II in his early 17th-century Indiae Orientalis map, and several other cartographers. In some maps, for example, the 1710 Ottens's Map of Southeast Asia by Joachim Ottens, the mountain was called Mount St. Pierre. However, John Pinkerton's East India Isles map from 1818 labeled the mountain as St. Peter's Mountain.

Because of the stories of the local people, early geographers believed that there was a great lake at the peak of the mountain.[20] During the Ice age about 100,000 years ago, the mountain was covered with ice sheets and glaciers moved slowly down its slopes. Only the summit peaks were very noticeable above the ice.[29] The natives' oral history may have had its roots in a folk memory of these glistening sheets of ice. The earliest documented expeditions to ascend Kinabalu in March 1851 and in 1858, led by Sir Hugh Low and Sir Spenser St. John, revealed there was no lake.

Later maps, as evident in the maps by Archibald Fullarton & Co. and J.Rapkin, indicated that a lake was located south of the mountain. With further assertions from the Kiau people (of Kota Belud district) that they had done trading business with villagers who lived near the lake shore, St. John thought the lake had probably been located southeast below Kinabalu, where the Ranau plain is situated today. The Dusun word ranahon (ranau) is used to describe a wet field of lowland rice, so highlanders may have thought they were looking at a lake when they saw irrigated rice fields. Explorers William B. Pryer and Captain Francis Xavier Witti concluded there was no lake near Mount Kinabalu when they explored the Ranau plain in the early days.

During the British North Borneo Company administration beginning in the 19th century, Ranau was governed under the Province Dent. Later it organized as a substation of Tambunan with a Government station under the Interior Residency.[32] Ranau was connected to the West Coast Residency only by a bridle road and by a southerly bridle path 64 km (40 miles) to Tambunan. Telegraph line was also available from Ranau to Tambunan.

The Ranau plain and its surrounding hilly areas were historically inhabited by Dusun farmers who practiced shifting cultivation. Their major staple crops were upland rice and lowland wet rice. Natives from Ranau would go to large tamu (native market) at nearby districts to sell and buy, or exchange goods using the barter system. Tobacco, a major export item for the Company, was successfully cultivated in extensive parts of Ranau district, especially in the highlands. It became an important source of income for Ranau natives. At that time, brokers thought that the tobacco produced from highland Ranau and the Interior proper was of high quality compared to that grown down in the lowlands, although the plants were similarly obtained from Ranau.

Between 1897 and 1898, Mat Salleh built a fort in Ranau; he used it as a base three times during his rebellion against the British North Borneo Company. His fort in Ranau was measured at 109 m (119 yd) long and 55 m (60 yd) wide. It had a three-sided strong-point on one side and a watch-tower in the middle. The fort was surrounded by a thick earth wall with high strong fence. Sharp bamboo stakes were thickly sown into the grounds around the fort. Mat Salleh first entered Ranau on February 10, 1897, where he gained many Dusun followers; his influence increased to as far as Inanam. The Company was aware of this development. It attacked his fort in Ranau on February 23, which resulted in the death of his father. Mat Salleh escaped but retreated back to Ranau in July the same year. After being tracked down by Captain J.M. Reddie and E.H. Barraut, Ranau was attacked again but escaped.[41] Mat Salleh's final movement to Ranau occurred in November 1897.

A total of 288 Sikh, Iban and Dayak policemen from Abai Bay and Sandakan led by G. Hewett, George Ormsby, P. Wise, and Adjutant Alfred Jones, were ordered to invade Mat Salleh's fort in Ranau on December 13, 1897. The fort was significantly destroyed; during the action Jones and 13 other policemen were killed. On January 9, 1898, Hewett and his troops attacked the Ranau fort again, to find it had been abandoned by Mat Salleh and his followers. The government forces destroyed the fort completely. As a result of this rebellion, the Company built an administration building in the district. It erected a "loyalty oath stone" as a sign that the residents of Ranau swore loyalty to the Government. The loyalty oath stone still exists until today.