Ghosts of Sandakan

PART ONE : Gunner Norman Frost – a Family Connection
About four years ago we learned of a personal story of Sandakan. Eileen Marie Stark,  nee Beadle a member of our family network, told of the death of her first husband, Gunner Norman Frost, a Commercial Artist. Norm was a British soldier who died on a Sandakan to Ranau Death March (Map). His death occurred after the war had ended in Europe in May 1945. He was the last British soldier alive at Sandakan. Eileen also mentioned an Australian soldier,  who was also on the Death March, Keith Botterill.

We’d been admiring the view from Eileen’s Beauty Point home overlooking the Spit Bridge. It was meant to be a happy families day..  when we began to learn of Norm’s tragic story – so how do you react to that sort of saga ?

Questions … Who was Norm – which unit did he serve with – where did he serve and where was he captured – was he at the fall of Singapore – does he have a known grave – where is he commemorated ? So many questions – and the available UK service records for WW2 are not as extensive as the Australian records which makes for some challenges.

Gunner Norm Frost, a commercial artist, born in 1915 in Middlesex, was the son of Walter Frost and Ethel Frost (nee Hoddell ?).  He’d married Eileen Marie Beadle in December 1939 at Edmonton Middlesex; and they were living in Enfield, Middlesex in England. By December 1941, he was sailing off for Africa in WW2 in the Empress of Australia (1, 2 ). However they  were diverted to Java in early 1942 to support the Netherlands East Indies. Norm became part of the Battle for West Java, (1, 2, ). And with the fall of the Netherlands East Indies and surrender by the Dutch, Norm was captured at Garut, near Bandung. We are not sure if he remained at Garut prior to being transferred to Changi in September 1942, or if he was transferred to another prison such as Glodok, Tandjung Priok (Listing of Camps – also 1, 2, )

Gunner Norman Frost Service Records details so far located : Service No. 148 2073 (Archive Reference No. 3612208) (British Prisoners of War – Far East: Java Party No 2; nominal roll 1745 – 1945 Prisoners of war). The collection contains:

  • Japanese index cards of Allied prisoners – includes name, nationality, place of capture, parents’ names, rank, unit and more.
  • Lists of prisoners created by liberating armies during 1945.
  • Regimental nominal rolls – includes name, rank, regiment and date.

He  had joined the 48th Battery of the 21st Light Anti Aircraft Artillery Regiment of the British Royal Artillery (History of Royal Artillery) – Nominal Roll. A 48th Battery had been raised before 1942 (?) Enfield, Middlesex England, by Sir Robert Eric Mortimer “Flash Alf” Wheeler (1,2) – but was it the same 48th Battery ? The Gunners page of the Children of the Far East POW’s provided some clues …

The 48th Battery had been in Surabaya in 1942 …  an overview  (more – details ) … (though incomplete)  “On 6th December 1941 Convoy WS14 sailed from the Clyde bound for the Middle East (Chart) carrying, inter alia, 21 and 48 LAA Regiments RA and 77 HAA Regiment RA. 21 Regiment RA was a TA Regiment from the Chester area comprising 48, 69 and 79 Batteries. … By the time the Convoy WS14 had reached Durban in South Africa early in January 1942, the destination of the AA Regiments had been changed by the UK Chiefs-of-Staff to Singapore. Their destination was changed again to Batavia (now called Djakarta) in Java by General (later Field Marshal) Sir Archibald Wavell who by now had been appointed Supreme Commander ABDA (American, British, Dutch and Australian Area). They arrived at Batavia on board the Empress of Australia on 4th February 1942…. on 4th February 1942, 77 HAA Regiment RA, 21 and 48 LAA Regiments RA had disembarked at Batavia with all their equipment together with Brigadier H D W Sitwell, CB, MC and HQ 16 AA Brigade. Brig Sitwell was the AA Commander in the NEI and answered directly to General Sir Archibald Wavell, Commander ABDA Area., which had arrived at Batavia from Britain on February 4 1942, with their Brigade headquarters established at Bandung. … 21 LAA Regiment RA deployed one Battery to Eastern Java on airfield defence with 48 Battery in the Soerabaja area. The third Battery was possibly that which Wavell had ordered to be sent as a reinforcement for Koepang (now Kupang) in Timor….

Dissolution of ABDA – On 21st February 1942 General Sir Archibald Wavell was instructed to withdraw his ABDA Headquarters from Java but he countered by suggesting that in the circumstances it would be better if it was dissolved altogether and that control in the NEI reverted to the Local Dutch Naval Land and Air Commanders. This was eventually agreed and on 25th February 1942 General Wavell left Java for India. Singapore had fallen some 10 days before.

With the departure of Wavell, Brig Sitwell became GOC British Troops in Java with the rank of Major-General and formed his HQ from HQ 16 AA Brigade. On 25th February 1942 the order of battle and dispositions of the elements of five RA AA Regiments were as follows:-

21 LAA Regiment RA –
RHQ with two batteries on airfields in East Java (Singosari, Moaspati and Malang). One battery in, or en route to, or from Timor (?).

Following an assessment of Intelligence Reports on likely Japanese moves against Java, General Sitwell ordered the following moves of AA units for the night of 28th February/1st March 1942.

1. RHQ 21 LAA Regiment RA and two troops from East Java to Andir airfield in the Bandoeng area.
2. Three troops of 21 LAA Regiment RA to Tjilatjap and two more troops to Jogjakarta; and thence to Tasikmalaja where they were estimated to arrive on 2nd March 1942…. During the night of 28th February/1st March 1942 (whilst the moves above were in progress) a strong Japanese force landed at Eretenwetan on the North Coast of Java and, with tanks, pressed inland. By 10.00 hrs 1st March 1942 they had taken the defences of Kalidjati airfield by surprise and had over-run it. 49 Battery of 48 LAA Regiment RA was destroyed as well as the battery from 6 HAA Regiment operating in an infantry role…. On 2nd March 1942 HQ 16 AA Brigade was reformed to take command of all AA Troops in Java. Major General Sitwell, the GOC British Troops in NEI now had two brigades under his command, 16 AA Brigade and Black Force….

During 4th March 1942, amid growing disintegration of the Dutch Forces in Java as a result of strong Japanese pressure, British AA units in Batavia were ordered to concentrate in the Bandoeng area and so 239 Battery of 77 HAA Regiment RA and 242 Battery of 48 LAA Regiment RA moved accordingly.

As the situation grew more confused, 16 AA Brigade units were told to concentrate on Tasikmalaja airfield as a prerequisite for a kind of last ditch ‘wolf’s lair’ type defence that was at one time contemplated and this they began to do on 6th/7th March 1942.

A further move into a more remote mountainous area (Tjakadjang) was ordered pm on 7th March 1942 which meant destroying the remaining heavy equipment and this was started.

Throughout 8th March 1942 General Sitwell was in consultation with his Dutch superiors who seemed to have no sympathy with his request for prolonged guerilla-type resistance to the Japanese.

By 08.00 hrs the next morning, 9th March 1942, the Dutch had laid down their arms. It was clear to General Sitwell that there was no possibility of any long term guerilla-type resistance and by noon on 9th March 1942 all British personnel had laid down their arms and capitulated.

In the last few days (3rd – 5th March 1942) twenty-six Japanese planes were certainly destroyed by the guns of 16 AA Brigade and thirteen more were probably destroyed.”

It has been suggested that 15,500 British and Commonwealth Forces men had been taken prisoner in Java alone (Bundock). For six months Norm must have been in Java before being transported from Batavia (Jakarta) in the Java Party No.2  – leaving on 22.9.1942 to Changi in Singapore on N.N.Maru 2, arriving on 26 September 1942 (UK Roll of Honour), with 1298 other British personnel. See a  List of all Java Parties from UK Roll of Honour page. His time in Changi was brief before being moved to Kuching in October 1942 and then in April 1943 to Sandakan. It was on March 25 1943 that he was reported as a Prisoner of War in “Casualty List No. 1092  having served in the Netherlands East Indies”.

Officially Norm was captured on March 8 1942, caught up in the conquest of Java in 1942. Extracts from some of his records are shown below and give an idea of what records would have also been kept on Australian POW’s.

Japanese POW Record – not all details were translated on this record  – eg Norm’s place of capture. However our daughter Katrina and boyfriend Adam had both studied Japanese and so were able to translate it as “Gar – row ” ie Garut / Garoet which was indeed where many British were captured on March 8 1942. Also where there was a Japanese POW camp – it was near to Bandung on Java in the Netherlands East Indies (now part of Indonesia). The Nationality details were not translated either but Katrina and Adam translated it as “English” – also noting that it was stamped rather than a written entry. Also the second page has a stamped entry but we have not as yet had it translated.Norman Frost POW Record Japanese

Norman Frost POW Record Japanese p2

Japanese Death Certificate – his death is also recorded on the British Roll of Honour, 1939 – 1945 (1,2 )Norman Frost Death Certificate

British Casualty Card Record – he is included on the British Roll of Honour for WW2.Norman Frost British Casualty Card

Note – information on Japanese POW cards.

Norm is remembered at the  CWGC Singapore Memorial (FROST_NORMAN certificate), and also at Kundasang. (FindaGrave entry & The War Graves Photographic Project entry).

It was in 2007 that finally a British memorial was created – the English Grave at Kundasang.

“British victims of Sandakan death marches finally honoured – Last updated at 16:43 17 August 2007

More than 600 Britons who were brutally put to death by the Japanese in the former British North Borneo have finally been fully honoured.

In the shadow of Mount Kinabalu, a memorial stone has been errected in an “English garden” to the memory of 641 British airman and gunners who gazed upon the same scene at the close of the Second World War, but never lived to tell the tale.

There was not one British survivor from the infamous Sandakan Death Marches. Those that did not die from starvation exhaustion or disease were beaten, shot, beheaded or bayoneted by their Japanese guards.

Hazel Braund, 49, from Lewisham, South London made the pilgrimage to honour the memory of her uncle, an RAF man who survived the march but died of malaria and deprivation within days of victory. And next week as a personal tribute she will walk five days along the route her uncle followed to his death.

In the “English Garden” at Kundasang, the British heroes of Sandakan were finally acknowledged with a memorial bought with funds from a private appeal. Cash was provided by the Sabah and Malaysian governments, and the local St George’s Society after an appeal by Britain’s military adviser at the High Commission in Malaysia, Colonel Paul Edwards.

After a Christian memorial service attended by Malaysian government and local government officials, British High Commissioner to Malaysia Boyd Cleary CVO said: “This is not about righting a wrong, but enhancing the memory and educating those who follow.

“British soldiers and air-men, deprived of food, barefoot, carrying heavy loads, suffering from sores ber-beri and malnutrition all died here. Those who fell were bayoneted and shot.”

Boyd Cleary then read from the memoirs of one of the six Australians who survived. Elizabeth Braund, 49, paid private tribute to her uncle Senior Aircraftsman Benjamin Hughes, of the Royal Air Force, who died at Ranau within days of the war’s end.

Mrs Braund, a member of the Children of Far East Prisoner’s of War Association said: “The memorial has been a long time in the making but it is a fitting tribute to those who died. “My uncle at 19 was the youngest of a family of 13 from Elephant and Castle. I never met him, but I know what he suffered,” she said.

For 62 years the 641 British soldiers and airmen who died have been all forgotten. There are no British memoirs. None of the British survived. But in Australia the death marches have been described as their ‘holocaust’ and every state in the country has its own memorial.

The British gunners and airmen, together with more than 1,700 Australians, had been taken to Sandakan, in what is today Sabah, Malaysia to build an airfield by the Japanese in Sandakan towards the end of the war. But as allied forces approached, the Japanese decided to force march their prisoners away along a 160 mile route in the shadow of Mount Kinabalu from Sandakan to Ranau. The Japanese had been ordered to deal ruthlessly with their charges. They took the orders literally. In three separate marches all but the six Australians died.

Stragglers were dealt with by the Japanese ‘Kempetai’ who followed in the rear of the marches. Hundreds were bayoneted, or beheaded, where they lay unable to make a step further. Prisoners were tied to trees and even beaten to death. The lucky ones, it is said, are the ones who were shot. The remainder died at their destination in Ranau. Soldiers who could go no further made their goodbyes to their colleagues as they awaited their own executions.

One of the survivors Australian private Nelson Short, who is now dead, said at the time: “If blokes could not go on we just shook hands with them and said, you know, hope everything’s all right. “But they knew just what was going to happen. There was nothing you could do.”

There was considerable evidence that the Japanese even executed prisoners after learning of the Japanese surrender. The Japanese Commander of Sandakan Captain Hosijima Susumi was tried and executed along with eight others.”

Read more:

After the war ended, Probate Granted to Norm Frost’s widow Eileen in October 1946 – note place of death is given as Ranau Borneo on July 15 1945.  Norman Frost probate 1946

Meanwhile back home in Enfield, Middlesex ( where Norm’s immediate family were living) was not immune from the effects of WW2 – via Enfield at War – Enfield Local Studies page.

PART TWO – Illawarra Men at Sandakan

Several years after learning of Norman Frost at Sandakan, I was researching the Illawarra WW2 Roll of Honour.  I discovered that a surprising number of Illawarra men had died at Sandakan or on the Death Marches. Of the 29 Illawarra men commemorated at Labuan Commonwealth War Graves Commission Military Cemetery in Sabah, at least 22 had died at Sandakan or on a Sandakan – Ranau Death March. It rekindled my interest in Sandakan, and I looked further into its tragic history. I discovered that the Australian War Memorial had also featured an exhibition Stolen Years – Australian Prisoners of War, which included Sandakan. And so many had died after the victory in Europe in May 1945 .. it seemed that the Japanese were determined not to give up until their final capitulation in August 1945.

So far those Illawarra men who perished at Sandakan have been identified as follows:

  • BELL, Mervyn Colin Stanwell Park Lithgow Paddington Borneo/Philippines June 5, 1945 25 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – AWM PhotographMervyn Colin Bell
  • Cox RC – Shellharbour  NX 32585 – in 1945 sheet – Shellharbour Rupert Carlyle Cox Jemaree New Zealand, Rockdale (Shellharbour)  –  Paddington NX32585 April 13 1945 Sandakan Borneo Labuan NX32585 aged 34 is in 1945 Sandakan list – AWM PhotographRupert Carlyle Cox
  • FARRELL, Vincent Henry Wollongong Adamstown Newcastle Malaysia July 19, 1945 41 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – AWM PhotographVincent Farrell
  • FINDLAY, John George Balgownie Riverstone Paddington June 12, 1945 24 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – AWM Photograph Findlay
  • GEMMILL, Stanley Cyril England Gerringong Paddington Malaysia June 2, 1945 29 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – AWM Photograph Gemmill
  • Higgs Jesse Albert – Jamberoo Anglican – NX50173 – 12 April 1945 Labuan ? Sandakan  – AWM Photograph Higgs
  • HINCHCLIFF, Wally Junee, NSW Coledale Sydney Borneo April 10, 1945 27 Labuan War Cemetery, Malaysia -Sandakan by Paul Hams details his horrifying treatment – AWM Photograph Hinchcliffe
  • KILPATRICK, James Sydney Corrimal Paddington Malaysia April 3, 1945 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – AWM Photograph Kilpatrick
  • LEAR, John Cobar Bulli Paddington June 17, 1945 43 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – AWM Photograph Lear
  • MANN, Wesley Richard Scarborough Arncliffe Paddington Borneo/Philippines July 6, 1945 31 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – AWM Photograph Mann
  • MARSH, Charles Keith Wollongong Wollongong Paddington Malaysia November 8, 1944 29 Labuan War Cemetery, Malaysia – AWM Photograph                                                             Marsh
  • MEREDITH, Douglas Henderson Strathfield Coniston Paddington Malaysia April 16, 1945 23 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – AWM Photograph Meredith
  • MILNE, Reginald Adam England Jamberoo Paddington Malaysia April 13, 1945 23 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – AWM Photograph Milne
  • Nicholson Ernest Charles  of Newcastle with family in Wollongong died June 10 1945 Sandakan – AWM Photograph Nicholson
  • Neilsen Ralph Robert  NX45309 died 18.11.1944 Borneo. He had worked at Newbolds Thirroul and Coniston – AWM PhotoP02673.001 Ralph Robert Neilsen
  • STANLEY, John Ronald Coledale Glebe Point Paddington May 25, 1945 31 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – AWM PhotographStanley
  • TANKO, Vincent Kerr Wollongong Wollongong Paddington Malaysia February 7, 1945 32 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – AWM PhotographTanko
  • TUCKERMAN, Jack Hamilton Coledale Coledale Paddington June 18, 1945 27 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – Sandakan – AWM Photograph Tuckerman
  • VOLLHEIM, Eric Charles NZ Wollongong Paddington Malaysia February 12, 1945 45 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – AWM Photograph Vollheim
  • WARRINGTON, Clive William Port Kembla Queanbeyan Paddington Malaysia May 14, 1945 32 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – Sandakan  A Conspiracy of Silence by Lynette Ramsay Silver details his humanity (pp 190- 191, 209) – AWM Photograph Warrington
  • WEEKS, Frederick Norman England Wollongong Paddington Malaysia February 4, 1945 34 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – Sandakan  A Conspiracy of Silence by Lynette Ramsay Silver details his horrifying last months (pp 166- 167, 217) – AWM Photograph Weeks
  • WHITING, Wallace Gordon Woonona Woonona Paddington Malaysia July 17, 1945 25 Labuan Memorial, Malaysia – AWM Photograph Whiting

PART THREE : The Aftermath


The victims of Sandakan are remembered in various places in Australia and Asia

    • Sandakan Memorial Foundation (1,)
    • Singapore CWGC
    • Labuan  CWGC Memorial and Cemetery
    • Sandakan (1, 2, 3, )
    • Ranau (1, 2, )
    • Kundasang (1, 2,  )
  • Australian War Memorial Canberra (1, )
  • Burwood (1, 2, 3, 4, )
  • Turramurra (1, 2, 3)
  • Lismore (1, )
  • Maitland (1, )
  • Tamworth (1, )
  • Wagga (1, )
  • Yass (1, )
  • Bendigo (1, 2, )
  • New Farm (1, )
  • Kings Park (1, )
  • Boyup Brook (1, )
  • Borneo Poems (1, )
  • Six From Borneo – A Radio Play by Colin Simpson (1947) – SLVic

The Six Survivors who bore witness to what had happened at Sandakan – Keith Botterill, Owen Campbell, Nelson Short, William Hector Sticpewich, Richard Braithwaite and William Moxham.

He helped some of the Survivors – Barigah 

P00495.005 He helped Sandakan Survivors - right

Barigah  – right

The Japanese Surrender in WW2 – Colonel Otsuka – Interrogated

116638 Sandakan Accused War Criminal

Surrendered : Colonel Otsuka – surrendered to the Allies and was interrogated about the deaths of hundreds of Allied Prisoners at Sandakan

The  War Crimes Trial Prosecutor – Captain Athol Moffitt – article

133912 Sandakan War Crimes Prosecutor Captain Athol Moffitt

Sandakan War Crimes Defence Counsel for Japanese (centre)133911 Sandakan Accused War Criminals

Accused of War Crimes 

Japanese including some suspected or accused War Criminals of Sandakan – War Crimes Trials were held at Labuan – some were convicted and sentenced to hang, others sentenced to imprisonment and others  were not tried – Lieutenant Colonel Suga committed suicide. Captain Hoshijima was among those tried as War Criminal, convicted and executed by hanging (1, 2, ).

Other Japanese waiting to leave Sandakan after the War

Paul Hams has lectured on Sandakan and written a book on Sandakan

There are some who have written poetry  – and others continue to seek information on their lost loved ones.

Some have made pilgrimages to Sandakan – more poetry – others have reported the War Crimes and recorded the Massacres and Atrocities of WW2 – more.

More Sandakan Links and Resources – Borneo POW page,

The Words of Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan in February 1945 …

“Japan’s crown prince has warned of the need to remember the second world war “correctly”, in a rare foray into an ideological debate as nationalist politicians seek to downplay the country’s historic crimes.

In an unusual intervention in the discussion, Naruhito’s mild-mannered broadside was being interpreted in some circles as a rebuke to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a key figure in the right wing drive to minimise the institutionalised system of wartime sex slavery.

“Today when memories of war are set to fade, I reckon it is important to look back (at) our past with modesty and pass down correctly the miserable experience and the historic path Japan took from the generation who know the war to the generation who don’t,” Naruhito said.

The comments, released Monday on the prince’s 55th birthday come as Abe’s controversial views on history roil relations with China and South Korea, and cause unease in Washington.

Abe has openly said he wants a more sympathetic telling of the history of the first half of the 20th century, a period marked by brutal expansionism in Asia and warring with China and the West.

The prime minister last week appointed a 16-member panel to advise him on a statement he is set to make later this year to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender.

Abe has said he will largely stand by Tokyo’s previous apologies, but amid growing anger in China and South Korea over the “comfort women” system, speculation is mounting that he will seek to downplay the issue.

Mainstream historians agree that up to 200,000 women, predominantly from Korea, were forced into sexual slavery during the war.

Right wing Japanese insist there is no documentary proof that the Japanese state or its military were involved in the system on the Korean peninsula and reject official guilt.

Both countries will be carefully watching any official pronouncement on the war.

While Japan’s newspapers remained staid in their coverage of Naruhito’s comments, social media users leapt on them.

“This definitely contains a warning against Shinzo Abe, doesn’t it?” tweeted @Kirokuro.

“It is a regular recognition (of history), but these comments by the crown prince stand out because Prime Minister Abe’s views on the constitution and history are outrageous,” said @kazu—w50

Asked about his views on war and peace, Naruhito told reporters: “It was very painful that many precious lives were lost, many people suffered and felt deep sorrow in the world including in Japan.

“It is important that we never forget people who died in the war… (and we must) deepen our appreciation for our past so as not to repeat the horrors of war and to foster a love of peace,” he said.”