Address By

His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd)


Sandakan Memorial Service

Sandakan, Malaysia

15 August 2015

Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, Dato Dato, Datin Datin, Right Reverend Bishop, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a privilege for Lyn and I to be here today representing Australia and the Australian community of visitors who are here.  I would like to particularly acknowledge amongst all those visitors, the presence of Mr Bunny Glover.  A veteran, a former prisoner of war, it is an honour to be with you today, Mr Glover.  You served at this place, and in Australia you are one of our last living contacts with all that happened here so many years ago.  Let me assure you that what you have done and what you went through with your comrades has not been forgotten with the passing of time.

Moving on immediately to acknowledge the families and the loved ones of prisoners of war and veterans here today. Your forebears made enormous sacrifices and endured incredible hardship.  In Australia, we are the beneficiaries of their legacy and we are grateful for their service.

Seventy years ago, the Second World War came to an end.

This place at which we gather gives witness to one of the great tragedies of that war. 

More broadly of the many men and women who knew first-hand the horror of that war, few remain.

Their story, of grief, sorrow and loss is passing from memory into history.  But more particularly in the last months of World War II, almost 2,000 Australian and British prisoners of war were forced to march more than 250 kilometres inland to Ranau.

Those too ill to walk were killed by their captors or left to die.

Those who fell during the march were killed. 

Only six of those 2,000 men would survive the war.

So many lives lost.

In modern discussion much attention is paid to the notion of wars of choice and wars of necessity.  And that can be interesting, but is ultimately a sterile conversation.  For those men who found themselves embarking on the death march or finished their lives and their war at Ranau, their choice was made when they chose to serve their county.  The solidiers of Great Britain, the soliders, sailors, air men and women of Australia, all who volunteered, gave their moment of choice.  If you had asked all those men, Australians and Britons, here at the POW camps and on the march, would they have chosen to be prisoners of war, the answer would have been a resounding “no”.  And yet they accepted their lot, but only to the extent that they were here and that was that.  What they did not accept was the notion that they should break that bond of camaraderie.  What they never accepted was the notion that their subservience should be complete.  What they would not accept was the breaking of their service with their comrades.  What they would not accept was that somehow their cohesion would be fragmented.  They clung together, even until death.

So many lives lost.  And yet they came to war as men and women in uniform of their nation.  If they finished in the rags of those uniforms, their bond to their nation and to their comrades was unbroken.

So many futures cut short, so many dreams and aspirations unfulfilled.

And today representing another component of that loss, the lives of families left behind forever changed—the pain lasting until this day.

They were cruel times.

The Sabahans also suffered.  In fact one might say, you can trace back the bond of affectionate relationship between all the peoples of Malaysia and Austrlaia, to around that time.  In terms of wars of choice, the people of the peninsula, and of Sabah and all the other places around here, chose not to be part of the war, but the war came to them.  And so they suffered. 

And Australia is forever grateful to them for the support that was shown to those in captivity. 

At great personal risk, these brave men and women participated in the resistance, aided those in captivity and sheltered the few who managed to escape.

Their example of courage and humanity is a story to tell our children and we remember them just as we remember our own.

Our two nations are today places transformed from the long past days in 1945.

But the friendship between our countries has in part been shaped by our common and bitter experience of war: a war we can never forget; a war we will never forget.

Because what happened here so long ago continues to matter. And we show that by our presence today.

To remember, to honour, and pay our respects to those who sacrificed their all.

Lest We Forget.