STATEMENT BY ESCAPED PRISONER, OWEN CAMPBELL.
On 7 June 1945 Gunner Owen Campbell and four other POWs escaped from the second march of Australian and British POWs from Sandakan to Ranau. The following account of their experiences is taken from a statement Campbell made after his rescue.
7 JUNE 1945
Allied planes came over. While the Japanese guards hid Ted Emmet, Sig Webber, Jack Austin,Gunner Leslie Hotston, Ted Skinner and I escaped into the jungle. We took along 12 tins of rice, six tins of salmon and some dried fish – all stolen from the Japanese. We also had some fish lines and a compass which Emmet had kept since our capture at Singapore in 1942.
Managed a couple of miles heading for the coast.
I had malaria so we rested.
Pushed on but Ted Skinner got dysentery so we decided to camp for a couple of days to let him recover.
I was pretty sick with beri beri and stayed with Ted. Emmet, Webber and Austin pressed on to the coast.
12 – 15 JUNE (approx)
I stayed with Ted.
I went to get some water and fish. When I came back I found Ted with his throat cut. I buried him there.
I came to a river and found Austin Hotston , crook with dysentery and malaria, sheltering under a blanket. Webber and Emmet were fishing nearby. We decided to ask any Malays we saw for help. We heard some Malayans on a boat in the river and Emmet and Webber went off to hail them.
As the boat approached a Jap stood up from the bottom of the boat and fired four shots killing both Emmet and Webber. It was so quick they had no chance and fell in the river. I was so far behind them I was not seen, so I escaped and went back to Jack Austin.
19 – 21 JUNE
I stayed with Jack and we lived on fish, which I caught from the river, and fungus which grows on the trees there. Jack was getting very weak at this stage and he died on the evening of 21 June. I buried him as best I could.
22 JUNE – 3 JULY
For eleven days I pushed on alone.
On the first day I swam across a wide river on a log. A Jap saw me and fired at me, hitting me on the wrist. I managed to make the shore as the Jap continued to fire at me.
After about the fourth day I became delirious and began to think my mates were back with me. I talked to them.
3 JULY – 24 July
I was picked up by two natives near a spot where about 100 Japanese were camped. They took me to their house and hid me. They gave me a bath and then I was taken inland to another native camp, where I was looked after for about 6 days. Eventually the natives had to pull out as the Japanese were active in the area.
After going for about 3 miles through the jungle we came to a river and travelled down it for about 3 days in a canoe until we reached the coast and headed up another river. After about 7 hours paddling we reached the SRD camp of Lieutenant Hollingsworth where I stayed for 3 or 4 days with malaria.
Eventually I was taken out to sea, picked up by a flying boat, and taken to the American aircraft carrier USS Pocomoke.
(Adapted from Statement by Gunner Campbell, 2/10th Field Regiment, 21 August 1945, 1010/4/27, AWM 54)
On 3 July 1945 Gunner Owen Campbell, after having wandered delirious for days in the jungle, approached a river where he saw a small canoe. Probably close to death, he had little option but to take the chance of calling out to the men in the canoe: two natives, Gulunting and Lap, from Kampong Muanad. Gulunting describes what happened.
In July 1945 Lap and I went out to look after our fish traps. We were using a small ‘gobang’ (canoe). Whilst we were so occupied Jap boats were passing so we hid in a small stream whilst they went past. After we knew they had gone we ventured into the main stream and searched for more of our traps. We had not gone far when I heard someone calling ‘abang’ (elder brother). I looked at the man and saw that he was practically naked. We approached him and he commenced to faint. I got hold of him and carried him into the boat. We then went up river to our camp and took him there. I carried him to my hut where the was provided with trousers and shirt and food. He was at Muanad for ten days when Salium and Ambiau came to fetch him… He gave me this compass MK VI 5226 as a memento. I know now that his name was Gunner Campbell of the Australian Army.
(Statement made to Major H W S Jackson by Gulunting of Kampong Sapi, at Beluran, North Borneo, 12 January 1947, papers of Lieutenant Colonel W S Jackson, item 9, part 1, PR 84/231, AWM)
THE EVIDENCE OF JAPANESE GUARDS
After 13 July there were only about 30 prisoners left. For food we gave these men some kan kong, tapioca and coconuts. Initially we did give them a little rice but this soon stopped. We did no cooking for the prisoners. Some of them were able to crawl about caring for the very sick. They died from lack of care and starvation and the last one died on 15 August 1945.
(Yoshitaro Goto Japanese Guard)
Before we left Sandakan Captain Yamamoto talked to all the officers and sergeant majors about how we should behave on the march. It was to be done as quickly as possible and no one was to be left behind. It would be difficult as the prisoners were sick. Any prisoner who could not walk was to be carried by the healthy prisoners on a stretcher and, if they could not do it, then the Japanese guards must help. He made no mention of disposing of prisoners who could not keep up.
(Takeo Ito Japanese Guard)
During the march many prisoners fell out and were left behind at camps. In the rear of the march there was a special three guard section commanded by Sergeant Major Tsuji and I took my turn in this party three or four times. I guarded prisoners who fell out while the other POWs went past and then handed them over to Tsuji’s party who disposed of them.
I saw five POWs being taken away into the jungle after which I heard shots. When we reached camp that night the guards were talking about the killings and about the guards who had carried them out. Guards were forced to kill under the orders of Lieutenant Wantanabe and Sergeant Major Tsuji.
(Ryoichi Nakano Japanese Guard)
There was an order to send 23 more prisoners to Ranau. The truth, however, is that on 13 July we took them out to the airport to a deep air raid shelter. We lined them up and all of us fired at them. Any that were not killed by the first shot we fired at again until they were all dead. Then we dragged their bodies to a hole and covered it up.
As the last lot of prisoners died at the camp the Javanese came in and buried them. When all were dead we burnt everything and left.
(Yoshinori Nishikawa Japanese Guard)