Labuan: World War II Historical Sites

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By Chloe Tiffany Lee

Labuan has everything one would expect of a tropical island. Surrounding coral reefs provide a glimpse into the fascinating and delicate marine eco-system. Local customs and traditions, monuments and memorial parks, reflect the rich history of this island. The SMB girls were honoured to be invited by Tourism Malaysia and Labuan Corporation to spend a weekend to get to know Labuan’s history. 

The Labuan World War II Memorial

In February 1945, the Japanese apprehended an Allied landing in Sandakan and forced the prisoners of war (POWs) to march to Ranau. Many perished along the way and those who were left behind at the Sandakan POW camp were also killed.

Located along Jalan Tanjung Batu, this beautifully landscaped memorial garden is the final resting place of 3,908 Australians, British, some of India’s Punjab Signal Corp, New Zealanders as well as locals who died while fighting to liberate Borneo war heroes, either in battle or captivity in Borneo during World War II. 

Most of the POWs who died in the 260-kilometres Sandakan Death March along the route from Sandakan to Ranau were buried here. The casualties from battlefield burial grounds and scattered graves throughout Borneo were initially taken to the Sandakan War Cemetery, but with limited space, these graves were relocated to Labuan War Cemetery which was specially constructed to receive graves from all over Borneo. Some with their military tags still fastened around their necks and some still wore their badges.

Rows of white headstones with panels bearing names, military positions, age of demise and symbol of their faith are laid on well-manicured lawn in perfectly arranged platoons much like how they stood in salutation during their lifetime in service. However, there were 2,156 graves that were unidentified and became known as simply “Known unto God”, but visitors can refer to the panels in the war memorial to know the names of those officially listed.

The ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ was built as a symbol of their bravery and sacrifice. Memorial services such as ANZAC Day (every 25 April) and Remembrance Day (the Sunday closest to November 11) are held to commemorate and to pay tribute to the fallen heroes. Many war veterans, families, and descendants of war victims would gather to attend these services annually held at the Memorial.

The cemetery was built and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and it is the largest war memorial in Malaysia.

Labuan Surrender Point

The Japanese Surrender Point is a famous and meaningful memorial spot located in Labuan, Malaysia. Named after the real incident, the Surrender Park is the exact spot where the Japanese army officially surrendered their ruling on Labuan to the Australians on 9 September 1945.

About 50 metres away from the surrender point in a small wooden shack under the shelter of the coconut trees, where the ceremony of signing and the handover took place. Lieutenant General Masao Baba, Commander of the Japanese 37th Army surrendered his sword as a sign of handover to Australian Major General George Wootten, Commanding Officer of the Australian 9th Division during the ceremony – marking the end of World War II in Borneo. 

It is said that after the surrender, the Japanese soldiers performed a mass hara-kiri, a ritual suicide of honour, along the beach. Another interesting and historical fact towards this Surrender Point is the place where the trials of the first war crime were conducted in the whole of South East Asia.

Labuan Peace Park

PEACE IS THE BEST – this phrase was carved clearly to echo till the end of time on a stone slab at the entrance of the Park as to welcome visitors to the Japanese-inspired Labuan Peace Park.

The Peace Park pays tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives in Borneo during World War II. Located by the seaside of Layang-Layangan, the park was built as a memorial and renunciation of the horrors during war. It is also a memento of friendship between Malaysia and Japan, and a promise of peace and harmony for all mankind that war-like cruelty will not happen again in the future. 

The Peace Park is funded by the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation and managed by Labuan Corporation.