A spotlight was shone on the courage of locals who helped Australian and British prisoners of war in Borneo during World War II, at this year's Sandakan commemorative service in Bendigo.
The annual service was held at Strathdale Park yesterday to remember the Australian and British servicemen who died at Sandakan and Ranau between 1942 and 1945.
Only six men - all Australians, who managed to escape - survived of the 2400 prisoners of war imprisoned by the Japanese at Sandakan and Ranau, and forced to march between the two locations.
Author Doreen Hurst, whose parents Johnny and Lillian Funk were part of the underground movement in Borneo during World War II, was the guest speaker at yesterday's service.
She told the gathered crowd about the people in Borneo who helped the POWs by smuggling food, medicine and items to build a radio receiver, burying the dead, helping them escape, and taking them to safety.
"All their efforts took place in a climate of fear, of an all-powerful, ruthless occupying imperial Japanese army, and they risked not only their own lives, but also those of their families," Mrs Hurst said.
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She said the locals formed an underground resistance network that assisted the POWs by providing necessary items, helping escapees, planning a rescue, and passing on intelligence to the Allies.
She told the story of police officer Ernesto Lagan, who watched the POWs being marched past his house and vowed to help them.
He joined the Japanese police force to gain information to pass on, and was involved in the planning of a POW rescue.
Another story was that of Heng Ju Ming, an overseer at the Sandakan camp, who hid an escaped POW in the jungle and made contact with the underground to get him away.
These men were executed, along with others, for helping the Allied prisoners.
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The locals also formed guerilla groups to fight the Japanese.
"I believe that we best honour those who fought, those who suffered, those who died for our democratic principles, values and freedoms, by standing in strong, unwavering support for those principles, values and freedoms, so their sacrifice is not in vain," Mrs Hurst said.
"Let us not forget not only what they did, but also why they did it. Lest we forget."
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