photo
Australia's War 1939 - 1945
title

Overview
photo

Gunner Albert Neil Cleary, 2/15thField Regiment
[AWM P03861.001]

'the aftermath'
illustration

A sketch of the Sandakan POW Camp by Corporal Frederick Woodley, 2/10th Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers. Corporal Woodley died at Sandakan POW Camp on 6 February 1945.
[Reproduced by permission Mr Arthur Woodley]
This cemetery originally contained the graves of most of those POWs whose bodies were recovered from the cemeteries and other burial sites in and around the Sandakan POW Camp.
[AWM Robertson Collection 122/1]

Gunner Cleary
During 1942 and 1943, Australian and British
POWs were transported from Singapore to
Sandakan POW Camp in North Borneo. [DVA]

If you escape the same thing will happen to you.

Albert Neil Cleary (known as Neil) was 25 years old when he died on 20 March 1945. His friends collected him from the gutter where his Japanese tormentors had thrown him, carried him to a stream, washed him and brought him back to their hut to die.

For two years Neil Cleary had been one of more than 2500 British and Australian prisoners of war (POW) building an aerodrome for the Japanese at Sandakan in Borneo. The first men had been brought to Sandakan by sea from Singapore in July 1942 and others joined them during early 1943. During 1942, their life was bearable and they lost very few men but in 1943 there was a change. New Formosan guards and the discovery of an Allied intelligence network led to harsh reprisals. Most of the officers were moved from Sandakan to Kuching, on the opposite coast of Borneo, a move that was to save their lives.

photo
By January 1945 the
Sandakan POWs were
trying to survive on
approximately 85 grams
of rice a day.
[DVA]

Those who remained at Sandakan were subjected to ever-harsher conditions. The POWs' health and diet deteriorated and, in late 1944, Allied bombing raids caused a further reduction in the men's daily rice ration. By January 1945, their Japanese rice issue stopped altogether and they were given approximately 85 grams per day from accumulated stores built up by the POWs themselves.

In January 1945, when the Allies were getting closer, the Japanese decided to move the large group of prisoners at Sandakan nearly 300 kilometres further west to the town of Ranau. Two groups of these debilitated and starving men were marched 260 kilometres through the jungle. Those who were too ill to leave Sandakan were left there to die and hundreds of other men died during the two death marches.

The Sandakan Memorial at Burwood in
Sydney. Other Sandakan Memorials
are at Turramurra, Tamworth; Wagga
Wagga and Maitland, NSW; Bendigo,
Victoria; and New Farm, Queensland.
[DVA]

Neil Cleary survived the first march from Sandakan to Ranau and in March, he and a mate, Gunner Wally Crease, escaped from the camp at Ranau.

Cleary was recaptured and brought back to the camp where he was thrown into an empty area known as the 'Guard House'. Already showing signs of beatings, his arms were tied high up behind his back and he was made to kneel with a log tied behind his knees. Two Japanese guards kicked and punched him all over his body, including his neck. They caused further pain by jumping on the end of the log tied behind his knees. Every half-hour he was made to stand up. The blood would rush back into his lower legs causing even more pain. During the next three and a half-hours Cleary was beaten with rifle butts, sticks and anything else to hand.

drawing
Captain Hoshijima Susumi, Douglas Watson 1945.
[Red crayon 60.8 x 44.6 cm. AWM ART 22988]

All the time this was going on the guards would say to his friends:

If you escape the same thing will happen to you.

The beatings continued the next day and when Crease, the other escapee, was recaptured and returned to camp both men were give the same treatment all that afternoon. Witness Keith Botterill heard the men pleading with the guards to stop. This time the bashings continued throughout the night. Wally Crease managed to escape again the next morning but Japanese guards found him and shot him.

Keith Botterill, the only surviving witness to the beatings, was sent away from Ranau on a work detail. He returned four days later to discover that Cleary was still alive. This time he had been tied to a tree by his neck and was dressed only in a 'fundoshi', a small piece of cloth given to the POWs to cover their private parts. By then Cleary was filthy and covered in blood blisters and caked blood. He was suffering from dysentery and had been left to lie in his own excrement. Although the days were hot, the nights were cold and he would have suffered dreadfully.

photo
Neil Cleary's sister, Nancy
Patterson, at the memorial to her
brother Neil in Ranau, Sabah,
Malaysia in 1999. The memorial
was dedicated in 1985.
[DVA]

His captors continued to hit him with fists and rifles. He remained in this condition for 11 or 12 days until the guards could see he was dying. Finally his friends were allowed to lift him up, wash him and take him away to die.

Only six men, all Australians, survived the Sandakan death marches. Keith Botterill, one of the survivors of Sandakan was able to report the appalling atrocities he had witnessed during his captivity. Not one of the British POWs survived.

It wasn't until after their liberation that the Allied officers who had been moved to Kuching in 1943 discovered the fate of their troops and the few officers who had remained with them.

In 1999, Nancy Patterson, Neil Cleary's sister participated in a pilgrimage to Sandakan to see where her brother had spent his final days. More than 50 years after his death, she still remembered her brother building a canoe when he was 15 or 16 years old and playing the mandolin at their home in Geelong

sitting for hours shut in the lounge room playing all the popular songs of the day.

 

 

Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Gunner Albert Neil Cleary, 2/15thField Regiment
[AWM P03861.001]
A sketch of the Sandakan POW Camp by Corporal Frederick Woodley, 2/10th Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers. Corporal Woodley died at Sandakan POW Camp on 6 February 1945.
[Reproduced by permission Mr Arthur Woodley]
This cemetery originally contained the graves of most of those POWs whose bodies were recovered from the cemeteries and other burial sites in and around the Sandakan POW Camp. It was formed on the site of the Sandakan military airstrip that had been constructed between 1942 and 1944 by the POWs. As the site was too low lying and prone to flooding, the bodies were eventually removed to Labuan War Cemetery.
[AWM Robertson Collection 122/1]