Title: Sandakan – A Conspiracy of Silence
Author: Silver, Lynette Ramsay
Edition: 3rd Edition (Revised and Updated)
Publication Date: 2009
Cover: Soft Cover without Dust Jacket – 400 pages
Comments: It is August 1945 and World War 2 is over. Japan has surrendered. As the small number of remaining Australian and British prisoners of war are massacred. Of the 2434 prisoners incarcerated by the Japanese at the Sandakan POW camp, only six, all escapees, have survived.
The POWs, sent from Singapore in 1942-43 to work on airfield construction, endured frequent beatings and were subjected to other, more diabolical punishment. Sustained only by an inadequate and ever-diminishing rice-ration and with little medical attention, many died of malnutrition, maltreatment and disease. In 1945, those still able to walk were sent on a series of death marches into the interior. Anyone unable to keep up was ruthlessly murdered. Those left behind were systematically starved to death, or massacred.
In late 1944 the Allies, aware that POWs were being ‘eliminated’, had evolved a plan for their rescue – a rescue which, after months of bungling, was finally cancelled in April, 1945, in the erroneous belief that the camp had been evacuated.
Gross incompetence and faulty intelligence were to blame for the failed rescue attempt. When it was realised that mistakes and stupidity were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of men, those at the highest level shifted the blame to others, before embarking upon a policy of wilful and deliberate suppression.
Desperate to obtain information, grieving relatives wrote to newspapers, begging for information and asking the reason for the secrecy. ‘The story of the greatest tragedy in Australian military history remain to be written’, wrote one, in 1946. ‘Who will undertake the task?’
Lynette Ramsay Silver, through painstaking research and interviews with survivors, as well as study of Japanese records, has pieced together a detailed and highly readable account of the lived and ultimate fate of Sandakan’s POW’s. She tells a totally gripping and horrifying tale, not only of the prisoners, but the reasons why they, and their story, become World War 2’s most deadly secret.