History detective, historian, investigative writer & specialist tour guide

This magnificent war memorial, designed by a local architect, Mr J C Robinson, is in Sabah at the small town of Kundasang, on the slopes of Mt Kinabalu and about a two-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu. Built on a small, pine-tree-clad hill, the memorial and its gardens. built over four levels, were the result of several years of effort by a New Zealander, Major G S ‘Toby’ Carter. An employee of Shell Oil, Borneo, and a WW2 veteran, Carter began a campaign in the late 1950s to commemorate all those who had suffered and died at the hands of the Japanese. The reaction to his proposal was one of general apathy but, after a great deal of lobbying and fund-raising, which included exerting considerable pressure on the British and Australian governments, the Kundasang War Memorial Gardens were finally completed in 1962 and dedicated to the memory of the Sabah, British and Australian war dead.

Unfortunately, there were problems with the provisions put in place to maintain the memorial, which covers a large area and is spread over four levels. With insufficient revenue for its upkeep, it gradually fell into disrepair and, although the Sabah government injected funds into its refurbishment in 1995, by 2003 the entire complex had been reduced to a virtual ruin by years of neglect, exacerbated by acts of vandalism. However, before it deteriorated beyond salvation, Mr Sevee Charuruks of Kota Kinabalu undertook its restoration as a private retirement project. Many thousands of man-hours and a great deal of money later, it is now a showpiece, with its crumbling walls, dilapidated architectural features and weed-choked gardens lovingly and carefully restored to a state that far surpasses their original glory. As part of the on-going restoration process, in the Pool of Contemplation area Mr Charuruks has mounted a full Roll of Honour, with the names of all those who died at Sandakan, Ranau and on the death marches, taken from Lynette Silver’s book, Sandakan a Conspiracy of Silence. Details of each POW, including age, date and place of death, and original place of burial, have been inscribed in gold on highly polished, black granite slabs.

Australian garden ‘before’

Australian Garden ‘after’

Sevee Charuruks

In recognition of his efforts, the British government awarded Mr Charuruks an MBE, an Imperial Award, while the Australian government conferred on him an honorary award (AM) under the Order of Australia.

Restored English Garden

Restored Pool of Contemplation

Honour rolls

Although the Australian government is able on occasion to provide financial support for major improvements and emergency repairs, the day to day running costs rely solely on a small entry fee, the generosity of visitors and the purchase by them of ‘memorial plants’, which Mr Charuruks propagates for sale.

On discovering that there was no wheelchair available to assist elderly visitors to access the upper levels of the memorial, Lynette’s Anzac Day group 2013 donated sufficient funds to purchase one.

Members of Lynette's Anzac Day Tour 2013 present the wheelchair to Mr Charuruks, in the Australian Garden.

Members of Lynette’s Anzac Day Tour 2013 present the wheelchair to Mr Charuruks, in the Australian Garden.

With many Australian well-wishers asking how they can help financially, Lynette Silver and her husband Neil have become Honorary Trustees of an account established on behalf of Mr Charuruks to facilitate donations made in Australia. Anyone wishing to become ‘a friend’ of KWM by lodging a donation to assist in the on-going maintenance and protection of this unique memorial should contact Lynette at [email protected] for more details.

An interview with Sevee, courtesy Channel Nine network