History detective, historian, investigative writer & specialist tour guide

Sandakan-Ranau Death March

Once World War 2 was over, the section of the death march track cut from the existing bridle track at Mile 42, near Sandakan, to the river crossing near Tampias, at Mile 131 – a difficult section that by-passed all villages and traversed terrain not yet surveyed – fell into disuse.

It remained lost until 2005 when trekking expert Tham Yau Kong and Lynette Silver, using wartime documents and information from local people who had travelled the POW route many times during the Japanese occupation, opened it for trekking parties.

Although it is possible to retrace the entire distance, the first 85 miles from Sandakan to Bauto pass largely through oil palm plantations that bear no resemblance to the jungle-clad terrain of 1945. For those wishing to traverse the entire route it is best, therefore, to cover this sector on a bicycle or in a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Bicycles or a vehicle are also recommended for the section from Tampias to Nabutan, where the old pre-war bridle track, linking Tampias to Ranau, has been swallowed up by the main road.

Following the route:

Swing Bridge

Trekkers begin walking near Bauto, where the POW route moves away from the river flats and over several hills. From here, the track passes into the Taviu Valley, before meeting the main road near the summit of Taviu Hill. After continuing to Tampias, trekkers are transferred to Nabutan, to pick up the foot track once more and follow it all the way to Ranau (SEE MAP). 

Bauto to Ranau map


The number of days spent trekking is six.

Tham Yau Kong, who pioneered the route and has a deep understanding of the POW story, offers specialised treks and tours along the death march route through his company, TYK Adventure Tours.

For more detailed information on treks and options available,  and to book all trekking tours, go to the website www.sandakandeathmarch.com   As Lynette’s role, when accompanying trekking parties, is simply that of honorary historian and story-teller, she is not able to take bookings. However, as she has followed the death march route many times, she is happy to assist by answering queries relating to trekking and conditions not covered on the TYK site,  or to help create  a custom-made itinerary. To contact Lynette with any special enquiries, email her at [email protected]

Trekking Options include:

Full twelve-day  tours (six days of trekking) treks with various extensions and options, including climbing Mt Kinabalu; shorter eight-day tours (six days of trekking);  white water rafting; and a survival course run by Dusun jungle survival experts at Miki Camp, Kiau village

  1. three scheduled departure treks each year, accompanied by Lynette Silver
  2. student trekking programs
  3. student treks incorporating ‘community service’ programs
  4. short, two-day treks for the less energetic
  5. custom-designed treks for groups with special interests or requirements and

For those who prefer to cover the distance from Sandakan to Ranau by vehicle, TYK can arrange overland transfers. To find out more, visit www.sandakandeathmarch.com

Click on each of the 5 images below to read the article “Death Marched beside them” that appeared in The Bulletin dated 25 April, 2006.


WARNING: All material appearing on this website is subject to international copyright.

Beware of bogus claims:

The death march track opened up by Tham Yau Kong and Lynette Silver in 2005 follows as closely as is practically possible the route taken by the POWs, retraced and recorded by an Australian Army War Graves team in 1945. The original hand-drawn map plotting this path was given to Lynette in 1995 by Corporal G Robertson, the soldier who drew it. A copy, based on the original, is preserved in Australian Archives and is on public display at the Australian Government Commemorative Pavilion at the Sandakan Memorial Park. A copy of Lynette’s original map is displayed at the Kundasang War Memorial.

In August 2011, Wayne Wetherall, an Australian tour operator, claimed in media reports that the route being followed by trekking parties was incorrect, and that the POW route had deviated into the Liwagu Valley, to pass through the village of Miruru. He also claimed he had ‘discovered’ a ‘lost’ section of the track, deep in primary jungle.

Following this announcement, a letter by a Sabahan ‘History Buff’, concerned by the veracity of these claims, was published in Sabah’s Daily Express, initiating a public debate. Lynette’s statement, compiled at the request of the newspaper editor, can be accessed at http://www.dailyexpress.com.my/read.cfm?NewsID=750 . Further transcript and additional commentary is at http://blog.kokodatreks.com

Reports and body-recovery documentation, the copy of Robertson’s map and wartime maps prepared from intelligence gathered during hostilities by secret agents are held in Australian Archives. This material, coupled with first-hand knowledge provided by several local people, who had walked the track many times while ferrying supplies for the Japanese, show that the POW route did not, at any stage, enter the Liwagu Valley or pass anywhere near Miruru village.

This research, carried out by Lynette in the 1990s, and re-checked in 2005, was confirmed in early 2012 by Army historians and mapping experts who, following the 2011 claims, were given the task of making an independent assessment based on all the archival and other evidence. In April 2012 , the Australian Government formally released an official map showing that the death march track followed the route plotted by Robertson. No evidence was found to support the 2011 claim that the track had deviated into the Liwagu Valley or passed through through the village of Miruru.

Furthermore, the ‘lost’ section had never been lost. It is highly protected Class 1 Forest Reserve, entry to which is prohibited without special permission. It is also in a high risk ‘flash flood’ zone. In the interests of safety, and for environmental and conservation reasons, trekking groups have always used a nearby alternate path, which is safer and far less environmentally-intrusive route.

For an  investigation of the death match route, go to THE ROUTE OF THE SANDAKAN DEATH MARCH



Following the death march route

Option 2: An escorted Anzac Day tour, by vehicle

Those unable to trek can also follow the route, by joining Lynette and TYK’s expert team on an Anzac Day Tour, which she organises in an honorary capacity each year. Her intimate knowledge of both the highway and the path taken by the POWs allows travellers to gain insight into the privations suffered by the marchers, from the comfort of a coach. An optional short walk along part of the track is included in this tour. For details of the Anzac Day tour go to Tours – Anzac Day on this website.


A typical street market


off to market


Tour’s end: sunset at Kota Kinabalu


Following the death march route

Option 3: Self-help driving or cycling tour following the POW ROUTE signs

Although most of the east-west highway does not follow the route taken by the POWs, it is close enough for those with an interest in the death marches to follow the  story independently, by bicycle, motor cycle or motor vehicle.  At key points along the way, where the road is reasonably close to the original track, special signs featuring the silhouettes of six POWs have been erected by the Sabah Tourism Board. 

cropped STB sign

The first of these signs is in Sandakan, on the road leading to St Michael’s Anglican Church.  Many POWs spent their first night in Borneo in the protection of this beautiful stone building.  Take time to view the magnificent stained glass Windows of Remembrance and Fruendship Windows, installed in 2005 and 2008 and funded entirely by private donations from POW families and supporters. Viewing times are Monday-Saturday during business hours. The small entry fee helps to pay for office staff to be on hand to open and close the building for visitors.   For more information, go to Sandakan Memorial Windows

Southern facade of the St. Michael's Church

Southern facade of the St. Michael’s Church

 The second sign is at the POW Memorial Park at Mile 8, where the death marches began.  The area set aside for the Park incorporates a small section of the Australian B Force POW Camp. The sites of the Australian E Force Camp and the British Camp are outside the Park perimeter.  A small booklet, freely available at the Visitors’ Centre at the Park entrance, has been designed to help visitors navigate their way around the area, with additional signage at various places of significance.  For more information, go to Sandakan Memorial Park 

POW park

POW park


From the Park, follow the old highway west, towards Kota Kinabalu. (Turn right at the T junction, after leaving the Park.) For the first  22 kilometres or so, the original track is to the right of the main road. After that the main road moves in a south-westerly direction, away from the swampy areas of the Labuk River basin. The next POW Route sign is at the Muanad River Bridge, well to the west of the road junction to Beluran. At this point, the place where the actual track  crossed the river is some distance to the north of the bridge, at what was Mile 49.5,  where there was a major staging camp and where marchers rested for the night.

From Mile 49.5, the route of the POW track moved in a southerly direction, towards the present-day main road, which intersects the original track near Bauto.  After climbing several hills, the track then headed south-west, away from main road near the present day town of Telupid, and into the Taviu Valley.

The next POW Route sign is at the first, and lesser, of two summits on a mountain range known as Taviu Hill. It is easily identified by its microwave tower.

POW sign Taviu hill

This stop offers a great view of the path taken by the POWs, extending from the distant mountains near Bauto to the Taviu Valley below. Although the POW Route sign is located here, close to the only path up Bukit Taviu authorised by the Director of Sabah Forestry, this is not the original ascent, which passes through highly protected Class 1 forest and is permanetly closed to the public. The 1945 ascent, to the primary summit of Taviu Hill, followed the Lolosing Ridge, which the Japanese confusingly referred to as Miruru, the name of a village in the Liwagu Valley that had no connection to the death marches. The primary summit is also  topped by a microwave tower. A Forestry Ranger Station is situated a short distance past the summit, on the main road. near a natural spring.

View of the Taviu Valley, from the POW Route sign

View of the Taviu Valley, from the POW Route sign

From just beyond the Ranger Station, the original track more or less follows the present day main road to the ‘Tampias Crossing’ on the Liwagu River, now spanned by a high-level concrete bridge. The crossing place for the POWs was a  upstream from the bridge and the POW Route sign.

POW sign at Tampias



 Eight kilometres further on is Paginatan village, an important staging post where Groups 6-9 of the first march were were held for about six weeks. During this time, parties of POWs from the Ranau Camp, 42 kilometres away, carried  heavy bags of rice to Paginatan to keep the Japanese garrison there provided with food.  The POW Route sign is on the right hand side of the road, outside the present-day clinic, formerly the site of the Japanese supply dump. On the far side of the stream, in the shade of a large fig tree, there is also an Historical Marker (see Paginatan Historic Marker)

historic marker Paginatan

Historical Marker


From Paginatan the road closely follows the river, and the old POW route, to Nalapak, 40 kilometres away, where a POW Route sign directs travellers to Sabah Tea Plantation and Quailey’s Hill. It was here, in February 1945, while on the first death march that Private Allan Quailey was murdered, when he able go no further. Take time out to visit the peaceful memorial area, created by the plantation management, followed by a cup of organic tea in the Tea House, which has fine views of Mt Kinabalu. A small  glossy booklet, outlining the story of Allan Quailey and the death marches is on sale at the Tea House shop. All proceeds from the sale of this booklet go to the Sandakan Memorial Scholarship Trust. For more information, see Quailey’s Hill Memorial


Mt Kinabalu

Mt Kinabalu


From Quailey’s Hill return to the main road and continue on towards Ranau, 16 kilometres distant. At Muruk, the modern day road does not follow the POW track over Marakau Hill but makes a large loop to the north, before heading south to Ranau. The route of the original track, after descending Marakau Hill, crosses the Ranau plain to join the modern-day road at a roundabout on the outskirts of town. Near the roundabout is POW Route sign, directing visitors into the grounds of an SIB Church and a stone cairn:  The Ranau Memorial, which marks  the end of the first death march, and the site of the main Ranau POW Camp. 

Historical note: The Ranau Memorial site has been greatly improved and upgraded but information appearing on the original plaque, installed in 1985, is not reliable. After various transfers had taken place, the number of POWs who remained at Sandakan was about 2400. In 1945, just over 1000 of these men left  on three death marches. The remainder, almost 1400,  died at Sandakan.  Gunner Cleary, who tried to escape, died near this spot, but details of his tragic death are not entirely correct.  

In June 1945, ten survivors of the 455 POWs who had left Sandakan on the first march, were moved to The Last Camp, 8 kilometres  to the south. 

Ranau Memorial

Ranau Memorial

To reach The Last Camp, turn right from the church  towards Ranau. After crossing the Liwagu River, follow the road south to Tambunan. Approximately 8 kilometres away, on the left hand side of the road, the final POW Route sign marks the site of the Last Camp Memorial, which is in plain view. The actual camp site is about 100 metres below the viewing platform, where the Liwagu River is joined by a tributary flowing from the west. A small maintenance fee allows visitors entry to the memorial area and, for the able-bodied, to the camp site in the valley below. A key to the access gate is held at the entrance kiosk. For more details  go to Ranau. Last Camp Memorial

Last Camp Memorial

Last Camp Memorial

Last Camp Honour Roll

Last Camp Honour Roll

The map below shows the location of various  POW memorials in the Ranau area and  has been provided exclusively to this website by the Management of the Sabah Tea Plantation.

map of Ranau Memorials