The beautiful Friendship Windows, Stage 2 of The Sandakan Memorial Windows Project, were unveiled and dedicated at a most uplifting ceremony on Anzac Eve 2008. The church was packed with 300 guests – over 100 Australian and British donors, a number of local donors, local people who helped our POWs, their families, and special guests, including our 16 students on the Sandakan Memorial Scholarship Scheme. ABC TV Compass program, which was filming a documentary about the Windows Project, also accompanied the group.
The ceremony itself was one of great celebration, a fantastic visual and musical feast. As the magnificent artistry of Philip Handel was slowly unveiled, the beautiful heritage stone church was filled with equally magnificent music from George Frederic Handel’s Water Music Suite and Music for the Royal Fireworks. The congregation was then treated to beautifully choreographed dances of celebration, performed by young Kadazandusun people, the same ethnic group which sheltered our escaped prisoners of war.
The keynote addresses, with ‘friendship’ as the focus, were delivered by Archdeacon Moses Chin, who also dedicated the windows, and Dr Rod Kefford, Headmaster of Barker College, whose school community donated a substantial sum in memory of three old boys who died in Borneo as POWs, and whose School Cadet Corps generously supports the Scholarship Scheme. As part of the actual dedication ceremony, bronze plaques for each window, and artist’s plaques explaining the designs, were also unveiled.
The North Friendship Window
The North Friendship Window comprises three scenes, encompassed in circular jewelled frames and featuring a coloured spectrum, echoing the rainbow effect in the Remembrance Windows. In keeping with the ‘angel theme’, the upper scene, spread across two lights, shows St Philip receiving instructions from an angel to go south to Gaza. The lower left light reveals that Philip does this, meets a wealthy Ethiopian, and explains the scriptures to him. The scene on the lower right reveals that the Ethiopian has cast aside all his wealth and worldly goods and is being baptised as a Christian. The knotted ropes separating the upper and lower sections of the design represent the ties that bind us in friendship. This window celebrates the bonds of friendship between Australia, Sabah and Britain and is also in memory of six parishioners of St Michael’s Church.
The South Friendship Window
The design of the South Friendship Window, spread across two lights, tells the story of St Paul, being taken by ship to Rome, for trial. At the height of a great tempest when the sailors, fearing that the vessel will founder, prepare to abandon ship, an angel appears to Paul and says that if all remain on board, they will be saved. History tells us that the ship ran aground at Malta, but without any loss of life. At the base of the main design are two panels, incorporating European, Chinese and Malay hands, signifying the bonds of friendship between the people of Australia, Britain and Sabah, and surrounded by the national floral emblems of each country. This message of friendship is reinforced by the texts ‘A friend loves at all times’ (in English) and ‘Love one another’ (in Malay). This window is also in memory of three ex-students from Barker College, who died while prisoners of war.
Creating the South Window Angel
The bronze plaques and actual windows were unveiled by various guests, representing local, Australian and British donors. The ceremony was further enhanced by the presence of eight serving members of the Australian Armed Forces, and ten immaculately turned-out cadets from Barker College, along with their commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Danny O’Keefe.
The occasion also provided relatives and friends of the POWs with a unique opportunity to honour five local people, closely connected with the POW story. The first three had extended the hand of friendship to our prisoners of war, at great risk to themselves, their families and their villages. Polished wooden plaques, engraved with a message of appreciation surmounted by a brass Rising Sun badge, were presented to Paglima Domima, of Paginatan village who, as a young girl, gave food to starving prisoners; to Tuan Kaingal, who helped hide four Australians who had escaped at Ranau; and Chin Chee Kong, known as Sini, who risked his life many times to assist Australian prisoners at the Sandakan Camp. The plaque for Sini, who is in poor health and was not able to make the long journey from Kota Kinabalu, was accepted by his daughter, Justina, who flew from Australia to receive the honour on her father’s behalf. As the citation for each of these brave people was read out, the congregation rose spontaneously for a standing ovation.
Special plaques were also presented to Tham Yau Kong, the trekking expert who spent months locating the route of the death march, in recognition of his tireless efforts to keep alive the spirits of the prisoners of war, and to Sevee Charuruks, for his work and personal commitment in restoring the previously derelict Kundasang War Memorial.
The plaques were personal gifts from the families and friends of the prisoners of war, who felt strongly that these special individuals should be recognised and thanked for their efforts. After the private presentations, representatives of the Australian Government awarded Certificates of Appreciation to each of the five, the first time since 1946 that Kaingal and Sini have been officially acknowledged, and the first time ever for Domima, Tham and Sevee.
The Thanksgiving part of the service concluded with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, and a special offertory for the Scholarship Scheme. The Scheme will also benefit from any funds remaining after the accounts are finalised for the Friendship Windows. The final phase of the project will be the installation of floodlights for all the windows, so that their beauty can be enjoyed by people attending services at night.
This project began as a very small idea. With the help of generous donors and supporters, it evolved over a five year period into a stunning world class artwork which will last for many centuries – a wonderful memorial, a very special thanksgiving to the local people, a beautiful celebration of friendship and a reminder what ordinary people can do, if they have the will and the determination to carry it out.
Windows from the Heart – they are, indeed.