IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS – ANZAC DAY TOURS TO SANDAKAN
Each year Lynette Silver organises and escorts a tour group to Malaysian Borneo for Anzac Day. She has been doing this in a non-profit capacity since 1999 for families of prisoners of war and others who have a special interest in wartime events in Singapore and Borneo. The emphasis is on the POW experience, but not exclusively so, with cultural activities and sight-seeing playing an important part. No other tour offers the wartime expertise that she can provide after 30 years of intensive research.
The Anzac Day Tour’s carefully designed ‘In Their Footsteps’ itinerary incorporates some very interesting places that are off the normal tourist track, as well as every POW site pertinent to the Sandakan story. Travellers have the option of the full tour, which takes in Singapore, or just the Borneo sector. The full tour is recommended, as the story begins in Singapore (three nights, two days), where the men were fighting before they became prisoners of war.
From Singapore, the tour follows the POWs across the South China Sea by air to Borneo, arriving at Sandakan airport, early afternoon. Accommodation for the next four nights is in the four-star waterfront Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, with extensive views of the magnificent harbour. During the next four days some of the highlights are a private visit to the POW Memorial Park, the site of the 8 Mile POW Camp and a boat trip to Berhala Island and a fishing village; an excursion to a beautiful island that has a wartime connections as well as a turtle hatchery, and a poignant visit to St Michael’s Church where many of the prisoners spent the night before marching to their final captivity, the only building in the world that has any connection to the Sandakan POWs. An important part of this visit is to view the magnificent stained glass Windows of Remembrance and Friendship Windows, as well as the special POW Chapel with its Memorial books inscribed with the names of every POW. Anzac Day is commemorated at the beautifully serene POW Park with a moving Dawn Service, in which members of the group are invited to participate. The final day in Sandakan is devoted to wildlife, which can be seen at close quarters at Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, and at Labuk Bay, home to the amazing proboscis monkeys.
From Sandakan, travellers continue to follow in the footsteps of the POWs with a drive more or less along the route of the death march track towards Ranau. An overnight stay in well-appointed cottages in the beautiful Sabah Tea Gardens is followed by an optional short walk along part of the death march track. The tour then moves on to Ranau, with visits to the site of the Number 1 POW Camp and the beautiful Last Camp, south of the town. After spending the night in a three-star hotel with panoramic views of Mt Kinabalau, travellers attend a special private service at the nearby Kundasang War Memorial Gardens, before heading south along the non-tourist trail to Tenom, a lovely agricultural town famous for its coffee. After visiting a coffee factory and a local organic farm, which has won awards for its excellence, the group overnights at Tenom’s only tourist hotel before continuing to Beaufort, via the historic narrow gauge railway that passes through the picturesque Padas Gorge. From Beaufort, it is a short drive to a local port to board a fast motor boat for the island of Labuan and an overnight stay at the Dorsett Grand, a five-star luxury hotel on the waterfront. After visiting the War Cemetery the next day for a special service of honour, and to visit the POW graves, the final leg of the journey takes us along byways to the five star Hyatt Regency Hotel, in Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu. Travellers have the option of returning home the next day or staying a while longer to experience Sabah’s hospitality and to see some of the local sights.
As well as the official Anzac Day commemoration, private commemorative services honouring individual POWs are held at Sandakan, Ranau and Labuan War Cemetery, and at places along the death march route, as required.
Expert commentary is provided by Lynette for the entire trip, with special and exclusive touches designed to enhance the overall experience. These extras are not offered by an other tour.
Singapore extension: If there is sufficient interest from prospective travellers, the itinerary allows for a three-night, two-day trip to take in Singapore, where the POW story begins. A day-long boutique battlefield tour, designed exclusively for the needs of tour participants, is conducted by Lynette and Singapore’s most experienced war history guide, who will take you to all the places relevant to the 8 Division story, both in battle and captivity.The next day there is a half-day tour following the route taken by the Australians to Changi, with visits to the key POW sites, including the AIF barracks and Changi Camp area, as well as the Changi museum. The afternoon is free to explore and enjoy more of what Singapore has to offer.
The Borneo Sector is nine nights and ten days, excluding travel time to and from Australia. The full trip, including Singapore option, is 13 days and 12 nights.
SOME OF THE SIGHTS ALONG THE WAY:
COST BORNEO SECTOR: ONLY A$2,995 per person, twin share (single supplement $650)
This price, which is wholesale, includes almost all meals, accommodation at the best hotels available (3-5 star), all ground and water transportation while on tour, all excursions, entry fees, the services of expert local guides, memorial services where applicable and full historical input by the group’s honorary historical consultant, Lynette Silver, personalised to cater for the various members of the party.
Airfares are not included. Travellers organise their own flights with their preferred airline, allowing them to use frequent flyer points. The ground operator for the Borneo sector is the very experienced Tham Yau Kong, of TYK Adventure Tours, who conducts all the treks along the death march track.
HOW TO BOOK YOUR SANDAKAN ANZAC DAY TOUR: