Return to Sandakan


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1995, 55 Minutes

Return to Sandakan examines the personal impact today of one of the most horrific events of the Pacific war - the tragedy of the Sandakan POW camp in North Borneo.

During World War II, Sandakan prisoner of war camp in British North Borneo held nearly 2,500 Allied prisoners. By war’s end, only six would still be alive. The story of the atrocities committed by the Japanese at Sandakan is one of the grimmest of the Pacific War. For many years regarded as too confronting to be told and too painful to recall, the events of Sandakan still haunt the lives of survivors, their families and the relatives of the dead.

Shot in Australia, Japan and Malaysia, this documentary recounts a tragic story of prisoners of war: the use of forced labour to build a military airbase, the murder of weak and sick prisoners on death marches through the Borneo jungle and the escape and rescue of only six survivors. In Malaysia, local people who risked their lives to help the Australian prisoners recall their part in the resistance against the Japanese. And for the first time, we hear the testimony of Japanese war criminals: officers who planned the death marches and soldiers and Taiwanese guards who carried out orders to kill.

Return to Sandakan also examines the legacy of these events today for survivors and their families. How can a person live with memories of such a horrific war crime? Wives and children talk intimately about the impact of this event on their lives. On a pilgrimage of remembrance to Borneo in 1995, the pain of the past is confronted and some ghosts are laid to rest.

In revealing the terrible circumstances in which nearly 2,500 young men perished in the jungles of Borneo, Return to Sandakan asks whether it is possible for individuals and nations to be reconciled after such a crime. For those whose lives have been changed by the tragedy of Sandakan, it is a crime that is hard to forgive, impossible to forget.

A Film Australia National Interest Program. Made with assistance from the Japan Foundation. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.


Co-writer/Director/Producer: Raymond Quint

Year: 1995

Running Time: 55 Minutes

Classification: M. Consumer advice: War footage, adult themes.

Curriculum Links: Australian History - Australian Curriculum Year 10, World War II (1939-1945) 'The experiences of Australians during World War II'; NSW History Stage 5, Topic 4 'Australia and World War II - What were some of the experiences of Australians as a result of their involvement in the war?'


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SKU 199401100
Brand Film Australia

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