KOTA KINABALU: Billy Young (pic), the last surviving prisoner of war (POW) from the infamous Sandakan Camp, has died from complications caused by Covid-19. He was 96.
Young was surrounded by his family when he died in a hospital in Hobart, Tasmania, on May 19, the ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster, reported.
He was among the nearly 2,500 Commonwealth troops sent to Borneo following the Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II.
They were shipped to Sandakan in east coast Sabah where they were put under harsh conditions in the camp and later forced to work as slave labourers to construct an airstrip.
He tried to escape from the POW camp but failed. As a consequence, he was sent back to the equally notorious Outram Road Gaol in Singapore where he spent six months in solitary confinement.
Back in Sandakan, his military mates were forced by the Japanese military to make a 265km-walk from Sandakan to the Ranau district, which has come to be known as the Sandakan-Ranau Death March.
The route was used by the Japanese army to move Australian and British POWs from Sandakan to another prison camp in Ranau.
Walking through thick jungles and mountainous terrain, the journey took 10 days to complete, with only six of the 2,434 surviving the torturous march in 1945.
Sabah Tourism Board (STB) chief executive officer Noredah Othman expressed the state agency’s condolences to the family of the late Young.
“STB has a strong bond with the commemoration of the POWs and the Sandakan-Ranau Death March.
“Rest in peace, Mr Billy Young. We hope your story will be an inspirational one to share with the younger generation especially in upholding peace and harmony,” she said when contacted.
Noredah said the historical link between Sabah and the memories of Australian soldiers who perished during World War II have brought Malaysia and Australia closer in terms of bilateral understanding and friendship.
The STB, she said, had been involved in the commemoration ceremony with the Australian War Graves, Australian High Commission and the Returned and Services League of Australia since 1995.
“We will continue to support the commemorative event as it creates a strong bond between us and the Australian people,” she said.
In 2016, Young said in an interview with ABC’s Australia Wide programme that he lied his way into the Australian Imperial Force by faking his age through a forged signature and non-existing aunt.
Enlisting with friends when he was only 15 years old, he said they had put their age as 19, which was the minimum age required to join the service.
Young was orphaned from a young age and was looking for adventure.
Not long after turning 16, the Allies fell to the Japanese and he soon found himself as a POW in Changi, Singapore, before being sent to Sandakan.
“People have said to me ‘I bet you are sorry you joined the army’ and I said: ‘No fear. It’s the greatest thing I ever did’,” Young said during the interview.