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The last survivor of Sandakan: Billy Young’s story

28 minute read

Sandakan and the death marches to Ranau are probably the greatest act of cruelty against Australians during wartime.

Of the 800 Aussie soldiers forced to march – only six survived. No one survived the Sandakan Camp.

This year, nib is supporting the Mark Hughes Foundation as they follow in the footsteps of Aussie WWII heroes to trek the Sandakan Death March to raise money for brain cancer and to commemorate the bravery of our prisoners of war.

Before we leave, we sat down with the last remaining survivor held at Sandakan, WWII soldier, Billy Young.

Billy joined the army at just 15 years of age, looking for an escape from a child welfare home, a good feed and some adventure – he had no idea what would be facing him as he left for Singapore.

Part One:

This is the first part of Billy’s story where we find out how he managed to lie his way into the Australian Imperial Force.

Credit: nib health insurance

Part Two:

It was a war fought in paradise and the Aussie troops thought they were in for an easy win, so how did it all go so wrong, so quickly? In this next chapter of Billy’s life, he describes how the Japanese took Singapore and what led to the Sandakan Death March.

Credit: nib health insurance

Part Three:

It was 1942 and the Japanese, now at the height of their power, had taken over much of the Pacific and far east including Singapore, the East Indies, Burma and Malaya. In Borneo, 1,800 Aussie soldiers were forced to construct an airstrip under horrendous conditions at Sandakan and by 1945 our troops were weak, starving and exhausted from the regular beatings and torture inflicted upon them.

Billy Young gives us some insight into what life was like at one of history’s most infamous camps – Sandakan POW Camp.

Credit: nib health insurance

Part Four:

After seeing Japanese soldiers torture Aussie troops, Billy took the chance to attempt an escape. In this next heart-stopping chapter, Billy takes us through how a split-second decision led to his survival.

Credit: nib health insurance

Part Five:

Billy’s failed escape from Sandakan in 1943 led to him being imprisoned in Singapore’s notorious Outram Prison where he remained in a tiny cell until August 1945, when the Japanese surrendered.

Credit: nib health insurance

Part Six:

Labelled as one of the greatest wartime acts of cruelty against Australians, the Sandakan Death March saw 800 Aussie troops trek through the thick of Borneo’s jungles. Starving and weak, our soldiers were forced to walk the 250 km route carrying heavy bags and surviving on starvation rations.

Of the 1000 POws who left Sandakan – 800 Australians and 200 British – only six survived. The remainder died en route or at the destination camps.

To understand the significance of this sacred track, we spoke with the last remaining survivor from Sandakan POW Camp, Billy Young and historian and author, Lynette Silver about the death marches – and the surprising key to making it out alive.

Credit: nib health insurance

To find out more about Billy and his incredible story, visit Lynette Silver’s website or purchase Billy’s latest book Billy: My Life as a Teenage POW by Lynette Silver and Billy Young.

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