A TEARFUL Chris Latham, musician artist-in-residence at the Australian War Memorial, delivered the commemorative address today (May 27) at an event marking the 77th anniversary of the last of the Sandakan “death marches”.
The marches saw about 2000 Australian and British prisoners losing their lives while being forcibly marched from the Sandakan camp in North Borneo to the interior near the village of Ranau.
Latham’s address, given to a large crowd of diplomatic dignitaries, government officials, veterans’ families and a representative of the Japanese Embassy, followed the performance by actor Neil Pigott and pianist Bill Risby, of Slim De Grey’s song, “They’ve Taken My Old Pal Away.” That was composed after De Grey’s best friend was shipped off to Sandakan, leaving him to see out the war as a musician in the POW camp at Changi.
Quoting Nelson Mandela, Latham said: “Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace”, as he urged forgiveness and outlined the way the city of Nara had become an important symbol in post-war reconciliation with Japan, and eventually Canberra’s sister city.
Prefiguring his planned October 29 performance of “The POW Requiem”, he told those present of his inspiration in stories from Anne Ryan, the daughter of a fallen POW, and from his friend, the composer Sir Jonathan Mills, son of a doctor who served time in Sandakan but was fortuitously transferred away before the death march.
Sir Jonathan, he said, had organised the philanthropic support for the music project and his own work, “Sandakan Threnody”, would be part of the requiem.
Latham said that his “Flowers of Peace” project would see Australia’s finest composers presenting the story of imprisonment during World War II in Asia, Europe and Australia.
Today’s event commemorated what the AWM estimates to have been “the greatest single atrocity committed against Australians in war”.
Latham’s address was followed by a wreath-laying ceremony, prayers, poetry and the hymn, “Abide with Me”, accompanied by members of the Royal Military College Band.
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