Anzac Day dawn services across Asia will be marked by prayers to the fallen and the retracing of the steps of former prisoners of war (POWs), with treks in bushland and ceremonies in jungles in the early morning stillness.
In Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, former POWs and local families, who faced a nightmare existence and untold suffering under the Japanese from 1941 to 1945, will remember fallen comrades and veterans of wars from 1914 to the present.
Across in Vietnam, in the forested area of the Long Tan Cross in Nui Dat province, veterans and families of the Indochina war of the 1960s and 1970s will gather at the site made famous by a 1966 battle between Australian and Communist Vietcong forces. Other services will take place in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
“For last year (at Long Tan) we received around 700 people and we think around the same number this year or even more,” an Australian consulate official in Ho Chi Minh City told AAP.
In Singapore, crowds of up to 1000 will mark the moment as Australian and New Zealanders gather at Kranji War Memorial cemetery to lay wreaths, followed by the traditional `gunfire breakfast’.
Assistant defence attache at the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, Lieutenant Colonel, Stephen Fomiatti, said while a dawn service would be held in Kuala Lumpur, most attention was on Sandakan, in Sabah state.
“In Sandakan, that’s quite big, as you know. The locals get well and truly involved in it, particularly in helping to organise it,” Lt Col Fomiatti told AAP.
Sandakan’s infamous reputation was made after just six Australians, who escaped, survived out of 2434 Australians and British POWs forced into the construction of an airfield. In the final months of the war in 1945, the Japanese marched 1005 POWs almost all to their deaths.
The death march from Sandakan to the township of Ranu over 260km was through marshland and dense jungle.
Many died from malnutrition or were murdered while as others struggled to stay alive despite suffering dysentery and skin ulcers. Those who survived to Ranu were killed. The last POW at the Sandakan camp, an Australian, was murdered in August 1945.
Lynette Silver, a Sydney author and historian, says among those attending will be a former resident, Douglas Boon, who now lives in New Zealand. Boon’s uncles were murdered by the Japanese.
“The Japanese were convinced the locals were communicating in some way with the allies and they took 27 people out and beheaded them,” Silver said, including Boon’s uncles.
Seventeen local indigenous girls from Sabah’s Kadazan-Dusun people, whose predecessors helped POWs during the war, will attend the ceremony.
A special Australian fund, in gratitude of the aid to POWs by the Kadazan-Dusun, provides education scholarships for Kadazan-Dusun children.
In Thailand, hundreds will attend the dawn service at the notorious “Hell Fire Pass” or Konyu Cutting, along the Thai-Burma Death Railway, which called on POWs from Singapore as well as tens of thousands of Asian labourers to finish the rail link.
More than 16,000 allied POWs, including 2800 Australians, died building the 415km of track from Ban Pong in Thailand to Thanbyuzayat in Southeast Myanmar (Burma), together with 90,000 Asian labourers who perished from disease and malnutrition.
From April 25, 10 former military and police personnel from Australia will march from Ban Pong to the Thai border town of Sangkhla Buri, to raise funds for the Australian-based charity, Soldier On.
The Soldier On charity assists military personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, an affliction that affects as many as 20 per cent of army and police personnel, especially those returning from combat.
The trek’s spokesman, who asked to be identified only as Bryan R, had been involved in peacekeeping operations in Southern Sudan. He says the march is also an act of remembrance.
“One of our little mottos is ‘past, present and future’, and when we’re walking we’re remembering the diggers that worked on the railway but also the local (Asian) labourers that had to suffer the same conditions as well,” he said.