|The Borneo Death March|
In 1942 and 1943, Filipino and Indonesian labourers were imported from Java and Southern Philippines, along with local native Bajau, Bugis, and orang Sungai labourers from the vicinity of Sandakan to construct a military airstrip and prisoner of war camp in the outskirts of old town Sandakan.
They were joined by the first batch of Australian prisoners of war (POWs) in July 1942, were shipped in batch’s to Jesselton (modern day Kota Kinabalu) and Kuching before being re-routed to Sandakan Code named “B” Force, and totalling 1,496, they were brought to Sandakan by the Japanese to work on building the airfield.  A second group of 750 British POWs, who had initially worked at the Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu) airfield, were moved to Sandakan in April 1943. 
In the same month, a third force comprising 503 Australian POWs, code-named “E” Force, arrived at Berhala Island, off the coast of Sandakan. 
Prisoners were treated harshly and in some cases brutally by the occupying force, with the Formosan guards being infamous for their treatment of the hapless prisoners, who were given insufficient food, medical attention or medicines and worked long hours under the hot, brutal Borneo sun.
The occupying force for one reason or another, decided in August 1943 to relocate the vast majority of the senior officers from the camp and had them transferred by sea to Kuching.
Why this happened is still unknown though it has been pointed out in some historical books that this was to ensure morale declined with a lack of leadership or presence of senior officers to protest the treatment of prisoners.
The presence of the Allied POWs, however, brought out the best in the locals of Sandakan who not only felt sorry for the POWs’ plights and sorry state of physical being, but also realised that the POWs were supposed to be on the same side with the people of North Borneo, until recently a British Protectorate.  Clandestine activities began as the locals tried to link up with the POWs. Apart from secretly supplying the POWs with much-needed food and medicine, the locals also passed on news from outside world to the POWs. 
Among those who were involved were former members of the Volunteer Force, members of the Armed Constabulary (Police) now serving under Japanese Command, hospital staff, members of the electricity board, as well as ordinary folks who came forward to offer their help.  These gestures of kindness were offered at the peril of being arrested by the Japanese and with the knowledge that the punishments would be severe, perhaps even fatal. Somehow, these men and women believed they were doing the right thing, not just because of their loyalty to the Allied cause, but also from a humanitarian point of view. 
Through their efforts, they were able to smuggle eight Australian escapees to the Sulu islands where they joined anti-Japanese guerrillas there.  Other forms of material assistance helped to bolster the health and morale of the POWs, providing them with a ray of hope, knowing that the world had not abandoned them. The most daring feat by the locals was perhaps the supplying of radio parts as well as side arms and ammunitions to the POWs. 
The radio, constructed from the parts provided, was in operation from early part of 1943 to October when it was discovered after the underground network was betrayed to the Japanese (by local spies). When the radio was discovered, the Japanese began to arrest those suspected of assisting the POWs. A total of about 53 people were arrested. The implicated civilians included: the Funk brothers (Johnny, Paddy and Alexander), Dr. James Taylor, Sergeant Abin, Police Constable Mohd. Tahir Matusin, Matusap bin Lungau (a Dusun watchman of the former Agriculture Experimental Station), Maginal (a Dusun clerk at the same station), Peter Lai Kuei Fu (a dresser at the Sandakan Hospital), A. E. Philips, (manager of the North Borneo Trading company), Alfred Stevens and G. F. Mavar (both Englishmen and engineers at the power station), Chien Pei, Wu Kokuang (both technicians at the Power Station). The POWs rounded up were Captain Lionel Matthews, Lieutenant Roderick Graham Wells, and Privates McMillan and Roffey.
All those arrested were first interned at Sandakan gaol before being transferred to Kuching for trial. At the trials, the Japanese military tribunal presided by Chief Judge Egami Sobei found Capt Lionel Matthews and seven others guilty and were ordered to be executed. The seven were Jemedar Ujagah Singh, the head of the constabulary on Berhala Island, Sergeant Abin, Detective Ernesto Lagan, Alex Funk, Heng Ju Ming, a geologist from Miri, and his father-in-law, Wong Mu Sing, who was a trader and a Lieutenant in the American-Filipino guerrillas, Felix Azcona, son of a Filipino radio mechanic. 
They were beheaded in mid 1943. Others, including Dr. Taylor, Lt Gordon Weynton and Lt Roderick Wells were also found guilty but were given lesser sentences. These three were imprisoned at the Outram Road Jail in Singapore, while Johnny Funk, Paddy Funk and Peter Lai were sentenced to nine years in the Kuching jail. 
The funk brothers Johnny and Paddy were severely tortured and needed specialist medical treatment in Singapore for a length of time after the war before retiring back to Sandakan. In January 1945, with only 1,900 prisoners still alive, the advancing American’s bombing Sandakan and the airstrip consistently now and the anticipated allied landings in Kalimantan, the camp commandant Captain Hoshijima Susumu decided to move the remaining prisoners westward into the mountains to the town of Ranau, a distance of approximately 250 kilometres. He claimed that this was an order of Lt Gen Masao Baba, commanding officer of the 37th Japanese Army in Borneo.