All these old papers , postcards and photographs would probably have lain undisturbed perhaps for another 50 years, and then only to be thrown away in a house clearance, had not fate intervened. In 1993 an airmail letter arrived at the Scottish Bowling Association asking the Secretary if the Association held any details of a Mr D. Baldwin or his relatives or descendants. Enclosed was a detailed sketch of a medal won by D.Baldwin in 1918 & presented by D. Gourlay of the D.A.B.C.
Thanks to the local newspaper, the Dunoon Observer & Argyllshire Standard, the Secretary of the Dunoon & Argyll Bowling Club was put in touch with David Baldwin’s daughter Janet (Jenny Moffat) in Innellan followed by contact with Kathleen (Morrison) in Edinburgh, and then me. The letter-writer was of course Denis Sheppard, the Soldier in the Red Beret, still living in Australia - now 71 years of age and wanting to return The Medal to Scotland. As he explained in a later letter :
“ . . . . . my admiration for Mrs Baldwin, her courage & unfailing spirit during those terrible years of internment. Unless one had experienced internment it would be impossible to feel or comprehend the fear & utter hopelessness that must have fallen like a heavy fog, saturating the will to exist. To survive, no matter what, was evidently Mrs Baldwin’s goal. . . . . . . . I pray that the Medal, which stands for excellence in sport and to survival due to the courage & tenacity of Mrs Baldwin, will be an inspiration to your younger generation.”
As the newspaper cutting records, The Medal was sent to my mother in Edinburgh where it lay safely for some years - with every good intention of returning it, someday, to the Dunoon & Argyll Bowling Club still based in Mary Street, Dunoon.
The story of The Medal hinted at the much bigger story lying behind it and the best way to find out what that was, and to make more sense of the collection of old papers and photos, seemed to be to go to Borneo. Recently retired from the Navy and increasingly aware that the 50th Annversary of the end of World War II was to be commemorated world-wide in 1995, we made plans to be in Borneo (wherever that was !) in the middle of that year. To be in Kuching on 11th September 95 seemed fitting – on a certain historic spot at 1700 would be perfect.
However it was not to be. A conjunction of family problems, including the funeral of Jenny Moffat in mid-1996, and disruptive house moves delayed our plan by two years to 1997.
Even then it wasn’t plain sailing. Having found out where Borneo is, how to get there and the locations of Sandakan, Tarakan and Kuching the first plan was to fly to Jakarta and take passage in one of the major inter-island passenger ships of the Indonesian national ferry company PELNI. The idea was that a sea-cruise of several days from port to port would not only be interesting in its own right, but also let us recover from jet-lag and acclimatise slowly to the Tropics. Having researched all the ferry schedules in detail it seemed possible to cruise slowly north from Jakarta, calling at Sulawesi and Kalimantan before disembarking conveniently in Tarakan, ready to start tracking the Baldwins.
DUNOON OBSERVER AND ARGYLLSHIRE STANDARD, SATURDAY, 21st AUGUST, 1993
Medal revives war memories
A medal which came back to Innellan this week from Australia revived memories of courage and deprivation in the horrors of a second world war Japanese internment camp.
The medal had been presented to David Baldwin by Dunoon Bowling Club in 1915.
David Baldwin had a house in Innellan with his wife Mary, but worked as a marine engineer in the Far East. In 1937, then aged 63, Mary Baldwin sailed to join her husband, ignoring his warnings that the area was under threat of war.
In 1942 she was interned in Kuching camp in Borneo, where she remained until the the end of the war. Her husband, also interned, tragically died in captivity.
The only memento Mary had of her life outside the camp was her husband's bowling medal, which she . managed to conceal during her years of captivity, vowing to give it to the soldier who liberated her from her ordeal.
Shortly after the war's end an Australian unit arrived at the camp to arrange for the evacuation of the internees. Mary kept her vow and gave the medal to a 21 year old Australian sergeant
Fifty-one years later, the soldier, Denis Shep-heard, now a sprightly 72 year old living in • New South Wales, decided that the medal should be returned to Mary's family, and wrote to the secret-ary of the Cowal Golf Club for help in tracing them.
This week the medal finally came home to Mary's daughter Kathy, a native of Innellan, who intends to donate it to the Dunoon Argyll Bowling Club.
Mr Shepheard's letter is full of praise for Mrs Baldwin's bravery — for a woman of her years to have survived three years in an internment camp was no mean feat — and closes by .saying:
"I pray that the medal, which stands for excellence in sport, and its survival due to the tenacity and courage of Mrs Baldwin, will be an inspiration to the younger generation."
But that wasn’t to be either ! Despite many attempts it wasn’t until the day before we were due to leave that the fone rang early morning and an Asian voice said “Give me fax tone !” It was none other than the PELNI office in Jakarta ready to make a booking - but too late since we’d had to book some weeks earlier all major travel by air. A pity, but we did prove to ourselves later that there really was a PELNI ferry service when we saw it arrive at Nunukan as scheduled - listing drunkenly to starboard as hundreds of passengers leaned over the guardrails. Perhaps Fate spared us a cruise a little too exciting !
So on 14th August 1997, the day after our 31st wedding anniversary, we flew overnight non-stop to Kuala Lumpur by Malaysian Airlines to change planes and go on to Kota Kinabalu - known in colonial days as Jesselton - a town nestling below the great bulk of Mount Kinabalu some miles to its east. Initially we stayed in a pre-booked hotel on the edge of town, where we enjoyed again the delights of open-air satay at the market food stalls. After a couple of nights there we moved to the smaller Mandarin Hotel in the town itself, on what used to be the main street and seaside promenade, just behind the old war memorial. No longer ! the waterfront having receded half a mile away as post-war reconstruction of the bomb-ruined town led to in-filling of the shallow bay.
It was hot ! - so we took our time getting used to it and the much much slower pace of life needed to cope. The attractions of life in the Tropics became clearer having survived a two-day excursion to the nearby town of Tenom on a railway I can only describe as having square wheels on its coaches and corners on its rails – and no air con. !
Now better able to face the rigours of travelling in the heat we flew to Tawau in the south east corner of Sabah for onward flight to Tarakan. There seemed to be some unexplained delay to the second flight which we couldn’t quite understand – until we were airborne. The plane was a little Fokker holding only a dozen or so passengers. As we crossed the border into East Kalimantan, Indonesia it be became clear to all that there was an unclear visibility problem. We had encountered, for the first time properly and in full measure, the much-rumoured phenomenon known diplomatically as The Haze : in reality the product of many fires being used to clear the native jungle from all over Borneo for agriculture. By descending to fly at 1000 feet or less, and by merely “pressing on” the pilot got us to Tarakan with little more delay.
The few days planned to be spent in Tarakan were soon extended by The Haze, giving us more time to look for any traces of the PoW camp and associated graves. But despite some willing assistance from the local police, helpers at the Roman Catholic church, American flying-missionaries and fleeting contact with sailors of the Indonesian Navy, we found next to nothing of what we wanted. Language was a major problem, diagrams and pictures of everything being not quite good enough to explain detail and subtleties.
However the delay also let us watch the Indonesia National Day parade. For some reason, but luckily for us, a week later than parades in other parts of Indonesia, it must have involved at least 5000 people, all walking for hours in the hot afternoon sun in a continuous stream of national costumes. Such brilliant colours and variety of people & dress ! It was a memorable day in the sun during which we also came across the Indonesian Navy Hospital (but no other trace of the Navy) where we soon offended the fierce nurse-in-charge by not taking off our shoes the moment we stepped, by invitation, onto her shining ward floor. Some things are the same the world over !
Tarakan had few visitors, most seeming to be gold-prospectors, oilmen or missionaries from upcountry : but no tourists, and certainly not Europeans – orang puteh.
Built, at least where we were staying, only a foot or two above high tide level, it was a town where street maps and postcards were unknown concepts and finding out anything was - difficult. So, having toured fruitlessly most of the cemeteries of Tarakan – of different religions – and bought a wall-inserted double soap dish (yes ! unobtainable in UK, and now fitted at home) it was time to leave.
No planes were flying through The Haze, so we turned to the Sangalaki Express, a small speed-boat service normally ignored by visitors used to flying in and out. It took us swiftly to Nunukan near the Malaysian frontier where we passed so slowly (lunch stopped play for a while) through passport control to leave Indonesia officially before speeding on to Tawau. Suddenly life seemed more organised, brighter and easier all round as we took the evening plane to Sandakan. After five days of chronic coughing we’d left The Haze – for the moment.
The town centre was flattened towards the end of the war by intensive bombing of what was a significant Japanese base. The rebuild, in straight grid pattern, is not a pretty sight despite an attractive seaside setting backed by a low escarpment. There were few traces of pre-war buildings to relieve the concrete.
We had some fun comparing the views over the town with those in the old postcards included here and with tracking down what had been the Governor’s House and the Keith House. The views were recognisable thanks to the distant hills and an unchanged padang in the centre of town. The Governor’s House had become the Sabah Hotel – we later wished we’d opened our credit card and stayed there – and with some persistence, despite taxi-drivers having never heard of it, we found the Keith House near the above-town tourist viewpoint.
As you can see from its foto still an imposing sight in 1997 despite looking much neglected - and occupied by squatters who fled indoors as they saw us approach.
Looking down on the town or strolling through it on a tropical evening, we could well understand the attraction of life in Sandakan and a certain reluctance to return to family life on the Clyde.
Nor will I ever forget the Malaysian National Day parade, held that year in Sandakan rather than the State Capital KK. Not so much for the lack of hotel accommodation when we arrived : nor the endless parade of men in uniform, including some very tough looking armed and camouflaged “border guards” : nor for the Royal Malaysian Navy Ship “Open to Visitors” in the harbour (built to be Nkrumah’s Ghana Presidential State Yacht, she became Royal Navy’s HMS MERMAID before being sold to the RMN as a training ship, now full of smart Midshipmen). No, for me it was seeing and hearing the Sabah Police Pipe Band, immaculately turned out in stiff-starched white uniforms and playing Burn’s “A Man’s a Man for A’That” as they marched at light-infantry pace past the town padang. There’s something about that sight and sound . . . . . .
After that we fitted in a real tourist excursion, by public bus and on foot, to see the Men of the Forest, orang utan, at their sanctuary at Sepilok, a few miles out of town, and to stay in a Sabah B&B at the edge of the forest. We saw a small orang utan – just the one – facing a horde of hurrying tourists who came and went by air-conditioned coach, saw the movie, gazed briefly at the lone ape to a tight schedule. Such is modern mass-tourism, whilst the great forest disappears in The Haze !
On the way back to Sandakan we stopped off at the memorial to the Sandakan PoWs on the edge of town, near the airfield – still the one in use today. The camp site forms a memorial park and within it is not only the sole wartime bulldozer sabotaged by the PoWs as they were forced to labour on airfield construction, but also a handsome bronze plaque-and-plinth memorial to these PoWs. It had been erected by the Australian Returned Servicemen’s League (RSL).
It was from here that the Ranau Death Marches started, and we left Sandakan to follow roughly their route to Ranau and Kinabalu : but in our case by air-conditioned coach. On the way we stopped off for a few days in the mountain cool of the State Park, Gunung Kinabalu, and took the opportunity to climb the 13,500 foot mountain – the highest in SE Asia and a favoured tourist opportunity. My compulsory guide was a young, local Dusun man, Thomas bin Lakati and we started climbing in the afternoon so we could spend the night at a high-altitude lodge. After a night at 11,000 feet largely spent listening to a voluble German woman through the thin wall of the bunkhouse, we set out again well before dawn with flashlights and warm clothing to be at the summit in time to see the sun come up over Borneo. A delight ! And a delightful mountain, with a top of granite pavement boulders, just like the Scottish Cairngorms - but these clothed in muddy sandstones at the lower levels. We ran down the 7,300 feet to the entrance gate, somewhat to the surprise of Thomas the Guide. He signed my certificate and then, joined up with Sally again, an immediate taxi trip was called for - to the hot baths at Poring and an overnight stay in this small State Park. I could hardly walk ! Fed by natural hot springs, the baths were developed during the war by the Japanese Army for rest, recreation and recuperation of their soldiers. It worked for my legs too !
Poring isn’t far from Ranau, where Sally had stayed for my night on the mountain. So we visited the simple memorial there, just to remember all the soldiers of the Ranau marches.
Then it was westward down the mountain by minibus to Kota Kinabalu for a couple of nights to complete the rest, the shopping, the sightseeing, before taking an evening flight on to Kuching, Sarawak with the end of our re-discovery trail in sight.
On the plane that evening I met a young plump Chinaman who got on board in a last-minute rush with his young family. He sat down beside me as we started the take-off run. Slightly tipsy he’d just come from a party where he’d drunk quite a bit of beer, and now was on his way home to Kuching. On discovering I was Scottish he hummed a very good version of “Scotland the Brave” explaining that his father had been for many years employed by Scottish regiments stationed in Borneo. Despite this familiarity, there was something about him I didn’t like : confirmed as the talk turned to occupations and business and he said he was in the business of cutting down trees. “Show me a tree anywhere I can make a few - or better still a lot - of dollars, and I’ll cut it down, permission, environmental regulations or not. I don’t care as long as I can support my family”. ” As we were about to discover, how prophetic !
Getting off the plane we stepped into The Haze again, but much thicker than before, with many of the locals wearing filter masks over their noses and mouths. The Malaysians blamed the Indonesians and the Indonesians blamed the Malaysians, tho’ officially nobody blamed anybody except desperate jungle-slashing subsistence farmers and irresponsible profiteers like my Chinese tree-cutter. All, however, agreed that they were burning the Borneo jungle out of existence and polluting the planet, Kuching in particular. The consequent Haze dominated our visit and impressions of what otherwise would have been a colourful and bright land.
Kuching is derived, they say, from the Malay for Cat City and sits well upstream from the South China Sea on the wide and winding Sarawak River. The old southern part of the city and still its centre lies opposite the Rajah Brooke palace on the northern bank. Kuching was spared devastation during the war and many old buildings remained intact and in use in 1997. The mosque you can see in the old photo of a freighter lying at Kuching wharves was still there, as were the godowns or riverside warehouses, tho’ they’d been converted to cafes and shops on a riverside walkway for tourists. Filling in the five days before the 11th of September we had plenty of time to tour the city, visit the city’s exceptionally good Cat Museum, spend a day at the Sarawak Cultural Village and take a break by the coast with a swim in the South China Sea. Knowing the re-discovery trail we were following, and its significance, we were charmed one evening at dusk to come past the Anglican Cathedral in the old city centre and hear the sound of choral singing. Then suddenly it stopped. Then started again, as the children rehearsed. Then stopped, much as we wished it would continue.
Taking an opportunity to browse through the wartime archives in the City Museum we came across few records since most were destroyed either by the British administration, as ordered before the Japanese invaded, or by the Japanese themselves when the Allies were about to return. The real gem was a book published in 1995 & written by a staff member of the Batu Lintang Teachers’ Training College, Julitta Lim Shau Hua, about the college’s history both as a college and as a PoW camp before that. This was our key to finding and understanding the Batu Lintang camp and it’s from that book that the PoW camp map is taken. We bought a copy in a Kuching bookshop. It’s ISBN is 983-99086-0-1.
11th September 1997
It was so simple, for us. Armed with our new book we caught a bus in the town centre and got off as advised at the College bus stop. The Japanese marker-stone indicating a PoW camp nearby was still by the side of the main road and a short stroll down a side road took us to the College gatehouse and barrier. What to do ? Well, we hadn’t come this far to turn back and the gatekeeper was soon persuaded that we had to visit the College office in the Admin. Block. And here we were, walking down the same camp road taken by Mary Baldwin and all the others. We wandered through the College campus still in thick smoky Haze spotting where the camp features would have been. Here they stood to attention for hours in the searing midday sun as one of the milder punishments. Here stood the sentry for whom they had to put down any load, remove head-covering and bow to the regulation fifteen degree body-angle before passing him.
Here stood the Camp Commandant’s office, on a piece of slightly elevated ground overlooking the camp and still marked by the base stump of the flagpole which once stood outside it, flying the Rising Sun flag. Here must have stood the women & children’s compound. And here was the memorial stone also erected by the Australian RSL in 1995. We wished we’d been there with them then, even if we’d have been outsiders, only distantly connected.
Then we were rumbled ! - and invited to step into the office block to see the Vice-Principal : a Moslem woman, accompanied by her special assistant, a PhD with fluent Americanised English. Over tea and biscuits we explained the reasons for our intrusion into their College, opened Mary Baldwin’s little white bag which I’d carried all the way back to the camp and showed them the souvenirs of her imprisonment – including a photo of The Medal. With much charm, they let us escape !
Delayed by the unexpected interview, we walked out of the camp and glanced at our watches to check on bus times back to Kuching city.
It was 1700 on the 11th of September.
Mission completed, we went home.