KOTA KINABALU: What used to be a muddy graveyard, or rather a lone stone commemorating prisoners of war (PoWs) who died from the Death March during World War II, is now a site worth visiting.
The once forlorn and unattended area that was erected in 1965 now has been beautifully landscaped and has been turned into a museum - PoW Camp No.1.
This was made possible after relatives and friends of those who had died visited the site in Ranau not long ago and saw the place as undignified. They decided to refurbish it and turn it into a museum.
It now comprises a gallery filled with historical facts, photographs of the killed British and Australian servicemen and war relics.
The soft launch of the museum was held on April 27 attended by some British and Australian family members and Sabah museum officials, among others.
The museum was completed with close collaboration between the office of the Australian War Graves, the State Museum and Australian citizen Malcolm Mick Smith.
Smith, who helped to raise the funds required to refurbish the derelict site, said during an interview that the launch was held on April 27 as the date held historical significance.
It was on April 27, 1945, that the prisoners of war who were on the Death March from Sandakan to Ranau (about 256km) arrived at the camp, known as Camp No.1, Smith said.
A total of 161 PoWs were believed to have died at the camp, mostly due to starvation and illness.
He said the museum was separated into two wings - one for the historical relics and information and the other dedicated to women.
"Women will ultimately become mothers and only mothers will understand how it feels to lose a son, so this other wing is dedicated to them," Smith added.
Also present during the interview was Datuk Mike Steele, one of those involved in the setting up of the museum, and retired freelance writer Christopher Elliot. Elliot's brother Donald was among those who died in the Death March.
"I was 16 when we received a telegram telling us that Donald was dead. After that, I started my own research trying to find out what happened and where his body was laid," said Elliot.
The soft-spoken man travelled from Britain to Sabah just to witness the opening of the museum.
"Throughout the years, we sort of got our answers although not all were definite, but it's all right. Seeing the mess now turned into a structure of dignity is satisfying, and I am truly happy," said Elliot.