When Batu Lintang camp was liberated on Sept 11, 1945 by the Australian 9th Division, the camp population was 2,024.
Overall, there were 1,392 prisoners of wars (POWs), 395 were male civilian internees and 237 were civilian women and children.
There were two death orders found among the official Japanese papers at the Japanese-run internment camp. Both papers described how to execute every POW and internee in the camp.
For unknown reasons, the first death order which was scheduled on Aug 17 or 18 was not carried out.
Meanwhile, the second order was scheduled on Sept 15, four days after the camp was liberated.
While Batu Lintang POW Camp was able to escape mass executions, it does not change the fact that hundreds of POWs died there during World War II (WWII).
The war crime trials against the Japanese officers of Batu Lintang Camp
On Dec 18, 1945, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the war crime trial held against the Japanese soldiers in-charge of Batu Lintang Camp.
Lieutenant R. Balzer, the prosecuting officer, told the court that between 600 and 700 POWs including Australian officers of the Eight Division, died in Batu Lintang Camp.
The prisoners died due to starvation, brutal assaults, and denial of available medical supplies.
They were suffering from all kinds of diseases such as malaria, beriberi, dysentery, dengue fever, diphtheria, scabies and skin infections.
The four accused were Captain Takeo Nakato and Motoi Tokino and Lieutenants Ojima and Yamamoto.
The news report stated, “Lieutenant Isaki, giving evidence against his own countrymen, said the only meat the prisoners received was pig’s heads. All the prisoners were in bad condition, while the Japanese were in excellent condition. He admitted that 400 Allied prisoners had died of malnutrition in the last 12 months of the war.”
Meanwhile, Colonel W. Lempriere showed the court medical evidence stating that if 2,000 survivors, including 170 Australian officers, had not received medical attention and proper diet, the majority would have died within three months.
One victim had the incredible weight of 3st 4lb (about 20kg) when rescued, and was still in a dreadful condition.
Balzer accused the defendants of ‘unmitigated sadism’ and of making a carefully calculated plot slowly to kill off the prisoners.
Moreover, Balzer claimed that the diet fed to the camp’s pigs was more nutritious than the food given to the prisoners.
In the end, the four officers were found guilty on all charges and sentenced to deaths.
So how bad the was the condition on Batu Lintang Camp?
Fred Bindon was a private in the Australian Army when he was captured in Singapore. He was then sent to Batu Lintang camp.
There, he convinced the Japanese Army officers that he was a cook. He was then allowed to be a cook in the kitchen.
Taking this opportunity, he would steal food and give it to the other prisoners and internees.
His granddaughter, Paula Mcloughlin told the Borneo Post in 2017, “Sometimes he was caught for stealing food. He had some bamboo scars underneath his nails and he said that was very torturous.”
In the meantime, Eric Oliver was another POW imprisoned at Batu Lintang Camp. He was a warrant officer in the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF).
He was forced to ditch his plane in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra after being shot up by the Japanese.
Oliver was then captured and imprisoned in Changi Jail before he was sent to Kuching.
According to Lancashire Post, Oliver was on grave digging duty during his imprisonment.
He buried up to ten of his comrades every day towards the end of his incarceration.
Oliver’s misery did not end with the war, he went home suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Sometimes, he woke up in the middle of the night crying telling his wife, “I keep thinking about the lads who died.”
By June-July 1946, the bodies in the cemetery at Batu Lintang camp had been exhumed. They were then reburied in the Labuan War Cemetery.
Besides the officers, the Australian war crime court also charged 45 guards (mostly Formosan), suspected of ill-treating prisoners at the Batu Lintang camp.
The court acquitted three of the guards and sentenced the remainder to terms of imprisonment ranging from one year to life.