The Witness: Sandakan’s most notorious prisoner


The Witness

By Tom Gilling
Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $34.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781760879273

This book has been described by other reviewers as ‘fascinating’, ‘disturbing’ and ‘compelling’. Indeed, it is all of these things. One thing it is not, though, is conclusive.

Was Warrant Officer Bill Sticpewich, who gave compelling evidence against Sandakan’s commandant Captain Hoshijima Susumu and his murderous henchmen at the Australian war crimes trials, a collaborator with the Japanese?

He avoided heavy labour and obtained extra rations by ingratiating himself with the Japanese, according to some reports. Or was he simply doing what he needed to do to stay alive?

The statistics are horrifying. Of more than 2400 Allied prisoners at Sandakan at the start of 1945, only six survived.

It was Sticpewich’s evidence that condemned Hoshijima Susumu to death via the hangman’s noose in Rabaul.

After the war, unflattering stories continued to emerge from fellow POWs. Yet Sticpewich continued to serve the Army post-war, retiring in June 1970 at age 62 after 30 years’ service.

Even his death seven years later – he was killed crossing the road, hit by not one, but two cars – raised unfounded questions of whether his past had caught up with him.

A compelling story indeed.

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