Tawau was once a very important trading post under British North Borneo. During the great fire of Tawau in 1953, British RAF 205 Squadron was sent to Tawau using Sunderland aircraft to deliver food and medical supplies.
Due to lack of telecommunication systems back then, it also helped Tawau to get in touch with the outside world.
The Sunderland aircraft is also known as the flying boat, given its ability to land and take off from water. According to Wikipedia, it was one of the most powerful and widely used flying boats throughout the Second World War and was involved in countering the threat posed by German U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic. RAF Sunderlands also saw service throughout the Korean War and continued in service until 1959.
Tawau had the honour of hosting this aircraft twice, the first time was in March 1953 (during the great fire) and another time in 1955. The citizens of Tawau presented 205 Squadron with a ceremonial sword and flag in recognition of the help given by the RAF. When Sunderland EJ155 ‘U’ and its crew were making a routine flight in 1955, it encountered some major technical issues and had to make a forced landing.
The photo above shows the a temporary dam was built to protect the aircraft during work (photo courtesy of Mr Ian Fraser).
The assistance given by the RAF previously to Tawau was reciprocated when the wonderful people of Tawau assisted with the beaching of the aircraft and built a sandbag barrier to help reduce the sea swell. Additionally, a lighting system was erected, bamboo platforms constructed and local labour provided.
The RAF personnel were well looked after by both locals and Europeans alike. It took eleven days to get EJ155 serviceable for return to Seletar in Singapore, but before returning, the aircraft was ceremoniously named ‘Tawau Beach’ by Mrs Chisholm, wife of Mr. James Samuel Chisholm who was the East Coast Resident. The name was displayed above the access hatch of the aircraft.
This untold piece of history of Tawau was acquired from ‘Eastward‘ – RAF Butterworth & Penang Association’s newsletter. Senior citizens of Tawau may have remembered these events.