War memories from a Dutchman turned Anglican

Anglican parishioner Jan Vis says his faith helped him get through World War 2.

Jan Vis at Remembrance Day November 2018 in Pakenham

PHOTO: Stewart Chambers, Pakenham Gazette

By Stephen Cauchi

April 23 2020 

An Anglican parishioner who joined the Dutch resistance against the Nazis has contributed to a new book celebrating Pakenham’s World War 2 diggers.

Jan Vis, who worships at St James’ Pakenham, wrote the foreword of Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: Remembering the Pakenham District’s WW2 Service Personnel 1939-1945 and is one of the many people profiled.

The book was written by historian Patrick Ferry to mark the 75th anniversary of the war’s end and is being published by the Berwick-Pakenham Historical Society and the Pakenham RSL. Its launch has been postponed, probably until November, by the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Vis told TMA his faith helped him get through the war and then adapt to life in Australia after he emigrated from the Netherlands in 1952.

During the war he joined the Dutch underground resistance, which meant churchgoing was not feasible. “But I was boarding with people who were of my same faith so we always had evening prayers and Bible reading,” he said. “I never doubted my faith.”

In the book’s foreword, Mr Vis wrote that “reading the stories in Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat brought back many memories for me. I can still remember the feeling I had as a 17 year old of wanting to do something to help fight the evil of Nazism … I left my family to join the local resistance (freedom fighters) movement. I was then supported by local people who provided me with food, clothing and safe havens to hide.”

Joining the resistance also allowed Mr Vis, an apprentice landscape gardener, to keep his freedom. “The Germans stopped me from doing that because I was old enough to go and be forced to go to Germany to work in a factory. I refused that, so I went from town to town.”

He ended up with the resistance movement on the Dutch island of Texel, which the Germans used the island to recuperate their frontline troops and to imprison POWs. 

On Texel, he was provided with an undercover safe haven on an orchard, supported by local people with food and clothing, and given some semi-military training by a member of the Royal Dutch Navy. 

After the war, Mr Vis joined the Dutch Army in the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) until 1948. He returned home and then in 1952 emigrated with his wife Jannetje to Australia, settling first at Lake Bolac near Ararat and then to the Melbourne suburb of Hampton Park, close to a Dutch community. 

Mr Vis, who became a farmer and landscape consultant, then moved with Jannetje and their children to a Pakenham Upper orchard in the 1960s. 

Mr Vis, a member of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, decided to form a Dandenong branch of the Church with other members of the Dutch community. 

“I became an elder in the church there in Dandenong. Then we moved to Pakenham and I joined the Presbyterian Church and became a Sunday School teacher here in Pakenham Upper.”

Five years ago, he joined St James’ and became an Anglican for the first time.

“I like the company of the people – I get along with everybody.  Not that I agree with everybody but I can understand when other people have different opinions. It’s no good being a busybody, stirring the pot – you get nowhere.”

Mr Vis, who still lives in Pakenham, has been active with the Pakenham RSL for many years, including serving as treasurer, secretary and vice president. According to the book, he is one of a “handful” of surviving World War 2 Pakenham veterans.