This week Katrina Lyle (nee Oomes) reflects on her Father’s experiences as a Dutch Medical Serviceman who came to Bacchus Marsh during World war II.
As a young sergeant in the Medical Corps of the Royal Netherlands Indies Army, (KNIL) Adrian Oomes could not have imagined just how important Darley Camp was to become in shaping the direction of his life.
Born in May 1918 at Breda, in the south of the Netherlands, Adrian had completed compulsory national service prior to the German occupation of his country. Many young Dutch were keen to do their bit in the Allied war effort and when the opportunity arose following the liberation of Breda in October 1944, Adrian volunteered for military service.
While the war in Europe was in its final stages, the war against the Japanese occupation of South East Asia, including what was known as the Netherlands East Indies (NEI), had reached a critical point. The Dutch government wanted to raise a standing army of two hundred thousand, over half of whom would be sent to the East Indies.
War Facts in Brief, Melton Express (Vic. 1943 – 1954), Saturday 18 August 1945, page 3.
Courtesy of NLA, TROVE website
More Dutch Coming to Midlands: Friday 13 July 1945, Newspaper: Birmingham Daily Gazette, County: Warwickshire, England, Page: 4
The goal of Netherlands East Indies force was to join the Allies in subjugating the Japanese, and then to re-establish safety and order in the NEI under Dutch administration. While Japan officially surrendered on August 15 1945, Japanese forces continued to be active in the Indies until November that year. Many Dutch had faced years in Japanese internment camps and their safety was a priority. The Dutch government moved quickly to mobilise its military, and used Darley Camp to house and train troops as a springboard for the Indies. Dutch military personnel from the Indies had been at Darley since 1943 and had participated with the Allies in the fight against the Japanese.
Adrian arrived at Darley Camp mid 1945. Prior to that time, he was based at Wrottesley Park near Wolverhampton where the Dutch had maintained a military presence, the “Princess Irene Brigade” during WWII. As was later to happen at Bacchus Marsh, Dutch soldiers formed strong bonds with the local community. Adrian developed a keen interest in the Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club and was thrilled when, years later, he could follow their fortunes on SBS.
On arrival at Bacchus Marsh, Adrian recalled marching in formation from the railway station, through the township, past the Express Office (where a photo was taken) and on out to Darley Camp. By 1945, Darley Camp had housed thousands of Australian and international military personnel. As Cr Con McFarlane noted in his outgoing speech as Shire President of September 1945:
“Fears that the advent of Darley Camp would have unpleasant effects on civilian life in Bacchus Marsh had proved unfounded. During the past five years soldiers of many nationalities had passed through and the town had been particularly fortunate in not having some disturbances (seen elsewhere).”
The Bacchus Marsh community had provided social and practical support for the visiting soldiers and they had reciprocated, sharing many sporting, social and significant events. The newly arrived Dutch soldiers were no exception. On the 18th of August 1945, the Express reported:
“One of the most pleasant interludes of the two holidays (VE and VP Days) was a disciplined march through Bacchus Marsh streets on Thursday by a couple of hundred singing Hollanders from Darley Camp, whose predilection for choral singing was one of the first things noticed on their arrival some weeks ago.“
1945 had been a busy year in the household of Shire President Con McFarlane. Unfortunately, Mrs McFarlane was in increasingly failing health and was not able to support her husband in the many civic duties of his presidential year – which encompassed both VE Day and VP Day. His daughter Jean was sometimes called upon to accompany him to social events.
In July, Jean was one of 40 local debutantes presented at a ball hosted by the Patriotic Society with shire councillors and other notable community members in attendance. The event typifies the way in which the local community took Darley military personnel into its collective embrace. Sgt Dyball, an AWAS physical training instructress, had been invited to judge and award two prizes to the dancers. The debutantes were presented to Capt. Schram de Jong, newly arrived from Holland to command the NEI troops at Darley. The debutantes then mingled with the throng of other dancers, including the NEI troops.
HOLLANDERS SING AT DEBS’. RETURN BALL. (1945, September 1). The Express, Melton (Vic. 1943 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
At the end of August, the debutantes hosted a “return ball,” for the ladies of the Patriotic Guild, shire officials and others who had been in attendance at the debutante ball. It was Dutch Queen Wilhelmina’s birthday and directly after the debs and their partners sang God Save the King, the Dutch soldiers, including Adrian Oomes, sang the Dutch national anthem. The gesture expressed alliance between the Dutch and Australian forces. Perhaps Adrian recalled this event so vividly because it was first time that he had danced with Jean McFarlane.
Adrian and Jean did not meet again until a chance encounter in Main Street one Saturday at lunchtime. Jean found Adrian hungry and puzzled by the strange cultural practice of shops shutting promptly at 12.00 noon.
Can I help you? she asked.
I would like to buy something to eat, he replied.
A moment passed.
Oh, she said. You were that soldier.
Yes, he answered, and you were that girl.
Jean invited Adrian home for the midday meal at the McFarlane farm, just a short walk down The Avenue of Honour. In those days, midday meals were the main meal of the day, especially among farming families.
Mrs McFarlane, confined to her home and often needing extensive bed rest, was pleased to meet the young Dutchman who brought such entertaining stories from the outside world. A friendship developed between Adrian, Jean and her family.
While at Darley, the Dutch troops were “hardened” in the rugged terrain surrounding Darley Camp. All units, including the medical units, were gearing up for active conflict. By 1946, his time at Darley Camp completed, Adrian was relocated to the Dutch Headquarters in St Kilda Road. From there he joined a contingent of Dutch troops heading for Batavia (Java) in early 1947.
The Dutch had originally believed that once the Indonesian people were liberated from the Japanese, Dutch governance could resume, if not within the old colonial status quo then with a new role acceptable to the Indonesians. But it was increasingly clear that the Dutch were not fighting Japanese inspired extremists but a legitimate and evolving Indonesian nationalist movement. As the British and the French would find, the time of European colonial power in South East Asia was over. For the Dutch, the lesson was a protracted one. Political agreements punctuated by periods of fierce conflict characterised 1947-48. Adrian’s role was to provide medical support and supplies and he worked directly with Dr The Bing Tjouw. He later recalled that snipers were a continual hazard as the militarily overwhelmed Indonesian nationalists had perfected a kind of guerrilla warfare.
Dr The Bing Tjouw.
Courtesy of the Bacchus Marsh and District Historical Society Inc. Collection.
Adrian and Jean wrote to each other during this time and occasional parcels of tea from the Indies would arrive at the McFarlane household. As part of the demobilization of Dutch forces, Adrian returned to Australia in 1948. The long journey to Melbourne culminated in a crowded troop train trip from Brisbane. Adrian had time to contemplate his future. Should he return to the Netherlands as his parents expected, or would he begin a new life in Australia? As the train inched along the Spencer St platform, the train’s window slowly framed a waiting Jean McFarlane. Wherever his future lay, she would be a part of it.
Jean’s mother lived to see the young couple engaged but passed away on Christmas Eve 1948. Jean and Adrian were married at St Bernard’s Catholic Church on the 16th of May 1949.
After briefly returning to Dutch headquarters in Melbourne, Adrian began working at the Lifeguard Milk Factory. He then joined his father-in-law, Con McFarlane, on the dairy farm.
Adrian passed away on the 16th December 1997 and Jean on the 27th of February 2009. The couple had two children, Adrian and Katrina.
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