Hans de Vries’ (April 22, 1923 – January 12, 2019) was a descendant of Dutch settlers and the Sundanese people of Java. He had a privileged upbringing. His father was accounts manager for a shipping company. He obtained a light aircraft licence at 17.
When the war reached Java, he fled on the merchant ship the KPM SS Boissevain to Freemantle. He was despatched to the RAAF training camp near Lake Macquarie and from here he was send to the Jackson, Mississippi to be trained on the B25 bombers.
He was assigned to the No. 18 Squadron NEI / RAAF operating from the Batchelor Airfield, Northern Territory. He flew bombing missions against Japanese military strongholds and shipping.
His service culminated in selection for a victory fly-over in Sydney. A crewman dared him to dive under the harbour bridge. After all those low-level attacks on ships, it was a challenge he accomplished with panache. He wasn’t the only one to pull off this ‘stunt’; the most famous being Squadron Leader Peter Isaacson in Lancaster Q for ‘Queenie’ in 1943. It is also worthy of note that three Dutch colleagues, including Gus Winckel had also preceded him in 1942, causing a major furore at the time!
One of his final missions was a return to Java, where he rescued his parents, two sisters and young brother from an internment camp.
Back in Australia, Flight Lieutenant de Vries married Brenda de Gruchy. The pair had six daughters. By the time of his death in 2019, at the age of 95, there were 21 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren too.
He became an Australian citizen, and found work as a geologist, a dairy farmer and as a computer programmer.
Advertiser 22 April 2018 includes a short video World War II bomber pilot Hans de Vries recalls his wartime missions
VeteransSA WWII Storytelling Project – interview with Hans de Vries