Akuna Bay Cruising Club

Farewell Commander Roel Alfred Dekker (1914-2008)

Tuesday 30 September, 2008

Unfortunately Roel passed away recently after a short illness. Following is the eulogy delivered by one of son-in-laws, Vice Admiral Crane, Chief of Navy, Australia. This has been kindly forwarded to us by his daughter Suzanne Baker.
The Akuna Bay Cruising Club offer their thanks to the family for allowing us to publish this eulogy on our WebSite and offer our condolences on the passing of Roel.

"Good morning everyone and thank you for being here this morning to help the family celebrate Roel's life. I have the privilege of trying to give you a sense of Roel's life as part of this celebration and I have to say it was long, positive and very fruitful life. I can't do justice to his life in such a short time however as you look around you can see the evidence and influence of both Roel and Pat through those that follow them in 3 and nearly 4 generations. This nation is a better place for what they have provided and I for one thank them for the heritage they have given us. Roel was a man of honour, integrity, loyalty, passion and above all family. His powerful stature - and he was until the very end, a physically powerful and impressive man - was matched by an enormous sense of loyalty and commitment to family and as I said he leaves behind an outstanding legacy in his extended family.

Born to Roelof and Pieternella Dekker as the eldest of 4 brothers in Djakarta in the Dutch East Indies in 1914 Roelof Alfred Dekker has been a son, brother, husband, father, uncle, Opa (grandfather) to name but a few of his family roles and achievements. Having spent his early years in Djakarta he moved with his family to The Netherlands in 1926 to complete his senior schooling before beginning his naval career at the Royal Netherlands Naval College in Den Helder as a cadet officer in 1934 studying in engineering. Graduating 3 years later he saw his first sea service a few years prior to the outbreak of WW II. Like many in his generation he saw service during WW II in the then Dutch East Indies and other parts of SE Asia. It was during this time that Roel had his first encounter with Australians when in 1942 he escaped the Japanese forces advancing on Surabaya in the Dutch East Indies in a disguised Dutch Navy Ship named the ABRAHAM CYRNSSEN. The ship was camouflaged as an island with palm trees and other fauna including animals, pigs, monkeys and the like and came to anchor up rivers or close to the coast during the day to escape detection by Japanese forces. They were successful in their escape and made their way to Geraldton in WA. Roel rejoined his RNN ship in Melbourne shortly thereafter and was back at sea again in SE Asia. In late 1942 he also spent some time in HMAS Kanimbla on passage from Colombo to Fremantle. He joined what was to become his most favoured ship the Tromp, a light cruiser, in 1943 and went on to make numerous visits in Australia during the times the ship was not fighting in SE Asia. Clearly, Roel had a like for Australians because later, and just after the war ended he married an Australian girl. At the end of the war he was still serving in the Tromp which left Java in January 1946 to return to Holland via a visit to Australia. During the ships visit to Sydney he met and, after a period of just 11 days married, his wife Patricia. This was a marriage which despite such a whirlwind 11 day romance lasted over 51 years.

Pat followed Roel to the Netherlands and there they raised their family. While Roel continued his naval career largely in the Fleet Air Arm, Pat raised the family of 4 girls - Suzanne, Dimity, Michelle and Geraldine. I recall a number of conversations with Roel about his life during this part of his career and it painted a man who missed his family through many absences often for very long periods of time while he continued to build his naval career. Indeed he spent in excess of 2 years away in Biak, Dutch East Indies from 1951 to 1953. He had during the later part of his time in the Navy a fondness for flying and I am led to believe that he was more than able to hold his own at the controls of a glider and his favorite aircraft the Catalina. His naval career came to a close in 1964 when he retired from the Royal Netherlands Navy as a Commander and he, Pat and the family made the decision to move to Australia. I suspect Pat had a lot to do with this decision. Not long after arriving in Australia Roel secured a job as an engineer in the aviation sector when he became a QANTAS engineer a position he was to continue for in excess of 15 years. Following retirement from QANTAS he went back to sea again this time as his own captain operating a company launch named "Fleetwing" for Boral for a number of years on Sydney harbour. This was a significant family affair with Pat providing the catering and the girls and on occasions the sons in law, providing the onboard service while Roel chauffeured the guests around Sydney Harbour from the flying bridge with pipe constantly in hand. After the loss of his loving wife Pat in 1997 and much to the consternation of his four daughters, at the tender age of 85 Roel returned to sea once again when he took up living on his own boat "Wave Dancer". He was again back on the water and living his dream. In his early 90s I can recall many a conversation when some pressure was being brought to bear about his living on the boat that his favorite retort was that Pat had said "you can live on your damn boat after I am gone" - and he did!!! Fortunately for him he was able to continue to live his preferred lifestyle up to only a few months ago when his health turned and he had to leave his boat.

Roel had many loves in his life but there was nothing he loved more than his wife Pat and his 4 girls. Once the grandchildren started to arrive his life was further enriched and you could not have a come across a happier man when you saw Roel sitting at the head of the family dinner table surrounded by his children and grandchildren, Nicole, Saskia, Marni, Roel and Tara. You will of course note the strength of the female line in the Dekker clan. Something Roel was also very proud of. Of course at the dinner table there was always the compulsory whiskey or red wine close at hand and not too far away was the latest and greatest in terms of cameras or other photographic equipment. A compulsory event in any family dinner was the pose for the group family photo and event which drew much attention from his wife Pat although Roel had an uncanny knack of getting his photo anyway - despite howls of protest on occasion.

As an engineer another of Roel's passions was his cars. Renown, I suspect, in the Sydney car sector he was always meticulous with his cars both in terms of there servicing and appearance. On more than one occasion he went out in one car and came back in another with all the modern gadgets attached!!! Naturally the deal was always one which had to be seen to be believed. To drive one of Roel's cars was a challenge as he guarded his keys with a passion. I also recall the fracas which occurred when ultimately the time came for Roel's driving license to be withdrawn. In his words some young whippersnapper (aged around 60 as I recall) advised him that it had been suspended. I would not have wished to be in her shoes when this occurred.

Another of his great passions was his love of animals. While he had grown up with dogs in his early years I suspect there was never any animal companion closer to him than his last Jack Russell terrier - Morag. Morag and Roel were constant companions during the later years of his life and he was absolutely devoted to Morag's care. She in turn was his always by his side.

Roel Dekker was a strong and proud man who commanded respect through his sheer presence and unwavering integrity. He was a gentle man always ready and willing to lend a hand when needed. A devoted and experienced mariner and engineer, fiercely loyal to his native country, Holland, I can recall many, sometimes heated debates about the virtues of Australian culture and government alongside the Dutch. While he did listen I know that he never gave way in his absolute commitment to his native Holland.

Even in his early 90s he was a man who remained strong, proud and fiercely independent yet absolutely committed to his family. Roel we will all miss your presence, your loyalty, your generosity and your commitment. You have made an enormous contribution and difference to many lives during your 94 years and we all thank you for your legacy. Time has come for you to rekindle your love and affection for and with Pat and I am sure she will have much to talk to you about when you meet again. Know that your family and friends all love and admire what you have given to them and we all wish you fair winds and following seas as you move to the next part of your eternal journey".