The Anzac Day morning service at the RSA in Kerikeri commemorated 100 years since World War I began, like so many other venues around Australasia. In this Far North town a lone piper played "Mist Covered Mountain" before those assembled were introduced to World War II veteran, 97-year-old Mr William Witstyn.
He spoke of his pre-war youth, of being involved in the theatre and of his war time experiences and during his detailed account of joining the Dutch Resistance, of capture, torture and subsequent release from detention that lead him eventually to the Canadian Army, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop.
"My sister and I were dancers but after the Germans invaded France in October 1939 my parents decided we should move back to The Hague because as foreigners in France we could be considered spies.
"We carried on in the theatre and the Germans said if we didn't belong to the Culture Chamber we couldn't perform. I refused so I joined the Dutch Resistance instead. In 1944 I was captured and put into solitary confinement, without light, for two months until one day, two SS men came in, pulled me out, made me run to the ablution block and put me under a shower before starting to question me.
"I'm not a hero but I hated them so much - they had raped our women, took the art away from the country, put people in prison - and that hatred protected me. They knocked my teeth out and when I fainted they turned on the shower and started again and again and again. In the end they gave up and grabbed me under my armpits and dragged me wet and bleeding into a cell and told me that in six days' time, I would be shot."
Three days later one of the German guards took him to a back door, opened it and told him not to come back. He was free. Thinking he was going to be shot, William's first reaction was to cry.
He spent the next few months 'dodging bullets between the Allies and the Germans' working in the Resistance and eventually coming across the 9th Battery Toronto of the 11th Regiment Artillery First Canadian Division under Major Osler and became a sergeant in the Sniper Protection Group. At war's end in Europe he did some jungle training in Britain, of all places, before heading to Sumatra in 1947. It was still the Dutch East Indies then and their war had yet to conclude. The only thing this small group were told not to do was shoot tigers and honey bears. They ended up doing both but that is another story from the life of this remarkable Far North man.
Back in The Netherlands he fell in love with a girl called Willie and although they tried to immigrate to Canada they discovered it was quicker to immigrate to New Zealand. They arrived in Wellington on the 8th May 1952 and caught the train to Auckland for an 18-hour journey. And there they settled but what remained with William Witstyn was the notion there was unfinished business, a task that needed to be completed, and in 1962 he went back to Europe.
"I wanted to forgive the Germans for what they did to me and I wanted them to forgive me for what I did during the war where you do things you wouldn't normally do."
He has a few mementos from his war days like a helmet from a Japanese soldier in Sumatra and a leather jerkin the Canadians gave him when he enlisted in England and which he still wears, even today. The former atheist became a devout Christian and, lest we forget, has written his memories in a brochure compiled as part of his personal ministry with the Baptist Church.
"In the final choice, a soldier's pack is not so heavy as a prisoner's chains."