John Appel was born August 21, 1937 in what were then the Dutch East Indies, where his parents supervised a sugar plantation. When the Japanese invaded and occupied the area in the Second World War, John and his family were held in an internment camp, living in very difficult conditions. John’s father was taken as a slave labourer and impressed into the Thai Burma Railway, surviving appalling conditions for the remainder of the war: John remembers that he was never the same man. When the war came to an end, the family’s incarceration did not; the Indonesian nation alist movement of Sukarno had built up during the war, and the Dutch families were held in detention for another year, under deteriorating conditions. When that ordeal came to an end the family went in different directions and John was sent back to Holland for schooling, boarding with a family. It was not to his liking, and that experience combined with the war years made him want ti find new directions – and freedom. He elected to attend the merchant marine college and go to sea. John ended up taking a job with Shell, and he spent his early years at sea in oil tankers, mostly in southeast Asia and based in Singapore. That part of his career saw some memorable trips to Saigon, where he came under fire while delivering jet fuel to the USMC. It also saw him separated from his young family, so he made plans to return, and he found work as an engineer for a time back in Holland. A Shell ad captured his attention though, and he pursued it, and the next phase of his career took him around the world to locales such as Qatar, Oman, and Brunei – with time in Holland and Belgium in between. Retirement came eventually, and John and his wife made the decision to relocate to Canada be closer to family. In that phase of his life John became interested in veterans’ affairs, and he took on roles in different associations dedicated to preserving Dutch military history. John Appel was interviewed at his home in Oakville, Ontario by Scott Masters in August 2023.
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