In 1983, Anne Nijland, 25, met Chris Vos in Israel where they were both working as volunteers. The following year Anne convinced Chris, a Brit six years her senior who had been travelling across Europe, to go back to the Netherlands with her. They married and their daughter Naomi was born in 1985.
“Chris said that he’d been in the army in South Africa and that he had no living relatives as his parents – his mother was British and his father South African – and brother all died in a car crash,” Anne tells us by phone from Holland. “I had hoped that he would settle down with his little family but he had problems. First, he drank a lot. When we were in Israel, all the volunteers would party together so Chris’s drinking didn’t really stand out until we came here. I immediately started teaching and living a normal life but Chris struggled as he tried to learn the language and find work. And then there were the nightmares.
“He would cry out in his sleep, like he was back in South Africa with his platoon in a jeep that was bombarded with grenades and he was the only survivor.
“Chris had two personalities. The nice, easy-to-talk-to sober guy or the drunk and aggressive soldier who saw everyone as the enemy, like he had a death wish.
“It became too much for me. I wanted to protect Naomi so I divorced him in 1988. But I have always told Naomi positive things about her father.”
Chris left Holland and continued roaming around Europe.
In 1992, Anne received a phone call from the British Embassy in Athens.
“He told me he had health problems and needed money to go to the hospital. That was the last time I heard from him.”
Thanks to a job opportunity, Anne and Naomi spent the next ten years in Aruba and returned to Holland in 2003, by which point Naomi had become increasingly curious about her father. Having had no contact for over a decade, her mother launched an investigation.
Anne and her second husband went to England in 2007, armed only with a birth certificate, and learned that Chris’s mother and two brothers were very much alive; his father, a former RAF officer, died in 1988. The family, who Anne describes as having “a stable closeness”, had not seen Chris in 25 years.
The mom would not speak to Anne but Chris’s older brother, Michael, was forthcoming. They compared notes. The family did not know that Chris had been in South Africa or that he had a scar on his cheek, and Anne certainly was unaware that her former husband had been married before, at age 21, to a Swiss au-pair and that they had a child together, Jamie (now 39). There was more: Chris had a second son, Sam (today 34) with a German woman he lived with for three years.
“It was unreal. He never mentioned any other children and when Naomi was born, he acted like it was his first.”
After trying to retrace Chris’s path, Anne hit a dead end and eventually went back home with a few family photos she could give her daughter, and a promise to keep in touch with Michael, which they have done for the past seven years.
Six months ago, Anne woke in the middle of the night with a premonition to recontact the British Embassy in Athens. When she did, they informed her that they had just received a death certificate from the Paris Embassy for Christopher Roy Vos.
It seems Chris had spent the last ten years with his French wife in Nice and died in December 2012. His ashes were spread under an old oak tree at the Plateau de la Justice in Eze; his widow does not wish to speak to the family.
“For many years I have tried to find out what happened to Chris. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t get in touch with us, especially because he loved our daughter very much.
“I’d be willing to come to Nice to speak with anyone who may have known Chris to give us more information. Naomi and her two older half-brothers want to find out what happened to their father and just maybe, we could finally find peace.”
Did you know him? Chris had dark blond hair, grey-green eyes and a scar across his left cheek. He had a real presence and with his long legs measured 1m90 although he was slim. With his dark character, he spoke often of South African politics.