More than 70 years after Bert Modderman’s last day as a soldier, he was officially thanked for his World War II service by the Dutch Ambassador.
Gathered at Northhaven Hospital in Red Beach to see the 99-year-old receive two medals were a large group of family, including two great grandchildren; friends, representatives of the RSA, Royal NZ Army Signals Corporal Amy Aubrey and Northhaven Hospital staff and residents.
It was an event that family feared may not happen after Bert had a bad fall just before Christmas and got pneumonia which could have ended his life.
“He held on because of this event, and because of the love of his family,” granddaughter Danielle says.
There’s no doubt Bert is a survivor – his war service in radio telegraphy/signals in the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, from 1942-49, included three years as a Japanese prisoner of war.
His daughter Ciska says he never talks about his time in the war. “It makes him very anxious to think about it,” she says.
The family largely found out the details – which included forced labour in coal mines while at Fukuoka 6B Mizimaki camp – after posting a photo on social media on his 99th birthday, after which officials in Holland got in touch.
The medals given to him by Ambassador Mira Woldberg on behalf of her government were the War Commemorative Cross and the Medal of Order and Peace.
She apologised for the long wait for this honour, to which a clearly very tired Bert replied “don’t make me wait for the medals.”
“We hope that this gives him closure,” Ciska says. “Finally it’s an acknowledgment and thank you for what he achieved and went through.”