A brother secreted in a wall cavity; teenagers whisked away by German soldiers to toil for the "Fatherland", returning disguised as girls; locked up for a claimed curfew breach, not knowing who to trust: were they Resistance members or spies?

A chain of events played out in a World War II movie? Not for Josie Yetsenga. Each was part of daily life for the schoolgirl living in Leeuwarden, a town in Holland's Friesland province when Hitler's army occupied the country in 1940.

Josie's memories of the day the Fuhrer's forces stormed in remain vivid. How couldn't they? She was 10 when the sound of iron-shod boots signalled their approach.

"My brother Menno's best friend, Harm, arrived at 7am saying 'the Germans are 5km away'. Soon they were close to our house. They had big cannons pulled by horses, there were tanks too, the soldiers marched beside them, one stole Menno's bike."

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It would take a book to record Josie's memories and experiences - she's written one, a self-published account of her life and times, its title: A Love of Two Lands.

Those lands are the Netherlands and New Zealand; Josie arrived here in June 1966, lured across the world by Rinze Yetsenga. They'd met at a Leeuwarden victory street party 20 years earlier.

Like so many young men in work-starved Holland, Rinze (Rin to Josie, Ray to Kiwis) immigrated to New Zealand in 1952, his first job at Waipa Mill. Their courtship was a long one. Josie was busy building her own life as a domestic science teacher and sometime nanny before making Rotorua her new home.

The couple married at the Te Puke Post Office.

"We only had one witness so a guy sorting mail took a jacket off a hook and became the second."

Josie was widowed last year.

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ROTORUA DAILY POST
4 Apr, 2016 9:30am
2 minutes to read

She's not the first to experience war in Europe that Our People's featured, but she is the first from hard-hit Holland. Yet compared with the privations suffered by so many of her fellow countrymen, she considers her family relatively fortunate. Relatively is the operative word.

Leeuwarden, in the heart of the country's lowlands and surrounded by its infamous dykes, was to her an idyllic place, her parents comfortably off - that's if owning a piano's a benchmark of what can be classified comfortable.

Conversely, they didn't have a bathroom, running hot water or an oven. Think Rotorua winters are on the chilly side? When Holland's lowlands ice up they really ice up.

"When it gets 15cm thick skaters come from across Europe and Canada for the 200km Elfstedentocht [Eleven Cities Tour] - it starts and ends in Leeuwarden. There can be up to 16,000 taking part."

She was at primary school when the German soldiers arrived, it was May 5, 1940.

"They imposed an 8pm to 6am curfew, food was rationed but that was okay because we grew our own vegetables, milk came from the neighbour's farm; clothing was more difficult, we were growing. My skirts were lengthened with sheets, a new dress made from two old ones, my brother's raincoat was cut out of a tent.

"We couldn't complain, people in the bombed cities suffered much much more. The worst thing was Jewish people had to wear a yellow star. The whole community was disgusted."

Radios were verboten. Josie's family hid theirs in the attic, listening to Churchill's speeches via the BBC.

With Leeuwarden directly below Britain's flight path to prime German targets, dog fights raged overhead: "We were dead scared."

The enemy commandeered the boys' secondary school to become its headquarters, she said.

"The boys came to our school. One week the girls would have classes from 8am to midday, the boys in the afternoon, the next week we switched around."

With other boys his age, Josie's future husband included, Menno was press-ganged into ditch-digging in a neighbouring province close to the German border.

"Some fathers rode their bikes to where they were working. With help from the Resistance the boys were hidden in a barge's cargo hold. When it docked they were disguised in girls' clothing and rode their fathers' bikes home."

His family fearful of retribution, Menno spent much of his time hidden in a space between back-to-back wardrobes.

"One day my mother went to visit Harm's mother. She was back in 10 minutes, only it wasn't our mother, it was Harm in her clothing. The boys spent the afternoon in our garden, we could trust our neighbours. It was very uncertain times, we had to work out who was trustworthy, who not."

Resistance movement members, cousins included, remain high on Josie's "most admired" list.

"They played an important role in our country."

The Germans' curfew interpretation was elastic. One evening Josie was walking the family's dog when an officer snapped "come".

"It was 7.55pm on the church clock but he said it was wrong, his watch was right."

She spent the night in the local police station with about 40 other supposed curfew breakers.

"There was some talk about sending us to Germany as prisoners but about lunchtime the next day they let us go saying 'never do it again'. I didn't."

On May 5, 1945, a fleet of Canadian tanks rumbled into town - Leeuwarden was liberated. "Everyone stormed towards them, young and old were mad with relief."

Twenty years on Josie was in New Zealand, her illusions of promised peace quickly shattered. Her first job was in a Hamilton Social Welfare home, days after her arrival fire gutted it.

"Someone forgot to tell us a new arrival was a firebug."

Peace came when she and Rin settled in Rotorua, buying neighbouring Springfield Rd sections.

"They were so cheap we bought two. Coming here was the best thing ever."