A Northland man whose service in World War II was finally recognised 75 years after he was forced to work on the infamous Burma railroad has died just shy of his 95th birthday.
Johannus ''Joop'' Mijnders passed away on July 8. He was 10 days away from turning 95.
Among the messages of condolence read at his funeral in Whangārei on July 12 was a hand-written letter from Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters, who last year presented Joop with the War Mobilisation Cross on behalf of the Dutch government.
It was the first official recognition of his service and his suffering as a Japanese prisoner of war.
Joop was born in 1923 in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. He was conscripted into the Dutch East Army in December 1941, days after the Japanese invasion, and captured along with the rest of his battalion weeks later.
He was transferred by ship to Singapore and somehow survived almost four years' slave labour on the Burma railroad, enduring hunger, beatings and disease. Along with the other prisoners he was forced to dig his own grave and saved only by Japan's surrender in 1945.
He was 17 when he met the love of his life, Dolly de Leeuw, at a dance in Batavia (now Jakarta). They were separated by the war and only met again by chance in Holland.
They married in 1947 but, after struggling to adapt to life in cold, unfamiliar Holland, emigrated to New Zealand in 1951.
They had four children and worked hard to build up a new life, first in Hawke's Bay, then Coromandel and Tauranga.
Dolly died in 2014 and in 2016 Joop moved to Northland with daughter Ingrid and son-in-law John Godwin.
When interviewed last year he said he had no regrets about coming to New Zealand.
''I am proud of this country and I will do my duty, and I have done duty as best I can,'' he said.
Winston Peters, then the MP for Northland, said Joop's life was an extraordinary story of sacrifice and survival. His suffering, and the deaths of so many in Asia during World War II, had been largely forgotten due to a Euro-centric view of history.
Ingrid said injuries inflicted by camp guards during the war had given her father lifelong pain and made walking difficult, but his mind was sharp to the end.
When his health declined in his final months he had to be admitted to hospice, where staff loved the ''very polite man with the sharp mind and wit'', and then a rest home hospital wing.
''Thankfully he is now with our mum, the love of his life, and at peace from all the pain,'' she said.
Joop is survived by four daughters, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.