When Martha was born in Rotterdam on Christmas Day, 1921 she must have been a special gift for her older sister and parents. Martha recalls her mother always did something special to celebrate her birthday, even though it fell on Christmas Day.
She grew up in a city home with three sisters and remembers her father imported marble from Italy and machined it for use in construction. He died when Martha was 14 and it must have been a difficult time for her mother, especially as the Netherlands was experiencing an economic depression. Martha isn’t sure how her mother managed because she was a teenager but somehow the family stoically got on with life.
At the end of her schooling, Martha’s teachers told her nursing would be a good career path for her and she followed their advice, although she really wanted to be a doctor. University study was prohibitively expensive for her so she enrolled in nurse training at a Rotterdam hospital during World War II. Unfazed by the wounded soldiers, Martha describes her work as simply part of the war effort.
“I just put into practice what I had learnt,” says Martha. “I was young and easy going so it wasn’t too difficult.”
Her role included everything from changing dressings to assisting during surgeries, and she capably spoke Dutch, English, German and French.
The war was a difficult time in the Netherlands and Martha joined the Dutch army and left her home country to complete army training in England before travelling by ship to Indonesia. At the time, the South-East Asian nation was under Dutch rule and it was a good opportunity for Martha to leave her war-torn homeland.
After the war Martha met her husband Arie Verveer, who survived a prisoner of war camp and they were married in Indonesia where their first child, Fleur was born. The family returned to the Netherlands where Martha was disappointed that being a married woman prevented from continuing her nursing career. However, she eventually returned to part-time work when her children were older.
Many years later, Martha followed her children to New Zealand and lived independently in Howick until she was 98 years old, when she moved to The Manor.