Dutch dame reflects on 100 wonderful years

She has just turned 100 but Ann Damen’s remarkable life could have ended tragically seven decades ago.

Living with her husband and children in their homeland the Netherlands during the Second World War, when Holland was occupied by the German army, Ann’s house was destroyed by bombs.

“Mum, dad and my siblings were living in a house which had two bombs dropped on it during an English air strike. The house was totalled but by a miracle or twist of fate, they all survived,” Ann’s daughter Sarina says.

Ann, who lives at the Carinity Clifford House aged care community in Brisbane, was born in The Hague on 18 December 1919. Her mother died from tuberculosis before Ann had turned two.

Ann attended the first Montessori school in the Netherlands before leaving school at 16 to attend business college, where she studied bookkeeping and typing.

After selling records in a department store, Ann later worked as a bookkeeper at a post office until she married husband Pieter in 1939 at the age of 20.

The couple met when Ann was a young teenager when she had her bicycle repaired at the business owned by her future beau’s parents, before war broke out.

“I remember, but not fondly, we went through the war. With all our kids we didn’t have much to eat. It was very hard, but we made it,” Ann says.

The Damens and the first six of their nine children migrated to Australia in 1950, sailing on the boat Volendam.

Ann Damen with her husband Pieter and children in Holland.

“Because we had nine kids, and especially with six boys I was thinking, ‘Holland is lovely and beautiful but it’s very small so maybe it’s better if we go somewhere else’, so we decided to go to Australia,” Ann says.

“Moving to Australia was great but it was a bit backward. My husband and I were used to walking at night in Holland but everything here was very dark and it looked like everyone had gone to bed.

“I missed Holland a bit at Christmas time because you had all the snow there. But the weather in Australia was nice and warm.”

Sarina says her mother’s national allegiance swings between the country of her birth and her adopted home.

“When mum watches the Olympics, tennis or swimming on the TV she always barracks for Australia, but if there are no Australians in the race she then barracks for the Netherlands,” Sarina says.

Ann lived on the top floor of a unit block at Newmarket until the age of 99, when she moved to Carinity Clifford House one year ago.

She enjoys listening to music, doing find-a-word puzzles, playing Scrabble, gardening, singing, movies, drawing and reading, particularly books by Rosamunde Pilcher and Cathy Kelly.

A vegetarian of 33 years, Ann also loves wildlife and animals such as her two rescue cats, Billy and Mia, who she enjoys catch-ups with when she visits her daughter.

Ann has 23 grandchildren and numerous great grandchildren.

“I’ve had a good life,” Ann says.

Ann Damen nursing her daughter Sarina.

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