Bombed, imprisoned, shipwrecked on a deserted island and forced to sell her engagement ring for food.
It sounds like the plot of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but it's actually Brenda Macduff's life story.
The longtime Torbay resident celebrated her 100th birthday on April 3.
Born in Lancashire, England in 1914, Macduff was raised by her grandparents and then trained as a nurse in London.
She joined the Colonial Nursing Service and sailed to Malaya, where she met her future husband Ken Macduff.
He was also from Lancashire and had been asked by a friend, Macduff's boyfriend at the time, to "keep an eye on her".
Brenda and Ken were married a year later.
To avoid an impending Japanese invasion the newlyweds were moved to Singapore.
Macduff continued nursing but her husband was captured while he volunteered for the army.
When the invasion threatened the hospital Macduff worked at, she refused to leave as the patients needed her.
She was eventually evacuated, just one day before the Japanese took over and killed everyone who was left there.
The boat she escaped on was bombed and sank.
She managed to swim to a deserted Sumatran island where she survived for five nights before being picked up by the Japanese.
She then spent three and half years in prisoner of war camps.
One camp, designed for 500 prisoners, had 2500 people crammed in alongside rats, bedbugs and flies.
One of Macduff's diary entries reads "rats are a menace, they eat everything".
The prisoners were given one bar of soap a month and toilets were containers that needed to be emptied by hand. Dysentery, diphtheria, jaundice and malaria were rife, with only glucose, salt and tea available as medicine.
Macduff says she was grateful she could keep working as a nurse.
"I wasn't just sitting in the camp and taking my tin plate and getting food. It was hard work looking after patients but I was young and strong and that was my job."
For food the prisoners had rice, sago, a leafy vegetable called kangkong, a little cooking oil, chillies and sometimes peanuts. They were given a small piece of tough meat and a teaspoon of sugar every 10 days.
Macduff sold her engagement ring through the camp's fence to buy more food.
The last camp she stayed in had a palm frond roof and dirt floor.
Brenda and Ken spent the entire war not knowing if the other was alive, eventually reuniting in Liverpool.
In 1946 they moved back to Malaya where they had two children, Sheila and Ian.
The family moved to New Zealand and settled in Torbay in 1955.
Despite her long and eventful life, Macduff says she only feels about 80.
"I don't feel this old. I'm not quite deaf or anything like that."
She walked to the Torbay shops every day until she was 96.
Both children went to Rangitoto College and Ken Macduff was on the board of directors.
He died in 2001 aged 88, one day after the couple's 60th wedding anniversary.
Macduff has four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
She celebrated her birthday with family and friends at the Torbay Rest Home.
- North Shore Times
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