'There are no winners in war': The special meaning of Anzac Day for a child of World War II

Bram Uljee knows all about war. His privileged life on his Dutch family's tea plantation in Indonesia ended at the age of seven when the Japanese invaded.

"There are no winners in war, war is terrible, there's an awful lot of suffering, and it's always the very innocent that suffer," Uljee told Newshub.

"The Japanese imprisoned six of my family, they became prisoners of war."

His father, uncle and cousins were loaded onto the overcrowded Junyo Maru - a "hell ship" - to be transported as slave labour.

"Six-and-a-half thousand men were crammed into this small steamer, and sitting there like battery hens," he says.

"The voyage was quite unbearable."

One day out from its destination a British submarine sunk the vessel, and while his father and uncle somehow survived, one of his cousins was among the thousands who drowned.

"The Japanese refused to fly the prisoner of war flag - now out of a compliment of 6,500 only 1000 came ashore," he says. 

Without proper food - Uljee's father had to improvise to feed himself working on the infamous Pekanbaru Death Railway which claimed over 100,000 lives.

"They had to survive on very, very little. It was only the very, very sick that were fed protein. The only protein they could get was from maggots - so they had to boil up maggots."

Another two of Uljee's cousins were forced to work in coalmines on the Japanese mainland - one actually witnessed the event in Ngasaki - which led to the end of World War Two.

"He saw the atom bomb drop but, unfortunately, because of radiation exposure, he died of cancer."

When the Japanese finally left Java in 1945, as a 12-year-old he was lucky to survive an attack on his village by a violent mob wanting Indonesian independence. They burned his house down and massacred 60 Dutch people.

"Whenever I think about it I can feel the hairs on the back of my back tickle expecting a bullet to strike."

Uljee's family was lucky to settle in New Zealand after the war. They were among two boat loads of Dutch people from Indonesia that the New Zealand Government agreed to take.

"The first few days were absolutely euphoric. We just couldn't believe the food, the milk that came in great big bottles, and the kindness of the people," he explains.

"We were a bit of a novelty, the ordinary New Zealander was perhaps a little bit wary of us, because they had never had contact with foreigners before."

He's lived in peace in Aotearoa for the past seven decades but the tragic events of March 15 in Christchurch brought his childhood memories flooding back, and the response from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had a great impact on the 84-year-old.

"She did a fantastic job of showing the world how to lead with compassion."

For Uljee, Anzac Day is a special occasion - he attends a dawn service where he lives in the Bay of Plenty.

"I get very, very emotional when I hear the service and when I hear the fantastic singing by Maori there, and it's absolutely incredible now to see the sun coming out of the Pacific, heralding a new day, in this beautiful country."

Uljee first told his story to author and historian Jo Bailey, who published it in her book Never Forget.