Gerda Elisa Paula Laabs marked her 100th birthday this month with family and friends, celebrating a life well lived.
A party at her Endeavour Hills aged care home, View Hills Manor, was attended by the Honorary Consul-General of the Federal Republic of Germany, Michael Pearce, who presented her with a certificate and letter from the German government.
She also received cards and messages from the Queen, the Governor General of Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and her local MP.
Born on June 23, 1919 in a rural property in Wilhelmsburg, just outside of Hamburg in Germany, Ms Laabs’ early years were impacted by World War Two.
At the beginning of the World War Two, age 20, she worked as a secretary for a company in Norway that produced Heavy Water, the only woman in an all-male workplace. It was later bombed by the English.
When production ceased she returned to Germany and worked for another company that was based underground near a forest, which manufactured air craft components. It too was subsequently bombed out, but luckily, Ms Laabs had been ill and wasn’t at work that day.
The times being what they were, she had the Gestapo knocking at her door the next day, questioning why she wasn’t at work – they thought that she may have been a spy. Eventually she was allowed to leave and return to her parents in Wilhemsburg.
On the train to Hamburg she spoke to a lady who suggested she become a nurse, so in Hamburg Ms Laabs went directly to the nearest hospital and signed up to be a nurse. Most of her nursing was spent attending to the troop trains with the wounded soldiers.
When the war ended and the Americans and English occupied Germany, she met an English soldier and subsequently had a child, but the soldier was deployed back home. Later, Ms Laabs discovered he was already married and wanted nothing to do with her or the child, so she raised a son on her own until she met Joachim Friedrich. They married in 1957, came out to Australia and had daughter Cornelia in 1958.
Joachim died in a work place accident in Collins Street in 1960, leaving Ms Laabs on her own again. Thinking it better to return to Germany and have the support of her family, she moved back, but with the threat of Russia on the East she decided to return to Australia in 1962.
Ms Laabs found secretarial work for a building supplies company in Springvale, and bought her own home there, where she met and married Lindsey McRorie. Unfortunately that marriage broke down and again she was left to raise 2 children. Her son passed away some years later.
For many years she was on her own until 1970 when she met Gerhard Deich. The pair married and were together until his passing in 2008.
Now, Ms Laabs has 4 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren with one more on the way. She lived in her own home from 1962 to 2018 and loves the sea, swimming and bush walking. A favourite ritual was travelling to Magnetic Island every year for 3 – 4 months and for many years she also travelled back to Germany to visit family and friends.