New Zealand’s oldest person, Ron Hermanns, a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) war veteran who was still living independently in his own home in Christchurch, has died. He died on Monday, just three weeks after his 110th birthday.
Hermanns came to media attention in 2010 when, at the age of 98, then-Air Force Deputy Chief, Air Commodore Gavin Howse, finally presented him with his military service medals at a service at the Museum of the Force. New Zealand Air in Christchurch.
Around the same time, he donated to the museum’s collection his extraordinary collection of ‘trench art’ – jewelry and memorabilia crafted during his time on active duty in the Pacific Islands during World War II.
In 2019, he was in the news again, when he celebrated his 108th birthday at the Air Force Museum, at a reception attended by dignitaries and fellow veterans.
Born in Canada on September 25, 1911, Hermanns moved with his family to New Zealand in 1914, settling in Wellington.
He joined the New Zealand Territorial Air Force in 1937 as an aircraft rigger, transferring to RNZAF service full time when war broke out in 1939.
Initially stationed in New Zealand, Hermanns had two overseas destinations in the Pacific, first at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) in 1943, where he spent 12 months servicing the RNZAF Kittyhawk fighter jet. This was followed by a second tour to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in 1945, when he spent another five months maintaining Lockheed Ventura bombers.
During both tours, he dedicated himself to creating decorative elements in his spare time, using waste materials like Perspex and metal, or natural products like coconut shell. Part of its extensive collection can be seen on permanent display at the Air Force Museum.
After the war, Hermanns served NAC / Air New Zealand for many years as an aeronautical engineer.
He never married and had no children, and despite being legally blind and deaf, he still lived in his own home in the Christchurch suburb of Cashmere, supported by a dedicated team of neighbors and caregivers.
A tradesman to the end, Hermanns spent much of his time in his workshop or garden, handling his tools “by touch” and even building fences and trimming trees until very recently.
RNZAF member Bill Mitchell, a Pacific War veteran who also lives in Christchurch and joined Hermanns in celebrating his 108th birthday, is now New Zealand’s oldest man.