Ruff-O’Herne was born in 1923 in Bandoeng in the Dutch East Indies, a former Southeast Asian colony of the Dutch Empire. During the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies, O’Herne and thousands of Dutch women were forced into hard physical labor at a prisoner-of-war camp at a disused army barracks in Ambarawa, Indonesia. In February 1944, high ranking Japanese officials arrived at the camp and ordered all single girls seventeen years and older to line up. Ten girls were chosen; O’Herne, twenty one years old at the time, was one of them. O’Herne and six other young women were taken by Japanese officers to an old Dutch colonial house at Semarang. The girls thought they would be forced into factory work or used for propaganda. They soon realized that the colonial house was to be converted to a military brothel.
On their first day, photographs of the women were taken and displayed at the reception area. The soldiers picked the girls they wanted from the photographs. The girls were all given Japanese names; all were names of flowers. Over the following three months, the women were repeatedly raped and beaten. O’Herne fought against the soldiers every night and even cut her hair to make herself ugly to the Japanese soldiers. Cutting her hair short had the opposite effect, however, making her a curiosity. Shortly before the end of World War II, the women were moved to a camp in Bogor, West Java, where they were reunited with their families. The Japanese warned them that if they told anyone about what happened to them, they and their family members would be killed. While many of the young girls’ parents guessed what had happened, most remained silent, including O’Herne.
After World War II ended and O’Herne was liberated, she met Tom Ruff, a member of the British Military. The two were married in 1946. After living in Britain, the couple emigrated to Australia in 1960 where they raised their two daughters, Eileen and Carol. In letters she wrote to Tom prior to her marriage, O’Herne had alluded to what had happened to her during the war and asked for his patience if they were to be married. For decades after the war, O’Herne continued to have nightmares and feel fearful, especially during sexual relations with her husband. They had a good marriage but O’Herne’s experience as a comfort woman has continually affected her life.