Siebren Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema was born on the island of Java in the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) the son of plantation manager Siebren Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema Sr. and Cornelia Vreede. He wrote his first two books as a student at Leiden University, one a bestseller about hitch-hiking through America. He received a law degree from Leiden, where his future career was interrupted by World War II. He joined the Resistance, spent some time in an SS-jail, but in 1941 escaped to England.
After four years of warfare as a Dutch-British secret agent and Royal Air Force pilot, he returned to liberated Holland as Aide De Camp to Queen Wilhelmina. In 1942 he was knighted by the Queen and awarded the Netherland’s Medal of Honor for his actions in the Secret Service, and decorated with Dutch and British DFC’s (Distinguished Flying Cross) for his 72 missions in the Royal Air Force.