Penpal sweethearts from Sheffield set to celebrate diamond wedding anniversary
It was a romance brought about by a twist of fate – a letter sent to a lonely sailor passed on to a friend – but one that has lasted 60 years.
John “Jack” Godley, was serving as a Seaman, first class, at HMS Ganges, in Ipswich, when he received a pen pal letter from Shirley Kerrigan which had originally been intended for another sailor.
But, it was a letter that saw their relationship set sail – and now the couple are looking forward to celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary together.
They will mark the momentous occasion at their Stocksbridge home this Thursday, April 30, and while they aren’t able to celebrate with their family as planned it will still be a day filled with love.
The couple’s youngest daughter Debra, 41, said: “They are fantastic parents and we are so upset as a family we aren’t able to celebrate with them. I ring them daily and it’s heartbreaking for me not being able to kiss or cuddle them.
“Once the lockdown is over we’ll be having a family meal with all the children and grandchildren, that’s initially what we had planned.”
Jack was just 15 when he joined the Royal Navy, and despite attending the same Parson Cross school as Shirley, the pair had never crossed paths.
Things would change in 1957 when Shirley joined a pen pal scheme writing to a Navy sailor who, inundated with replies, passed Shirley’s letter on to Jack knowing he was from Sheffield.
Reading the letter, Jack realised that Shirley lived just around the corner from him on Colley Crescent and their relationship quickly blossomed.
But, it would be a year until the pair could meet in person, first setting eyes on each other while Jack was on leave from his tour in the Far East.
Despite being far apart the pair kept the romance alive and would go out whenever Jack was at home, during which he wrote to Shirley’s dad George asking for his permission to marry his daughter to which he gave his blessing – later proposing and buying a ring on his next leave home.
Planning the wedding, however, was not plain sailing. It had been due to take place in early 1960 when Jack was due back in Sheffield, but his leave was delayed and the wedding had to be moved.
It was rearranged a total of three times as trouble had broken out while Jack was on tour. Shirley recalls the vicar thought she was crazy rearranging so many times.
Jack eventually arrived into Portsmouth on the aircraft HMS Centaur on April 28, 1960, and the pair married at Ecclesfield Church two days later, honeymooning in Blackpool.
They quickly settled into married life, Jack going back on tour and Shirley to her job as an addressograph, and briefly moved to Scotland before returning to Sheffield in time for the birth of their first child, Karen, in 1961.
The lovebirds went on to have four more children – Kevan, Donna, Lisa, and Debra. They now have 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.