How we met: ‘I told him my father had died and he said I’d never be alone’

At the end of 1958, Jackie was living with her parents in Kent and working as a filing clerk in London. Then a friend asked if she would like to write to a British soldier who was stationed in Hong Kong: “She knew a soldier out there and he wondered if any of her friends would like to write to him,” she says. “I thought it would be nice for them to get letters so far away from home.”

She began to write to Colin and they soon struck up a friendship. “Jackie and I wrote about once a week, and talked about our lives,” he says. While he was living near the Chinese border, taking part in military exercises, Jackie was helping her mother to look after her father, who had a disability, and going out with friends in London when she had the chance. “Colin comes from a big family – he’s one of 16 children. I remember him telling me all about his brothers and sisters,” says Jackie.

Shortly before Colin returned to the UK in April 1960, Jackie’s father died. “I told him in one of my letters and he wrote back, telling me I’d never walk alone. That’s the moment I knew I was going to marry him,” she says.

When Colin came home, he had two weeks leave before his next posting to the Isle of Wight. He and some army friends arranged to meet Jackie and the other women who had written to them while they were stationed abroad. “I met her under the clock at Euston,” he recalls. “I was planning to stay for a short time, then get the train up north to see my family.” She says they were “shy with each other” when they finally met: “I wore a white coat with a rose emblem on the collar so he could recognise me easily.” Colin “already knew she was pretty” because they had exchanged photographs in their letters.

Despite initial shyness, they hit it off instantly. When Colin said he was going to see his family, she invited him to her house instead. “She insisted,” he says, laughing. “So I went to stay with her family in Kent for my period of leave.”

Two weeks later, he was stationed on the Isle of Wight but came to Kent at weekends. “Before the army, I’d never been one to have girlfriends. I was more interested in sport,” says Colin. “But once we met I knew that was it – we were going to stay together.” They were engaged that July, and married in March 1961. Over the next few years they travelled between army bases in Germany and the UK, returning to stay with Jackie’s mum in Kent when they could.

‘We never row – life is too short,’ says Jackie, left, with Colin in 2016, on their 55th wedding anniversary.
‘We never row – life is too short,’ says Jackie, left, with Colin in 2016, on their 55th wedding anniversary. Photograph: Courtesy of Jackie and Colin

Colin left the army in 1964 and they moved to Dorset five years later, where he found work with a forklift truck company. The couple have three children, born in 1965, 1968 and 1974. In 1976, they moved to Runcorn in Cheshire, along with Jackie’s mum. “It meant we could be close to my family in the north-west, and near cities with good colleges and job prospects for the children,” says Colin.

They now have six grandchildren and celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in March this year. “We got a card from the Queen,” says Jackie. “That was so nice because Covid meant we couldn’t really celebrate.”

Colin says “tolerance, patience and kindness” is the secret to their long, happy marriage. “Jackie is very helpful to everyone – she’d do anything for anyone. She is never selfish.” They look after each other every day. “He’s had a heart attack and a triple heart bypass, he’s insulin dependent and has had a stroke, while I have problems with my eyes. We take care of one another and that’s what marriage is about,” says Jackie. “We never row – life is too short for arguments. We’re always laughing together. It’s a bit like an old pair of slippers – you want to hold on to them and never throw them away.”

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