A 99-year-old great grandmother has received a love letter written by her Second World War fiance – 77 years after he wrote it.
Phyllis Ponting, from Wiltshire, England, gave up hope of ever hearing from her fiance Bill Walker – who was serving in India – after he never answered her letter, where she accepted his proposal of marriage.
Astonishingly, nearly 80 years since he wrote his reply, the letter has now been found at the bottom of the sea.
The cargo ship transporting the letter to Britain, was sunk off the coast of Galway by German U-boats in 1941 and has laid deep underwater ever since.
It’s not known what happened to Mr Walker or whether he survived the India conflict, and a heartbroken Phyllis – whose maiden name was Aldridge – went on to find happiness with another man, Jim Holloway.
The pair married, and the couple had four children but for years, Phyllis thought about what might have happened to Bill, saying:
I can’t believe the letter was at the bottom of the sea and now I can read it. I don’t think Bill can have survived the war, otherwise he would have been straight round to my address in Roseland Avenue.
We would have been married. He loved me a lot.
Bill’s letter is said to be one of 700 to survive in the wreck, which was three miles under the waves, and found by marine archaeologists off Ireland’s coast in British waters.
The love letter was salvaged from the wreck of the SS Gairsoppa, a steam-powered cargo ship.
Remarkably, Phyllis, who’s a grandmother of four and great grandmother to seven, has been tracked down as the ‘Phyll’ in the letters following a feature on the BBC’s The One Show.
She has since been visited by London Postal Museum representatives and given copies of Bill’s letter for keeps.
Phyllis and Bill met in Devizes, when Bill was stationed at the Wiltshire Regiment’s local barracks.
In the letter, he writes about her acceptance of his marriage proposal:
I wish you could have been there when I opened it. I wept with joy. I could not help it. If you could only know how happy it made me, darling.
Bill’s letter was among hundreds of personal letters – many from servicemen – onboard the ship, which was also carrying 48 tons of silver.
Incredibly, the letters from India – many to lovers at home – were recovered in almost perfect condition from the seabed, and are now part of a heart-rending exhibition called Voices from the Deep.
Museum curator, Shaun Kingsley said:
It’s the largest collection of letters since people started to write to survive any shipwreck, anywhere in the world.
It shouldn’t have been preserved, but because there was no light, there was no oxygen, it was darkness, it was like putting a collection of organics in a tin can, sealing it up and putting it in a fridge freezer.
And in the conservation lab, slowly and suddenly words started to appear. Some 700 letters written from British India in 1940.
A single torpedo from U-101 sank the ship in 20 minutes, on February 17, 1941. 83 of the 84 crew members died.
What an incredible story.
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