Couple brought together when sailor passed pen pal request over

Couple celebrate 60th wedding anniversary after a twist of fate saw her letter asking for a Royal Navy pen pal end up in the wrong sailor’s hands

  • Married Jack and Shirley Godley, from Sheffield, were brought together in 1957
  • Shirley answered a pen pal ad in the paper by a seaman looking for friendship
  • It was passed to Jack when original seaman was unable to keep up with letters
  • The loved up couple got married after three years of letter writing to one another
  • They have now celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary together

A couple who met after a letter to a lonely sailor ended up in the wrong hands have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.

Jack and Shirley Godley, from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, were brought together in 1957 when she answered a pen pal advertisement in the paper by a seaman looking for friendship.

However, Shirley’s letter was passed over to sailor Jack when the original seaman, stationed on first class at HMS Ganges in Ipswich, was unable to keep up with his correspondence.

Unbelievably Shirley, just 15 at the time, lived just five minutes away from Jack, then 19, and after that first letter, the pair carried on writing to one another and were able to meet in person a year later when he was home on leave.

Now the loved-up couple, who got married after three years of letter writing, have celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary together while stuck in lockdown.


Jack and Shirley Godley, from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, met after a letter to a lonely sailor ended up in the wrong hands

Jack, now 82, was serving as a Seaman when the letter from Shirley Kerrigan, now 78, was given to him from a shipmate whose name the pair have sadly forgotten.

Shirley said: ‘I’m glad it ended up with him. I do think it was fate. The other sailor got a sack full and he said “here you go Ginge” – that’s what they called Jack in the navy. 

‘He said, “there’s one from Sheffield you can have that one”. My dad wasn’t right keen – he didn’t know I had written off to them.’

The couple kept up their letter writing and finally got to meet when Jack was on leave from a tour in the Far East.

The couple (pictured two days before their wedding in 1960) were brought together in 1957 when Shirley answered a pen pal advertisement in the paper by a seaman looking for friendship

Jack, who had joined the navy aged just 15, wrote a letter to Shirley’s dad, George, asking for permission to marry her before buying a ring and proposing on his next trip home.

The wedding was rearranged three times due to trouble on Jack’s tour but the pair were finally able to tie the knot after Jack arrived into Portsmouth on the aircraft HMS Centaur on 28 April 1960.

The lovers married at Ecclesfield Church two days later and honeymooned in Blackpool.

Shirley went on to work as an addressograph operator and helped to deliver other penpal sweethearts’ letters.

Jack left the navy in 1962, then worked at a tool manufacturers and as a bus driver and a van driver.

However, Shirley’s letter was passed over to sailor Jack when the original seaman, stationed on first class at HMS Ganges in Ipswich, was unable to keep up with his correspondence. Pictured: The couple together recently

The couple have five children, Karen, Kevan, Donna, Lisa, and Debra, ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

After 60 years of married life, Jack said it is their different personalities that have made their love last.

He said: ‘Well we’re opposites aren’t we, me and Shirley. Opposites attract. That’s why we have lasted. Well, that and doing what I am told.’

Speaking about the lockdown anniversary celebration, Shirley said: ‘We usually go out and we do a meal somewhere.

‘With all this Covid-19 blowing up it was just like a normal day. We didn’t do anything special. We’re planning to celebrate properly when it’s all over.’

Unbelievably Shirley, just 15 at the time, lived just five minutes away from Jack, then 19, and after that first letter, the pair carried on writing to one another and were able to meet in person a year later when he was home on leave. Pictured: The couple on their wedding day in 1960

Their daughter Debra Fletcher, 41, was sad not to be able to celebrate with them at their home on their anniversary.

Debra, a regional manager in the care sector, said: ‘You don’t get those sort of things in this day and age, so it’s lovely to hear the story of how they met.

‘They didn’t know but the whole family were all going to have a big day out and spend the day with them at the coast. Instead we managed to trim their house up with banners. 

‘They got attention from cars and things but that was about the best we could do. We all went down separately to wish them a happy anniversary from the road. They did manage to have some lemon meringues – their favourite pudding.’

She added: ‘I normally see them every weekend but work in care so I’m just trying to shield them. It’s really hard. For the last six weeks the only interaction I’ve had with them has been in their back yard at a 2m distance. ‘

‘It’s hard not being able to give them a kiss and a cuddle but it’s for the best.’

Jack and Shirley are planning to celebrate properly with a big family meal when lockdown restrictions have been lifted.

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