A friendship forged in wartime

Two transatlantic pen pals have shared their lives on paper for 70 years.

I was looking through The Christian Science Monitor that arrived in the afternoon mail at our home in Milwaukee. I was 13 at that time and one column caught my eye. "The Mail Bag" contained the names of several young people who were looking for "pen pals."

I wrote to a girl in England named Diane, telling her of the large high school I attended and of my interest in music and art. A few weeks later I received a reply.

This was the start of 70 years of correspondence.

It was early in World War II and censorship was in effect. I sent a package to Diane containing a box of stationery and five Hershey bars, four for Diane and her family and one for the censor. When the package arrived four candy bars remained. The one marked for the censor was gone and in its place a card saying thanks.

While still living in northern England, Diane sent me a large candy stick marked "Blackpool Rock." I cut off a piece for my family and took the rest to school to share with my sixth-grade friends. After opening an atlas and identifying Blackpool, we cut it into small pieces so everyone could have a taste.

As the war progressed, churches in the United States began "adopting" churches in Europe to support. As clerk of Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, in Milwaukee, my mother was also chairman of the War Relief Committee, which knitted for service personnel and sewed for children.

We had used all of our donated fabrics when we learned that a monetary donation would send a care package to a church in a war-torn area. Coincidentally, it was sent to the church Diane and her family attended, where her mother also served as clerk. Diane's mother then wrote to my mother – clerk to clerk and mother to mother – cementing a friendship.

Even our fathers became correspondents. My dad was a fireman whose hobby was horticulture. Diane's father also worked in horticulture, and the two men sent several letters about plants as well as seed samples to each other.

In 1952, following the war, Diane wrote to me about her forthcoming marriage to Henry Canton. I responded, asking how formal the wedding would be and if they were holding a reception.

I also asked what I could send. Diane replied that she would like to have sheets for a double bed – those available in England at that time were of poor quality. There was to be a church wedding, but due to the continued rationing, no sugar was available for a wedding cake.

I sent the sheets and my parents sent ingredients for a cake – including sugar – and a small canned ham. The guests at Diane and Henry's wedding were in awe to have a real cake and a ham at the reception.

When I married Warren Norden in 1954, Diane asked what I would like as a gift. I asked if she had heard of Sheffield steel knives made in England. We received a set of Sheffield steak knives from Diane and Henry and a matching carving set from her parents.

We stayed in touch via cards and letters until 1978 when we both moved and lost touch. We reconnected when my older daughter and her husband and son traveled to London and found Diane and Henry in the phone book and met them for lunch.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of this long-distance friendship – a commitment by two friends who have never met in person. All a result of the Mail Bag column that used to appear in the Monitor.

Being dedicated to our correspondence has brought us much joy!

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