‘We would never had met if I had not gone in for the operation’

Roy and Kathleen Grinsell have been married for 60 years pictured at their home in Portchester and, inset, their wedding day
Roy and Kathleen Grinsell have been married for 60 years pictured at their home in Portchester and, inset, their wedding day

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When teenager Kathleen Reohorn went into hospital for a major operation, it should have been the most traumatic experience of her life.

The pair became Mr and Mrs Grinsell a few years later and have recently celebrated their diamond wedding.

jpns-01-01-13 fam celebrate Kathleen and Roy Grinsell pic 3

jpns-01-01-13 fam celebrate Kathleen and Roy Grinsell pic 3

‘It is quite funny to think we would never have met if I hadn’t gone in then for the operation. My life would have been very different,’ says Kath, now 80.

While in hospital Kath had met and made friends with Roy’s elder sister Ida, who was in her late 20s.

Roy was in the navy and serv- ing abroad but the growing friendship between the young woman and the girl would eventually result in Kath meeting the love of her life.

‘Ida was extremely important to me,’ says Kath. ‘I was in the hospital and heard someone says ‘hello there’. We were friends from that moment, we had a rapport. I was too old for the children’s ward by that time and Ida took me under her wing.’

After she left, Kath would catch three different buses to visit Ida who was in hospital long-term with tuberculosis.

‘We just clicked, I think it was because we had both spent so much time in hospital. We understood each other really,’ says Kath.

Eventually she was introduced to Roy at the Grinsell family home. ‘To be honest when I first saw him my thoughts weren’t kind,’ laughs Kath. ‘He was in the navy, had just returned from abroad and had been celebrating. He was fast asleep in a chair. But when he woke up I thought, he’s actually quite nice.’

The couple, who are originally from the Midlands but now live in Portchester, met every time Roy came home and eventually he proposed.

‘He bought me a Christmas present too,’ says Ida, grinning. ‘I was very flattered because nobody else got one.’

Roy and Kath were married on December 20, 1952 after Roy returned from northern seas. A navy chef, he made the tiered wedding cake while he was away and impressed family and guests by revealing it had come all the way from the Arctic Circle.

‘It was quite interesting trying to get home with it,’ he recalls. ‘I had to travel up from Devonport with it in three wooden boxes.’

The couple had very little money so the wedding wasn’t a lavish occasion but it must have seemed like a magical day to Kath.

Her relationship with Roy had come after a childhood and adolescence scarred by injury, illness and prolonged stays in hospital.

Kath’s leg became infected following a simple playground fall when she was six. In the days before modern procedures and even the formation of the NHS, she suffered with tuberculosis of the knee, which causes pain and swellings.

Because of infections the little girl spent three years in hospital. ‘I remember keeping a beetle in a matchbox because I wanted a pet. There were other children but they all used to leave before me.’

And there was no education. ‘My education was Dandy, Beano and Enid Blyton,’ says Kath, who could only see her family twice a week. ‘It was pretty tough but we were tough then. You had to be.’

At 16, after her leg had become infected to the hip, Kath made her own decision about the amputation.

It was a risky operation and Kath came round to find her mum and aunt worried sick. Because of infection it had been touch and go as to whether she survived.

But she coped with amputation surprisingly well, learning to get around on crutches and then receiving an artificial leg six months later.

‘To be honest, after all the pain and operations I’d had over the years, it was a relief. But still at 15, before the operation, there was that part of me that thought the miracle could happen.’

But Kath says she has never thought of herself as disabled and she and Roy have both displayed that kind of resilience through their married life.

They have had a wonderful marriage but there have been tough times. Their biggest trial came when they lost daughter Linda to breast cancer at 49.

‘She had it twice and as you can imagine it was absolute hell. Linda was wonderful, she lived life to the full and we loved her to bits,’ says Kath.

‘To see one of your children going through that and knowing there’s nothing you can do is the worst thing.’

But she and Roy have always supported each other and she says that is one of the keys to a successful marriage.

The other is a sense of humour, True to form, Kath loves recalling the time she went gliding to raise money for the Marie Curie cancer charity.

‘They put me in this glider and my leg ended up stuck in the air. None of us knew what to do with it.’

Ida, who died 17 years ago, would have been proud of Kath and Roy who have managed to laugh together through the good and bad times.

‘You can cover up a world of hurt if you share a sense of humour,’ says Kath. So she wastes no opportunity to tease Roy. For their recent anniversary Kath, a member of the Sugarcraft Guild, made a beautiful cake.

‘Roy hasn’t cooked since he came out of the navy,’ she says. ‘Well he did and used every pot and pan available. I thought never again.’

The couple had a lovely time at their anniversary meal with their sons, Adrian and Kevin, daughters-in-law, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

We looked around and felt very proud,’ says Kath. ‘We’ve certainly left our mark.’