Ellen and Ron Williams met in a blackout during the Second World War – the beginning of a romance straight out of a Hollywood film.
The couple were married in 1940 and 75 years later they celebrated their second diamond wedding anniversary on Thursday, making them one of the longest-married couples in the country.
Ellen, 97, and Ron, 95, went to The Churchillian pub on Portsdown Hill with daughter Helen Dawkins and her husband Les the Sunday before. On the day their grandchildren Thomas, 22, and Katherine, 20, travelled from Buckingham to surprise them.
‘It was a lovely place to be. The view was beautiful, the best place we could have celebrated the anniversary. On our anniversary everybody was making us feel so happy and wanted,’ says Ellen.
Portsmouth-born Ron was in the Royal Navy during the war and when he was serving in HMS Grimsby the crew went ashore in Scotland. It was in Dunfermline that he met Ellen during a blackout.
‘Me and my friend, Frank Sutherland, went to a pub called the Eastport Arms to try to get a drink, but they were closing so they gave us a bottle of beer to take away,’ says Ron.
‘We went out in the blackout and bumped into two damsels. I couldn’t see them, but I heard female voices. I struck a match to see them and got told off for it.
‘I asked where they were going and they said they were going back to work in Kirkcaldy, some 40 miles away. Frank and I escorted them into the bus terminus. The lights were on and I saw Ellen. I looked into her eyes and I just got attracted. I didn’t know what it was, but she was so caring.’
Ellen, who had been to the pictures with her friend that evening, says she didn’t want Ron to get lost.
‘I told Ron they couldn’t come with us to Kirkcaldy because it was a long way and they wouldn’t get back to their ship. But they still escorted me to the National Bank House where I was a servant and they said goodnight,’ she says.
‘I shook her hand and said ‘‘I will see you again’’, and she said ‘‘please don’t knock my door or anything,’’’ says Ron.
After Ron and Frank found lodgings for the night, they made their way back to the ship the next day. While he was on duty, Ellen was on Ron’s mind.
‘I couldn’t concentrate the next day, Ellen seemed to be on my mind all the time. I said to old Frank, ‘‘I’m going ashore – you can have my rum if you do my duty.’’.
‘So I went back ashore and got lost trying to find the bank. But I asked people for directions and eventually I found it.’
The bank manager let Ellen out for 10 minutes and Ron asked her out. They met at a cafe one Wednesday and afterwards made arrangements for Ron to meet her parents while HMS Grimsby was docked for repairs.
‘We got on very well, and that was it,’ says Ron.
‘It was decided our ship was going back to sea and I thought I would never see Ellen again. So I said to her ‘‘why don’t we get married?’’ She thought I was joking.’
Because Ron hadn’t lived in Scotland for three months, the couple couldn’t get married in a church. So instead they got a special marriage license in court in 1940.
‘The snow was up to our knees and we got a taxi to take us to the courthouse,’ says Ellen.
‘The court was in session, and we just sat there with the registrar, who was calling out the names of all the different couples. The solicitor said “that is it - come back to my office and I will give you your licence.”
‘Ron said we couldn’t be married because we didn’t say any vows, but he said he had all he needed.
‘We didn’t believe we were married really – it wasn’t like a wedding you would have today. I didn’t even have a wedding dress.’
They had wedding photos taken later by a local photographer.
‘Ron was a lot taller than me so they made him sit in a chair,’ Ellen jokes.
After their marriage, Ron went back on duty and didn’t see Ellen again for 13 months. During the war, Ellen – who was expecting the couple’s first child, George – moved to Chesterfield Road in Portsmouth, where she raised their son until Ron came back home in April 1946 after the war ended.
‘George was three-and-a-half by this time and he didn’t know who I was – he didn’t like me very much at first,’ says Ron.
‘He used to pull a face when I tried to feed him, but he came round in the end.’
George, now 71, was followed by Helen, 68. Ron retired from the navy in 1960 and in the 1970s the Williams family moved from Portsmouth to Buckingham, where they lived for 41 years. Last year, they moved back here to be nearer to Helen.
So what is their secret to a marriage that has lasted for three-quarters of a century?
‘We have had our ups and downs in life but I always say every cloud has a silver lining and together we got through it in the end,’ says Ellen.
‘I don’t even feel it has been 75 years,’ says Ron. ‘To me, it seems as if we got married three years ago.
‘Share each other’s troubles and share each other’s joys. What we have is true love, no doubt about it.’
‘It was the first brandy Ellen had ever had’
When Ron was granted leave during the war, he took Ellen to Portsmouth to meet his parents, who lived in Copnor.
The couple took a trip to Fratton to go to the pictures, but their evening was more dramatic than the film.
‘My mother said not to go because there was going to be an air raid, but I said I had seen worse out at sea and we went,’ says Ron.
‘We hadn’t been on the bus for more than 10 minutes and the air raid sirens went off. We got off in Kingston Road and there was the biggest crash as a bomb was dropped - a paint shop went up in flames.’
Ron and Ellen still went to the cinema, where they saw Bonnie Scotland by Laurel and Hardy. When Ron went to pay he was in for a wait – not because of a queue but because the woman behind the counter had fainted.
‘We still watched the film but things were getting a bit hot outside, and people were leaving. All of a sudden the screen went black and we decided to go,’ says Ron.
‘As we were going down the stairs another bomb went off and I lost Ellen in the panic.
‘I was searching for her, and I found her eventually – these men had piled on top of her to protect her.’
When the couple got outside it was chaos. A bus had toppled over into the buildings next to it and a plane had been shot down, blowing out the glass of all the buildings nearby.
Ron and Ellen hopped between air raid shelters on their way back to Ron’s parents’ house, stopping off at a pub for a brandy to calm their nerves.
‘It was the first brandy Ellen had ever had - it was probably my first too,’ he adds.
‘When we got back, my mum and dad were coming out of their air raid shelter. She said “I told you so!”’