Letter from Wartime Lover 70 Years Later

Phyllis Ponting, 99, has finally received a letter that her wartime lover, Bill Walker, wrote for her in 1941 when the cargo ship transporting the letter was sunk by a German U-boat. Walker was posted to India at the time and never replied to Ponting’s letter accepting his proposal for marriage.

It is not known to this day if Walker survived the war, but Ponting firmly believes that her lover would have come running back to wed. With this being said, there is no listing for William Walker of the Wiltshire Regiment on the Commonwealth Graves Commission having died during WWII. Ponting had always wondered what happened to him.

When Ponting never received an answer back, she was heartbroken but went on to find love with a man named Jim Holloway, with whom she had four children. After his death, she went on to marry Reginald Ponting.

The letter she finally received more than 70 years later was 1 of 700 letters preserved on the sunken ship. Marine archaeologists likened the conditions to “putting them in a tin can, sealing it up, and putting it in a fridge freezer.”

“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,” part of Walker’s letter said.

This confirmed that Walker clearly had intentions of coming back and marrying Ponting.

All 700 of the letters were recovered and treated in a conservation lab. “Slowly and suddenly,” the words started to appear in the final letter that Ponting had never received. These letters are now part of an exhibition called Voices from the Deep, staged at London’s Postal Museum. The exhibition features collections of letters between loved ones that never made it.

Museum curator Shaun Kingsley spoke about the museum exhibition and the success of Ponting’s story through old recovered love letters. They were recovered from the ship, which lay three miles down on the seabed.

“It’s the largest collection of letters since people started to write to survive any shipwreck, anywhere in the world,” he says, “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.”

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This story originally appeared at Do You Remember by Jane Kenney.

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