London - When June Norton wrote a letter to a young naval engineer 61 years ago, she hoped to gain a pen pal but didn’t even know if she would receive a reply.
She certainly never imagined he would end up as her husband.
But that first message sparked a long-distance love affair that saw the pair exchange more than 300 letters – before they finally met in person and became engaged the next day.
And this weekend June and Jim Dunlop celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, along with their three children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
The couple’s story was first told in the Daily Mail in July 1958 in a double-page feature on pen pals headlined "Their love came by post" which asked: "Is it possible to find a way to an enduring love with someone you have never met?" Sixty years on, it seems the answer is yes. Mrs Dunlop, 79, said: "I can’t believe it’s been 60 years, a whole lifetime together and it all started with one letter. I fell in love with Jim from the way he wrote to me and as soon as we met I knew it was meant to be."
The couple, who now live in Cumbria, married on April 5, 1958 – 14 months after June, then 18, wrote an introductory letter to her future husband after being given his address by a family friend.
Mr Dunlop was a 24-year-old engineer stationed with the Merchant Navy in Glasgow when he received the letter, written on February 24, 1957.
It read: "Dear Jim… Mrs Wood asked me if I would like to write to you, 'a nice boy in the Merchant Navy', and I thought it a very good idea because nothing is lost by writing to people out of your own town and, naturally, with you being a complete stranger to me we should be able to find lots of things to talk about." They quickly became pen pals, sending thousands of words to each other over the next year as Mr Dunlop sailed around the world.
The letters initially covered the weather, family and hobbies, but became more personal. Six months in, a love-struck Mr Dunlop wrote: "Your letters are all I look for in every port", and received the reply: "If only I could speak to you for a moment, just to reassure you that I love you with my heart and soul." They finally met at the beginning of 1958 when Mr Dunlop’s ship docked in Liverpool and he went to Manchester, where June was working as a secretary.
The couple were joined by 102 family and friends to celebrate their 60th anniversary at the Netherwood Hotel near their home in Grange-over-Sands.
Daughter Amanda, 51, said: "They are still madly in love. They still walk down the road hand in hand.
"I have always known about their letters but they have moved house about 14 times over the years and the letters got lost along the way, which is a shame."