IN July 1946, Horsham’s Lesley Exell sent a letter to a girl in England who she had never met.
That first letter led to a 71-year friendship that culminated in Mrs Exell finally met Kent resident Betty Turner for the first time this month.
Mrs Exell said the correspondence started when Mrs Turner’s parents had a school teacher as a lodger.
“He asked Betty if she would like a pen friend in Australia and then he wrote to Horsham High School and I accepted to write to her,” she said. “That began the story of 71 years.”
Mrs Exell said their letters went by boat in the early days.
She said she also often sent food parcels because England was having hard times just after the Second World War. “In the later years, aerograms became available,” she said.
Eventually, the two women got to hear each others’ voices.
“We were corresponding for about 50 years when I noticed a phone number on a package she had sent, so I tried to phone her,” Mrs Exell said.
She said the first time she tried to call it didn’t work because she didn’t put the international code in front of the phone number. The second time she tried, Mrs Turner’s husband John answered the phone.
“I said to him I was Lesley from Australia and he called Betty straight away,” she said.
“She was so excited, she could hardly speak to me.”
In more recent years, the women’s sons connected them on Skype.
This month, Mrs Exell’s daughter Pam took her to England to finally meet her pen friend.
She said she was anxious and excited. “It was a marvellous adventure,” she said.
“We knew so much about each other but we had never seen each other.
“Betty kept saying ‘I can’t believe you’re here’.”
It was also Mrs Exell’s first time on a plane.
“I had never flown in my life,” she said.
Mrs Exell said highlights of her trip included going to Wimbledon and having high tea.