A great-grandmother who thought her fiancé had never received her letter accepting his marriage proposal has finally received his long-lost reply, 77 years after it was sent during World War II.
Phyllis Ponting from the UK recently received the surprising news that her husband-to-be, Bill Walker, had indeed responded to her proposal acceptance and had sent her a love letter telling her that he “wept with joy” upon reading it, according to a report by Metro.
It was clear from the letter how much Walker loved Ponting. “If you could only know how happy it made me, darling,” he wrote.
In a tragic twist of fate, however, Walker’s joyful response became lost at the bottom of the Atlantic for 77 years, after the steam-powered cargo ship that was carrying his letter was torpedoed by German submarines off the coast of Ireland. The attack killed all but one of the 84 crew members on board.
The ship was named Gairsoppa and was recently salvaged from the bottom of the ocean by Odyssey Marine Exploration, an American-backed firm under contract to the British government. The firm reported that the recovery of Gairsoppa was the heaviest and deepest recovery of a shipwreck ever made.
In addition to the 48 tons of silver the vessel was carrying, its cargo also included over 700 personal letters from British India, including the very special note from Walker.
It is not known whether Walker survived the war, but Ponting believes that he must have died. “I don’t think Bill can have survived the war, otherwise he would have been straight round to my address in Roseland Avenue,” she said when speaking to BBC’s The One Show.
“We would have been married. He loved me a lot.”
Up until the moment she received Walker’s letter, Ponting believed that her fiancé must have changed his mind about marrying her and stopped writing her letters. She told the BBC, “I can’t believe the letter was at the bottom of the sea and now I can read it.”
Ponting went on to marry Jim Holloway and had four children with him. After his death, she married Reginald Ponting. She now has seven great-grandchildren.
Walker’s letter, and the 700 other recovered notes and personal letters, are now part of an exhibit at London’s Postal Museum called “Voices from the Deep.”
Ponting has been given a copy of Walker’s letter to keep for herself.
Speaking about the remarkable haul from the Gairsoppa, the museum’s curator, Shaun Kingsley, said, “It's the largest collection of letters since people started to write to survive any shipwreck, anywhere in the world.
"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.”
Kingsley explained how “in the conservation lab, slowly and suddenly words started to appear. Some 700 letters written from British India in 1940."
There may still be many unanswered questions around Walker’s life and death, but at least Ponting can finally be sure that her marriage proposal acceptance was not only received but was joyfully cherished.