Special relationship

Special relationship

A British grandmother has met her American pen pal – nearly 70 YEARS after she posted an advert in a New York newspaper looking for a long-distance friendship.

Joyce Vosper was a 15-year-old schoolgirl when she placed an ad in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1947.

Joyce’s ad said she ”is 15 and a half years and my hobby is collecting film stars’ pictures. I’m very interested in writing to a friend in the USA”.

New Yorker Eileen Schreiber, 14, saw the notice and wrote to Joyce – the first of hundreds of letters the pair would exchange over the years.

As their special relationship blossomed caring Eileen sent candy and clothes to her English pen pal to ease the conditions of post-war Britain.

Their correspondence has endured for decades and Eileen, now 82, decided to go one step further and visit the UK to meet Joyce, 83.

Joyce, of Plymouth, Devon, said: ”I thought one day I would like to travel and the way to do that was to make some friends around the world and to find out what the world was like.”

Eileen added: “We would talk about our everyday life – what we felt about the war. We weren’t as close to the war whereas Joyce was right next to it.

“We explained to our neighbours that there was this family that had nothing, not even a father, and my mother would send out these great big boxes with dresses, candy bars and things hidden in the coats.”

Joyce, or Joycey to her friends, originally decided to write to the US after losing her father in 1945.

The heartbroken teenager thought she could get over her loss by making friends around the world and was thrilled when she received a reply.

Her letter, addressed to one of the Daily Eagle’s reporters Helen Worth, was printed in full on page 10 of the Monday, March 31 1947 edition.

It read: “On reading your article in the paper I thought you’d be able to help me to get a pen friend in America.

“My age is 15 and a half years and my hobby is collecting film stars’ pictures. I’m very interested in writing to a friend in the USA. Hoping you will oblige and to hear from you or pen pal soon.”

Eileen and Joyce wrote to each other constantly but the correspondence nearly ended when they lost touch in middle age, only to be saved by the advent of the internet.

They had not exchanged a letter a few years after losing one another’s details but Eileen used the web to look up details for Joyce’s family.

Eileen, a former data analyst for IBM, said: “The computer came in and I started looking for Joyce but I couldn’t remember her married name.

“I started looking on the internet and I sent an email to a man named Colin Launder. It turned out to be Joyce’s brother who she was living with at the time so he put us back in touch.

“That’s the thing that surprised me – I thought she might have decided that she didn’t want to write to me anymore but she did.”

When Brooklyn resident Eileen heard Joyce was being raised singled-handled by her mother as one of nine children she begged her own family to help.

Eileen’s parents gathered clothing, food and other essentials and posted them to England – an act of kindness that Joyce has never forgotten.

Later Joyce, nee Launder, married a widower, Walter Vosper, at the age of 21 and had two step daughters and two girls of her own while Eileen married and had two daughters and two sons.

After losing her husband of 33 years, Ray, in December and having open-heart surgery in May, Eileen finally decided to book a flight to Britain.

Joyce added: “I was amazed that she came because I was afraid that something would happen – but she’s a tough old bird, she really is.”

Eileen’s daughter, Maureen, added: “It’s like she’s come alive again since she got to Plymouth.”

Joyce – who exchanged over 400 letters with Eileen – said she decided to write to the paper after her father William, a fisherman, died aged 45.

She said: “I just wanted to write to someone after everything so I wrote to the paper in the hope of finding an American pen pal.

“Life went on and we lost touch for a few years but it was great when we managed to get back in contact in the 90’s.

“Eileen was crying. We’ve shared a lot over the years and it’s been so lovely having her here.”

American Eileen has been staying in Plymouth, Devon, with her daughter Maureen, 60, for the past week.

Joyce added: “Eileen is just incredible, she had a heart operation before she came out in May and I thought she may not be able to come.

“We’ve had such an amazing time. I’m going to be really sad to see her leave but we’ve had some lovely trips out.”