Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

After 70 years of marriage war stories still loom large

Tom, 92, and Carol Sandford, 95, were married during the war, when "everything was in very, very short supply", he says.
Tom, 92, and Carol Sandford, 95, were married during the war, when "everything was in very, very short supply", he says.

After 70 years of marriage, Tom Sandford admits he has forgotten the details. Asked how he proposed to wife Carol all those years ago, he pauses, before laughing heartily: "Oh, I can't remember."

Mr and Mrs Sandford, of Howick, celebrate their platinum wedding anniversary today.

The pair got married after a whirlwind romance which started just a few weeks before a young Mr Sandford left for the World War II Solomon Islands campaign, in 1942.

A friend, Mervyn, had arranged a dinner and invited his cousin from Wellington - Carol - along too.

Mr Sandford was instantly impressed. "I thought she was very nice ... we had the same interests."

Mr Sandford, who grew up in Herne Bay and Papatoetoe, was a medic and before he went to the Solomons he asked Carol's mother for her daughter's hand in marriage.

"I was quite nervous, being a young fella," he laughed. "Carol's father had died before I was on the scene.

"It was my final leave before I went overseas and I called her, [because] she was in Wellington." She gave Mr Sandford her blessing and before going to war for two years, he bought an engagement ring and sold his motorbike for 35 to help pay for it.

The couple wrote to each other every week and the day the mail came was always "the big day" for them, Mr Sandford said.

In 1944, on his return to New Zealand, he had his own big day, but it was far from the glitz and glamour of weddings today.

Mrs Sandford wore a dress her mother made and a hat she designed herself; having worked as a milliner for several years.

"It was war years. People just don't understand war years - you couldn't get anything," he said.

"We were married in a registry office. Everything was in very, very short supply."

The couple lived in a small flat in Grey Lynn before moving to Mt Albert and later Howick, where they still stay today.

Mr Sandford went on to work in retailing, while Mrs Sandford continued to work as a milliner. She still owns a huge collection of hats and is known as "the lady with the hat".

Daughter Colleen said it was a blessing to see her parents reach such a milestone.

She and older brothers John and Mervyn had heard all the stories growing up, including the one in which their mother would check the daily newspaper for the names of those men at war who were missing or had been killed in action - praying her fiance's name was not there.

"There's also the story where American soldiers would come into the shop Mum was working in and ask [the shop assistants] out. She would put her hand up to show her ring and they'd walk right back out."

Mr and Mrs Sandford are active members of the Howick Community Church and it is their faith that has kept them together for so long, Mr Sandford said. "Well, I don't know about other marriages. All I can speak of is mine - ours. And I put that down to our Christian beliefs and our love for one another."

Asked what he planned to give his wife on their anniversary, he whispered: "I don't know - it's very expensive. I can't talk here," he laughed, hinting that his wife was listening.

- NZ Herald

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