A pair of trans-Atlantic pen pals who have been swapping monthly letters for a staggering 55 years have finally switched – to email.
British Penny Townsend, 65, and American Bonnie Hoffman, 67, have chronicled their entire lives in touching notes penned to each other since they were at primary school.
The young girls first swapped letters in 1958, aged 11 and 12, when they were introduced through a pen pal Penny’s mother started writing to during WW2
Despite living almost 4,000 miles apart the pair quickly became friends and agreed to send one letter each a month.
As children they compared their teachers, favourite school subjects and hobbies, then in their teens they gossiped about boyfriends and popstar crushes.
In later years, Penny, who never married, has been able to share in Bonnie’s stories of births, marriages, children and her grandchildren.
Incredibly the penfriends have stuck to word for more than half a century – sending a whopping 2,000 letters in total.
But the correspondents have now sent their final hand-penned note to each other after agreeing to make the permanent switch to emails.
The pair said they would miss putting pen to paper – but they plan to be in touch more regularly now.
Retired Penny, who used to work in potteries, said: “When we were children we would write about school and what we were studying and then as we went into our teens we would talk about boyfriends and fashion.
“Bonnie was always a Pat Boone fan, as I loved Cliff Richard. We have never in 55 years run out of things to talk about.
“We were so much like each other in our ways. It was uncanny.
“We now both have computers which is great because you we can send each other letters more regularly and keep each other posted on more of the little things.
“It isn’t really the same as getting the old letters but we can now stay in touch so much easier.
“We now contact each other at least two times a week. The main thing which is great with e-mail is the pictures. I love seeing the children grow up.
“The world has changed so much since we were little girls and we have to embrace new technology. There just isn’t the need for letters like there used to be.
“It is amazing how much technology we have nowadays – we’re even thinking about trying out Skype next.”
Their pen pal friendship was sparked in May 1958 when Penny’s mother received a food ration from a “Mrs Knowlmiller” in the US, at the end of the war.
Penny’s mother wrote to thank her and they became penfriends, before helping their daughters find pals on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
Penny from Rushenden, Kent, then aged 11, was quickly paired up with family friend of Mrs Knowlmiller, Bonnie.
Penny was invited to mother-of-two Bonnie’s wedding in Ohio in 1967 but was unable to fly out and meet her for the first time due to lack of funds.
But in August 1981 the dependable friends did finally manage to meet in person – cementing their incredible connection.
Penny, who has visited Bonnie eight times in 55 years, added: “When I visit I take over fruitcake because they don’t have that over there and I would often send British recipes.
“Bonnie sends me Hershey Bars, which are American chocolate bar which for a long time you couldn’t get over here.
“Before Woolworths closed down I would often send the traditional pick and mix.”
Penny’s father was a Lancaster bomber pilot who died on a good-will mission in 1948 when lightening struck his plane.
Bonnie has two children Stephanie and Ben, in their 40s, and four grandchildren Sam, 12, Jackson, 8, Vivienne,three, Harrison, two.
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