Reunited couple get flood of messages

01:43, Jan 31 2009

A couple reunited after more than 60 years apart say they are staggered by the reaction to their engagement, fielding congratulations from a Cabinet minister and friends across the globe.

The Dominion Post reported the story of Phil O'Neill and Joan Dean, both 85, who became engaged 68 years after splitting up, when Mrs Dean's father forbade her from seeing Mr O'Neill.

"It's been very nice. I got a ring from Canada from a friend who read about it on the Internet," Mr O'Neill said yesterday. "We've had I don't know how many messages ... We've had a very very good reaction."

The couple are both widowed and their extended families were a "little bit shocked" by the level of interest in their story, but their combined brood of nine children, 23 grandchildren and "numerous" great-grandchildren had been fully supportive since they became engaged two months ago.

Palmerston North marriage celebrant Dorothy Booth was so taken by the story of the couple's engagement that she offered her services at their upcoming wedding. "I just felt excited for them and thought I had something to offer them."

But her offer was politely declined as Mr O'Neill and Mrs Dean have already arranged a minister to conduct the service.


News of their pending nuptials also drew an enthusiastic reaction from dignitaries attending yesterday's Battle of Crete commemorations, with "all eyes on Joan" at the service's conclusion.

Mr O'Neill and 90-year-old Maori Battalion veteran Arthur Midwood laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior to mark the 67th anniversary of the Battle of Crete.

Nearly 700 New Zealand soldiers were killed in the battle of Crete, during which Mr O'Neill was taken prisoner.

"I've got a lot of admiration for the men who served on Crete ... We were being strafed to hell," he said.

The Dominion Post