Message in a 70-year-old can

NICOLE SHARP
Last updated 14:59 25/02/2014
Southland Times photo
NICOLE SHARP/Fairfax NZ

Mataura man Stan White with his old penpal Aubrey Ledden’s son Geoff Ledden, of England, who travelled to meet his father’s penpal 70 years on. The pair spent two days reminiscing about the letters that were exchanged for five years during the war when Mr white began work at the Mataura freezing works.

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Sitting at his coffee table Stan White could not have pictured what has happened in the past six months, but it has left quite a story to tell.

He never imagined a spur of the moment decision 70 years ago would have an impact now.

As a 17-year-old he was working at the Mataura Freezing Works packing lamb livers into billies destined for butcher shops in England when he decided to put his name and address in the top of the billies he was packing, hoping that someone might respond.

It was a surprise when he had about 10 responses, one from Aubrey Ledden who was a sanitary inspector in Essex, England.

The letters were exchanged for five years between the pair but until October last year Mr White had forgotten he even had them.

It was not until Mataura Museum project manager David Luoni contacted him about his time at the freezing works, that he pulled them out of an old box and told the story of his English penpal.

Mr Luoni was thrilled with the find and when the museum was donated the letters they were put online, and it was then the connection was found.

Aubrey Ledden's son Geoff, was sent an email by his niece at the end of last year about the letter she had found after searching online for the Ledden family name.

Mr Ledden followed the link to discover five other letters exchanged between his father and Mr White and he then contacted Mr Luoni.

"I sent an email to David asking if he [Mr White] was still alive, and that if he was, I would love to meet him," Mr Ledden said.

The inquiry was passed on to Mr White and after that there was no stopping the pair with Mr Ledden and his wife Mary travelling to Mataura to meet Aubrey's penpal.

As Monday arrived there were many nerves between the men but as they began talking there were many stories to tell.

"It was really quite spectacular," Mr Ledden said.

Over the two days Mr Ledden and his wife were in town there were many laughs exchanged over cups of tea but the reality of finding each another had still not sunk in.

Mr Ledden was 4 years old when Mr White and his father began writing to each other, which included Mr White sending food parcels to the Ledden family containing manuka honey, which Mr Ledden still has a taste for.

The letters, which can be read at is.gd/lLEdQy, tell a wonderful story of the impact of World War II.

Mr White said he still could not believe what his letters sent 70 years ago have lead to, and he was overwhelmed with meeting Mr Ledden.

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