A love that never died
'We feel as though we are 18 again'ABBIE NAPIER
They say true love lasts a lifetime. Few couples have proved that sentiment better than Beckenham’s Bernie Bluett and her British beau.
A world war, 20,000 kilometres and 72 years could not snuff out the flame of a forbidden 1940s romance.
British-born Bernie Bluett (nee Hammond) was a teenager working as a dressmaker when World War II broke out.
In 1943, aged 18, she was conscripted to the Royal Air Force as a triage nurse and sent to Wales, patching up air crews and pilots as they flew back from Europe.
Across the ditch, Bernie’s first cousin Robert was a career soldier serving in Paris.
The pair had fallen madly in love in 1940 before Robert went off to war.
‘‘There was something between us. We didn’t say a word, but there was a terrific attraction,’’ Bernie said from her Beckenham home.
A few years later, RAF nurse Bernie spotted a letter from Robert on her aunt’s mantelpiece. She scribbled down his address and wrote him a letter.
The letter sparked a tidal wave of love letters back and forth across the English Channel.
‘‘Our parents, however, did not approve.’’
One day all of a sudden, Robert’s letters stopped, with no warning, no explanation.
Bernie was stationed at a post-war rehabilitation centre, and it was there she met Roy Bluett – a Kiwi bomber pilot who had spent most of his war recovering from a crash which shattered both his legs.
‘‘He was quiet, quite shy really. I guess, I thought I would look after him.
‘‘When you’re 22, you think it’s an adventure.’’
In 1947 Roy asked Bernie to marry him.
Bernie hadn’t heard from Robert in two years, and a month later she said yes.
By 1948 they were married and Bernie had followed Roy to Christchurch.
She has lived here ever since.
‘‘I have had a lovely marriage, a great life here,’’ she said.
Bernie didn’t hear from Robert again until a few years ago when they were put in touch, when a nephew who had decided to finish the family tree.
Robert had Bernie’s phone number, and the two spoke for the first time in 70 years.
‘‘I didn’t know what I would say when I was waiting for that call. It had been too long, too much time had gone by.
‘‘When I answered the phone, all he wanted to know was what had happened to me. He asked me what he did wrong.
‘‘I didn’t say anything, I just burst into tears.’’
Back in the 1940s, never having said a word, Bernie’s disapproving parents had intercepted their letters. For the rest of their lives, Robert thought Bernie had abandoned him and she thought the same of him.
‘‘We were absolutely devastated.
‘‘It is an awful thing to interfere in someone’s life like that. Just awful. All the time we lost.
‘‘We have both had good marriages, good lives. But we always wondered what happened.
‘‘It’s a terrible thing.’’
Robert and Bernie, now in their late 80s and both widowed, talk on the phone for hours every day, catching up on their lost years and planning their remaining ones.
Just like he did in the 1940s, Robert still writes Bernie love letters, ‘‘pages and pages’’ long.
In April, Bernie is flying to England to marry Robert, with the blessing of her three children.
‘‘We may only have a year together but it’s a year we never had.
‘‘We are both old, both unwell, but we feel as though we are 18 again. Happiness is everything.
‘‘Needless to say, he is a hopeless romantic and so am I."