True love does endure...
In the sitting room of Eileen and Warner Billington’s home, the black and white photograph on the right takes pride of place.
It shows the couple as teenage sweethearts, cuddled up in a photobooth during a charabanc outing to the seaside at Rhyl, North Wales, in 1950.
You would naturally assume that Eileen, now 78, and Warner, 79, had been together ever since.
In fact, they married only two years ago – after spending six decades apart.
The first part of their love story ended in heartbreak, after Eileen’s father ruled that, at 18 and 19, they were too young to get married. Both went on to enjoy happy marriages, have children, celebrate their golden weddings and become grandparents.
But they never forgot each other – and Eileen always treasured that photobooth snap, even asking her sister to look after it in case her husband asked her to destroy it.
Six decades later, after both were widowed, Eileen and Warner met again through a mutual friend.
They realised they still wanted to be together and, with nothing now to stop them, finally got married.
Yesterday Eileen said: ‘It’s as though we’ve never been apart. As well as loving each other, we are good companions, just like when we first met. In fact, we are just like an old married couple.’
The couple grew up in Smethwick, West Midlands. They met in 1950 after Warner, 17, noticed Eileen Lockley, then 16, walking down the street with her sister Margaret, whose boyfriend was a friend of his.
‘I saw her and I was smitten,’ said Warner. ‘I waited for them to come out of Margaret’s boyfriend’s house and come back up the road.
‘I got a pair of garden shears and pretended to cut the hedge outside my parents’ house. When they passed, I said, “Hello Margs, who’s that with you?” and we got talking.’ Shortly afterwards, Warner enlisted in the RAF and was stationed at St Athan in South Wales. Eileen, an aspiring tap dancer, worked for the gas board and performed in pantomimes.
Eventually Warner wrote to Eileen and asked her out on their first date. After that they wrote to each other every day.
Two years later they decided to become engaged, but Eileen’s widowed father said they were too young. Warner said: ‘I thought Eileen’s father was wrong, but I didn’t propose. Somehow, we just parted after that. It was my fault, I just went my own way.’
In 1956, Eileen married Jack Lenton. They had a son and a daughter and ran a hotel in Newquay, Cornwall. Jack died in 2006.
Meanwhile Warner got married, to Gillian, in 1957. The couple had three sons and were together for 53 years until Gillian died in 2010.
Eileen and Warner did not see or speak to each other after they split, but a friend of Warner’s used to stay at Eileen’s hotel and she would always ask how Warner was.
After the friend told Eileen about Warner’s bereavement they picked up the phone and spoke again for the first time in six decades.
A year later, Warner plucked up the courage to ask Eileen to visit him at his home in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands.
Eventually, with the approval of both families, Warner moved in with Eileen in Newquay, and on December 6, 2011, they married.
Warner said: ‘We both often wondered about what might have happened if things had worked out differently. But we don’t dwell on it now. We are both reasonably fit and healthy for our ages and are looking forward not backward.’