Relationships

Kiwi brothers celebrate 70 years of marriage with their wives together

Both love stories blossomed in South Auckland's dance halls during the late 1940s.

By Lynley Ward
Syd Sanders remembers the moment he proposed to his wartime sweetheart as their carriage rolled noisily through a pitch-black Auckland tunnel.
Younger brother Eric's engagement was equally memorable, buying a diamond ring and proposing to his ladylove on his 21st birthday.
Both love stories blossomed in South Auckland's dance halls during the late 1940s. Now spanning seven decades − and three dozen descendants − the devoted couples will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversaries within months of each other.
It's an impressive double milestone for the retired siblings, who recently reunited under the same roof to enjoy their twilight years at Bupa Erin Park Care Home and Retirement Village in Manurewa.
"It is special," reflects Syd's wife Coralee as the four sit down to reminisce about falling in love in post-war New Zealand.
"I don't think we imagined living this long when we were in our early 20s, but there was never any doubt in all of our minds that we'd still be together," adds sister-in-law Verna.
Eric and Verna married on November 16, 1948 at Papakura Anglican Church.
For Eric (91) and Verna (88), the first to celebrate their platinum anniversary in mid November, their romance began at a ball in the Windsor Theatre, Papakura.
"Eric had a sister who was a friend of mine and he brought her to the dance. We met, then the following week the phone rings and Noreen, his sister, says, 'Would you come to the dance with us? Eric has the car and said he'd take me if you come with us.' So that sort of went from there."
"That was the end of it," quips Eric cheekily.
The couple wed in 1948 and spent much of their married life in Rotorua, raising three boys and a girl.
It was a similar setting when an 18-year-old Coralee met her soldier beau Syd.
"We went to dances most Saturday nights," she recalls. "Syd was in the army then. He probably asked me to dance."
However, Syd had to put the brakes on their burgeoning relationship when he and Eric signed up for the J Force to serve in the Commonwealth occupation contingent in post-war Japan.
It was thanks to his mum playing Cupid that the couple's courtship, strained by the 9300km that separated them, rekindled on his return.
"When he was away for a couple of years, I wrote to him for a bit and then after a while, I thought, 'I won't bother', but when he was due to come home, his mother rang and asked me to come down to meet him, so I did. And from then on we went together, got engaged and then married," tells Coralee (88).
"I was quite surprised to see her with my mother at Papakura Station when I got home," recalls Syd (93), who takes great delight recounting the moment he popped the question.
"We got engaged on a train in a tunnel! We'd been into town and were coming back to Papakura and there was quite a long tunnel along the waterfront. It was dark but she couldn't say yes quick enough. And we've had a great life."
Syd and Coralee adore living close by to Eric and Verna once more.
Coralee tells the Weekly it's been easy to stay with the man who swept her off her feet as a teenager, saying, "He's a very placid man, he never rumbles and he always helped with the children when they were young. We've always been happy together − and still are!"
"You've got no choice now," teases Verna with a chuckle.
But when you ask Syd, he has nothing but praise for how his wife, with whom he has three boys, has helped make their union last so long.
"Being well looked after," reflects the former construction worker. "Meals were always right on time. A really good life, that's all you can say about it."
For Eric, who returned to New Zealand after witnessing the horrors of Hiroshima first-hand, meeting Verna and marrying was a fresh start to post-war life.
"It was great to have a partner to dance with," jokes the former army man, who posed as Syd's twin to be accepted into the occupation force.
"We used to race around Takanini Hall."
Syd and Coralee married at St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Manurewa on March 5, 1949.
But after decades living in Rotorua, where the pair shifted to work in catering at the Waipa Mill before starting a family and owning a number of businesses, Verna believes kindness remains the key to a lasting relationship.
"It's just caring for each other and give and take. I suppose you hear that from everybody."
"We've always seemed to work together," adds Eric. "A lot of people don't understand that while you've been working all day, your wife's been at home working all day too."
Now with their lives coming full circle as they share the same roof for the first time in 50 years, the couples are enjoying each other's company again.
"It was quite nice when we heard Verna and Eric were coming here because we've been here 10 years, so it's been really lovely," says Coralee.
Verna adds, "I said to her, 'Do you mind if we come here?' as I thought she might object."
"We didn't have time to put in an objection anyway," jokes Syd.
With the celebrations fast approaching, the couples pause over morning tea, treasuring the special bond they share. Reflects Verna, "I think as the years go by, you grow more and more attached. We've had a wonderful, wonderful life."
Adds Coralee, "It's about all we can ask for, isn't it?"

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