ABSENCE will not stop love burning brightly this Valentine’s Day for a Wrexham couple whose wedding hung in the balance – waiting for divorce papers to come through.
The nuptials in 1969 were mired in difficulties from the word go because church regulations prevented Anne and Frank Thomas from tying the knot at their desired venue and heavy snowfall made things even more difficult.
But the biggest problem for the couple was that they also faced an anxious wait for the groom’s divorce from his first wife to be finalised.
The decree absolute came through just in time for the couple’s big day to go ahead and the marriage remains a happy one some 52 years later despite Frank, 77, now residing at Pendine Park’s Hillbury care home due to the onset of dementia.
Anne, 75, would love nothing more than “to give Frank a kiss and a cuddle” to show the enduring love she has for her husband on Valentine’s Day and their wedding anniversary the following day.
At Hillbury Jack sleeps with a cushion which has a picture of him and Anne on it and she also has one at home – so they are never far from each other.
Reflecting on the events leading up to their wedding day, Anne said: “We were ready to run away if Frank’s divorce wasn’t finalised.
“Everything was booked and there were a lot of family members coming to the wedding, so I was worried sick we weren’t going to be able to get married that day.
“It wasn’t until a couple of days beforehand that we knew for sure we could hold the wedding, as his divorce had been finalised at last. It was a big relief.
“Then we had the worry about the weather. It was freezing and there was thick snow, with Frank’s family having to travel down from the Lake District to the wedding in Oswestry. I was ready to walk to the chapel if we couldn’t get there otherwise.”
The couple had wanted to get married at Oswestry Parish Church, but Church of England policies on marriage ceremonies for divorcees led to the wedding being held instead at Oswestry Methodist Chapel.
Man was still a few months away from first setting foot on the moon when Anne and Frank took the giant leap of getting married on February 15, 1969 – unusually thanks to Anne being the one to pop the question.
The relationship has stood the test of time. The couple have two daughters, Debra and Samantha, as well as Frank’s son, Malcolm, from his first marriage. They also have nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
But it owed much to a chance meeting at Anne’s family’s grocery shop in Morda, Oswestry, close to where Frank was stationed at Park Hall with the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment.
“He was too shy to ask me out so he got his friend to come in and do so on his behalf,” recalled Anne.
“I found him to be such a good person. He just wanted a fair world for everyone and would cry if he saw starving children on the television.
“We quickly fell in love and I wanted us to get married. Frank thought we could just live together, but at the time I knew that wasn’t something people would be happy about.
“It was me who proposed, although I didn’t get down on one knee. He said yes and we got married a few months later.
“I would have liked for us to have got married on Valentine’s Day, but couldn’t due it being on a Friday so we held it the day after.”
Anne grew up in Oswestry after her family moved from Yorkshire when she was a child, while Frank hailed from Cockermouth in the Lake District.
After being demobbed, Frank went on to enjoy a long career with Firestone and JCB in Wrexham as a machine operator.
Anne worked as a secretary with the Women’s Royal Air Force and later held various roles in care homes in the Wrexham area. She went on to enjoy working as a theatre receptionist at Wrexham Maelor Hospital.
The couple settled in Rhosddu, Wrexham, where Anne continues to live today.
But she has had to come to terms with the pain of Frank being diagnosed in recent years with dementia.
A deterioration in his health led to him moving into Hillbury last year, with Anne hailing the work performed by home staff.
“We decided to put the wheels in motion last May for Frank to move into a home. We thought we might have to wait months, but it only took three days for him to move into Hillbury,” said Anne.
“It has been heart-breaking to see what has happened to Frank, even though he is still physically strong and fit. However, we still get glimpses of the old Frank and his sense of humour.
“I cannot thank Hillbury enough for what they have done. The staff are so friendly and they perform such good work. It’s marvellous what they do.”
The pain of seeing Frank’s struggle with dementia has been compounded for Anne by lockdown restrictions due to Covid-19 preventing her from being able to go into the home.
“I have seen Frank from outside but I just want to be able to give him a kiss and a cuddle,” said Anne, who like Frank has received her first Covid vaccine.
“It is difficult not being able to see him on our wedding anniversary this year, but I’m so glad that for our 50th anniversary we held a party at The Lemon Tree in Rhosddu. It was such a nice occasion.
“We have had such a happy marriage. Frank’s been such a kind-hearted man and I can count on one hand the number of big rows we’ve had.”
Cindy Clutton, manager of Hillbury Care Home, said: “It is clear that Frank and Anne have enjoyed a long and happy marriage. She is devoted to him.
“Frank is very popular with the staff here at Hillbury and it is just a shame that his family cannot visit him in the home due to the Welsh Government’s lockdown restrictions with which we have to comply.”
“We have great sympathy for the family members of all our residents. We feel their pain.
“We do whatever we can to support family members and help them have contact with their loved ones at the home, such as through the use of Skype and WhatsApp.”