A meeting of pen pals 49 years in the making

Carol Lewis of Roydon (on left) with pen friend Annette Nighuis in New Zealand meet for the first time after 48 years of letter writing.
Carol Lewis of Roydon (on left) with pen friend Annette Nighuis in New Zealand meet for the first time after 48 years of letter writing.

On March 26, 1966, Carol Lewis, then aged 15, wrote a letter to her new pen friend, who lived in New Zealand, for the very first time.

Having stayed in regular contact for just under 49 years since then, Mrs Lewis, now living in Roydon, explains how her first ever in-person meeting with her friend Annette Nighuis earlier this year was like finding “the long lost sister she never had” and says it was an experience not many people are likely to have nowadays.

“When we finally met, it was just so overwhelming,” she said.

“We have been writing letters all this time. We recognised each other straight away and we couldn’t stop crying.”

The pair first began communicating after Mrs Lewis became involved in a pen friend project at her secondary school in north Essex.

They proceeded to send each other two to three letters every year from then on, exchanging photographs and mementos such as calendars all the while.

Mrs Lewis said other members of her family had met Annette on previous occasions, including her late husband Clive, well known in the Norfolk community as a former coach at East Harling Football Club, back in 1989, as well as two of her sons and their families many years later.

However, it was not until earlier this year that Mrs Lewis was finally urged by her family to make the meeting happen, prompting a journey to Tauranga in the North Island of New Zealand.

“I couldn’t believe I was going all the way to New Zealand. I was feeling nervous and a bit apprehensive about it all,” she said.

“But they made me feel so welcome. She took me to so many places – she took me to the house she lived in when she first started writing the letters, and to her primary school.

“It was the trip of a lifetime and I am so glad I did it now.”

Mrs Lewis added: “It’s quite a unique experience. Obviously, in today’s society, it’s all emails, but I think it’s very personal writing letters.

“We are both the same age and we are just so much alike in our ways. It was such a wonderful experience.”

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