Pen Pals Forever

Letters -- Hampton To Newcastle

By Vern Colby

Seacoast Scene, April 2, 1986

Pen pals finally meet
Alistair Gilray & John Holman
Patricia Gilray & Connie Holman
October 1985 in Boston

Really, it's rather a remarkable record. John Holman of Hampton wrote his first letter to Patricia Holman of Newcastle, Islington, New South Wales, Australia, and received a reply within a month. That was 40 years ago [1946-1986].

Last September, John and Connie Holman travelled to Boston with another Seacoast couple to spend the day with Patricia Holman Gilray and her husband, Al -- the scheduling planned by the "Down Under" Gilray's as an important part of their lengthy vacation to visit our East and West Coasts, Hawaii .....

This is John Holman's side of a pen pal relationship that is edging now toward the half-century mark -- and represents many letters that had to travel half around the world to it destination.

School teachers of the days when this enduring correspondence started would shudder at the revelation of origin that John gives us. Although, as the oldest Biblical human nature story teaches us; it was Eve who offered the apple to Adam.

On a warm day, as students begin to ponder the delights of school's closing -- for surely, it was spring -- 17 year old John was reading a comic book at Hampton Academy (& High School). In his copy of Action Comics was a letter from a girl in Australia, asking for a pen pal in the states. Perhaps it was curiosity about a girl with the same family name, so far away -- or perhaps it was the lilac-scented springtime here. At any rate, he wrote, and she replied.

"It always made a pleasant day to receive a letter from Patricia -- she seemed interested in many things, we found some mutual interest, she was sort of like the 'girl next door.' Matter of fact, she married the boy next door. Today, Alistair Gilray is a hotel manager on the largest passenger ship in Australia -- The Tasmania -- running between Devenport, Tasmania and Melbourne, Victoria."

Like the writing of letters to family and friends, John Holman doesn't claim the pen pal letter writing was fast and furious through the years. "Sometimes we wouldn't write for awhile, but we seldom forgot birthdays and Christmas. We didn't have any particular exchange of pictures -- however, once Pat sent a photo of herself jumping in the Pacific -- couldn't see her too well, the picture was taken at a distance."

"She had an interest in U. S. stamps, and I'd collected for awhile, so we exchanged some stamps and I was able to get some stamps she needed."

"As time went by, we both learned about the geography and histories of the countries. Through the mails we'd play some trivia games -- naming capitals, identifying famous people and events .... Once I sent her a newspaper clipping of an elephant riding in the back of a truck in Sydney, Australia, and she'd not seen that in her local press. Patricia sent me Australian T-shirts with pictures of a kangaroo and a map. I returned a T-shirt gift with the seal of New Hampshire. When I was in the service, she wrote very regularly, and that meant a great deal to me."

"After all the years of writing, it was exciting to make plans to meet Patricia and her husband, and for them to meet my wife, Connie and me. We met in the lobby of a Boston area Ramada Inn. It turned out that I could have picked her out in a crowd immediately -- but to avoid any confusion, we walked into the lobby carrying a tape recorder playing "Waltzing Matilda." For welcoming gifts, Connie and I carried samples of Hampton Beach sand, saltwater, and salt-air. Then we spent the day touring the city, sharing meals together."

"Driving home to Hampton that September evening, we talked about the fact that the meeting might have been a disappointment, but that all of us had gotten along beautifully. It had been a wonderful day!"

"Since their return to Australia, Patricia's letters have been full of enthusiasm, also. She wrote, 'One of the best times of my life!'"

"They've sent us a warm and friendly invitation to come over and visit them. We want very much to do this, and are planning to do it, and looking into the trip. If we do, then one way or another, we'll see the Pearl Harbor Memorial -- we've always wanted to visit there. In the meantime, she's sending all sorts of books and magazines about Australia -- even scenic calendars, and as added enticement, a toy koala bear and baby."

The Holman's have filled their days with interesting experiences. Both, with the Mills family of Hampton, presented the Ho-Mills Puppets to churches, homes .... his 12 skilled and dedicated years as the curator of Hampton's Tuck Memorial Museum was a fine contribution to the community, and to this writer and others.

I envy my friend the enrichment and the pleasures he's had from having a pen pal. It made me consider that it's never too late to start something new. It's likely that a copy of this paper will go to Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. Let's all send best regards to Patricia and Alistair Gilray. They seemed to be grand folks!

A Letter From Australia

A Memorial Day Message

By Vern Colby

Seacoast Scene, May 21, 1986

Recently, we wrote a story about pen pals. It concerned a 40 year correspondence between John Holman of Hampton and Patricia Gilray of Australia, and their meeting with their families, last summer In Boston. Only the other day, we received a reply ourselves from faraway Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.

It is a pleasure to print this fascinating follow up. There is a lesson for the learning. John Holman's and Pat Gilray's correspondence started through an act of friendship and hospitality, extended by Pat's mother to U.S. Servicemen far from home during World War II.

Memorial Day would be a fine time to write to relatives, friends or neighbors in the armed services away from home. Or to visit a veterans' hospital. Or to invite someone from the services for a Sunday dinner. There are many who serve, or have served and suffered in our area. That, I think is the truest message of the letter here printed.

Incidentally, if any of this has inspired you to desire a way to find a pen-pal, our research indicated that children or young adults may obtain help from their schools. For adults, we discovered that some libraries -— Hampton's Lane Memorial Library for sure -- have an Encyclopedia of International Societies offering pen pals for many interests; lots of residents of many countries, pet lovers, prison inmates, you name it!

April 25, 1986
Dear Mr. Colby,
Thank you for the article on John Holman and myself. I was so very pleased when it arrived in the mail recently from John.

How It began.

In 1942 during the second World War, my mother was on a bus coming home from town, when she saw two young American Servicemen riding on the bus (for something to do). There were hundreds of American Servicemen in Newcastle during the war. My mother being a very friendly person asked them about themselves. Realizing they were young men away from their families, my mother invited them home for dinner, if they would like to come some time. My mother gave them our address. The next evening they arrived and our family had a very happy time with them. Being only 12 and seeing how well mannered these U.S. Servicemen were, I felt that I would like a pen friend in the U.S.A. I mentioned this to them. They gave me the address out of a U.S. Comic Book [Action Comics] to write to, requesting pen friends. This I did immediately (1942) I sent the letter by surface mail. I suppose it is a wonder it ever arrived, because of all the activities of the war in the Pacific at that time.

Later, 1946

In the middle of 1946 when I came home from my place of employment there on the table was a large pile of letters all for me from the U.S.A. It had taken four years for my name to appear in the Comic Magazine. With the help of friends, we answered all the letters. Amongst the letters was one from John Holman (my surname was then Holman). This of course caused a lot of excitement in our home to hear from a John Holman in the U.S.A., especially when my brother was called John Holman (and he had just been recently discharged from the Australian Army).

After John returned home, we kept on writing to each other. Then John wrote and told me abut an amazing pen that had been invented. One did not need a nib to write with ink any more, it had a round ball on it called a "ball point pen." John sent me one as a present and I was amazed how it worked. My first ballpoint pen from my pen friend.

Then October 1985 last year my dream came true, I visited the United States with my husband Alistair. We met John and Connie, and what an exciting day it was (and still is in my memory).

We learned a lot about each other, and more about each others country. My husband and I are so very happy that we met these wonderful Americans.

I know that some day we will meet again.

Thank you again for the article.
Patricia (Holman) Gilray