The world’s oldest penpals have both turned 100 after 84 years of transatlantic letters – and have now switched to Zoom.
Centenarians Geoff Banks from Honiton in Devon and Celesta Byrne from the USA started writing to each other aged just 16 in 1938.
They met as part of an educational project to put British and American students in contact – and 84 years later are still corresponding.
Former engineer Geoff even kept in touch during WW2 when he served as a mechanic on British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious in the Pacific.
They both turned 100 this year – and now keep in touch via video app Zoom.
They recently had their first call giving Geoff a break from putting pen to paper that he says he finds ‘difficult’ at his age.
It’s been so long that Geoff, a retired engineer, says he barely even remembers how they started talking, with the pair having only met for the first time in New York in 2002.
Geoff said: “I honestly struggle to remember how we got in touch, but I was talking to Celesta recently and I think it was something to do with an American school’s scheme.
“I was in my last year at grammar school I think, so I would have been about 16.
“They matched us up with Americans for a pen pal relationship, and somehow I ended up with this letter from an American girl, and we just kept corresponding ever since.
“There were a couple of years where we struggled to keep in touch because of the war, but some of my mail I had sent to her during the war was returned to her after it ended and she wrote me back.
“Now of course she is partially sighted, so I correspond mainly by email to one of her daughters who lives nearby. Email is much easier for me these days too because I can’t write very well anymore.
“We just talk about daily lives and our families really. I think in one of my early letters I sent her a copy of a British paper in 1953 which had Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on the front of it.
“She acknowledged receipt of that, but we generally just chat and put the world to rights you know. She’s a very interesting person.
“She’s always been there to write to, even if it was just birthday cards and Christmas cards.
“Celeste has had a number of children and unfortunately lost one recently, so we chat about family too – we don’t discuss the football though.”
Despite having chatted for decades, the pair have only ever met twice – first in 2002 while Geoff visited New York aged 80, and then again two years later.
At the time Celesta had lived in New Jersey, but she has since relocated to live near family in Texas.
Despite having such a unique relationship, the pair deny there was ever any romance there – both having been married with Geoff’s wife of 63 years having passed away in 2011.
Geoff is now a great grandfather, having sadly outlived his daughter but still having three sons scattered across the world and many more grandchildren.
Widower Geoff said: “I’d worked abroad for a number of years but had not been to the states for some time.
“Celesta was in New Jersey, so we decided to meet up in New York for a short Christmas trip.
“It was all very good, and actually we met up again in 2004 when she invited me to her house for lunch.
“I have this new thing called Zoom I think now to chat with her, but I leave all the technology to younger people. They’re much better at pressing all the buttons.”
Celesta said there has never been any hint of romance.
She said: “No, we’re just friends, like people who live next door. It’s nice to hear his voice.”