A GRIEVING Wigton man has paid tribute to the teenage sweetheart he finally married after fate brought them together 52 years later.

Speaking at his home in Longthwaite Crescent, John Thorndike, 78, described how their epic love story was cruelly cut short with the news that his first love had passed away unexpectedly after a short illness.

A heartbroken John described how he and wife, Pat, 77, had lived life to the full during their six-and-half year marriage.

"I can't believe she has gone. I am absolutely devastated. She was my first love and the love of my life. We were meant to be together. This was totally out of the blue and it has shattered me," added John.

John Thorndike was 20 when he met and fell in love with fellow shoe factory worker Patricia Payne, 19.

The pair became engaged in their home town of Maryport, Cumbria – but then John decided to switch careers and in 1963 he joined the Army.

He was sent to a remote part of Gambia, west Africa, for a year and had no way of staying in touch with Pat. They drifted apart, met new partners, married and had children.

Pat had two daughters in Wigton. After meeting John again she said: “I loved him all the time. I was heartbroken when he left all those years ago.”

John married twice, lived in Northern Ireland and England and had two daughters and a son. His second wife died four years ago after 35 years together. But in a beautiful twist of fate the former sweethearts met up again.

When John held a 70th birthday party two years ago, he got chatting to one of the guests.To his amazement, the young woman turned out to be Pat’s daughter Julie Hall.

A reunion was arranged and their love was soon rekindled.

And in Spring 2015 John, then 72, and Pat, 71, tied the knot at St Mark’s Methodist Church in Maryport, watched by around 30 family and friends.

At the time John recalled: “I was sick of the job I was in and I decided to go in the Army. Pat was upset about it. I told her we’d get married and get married quarters together. But then I got a long posting away and that was that, we drifted apart. She loved her husband and I loved my wife.

“It must have been a hundred million to one chance that Julie came to my 70th.

“If I hadn’t spoken to her I wouldn’t have met Pat again and we wouldn’t be married. But it’s fate – it had to be.”

A delighted Pat was quoted as saying at the time “This is a dream come true.”

Now John is contemplating a future without Pat. "I have to think of the time we spent together and how special it was. We did a lot of travelling. Pat had always wanted to go on cruises and that is what we did. We had a lot of time to make up together."

Then about six weeks ago Pat was taken to the Cumberland Infirmary as she was suffering from dehydration, but John said a body scan revealed his beloved wife had breast cancer. "I told the doctors not to tell her, saying I would do it, but they told her and she became hysterical. Because of Covid I was unable to visit Pat, but kept in touch by telephone. She was crying all the time to come home, and in the end we managed to get her transferred to Cockermouth Hospital so they could build her up physically for an operation. But she went downhill before my eyes and weighed about four stones. I could see she was dying, and she passed away at 8am on Monday of this week."

"I could not have wished for a better wife. We had a little time together, but I would rather that than not have spent anytime with her at all. We were happy and I recall when I proposed to her in Carlisle Cathedral she said 'I have always loved you John'."

"Pat will be cremated on Tuesday, June 15 at Carlisle Crematorium and I will dress her in her wedding dress."