Mary and Les celebrate love that's lasted for 70 years
A hero wartime RAF Lancaster pilot and his wife are celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary this week – thanks to a chance chat on a train that reunited them.
Les and Mary Harlow, both 92, had known each other since they were six years old and enjoyed a few dates in their early teens.
A young Les even told his sister that one day he would marry Mary – but they went their separate ways and lost touch.
Soprano singer Mary won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music when she was 16 and, later as the Second World War broke out, Les joined the RAF and went to America to train as a pilot.
Mary's family moved and Les never expected to see his first true love again.
But in 1941 he was on a train from London heading home to Chester when he started chatting to a fellow RAF serviceman who was a complete stranger sitting opposite him.
The stranger knew Mary and told Les where she now lived – and he turned up on her doorstep.
Former concert singer Mary said: "I was going out with someone else at the time but when he came along it was different."
Les said: "If it wasn't for that conversation on the train I doubt I'd have seen her again.
"It looked like we were meant to be together."
The couple married on September 18, 1943, and Les stayed in the RAF until the end of the war flying numerous daylight raids deep into Germany and surviving countless attacks by enemy fighters.
His bravery earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross and in 2000 he and his six-man crew, nicknamed The Magnificent Seven, were recognised as the last fully surviving Bomber Command crew.
Ex-British Airways pilot Les said: "I think she's lovely. My wish came true when I was a lad."
Mary said ahead of their platinum wedding celebrations in their home town of Sidmouth, Devon: "Les is special, there is nobody else like him."
And their secret of a long and happy marriage ? Mary said: "Being friends. We just cannot imagine anything else."
Les, who survived 36 gruelling bombing missions over Germany during the war, said he first met Mary when they were six and his family moved to North Wales after his father died.
He said: "I was born near Sheffield but my mother moved us back there after my father died. My mother then died when I was eight. My sister and I moved to our aunt's farm at Flint.
"But I went to boarding school and we did not see each other for a while.
"But when I was 16 years old I came back and I saw her again. We started a teenage romance. And Mary's family moved to Flint too.
"But then the war broke out. I wanted to be a doctor but I joined the RAF. I went to the USA to train. Mary had moved to London at 16 with her music scholarship.
"In 1941 I was taking a train from London to Chester and got chatting to another RAF man who was a complete stranger. We discussed various things.
"He said he knew a Mary Catherall and knew she had moved and had her address. He was a total stranger who lived in the same local area. So I went to her home in St Annes at Blackpool. She was with someone else at the time. But we were married in 1943 in Blackpool and had our honeymoon in the Lake District."
Mary said: "I did not know who this stranger was on the train who knew me and where my family had moved and we never did find out who he was.
"Les turned up on my door. I was with someone else. But my younger sister said 'I will go out with him' – but I went out with Les."
Les said he was not really worried about tying the knot during the war saying: "I had a crew of seven and we all had a lot of confidence in each other.
"I taught them all to fly the Lancaster, just in a case a bomb went off and six of us did not make it, then the last one would be able to fly it." Amazingly in 2000 Les and his six comrades, dubbed the Magnificent Seven, were recognised as the last fully surviving Bomber Command Crew. Now, just Les and bomb aimer Jimmy Reilly are still alive – and they were the older ones in the crew, which was based at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.
Les said his crew survived near misses during the 30 missions they flew together – Les flew half a dozen with other crewmen.
One night his rear gunner reported an enemy German fighter on their tail and he flew the Lancaster for several minutes before making a turn and two of the bomber's gunners shot down the enemy plane.
Les said: "I thought he was waiting for us but he must not have seen us. We had a few near misses but that was quite a funny one."
The couple are having a quiet celebration to toast their 70th wedding anniversary before a big family party next weekend with their two daughters, Catherine and Pamela, and their four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.