It started with a chip... and today Lakenheath couple mark 70 years anniversary
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Celebrating their 70th anniversary today, Don and Joan Leeke can still remember the very first words Don said to his future wife - “Give us a chip”.
They met as teenagers outside a fish and chip shop in Reading and have been together ever since.
Now aged 90 and 89, the platinum couple moved to Suffolk in 1988 and settled in Lakenheath.
With two sons, seven grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren their family has spread out around the world, with one of their grand-daughters, Tanya Battle, and her family living in Perth, Australia.
“We thought we were going into a different world when we moved up here,” said Joan, 89, yesterday. “Everybody stops and talks.”
She and Don, 90, are members of Lakenheath’s dinner club as well as the over-60s club.
They were engaged for a couple of years and went to London one day to choose a ring together before marrying in 1946.
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They were both born and brought up in Reading.
One night Joan got some fish and chips and Don happened to be waiting outside the shop.
“I came out with my fish and chips and he said ‘give us a chip’,” said Joan over the phone yesterday as Don laughs in the background.
They lived a 10-minute bike ride from each other. Both left school at 14: Don was a metal worker, while Joan worked in an office.
In fact, their lives could have been so different after a shocking event one Wednesday in 1942.
Joan worked in the middle of the town and one afternoon her workplace was hit by a German bomb.
“They dropped one right in the middle of the Reading shopping centre,” she recalled.
Her dad heard his daughter’s workplace had been hit and raced down in a panic, fearful for his daughter’s life.
“It landed right where I used to sit,” Joan said.
Her dad was trying to get in but wasn’t allowed.
“My dad said he stood there and they wouldn’t let him and he heard a lady say ‘thank the Lord it was Wednesday afternoon’,” she said.
The shopping centre was shut on Wednesday afternoons and the building was mostly empty, although a restaurant opposite was open and many people in there did lose their lives.
“It doesn’t bear thinking about being under all that brickwork,” said Joan. Her dad was very protective of Joan and her siblings. Her mum had 12 children, of whom 10 survived. Don’s mum had five children.
“Even when we were engaged my dad was ever so strict and I had to be in by 9pm,” Joan laughed.
They supported Reading football club and used to watch them play regularly together.
“When we think back on all those years it’s a long time,” said Joan.
Looking back on seven decades together, Don said: “She’s not a bad one – she’s put up with me for 70 years.”
He said he had a surprise planned for today but couldn’t say any more as his wife was sat right next to him.
Don was called up to the RAF in 1944 and celebrated his 90th birthday last year.
Joan is 89 but will be 90 in August.
“We’re lucky to be here at 90, both of us,” she said.
They bought their first house in Reading for £1,000. They later sold it and bought a bungalow before moving to Lakenheath 28 years ago.
It is a decision they don’t regret.
“It’s always lovely and everybody’s so friendly,” said Joan. “We have outings and go on all different trips – it’s wonderful.”