Support is the secret to 70 years together

Fred and Phyllis Thomas
Fred and Phyllis Thomas

A WILLINGDON couple who had their first date at the Luxor Cinema in Langney Road in 1938 have celebrated 70 happy years of marriage.

Retired police officer Fred Thomas and his wife Phyllis have lived in Willingdon for 46 years after bringing up their children in Greenfield Road in Old Town.

Fred, now 93, is the last survivor of the prewar Eastbourne County Borough Police. He was a superintendent the force and continued working as a police officer when Sussex Constabulary, which later became Sussex Police, came in to force in 1968. Fred retired in June 1970 after 32 years of service.

It was while Fred was working as a police officer, at the age of 21, that he met Phyllis.

He said, “I was doing traffic duty for a whole week outside the railway station in Terminus Road and every day, just before 9am, this pretty young lady came cycling towards me, pedalling towards the seafront.

“I stopped her every day and she gave me a disdainful look.”

Phyllis was late for her job at Bobbys, now Debenhams, and was unimpressed with Fred stopping her while she was cycling to work.

But a smitten Fred made enquiries and found out Phyllis was the daughter of one of his colleagues.

He then waited for her outside Bobbys and asked her out to the cinema.

The couple married at St Mary’s Church in Old Town on April 23, 1941, and went on to have children Bryan, now 69, Sandra, 67, and Pauline, 64.

Fred and Phyllis have been made grandparents to four and great-grandparents to two.

Phyllis and Fred say the secret to a long and happy marriage has been supporting each other in their separate interests and activities.

Phyllis is the sole surviving founder member of the YWCA and YMCA Young Wives Club, which used to be based in Bolton Road, but moved to Ocklynge Road 40 years ago and has now been re-named as the Ladies Club.

During her time at the YMCA she worked alongside the infamous Dr Bodkin Adams, a convicted fraudster and suspected serial killer. Phyllis is still an active member and organises coffee mornings for the elderly members.

Fred was chairman of the Eastbourne branch of the National Association of Retired Police Officers for 21 years. He was also treasurer of the Air Training Corps and heavily involved in scouting in the town.

In 1992 Fred and Phyllis were invited to the Queen’s garden party because of his voluntary work. At the time, he was a member of 12 different committees, five sub-committees and was chairman of the majority.

The couple still enjoy holidaying in France together and are looking forward to a party with their friends and family at Deans Place in Alfriston at the beginning of May to mark their milestone anniversary.