At weddings today, it’s customary to hire a professional photographer to take hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures of the big day. And those images often capture everything from the moment the bride slips into her gown to the end of the reception, when the newlyweds leave in a chauffeured car.
But decades ago, unless you were super-rich or famous, wedding photography was much different. All that Englishwoman Ollie Holmes had to remember her 1950s wedding by, for instance, were a few black-and-white snaps. These showed her 18-year-old self, smiling from ear to ear, linking arms with her 21-year-old husband, who was wearing his military uniform.
The couple went on to have two children together before, sadly, parting ways. Then Ollie met the man who became her second husband, Carl Ingram, at a friend’s wedding. She felt drawn to the outgoing stranger, and before she knew it the two had also started a life together.
“We married… and we were very happy,” she told the Daily Mail in November 2013. Indeed, they spent decades in wedded bliss, raising four children together. But Carl passed away in 2010, rocking Ollie’s world in a way she could never have foreseen. “I was devastated and dreaded the thought of spending the rest of my life alone,” she explained to the newspaper.
Ollie subsequently spent two years on her own after Carl’s death, perhaps thinking that she would see out the end of her days as a widow. But to her surprise, everything changed when her daughter Lisa invited her to a family Christmas party in 2012. Also in attendance was a man called Willis.
Willis himself had experienced love and loss, having married his first wife in 1955. The young army corporal wore his uniform to exchange his vows, but the pomp and circumstance of the big day quickly dissipated – he went straight back to his duties and didn’t even share a honeymoon with his new spouse.
The young couple then had a son and a daughter together, before splitting ten years after saying “I do.” Willis’ wife had left him for another man who she thought was more exciting than her steady, kind, traditional husband. And while Willis begged her to stay, she took the children and began a new life regardless.
Nevertheless, Willis and his first wife remained on good terms. They shared custody of their children and so naturally kept in touch as they grew up. And when she visited, Willis would never allow his ex to travel to and from his house by bus, insisting instead that he drive her back and forth in his car – a sign that they shared respect for each other, despite their marriage having fallen apart.
And, although weekly custody visits kept him in touch with his partner from his first marriage, Willis was also able to rebuild his personal life. He met, fell in love and tied the knot with a second wife; after she passed away, Willis then married for a third time.
Sadly, wife number three also made Willis a widower. Indeed, poor Willis never did quite get his happy ever after – until that fateful day when he accepted an invitation to the Boxing Day party where he met Ollie. Having recently lost his third wife, meeting the widow happened at just the right time.
But the couple had actually fallen in love once before. In fact, Ollie even had the monochrome pictures to prove it. That’s right, Willis was the military man in the black-and-white snaps from her first wedding, the 21-year-old she married back in 1955.
The pair had first met in 1951 when Ollie was just 14 and Willis 17. And the spark between them was undeniable, although they didn’t go out on their first date until three years after their initial introduction. There’s another black-and-white picture in the couple’s archives, their first ever photo together taken the same year they met – the teens are lounging in the sun, hugging and smiling.
Willis moved quickly after they started dating, proposing on Christmas Eve 1954. But their marriage was doomed from the start, according to Ollie. “With hindsight, I was simply too young to settle down,” she told the Daily Mail. “I was 18 and wanted to be out with my friends. Willis got angry when I stayed out late.”
Then the schism between them widened when Ollie met Carl and found him to be much more exciting than the husband she had back at home. She eventually started what she thought was a secret affair. “I now know Willis suspected it for a while but hoped it would fizzle out, and that’s why he never said anything,” she said.
However, as we know, their relationship did anything but fizzle out. Ollie left Willis for Carl, taking their two young children along with her. She subsequently spent more than 40 years by Carl’s side. But she still thought of Willis throughout that time. Indeed, in October 2013 Ollie admitted to the Daily Mirror, “I still had feelings for [Willis] but I didn’t show them. He never said anything to me.”
And Ollie realized just how strong those feelings were when her daughter called to tell her that Willis’s third wife had passed. Ollie initially misunderstood the news, however. She said to the Daily Mirror, “My youngest daughter called to tell me and I thought she said Willis had died. My heart just stopped. It really shocked me.”
That shock turned into butterflies, though, when Ollie found out that Willis would be attending her daughter’s party that Boxing Day. “I was so excited,” she told the Daily Mirror. “We sat in the conservatory chatting for hours.” She added, “When he went upstairs I followed him. I wanted two minutes on our own because all eyes were on us.”
“Before I could say anything he got hold of me and gave me this great big kiss. It was wonderful,” she went on to recall. “You know if the kiss is right, everything is right. That’s when I heard the grandchildren shouting, ‘Granddad’s kissing Grandma!’”
And within two weeks of that reunion, Ollie and Willis had fully rekindled the flame. He even went home to gather his things and moved right into his former wife’s home. This time, however, they were wary of rushing into anything more serious. “Both of us were going through a bereavement and didn’t want to make any life-changing decisions unless we were absolutely sure,” Ollie said to the Daily Mirror.
Six months later, though, the couple’s daughter, Lisa, returned a piece of jewelry her mother had given her – the engagement ring Willis had given Ollie almost 60 years before. And not long after that, he got down on one knee again and offered his first wife the same ring. They later walked down the aisle in August 2013 to the perfect song – Barry White’s “My First, My Last, My Everything.”