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Bulletproof Letters

Updated on November 5, 2015

During my time in Birmingham last month I had the great pleasure of meeting my Great Uncle and former British solider, Harry Sanford.

Being an avid Irishman we usually don’t look at British soldiers in the most positive light but this is different because Harry did something which not many British soldiers did in Ireland, he fell in love with a catholic.

It was in the 1950s, when the troubles were at boiling point in the North of Ireland that Harry Sanford had to abandon his ambitions of going to university as he was forced to serve in the army and travel to the troubled nation.

It was a blessing in disguise for it was there that Harry met the love of his life and future wife, Sally Costello.

On a Saturday night in Ballymena Harry was leaving a dance where he laid eyes on Sally for the first time sitting on a curb with no shoes on.

Bemused and suspicious Harry went to investigate asking the young lady what had happened.

“One of my friends thought it would be funny to pinch my shoes” said Sally.

Failing to see what was so “funny” about this Harry asked Sally where she lived and she no sooner replied “about a mile down the road” before he swooped her up and carried her home.

A young nimble Harry
A young nimble Harry

Certain he would never see her again Harry didn’t think much more about the beautiful girl with no shoes.

That was until later in the year when he was attending yet another dance and he spotted her once again.

Back then there was a certain time of the night where the girls could ask the boys to dance and as a way of saying thank you for his previous heroics Sally plucked up the courage to ask Harry and they danced the night away.

Little did Sally know that she was dancing with her future husband but Harry maintains that he knew he was going to marry her after that night.

Love letters Harry kept from the 50s
Love letters Harry kept from the 50s

It wasn’t easy however as there are consequences for dating a British solider when you’re an avid Catholic and Sally was kicked out of her house by her family.

Harry was determined to marry her and was more than willing to convert to Catholicism in order to do so but the British army were not so keen and he was eventually disbanded from the service.

Even bullets couldn’t keep them apart as Harry was left hospitalized after being shot in the arm but spent the months during his recovery writing love letters to Sally which he still has to this very day, letters which I had the privilege of seeing and reading myself.

Harry Used the army service to send these letters, a crime which would be punishable by jail time if caught but Harry didn’t care.

It was during this time that Harry proposed to Sally, writing a letter asking her to marry him with each word made up off Xs (kisses).

He even spent hours drawing out a detailed map of all of her attributes and the measurements of how each of them made him feel.

Harrys love graph
Harrys love graph

Such was the desperation of Sally to see her beloved she spent an entire weeks wages on a taxi to visit the wounded Harry.

It’s a classic Romeo and Juliet story where it was their love against the world with the only difference being Harry and Sally came out on top with Harry’s prediction from that faithful night taking fruition and he finally married Sally and went on to live happily for decades together.

Harrys proposal letter
Harrys proposal letter

Sadly Sally has since passed away and Harry misses her immeasurably.

He decided to bury her at her grandmother’s cottage where she loved living as oppose to her family home where she had a troubled upbringing.

One night just last summer when Harry was staying in the cottage he asked Sally in his prayers if he did the right thing by burying her there.

He felt a strong itch on his arm which is not uncommon for him so he went to the bathroom for some soothing cream.

As he unscrewed the lid the cap fell onto the floor and as he bent down to retrieve it he spotted out of the corner of his eye a small chocolate egg still neatly in its wrapper.

Sally used to always bring chocolate eggs to give to the children and Grandchildren and this one somehow found itself to the bathroom untouched for a very long time.

Harry took this as a message from Sally that he did the right thing.

RIP Sally Sanford

By Lee Costello


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