by Greta Yeoman
They were so close they even got married on the same day.
Just over six decades later, Timaru twins Val Dawes and Shirley Ward (nee Turner) celebrated their joint 60th wedding anniversaries last Thursday, alongside husbands Arthur and John, respectively.
The fifth and fourth-youngest in a family of eight, both women (then aged 21) knew they would get married together.
The combined wedding was held at Chalmers Church on a sunny Timaru day on March 28, 1959, and their father walked them down the aisle – one on each arm.
“We had no say in the matter,” Shirley’s husband John Ward, a former New Zealand test cricketer, said jokingly.
The Wards met in 1954 when the twins were 16. Val and Arthur had already got together, a year earlier.
“We were just out of school,” Mrs Ward said.
The twins grew up dressed identically by their mother and dressed that way until after they married. They even wore matching white dresses on their big day.
“It was the last time we dressed alike,” Mrs Ward says.
However, their similar features did cause trouble for both couples, particularly Mrs Ward, just a few days after their joint Timaru wedding.
Both parties headed south for their honeymoons, the Wards staying in Dunedin and the Dawes travelling further south to Invercargill. Unbeknown to each other, the Wards decided to also visit Invercargill the following evening, picking a hotel at random – the same one Shirley’s sister and her new husband happened to have stayed at the night before.
This caused plenty of gossip among the hotel’s other guests, who saw the “same” woman holidaying with two different men.
“They said you’d come back with another guy,” Mrs Dawes recalls.
“It wasn’t very good for me, it was for Val,” Mrs Ward says.
“[But] it gave people something to talk about.”
The two couples have remained close over the decades.
Besides an eight-month stint in Levin for the Wards, they have all remained in Timaru.
Mr Ward played eight tests for New Zealand as wicket-keeper between 1964 and 1968.
Both couples have had two children, a son and a daughter.
Regular games of golf remain on the schedule of both couples, though other sporting activities – including netball – have been jointly undertaken in the past.
The women jokingly got each other gold medals for their 50th wedding anniversaries and also celebrated their 80th birthdays just over a year ago.
“My daughter always says it’s equal to three life sentences,” Arthur Dawes said of his marriage.
But after spending six decades together, it is clearly a triple “life sentence” that none of them seem to mind.