TWO old friends are preparing for a tearful reunion after decades and thousands of miles apart.
Margaret White will get together with school chum Irene Menzel, who now lives in West Virginia, USA.
The pair, who attended Horden Crossroads school between 1949 and 1953, were separated 60 years ago when Irene (nee Frail) was mysteriously pulled out of school, never to be seen or heard from again.
To her surprise, grandmother-of-seven Margaret, then known as Peggy Gray, recently received a phone call from her long-lost friend.
The retired factory supervisor, 73, of Wingate, said: “Somebody from the school put something up on the internet about us having a school reunion. Irene must have seen it and got in touch to ask for my number.
“When she joined the school we became good friends, but then out of nowhere one day she disappeared, and no-one here ever heard from her again.
“When I asked her, she told me she was an orphan. Her foster carer had fallen and broken her hip so she was pulled out of school and sent back to the orphanage in Darlington.
“She said that by the time her carer had recovered, she was 15 and wanted to go her own way, so she got a job.
“She ended up being offered a job in America and moved over there.”
Margaret, who is married to Bill, 76, a retired ambulanceman, added: “Irene said she had been trying to track me down for years.
“I’m so happy that we’ve got back in touch. I’ve always wondered what happened to her.”
Irene is heading to the UK on July 30 to stay with Margaret and to attend the class reunion at the Half Moon pub, in Easington Village, on August 3.
Their teacher, Joan Burns, will also attend the get-together.
Margaret said: “Miss Burns had just come out of college and ours was the first class she ever taught, so it’ll be lovely to have her there as well.
“It’s going to be a lovely night.”
Margaret is keen to trace anyone else from the school and ask them to go along to the reunion, which starts at 7pm.