Centenarian John English’s 100th birthday party in Devizes on Saturday was tinged with sadness, as his wife of 65 years was too ill to join in the celebrations.

The lounge at Sudweeks Court retirement flats in New Park Street was thronged with dozens of relatives and friends, but Aila English, who is now at Avonmead nursing home, was too frail to attend.

Mr English said: “I was in the Royal Navy and had just returned from a posting in Malta in 1939 when I got sent to Rainhill, near Liverpool.

“That’s where I met Aila. I heard later she had gone home to her mother and told her, ‘I have just met the man I want to marry’.”

But the wedding had to wait until both were demobbed at the end of the Second World War and took place in a church of Mrs English’s home village of Bemington, on the Wirral, in 1948.

Mr English was born in Keynsham, but moved to Swindon with his family when he was a toddler.

Having taken his City and Guilds diploma, he joined the test room staff at the corporation’s electricity department, but soon realised it was not for him and took a managerial job with Esso.

There he rose to regional manager for the area covering Chippenham and Swindon.

A reorganisation resulted in his redundancy and his father got him a job at the Great Western Railway works in Swindon. It did not suit him, so he joined the Royal Navy.

After leaving, he answered an advertisement in The Times and was interviewed by George Holden, the Bristol manager of the Sun Life Insurance Company. The two men established a close friendship and Mr English worked for the company until his retirement 24 years later.

Mr and Mrs English’s marriage was blighted by tragedy. Their first daughter died at two days’ old and their second when she was in her 50s.

They have no grandchildren, but Mr English was surrounded by nephews, nieces, great-nephews and great-nieces at his birthday party.

He said: “I don’t feel any different from when I was 99. People keep asking me what the secret is of a long life, but I have no idea.

“I just feel fortunate that I have been able to live such a long life and do all the things I have done.”