First away in the 2014 Devizes to Westminster canoe race was former special forces soldier Bob Norbury, 71, from Burbage who was entered in the senior singles category.

But Mr Norbury was forced to retire with an elbow injury at County Lock, Reading, after paddling for 15 hours.

He said: “I am gutted. I wanted so much to be the oldest competitor to do the DW in a single kayak.

“But it would have been irresponsible of me to continue. If I had gone on to the Thames and had to be rescued it would have caused a lot of problems for the organisers.”

Mr Norbury had been raising money for local charities in Burbage and survivors of the Falklands Campaign.

The former Para and Army PE instructor last competed in the race in 2003 and swore never to do it again after strong winds caused his kayak to capsize countless times. He finally finished in 27 hours and 50 minutes.

Nearly a quarter of the entrants in the 2014 Devizes to Westminster canoe race senior doubles section were forced to retire before the end of the 125-mile course, despite apparently benign conditions over the Easter weekend.

High winds were largely to blame for 52 out of the 208 senior doubles entries, those who paddle non-stop through the night, having to give up their challenge. But a higher percentage of canoeists completed the course compared to a third of them who pulled out last year because of freezing temperatures.

This year’s race was won by Ryan Pearce and Michael Southey, of the Fowey River Canoe Club, who finished in 17 hours 23 minutes, a good half hour ahead of second-placed Daniel Beazley and James Smythe, of Leaside Canoe Club, in 17:55:59.

Third were Steve and Rob King, of Hereford Canoe Club, in 18:15:48.

Olympic rowing gold medallist Ben Hunt-Davis and his crewmate Matthew Parish came in 13th with a time of 20:37:33. When Mr Hunt-Davis last competed in 2012 he was forced to pull out when he got to Reading.

The race has been affected by forces beyond the organisers’ control on several occasions over the years, being cancelled in 2001 because of the foot and mouth outbreak.

This year the start on Good Friday was held up for two and a half hours by the discovery of a body in the canal just 100 metres from the start line at Devizes Wharf.

Police liaised closely with race organisers to make sure that the area around the incident was left alone until crime scene investigators had completed their work.