Poppy seller was so close

This Is Wiltshire: John O’Keeffe selling poppies in Marlborough High Street John O’Keeffe selling poppies in Marlborough High Street

WAR veteran John O’Keeffe was one of the lucky ones as he survived the German onslaught on the convoys of ships carrying goods to starving Britain when all around him other boats were being torpedoed or bombed with huge loss of life.

The Merchant Navy ships he served on throughout the Second World War always managed to escape the bombs that fell on the convoys and for no other reason than luck, he said, his ships were never torpedoed.

Mr O’Keeffe, 89, is the oldest poppy seller in Marlborough and he will be on parade in the town’s Remembrance Sunday procession proudly wearing the ten medals that his 22 years sailing under the Red Ensign brought him.

One that he is proud of is the Falklands medal for his role in taking troops to take part in that war, as coxwain steering the QE2 that was carrying 5,000 troops, 2,000 Scottish, 2,000 Welsh soldiers and 1,000 Gurkhas.

The cruise liner that had carried him to just about every country in the world sailed to within 600 miles of the Falkland Islands, close enough for Royal Navy ships to ferry the troops the rest of the way.

The old mariner loved life at sea so much that he served in the Merchant Navy twice, firstly from 1940 to 1946 and then he re-joined in 1970 until 1986.

He said: “I did enjoy being away at sea for the comradeship of the many men I served with but the best part was always coming home.”

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