Ron O'Keefe was just 20 years old, when he left the island of Newfoundland in November of 1939, as a volunteer in Britain's Royal Navy. One of the First 200, as they will forever be called, he was one of the first Newfoundlanders to volunteer during the Second World War.
Ron had more experience as a woodsman, than a seaman, but was drawn by the prospect of travel and the chance to protect the freedom he enjoyed in Newfoundland. At the time of his enlisting he had a promising career in the woods industry and was employed by the International Paper Co.
He arrived in England on December 12, and began training immediately in preparation for duty aboard an Armed Merchant Cruiser. The task of these ships was to intercept German vessels in the North Atlantic, using armed boarding parties aboard small boats.
The vessels were large and made great targets for German u-boats lurking just beneath the ocean's surface.
Mr. O'Keefe served on board the fast minelayer HMS Manxman, which saw 3 months action during the famous Siege of Malta, in the Mediterranean sea. The ship finally reached Malta but was stranded on the island. While on Malta he was recruited into an anti-aircraft battery. Mr. O'keefe says, "I took it all in stride, and being young never expected to get killed." Many AMC's were lost and a small number of the First 200 died in the sinking. Remarkably, most of the First 200 lived through the war and when they returned to Newfoundland had the distinction of serving Britian for the longest period of any troops from the Dominion.
Mr. O'Keefe brought something precious home with him after the war, his British War Bride Barbara, who he married on January 14, 1944 in London. Mr. and Mrs. O'Keefe recently celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary.
After his return he and Barbara raised 3 children, and he worked as an Accountant until his retirement. At 83, Mr. O'keefe is still active and is seen each year standing tall and proud at our Memorial Services, as a sign of respect and memory for the men he served with. At the time of this article, Mr. O'Keefe was one of only seven surviving members of the First 200.