Death of survivor of Princess Victoria tragedy

THE funeral has taken place of Larne man John McKnight, who was one of the few remaining survivors of the MV Princess Victoria ferry disaster.

John was chief cook on the ill-fated vessel, which sank in treacherous conditions 60 years ago off the Co Down coast, with the loss of 133 lives. He was one of just 44 people who escaped with their lives that fateful day.

John passed away on Tuesday morning in Antrim Area Hospital’s Macmillan Unit, at the age of 92. He was born in on July 2, 1920 in Minigaff, a small fishing port south west Scotland.

When the Second World War broke out, John joined the Royal Air Force and served with distinction is several theatres of war, including the North African campaign and the push through Sicily and Italy. He was posted back to the Middle East and served in Palestine until the end of hostilities. After the war, John’s medals were placed in a box and he was glad to have that part of his life behind him.

After he was demobbed from the RAF, John joined the Merchant Navy and having worked with several shipping companies, the opportunity arose to work closer to home. He joined the crew of the Princess Victoria – one of the first roll-on roll-off car ferries – on January 26, 1952. This event was to change his life in so many ways.

It was while working aboard the Princess Victoria that John met his beloved wife Greta, a Larne native who was also working onboard as a stewardess. The pair were married just weeks before the tragedy that befell the ship, and were still on honeymoon when John offered to act as stand-in cook for a friend who needed time off for family reasons.

The Princess Victoria set sail from Stranraer on the morning of January 31, 1953, on one of its routine return crossings to Larne. It never reached its destination, and John rarely spoke about his awful experiences of that terrible day. When pressed, he would recount running along the bottom of the upturned ship to climb onboard the safety of a lifeboat.

After the disaster, John and Greta lived long and happy lives in their Edward Avenue home in Larne. While the couple never had any children of their own, their lives were full of love for one another.

Sadly, Greta died in 2005 and John found himself alone. He stayed on in Edward Avenue and it became his sanctuary. In the years that followed, John endured progressively bad health. However, those who visited him at his home always found him in great spirits and he loved nothing better than to share the fun and laughter of a good yarn.

Recently, with the 60th anniversary of the Princess Victoria tragedy making headlines across the UK, John was featured on several TV and radio programmes. He was naturally photogenic and his strong Scottish accent made him much sought after for comment and interview. However, celebrity status rode uneasily on John’s shoulders.

With the help of friends and neighbours, John continued to utilise his catering experience by making out his own dinner menus for the week ahead and filling his shelves accordingly. He has been described as fiercely independent and managed to care for himself until very recently, when the effort became too much for him. John then became a resident of Larne Care Home, before being moved to the Macmillan Unit at Antrim.