FOR more than 20 years Allen Parton proudly served Queen and country in Northern Ireland, the Falklands and the Gulf War.

But a serious vehicle accident in the Gulf in 1991 left him with injuries that kept him in a vegetative state in a military hospital for five years.

During that time the 46-year-old father of two could not read, write, talk or walk. He lost 50 per cent of his memory and is now confined to a wheelchair.

His family had become complete strangers and he couldn't remember his wife Sandra, their wedding or the first steps of his two children Liam and Zoe.

Now, with the help of the Royal British Legion, Allen is a changed man and yesterday he put himself at the frontline of the county's annual Poppy Appeal.

Hundreds of people gathered outside Romsey Town Hall for the launch including Hampshire's Rhys Jones, the youngest person to climb the highest peaks on all seven of the world's continents and former England cricket captain David Gower.

The former technical weapons expert with the Royal Navy said: "I would not be here today if it was not for the Royal British Legion and the people who put money in that donation box. Now when I pass them on the street I stop to thank them for giving me my life back."

"I felt like I had let Queen and country down and I couldn't accept what had happened. I attempted suicide twice but my wife didn't give up on me.

"It was strange because I didn't love my family. Love is based on memories. I lost that and that was very difficult for me.

"But Sandra stood by me and I ended up falling in love with her all over again."

After he was forced to move out of his Navy marital quarters the British Legion helped Allen find new accommodation.

They also provided counselling, respite care and bought Allen a new wheelchair.

He added: "To know what they have done for me and my family is so humbling. They are the unsung heroes.

"This is why I'm involved in the British Legion, to remind people that this is what it's about."

Allen, who lives in Petersfield, dedicates his time to charity work.

Last year the Hampshire poppy appeal raised £800,000 and this year organisers hope to collect more than £1m.

Romsey Town Square was brought to a standstill as hundreds gathered to watch the British Legion Standards marching to Romsey Abbey for a short service. A 1947 Beaver aircraft dropped thousands of poppies.