Friday, February 1, 2008

The Remarkable Story of Francis McKane

As I have worked collecting McCain clan lore over the years, I have noticed how many McCains have served, often in harm’s way and dramatic fashion, in the military. Given our Gallóglaigh origins, perhaps something deep in our psyche leads McCain men to seek this path. Here is the very poignant story of one of our family, Francis McKane, his remarkable story:

Francis McKane took the road of many McCains before him; he joined the military during the Depression years in Scotland. He entered the Royal Artillery and shipped out from Hong Kong in 1938, just in time to become involved in some of the hardest and most brutal fighting seen in WW II. He rose to the rank of Senior Sergeant with his own gunnery detachment. The world knows the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, on the 8th they attacked Hong Kong and Francis McCain’s world changed forever. Francis has volunteered to act as spotter for his battery, which placed him in an obsolete biplane flying into the face of the fighting to observe the effects of his artillery. His battery was the last one to fall in the defence of Hong Kong and he went into four long years of very hard and cruel captivity. (photo right, Francis McKane 1938)

In September 1942 he and 1800 other POWs were locked in the hold of the Japanese transport the Lisbon Maru. They were the Allied prisoners that had been captured in Hong Kong nine months earlier. The Lisbon Maru was called the Hell Ship as the POWs were kept in appalling conditions of filth, disease and malnutrition. They were being transported to Japan as slave labour. On 1 October, 1942, the Lisbon Maru was spotting by the US Submarine Grouper off of Shanghai. The sub fired six torpedoes and immediately came under attack from Japanese patrol boots and aircraft and sank deep and quickly left the area. One torpedo struck the ship and exploded sending water pouring in. The US sub of course had no idea there were 1,800 Allied prisoners of war aboard, nor did they see the Japanese batten down the hatches over the holds as they abandoned ship in an attempt to drown these men. Over 850 POWs drowned. Francis McKane and a few others managed to get out using the breach made by the torpedo and through port holes. Francis McKane swam a very long way in shark infested waters, eventually making his way to a small island. There he was again taken prisoner by the Japanese. He spent the rest of the war as a slave labourer in the shipyards in Osaka, Japan, suffering tremendous cruelty and torture. The bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki came just in time to save him and the other prisoners that were by that time walking skeletons, with their numbers shrinking daily.

Even with the Japanese capitulation he had a long road to get back home, with many sad experiences; he made it back to Scotland via Canada in 1946. Francis McKane is the father of Joe McKane of Glasgow, Scotland. Joe is a physician and participated in the McCain DNA Project. This line of McCains is from east Donegal, and immigrated to Scotland in the 19th Century.

(photo, Hong Kong being attacked, 8 Dec 1941)

Barry R McCain


Anonymous said...

Wow, very interesting, I am also descended from a James McKean/Mckane came to Renfrewshire from Ireland, married Mary Anne Houston? Had a son William married Mary Mcglaughlin in 1875.
I wonder if we are related!

The most amazing likeness between Joe mckane and my brother Ian!

Anonymous said...

We are.
William was one of my grandfather's brothers.