Monday, May 12, 2014

Francis McKane and the Lisbon Maru

As mentioned earlier, both Senator McCain’s father and grandfather, and my own father, served in the Pacific Theater in WW II.  It is a large part of the Mississippi McCain legacy.  One of the McCain cousins located by the McCain DNA project is Joseph Patrick McKane of Glasgow, Scotland, a well-known physician.  As we got to know one another he told me the remarkable story of his own father in the Pacific during WW II.  Joseph’s father was Francis McKane.  Francis joined the military during the Depression years in Scotland.  He served in the Royal Artillery and shipped out to Hong Kong in 1938 where he rose to the rank of Senior Sergeant.

Francis McKane

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and on the next day they attacked Hong Kong and Francis McCain was in the thick of it. He volunteered to act as spotter for his artillery battery, which placed him in an obsolete biplane flying into the face of the fighting to observe the effects of his unit’s artillery fire.  His battery was the last one to fall in the defense of Hong Kong and he became a prisoner of war.  In September 1942, 1816 prisoners that had been captured when Hong Kong fell nine months before were loaded on the Japanese transport Lisbon Maru 

Hong Kong Under Japanese Attack
 The Lisbon Maru was called the Hell Ship as the POWs were kept in conditions of filth, disease, and malnutrition. They were being transported to Japan as slave labor. On 30 October, 1942, the Lisbon Maru was spotted by the US Submarine Grouper off of Shanghai. The sub maneuvered during the night and then the next morning fired six torpedoes and immediately came under attack from Japanese patrol boats and aircraft.  The Grouper dived deep and quickly left the area. One of its torpedoes struck the Lisbon Maru. The US sub of course had no idea there were Allied prisoners of war aboard.  The Lisbon Maru began taking on water and the prisoners were locked below decks with no food or water and stifling heat.  On 2 October the ship finally sank and there was a chaotic dash by the prisoners to try to escape. Some made it over the side, some escaped through port holes.  Francis McKane was among the prisoners that managed to get off the sinking ship.  The Japanese were shooting the escaping men and many never had a chance to get off the ship and drowned; some 846 men died that tragic day.  The prisoners that reached the water swam three miles through shark infested waters, eventually making their way to a small island. The men that reached the island were again taken prisoner by the Japanese on 5 October.  They spent the rest of the war as slave laborers in Japan.  Francis worked in the shipyards in Osaka. Over 200 died during the first winter from diphtheria, diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition. 

The bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki came just in time to save Francis McKane and the surviving prisoners who 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.  He was taken by hospital ship to Canada first.  Doctors in Canada told him that he would not survive, that malnutrition and disease had so damaged his body that they had little hope of his recovery.  Francis did survive and return back to Scotland to have a family and his son Joseph, joined the McCain DNA project and found his cousins, including the Mississippi McCains.

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