Belshaw, James McNeilly

Belshaw, James McNeilly (Jim)


SS Kenbane Head (Belfast), Merchant Navy

Died as a result of enemy action on Tuesday 5 November 1940 (aged 36)

No known grave


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Tower Hill Memorial, London (Panel 60)

Ballywalter and District War Memorial

Ballywalter Presbyterian Church

Two headstones in Whitechurch Cemetery Ballywalter


James McNeilly (Jim) Belshaw was born on 10 September 1904 in Ballywalter and he was the second son of John and Jane Belshaw (nee McNeilly, sometimes McNeely).  Both of his parents came originally from East Street in Newtownards and they were married on 10 January 1899 in Newtownards Parish Church of Ireland Church (St. Mark’s).  John Belshaw was a Petty Officer in the Coastguards at Ballywalter and he and Jane had two children while he was stationed there:

Thomas McNeilly (born 10 July 1900 in Ballywalter)

James McNeilly (born 10 September 1904 in Ballywalter).

Both Thomas and James were baptised in Ballywalter Presbyterian Church.

Their third son, Samuel McNeilly, was born in July 1908 when John was stationed in Donegal and at that time the Belshaw family lived in Portnoo, Lackagh, Glenties.

During the First World War John Belshaw had served with the Royal Navy.

James Belshaw was the husband of Jane (Nettie) Belshaw (nee Kerr).  Jane Kerr was 2½ when her mother Adelaide died on 1 January 1911 and she was brought up by her grandparents, Henry and Eliza Jane Beggs, who had 18 children.  Jane’s father Thomas remarried.

James Belshaw and Jane Kerr were married on 25 June 1930 in Belfast Registrar’s Office and they lived at 2 Dunleath Terrace, Ballywalter.  James Belshaw was a carpenter in Ballywalter and he and Jane had two children, Jean and Sheila.

James Belshaw went to sea and during the Second World War he served in the Merchant Navy as a carpenter aboard the SS Kenbane Head.  This ship was built in 1919 by Workman, Clark and Company and owned by G. Heyn and Sons Ltd., who operated the Ulster Steamship Company (Head Line).

In November 1940 the SS Kenbane Head was sailing from Halifax in Nova Scotia to Great Britain in Convoy HX-84 with more than 30 other merchant vessels escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Jervis Bay.  The convoy was intercepted by the German battlecruiser Admiral Scheer which had been commissioned in November 1934.  Hopelessly outgunned, HMS Jervis Bay engaged the enemy and was sunk in the process.  However, this gave the convoy time to scatter.  The Admiral Scheer was only able to sink six other ships, five from the convoy (Beaverford, Fresno City, Kenbane Head, Maidan, Trewellard) and one sailing independently (Mopan).  The SS Kenbane Head went down off the coast of Greenland with the loss of 23 men.  The tanker San Demetrio was set on fire by the Admiral Scheer but later salvaged.  Other crew members with local connections who lost their lives aboard the SS Kenbane Head were George McClelland Leckey from Holywood, Reginald John Primmer from Portaferry and David John Pritchard from Ballyhalbert.  On 9 April 1945 the Admiral Scheer was capsized in Kiel harbour, Germany by RAF bombs dropped during a raid.

Carpenter James McNeilly Belshaw is commemorated on Tower Hill Memorial in London; on Ballywalter and District War Memorial and in Ballywalter Presbyterian Church.  He is also commemorated on two headstones in Whitechurch Cemetery Ballywalter.  One was erected by his daughters who were aged 8 and 6 when their father died, and it bears the inscription:


In loving memory of our mother Nettie died 11 November 1989.

Also our father Jim lost at sea 5 November 1940.

One of the survivors of the sinking, Dave Fullerton, told Jim’s family afterwards how Jim had bought slippers for his two daughters and, because  Jim Belshaw was colour blind, he had asked Dave for his advice about the colour.

The other headstone in Whitechurch Cemetery bears the inscription:


In loving memory of John Belshaw died 19 May 1939.

Also his wife Jane Belshaw died 10 April 1947. 

Also their sons

James McNeilly, lost at sea through enemy action 5 November 1940

Samuel McNeilly died at sea 3 March 1965.  Interred at Gibralter

Thomas McNeilly died at sea 20 June 1965.  Cremated at Ceylon

All three of John and Jane Belshaw’s sons died at sea.  Sammy was a Radio Officer and had just gone back to sea when he died of coronary heart disease.  Tom was a Chief Engineer and went back to sea after his wife Edith died.   He too died of coronary heart disease and his ashes were brought back to Newcastle-on-Tyne to be scattered in the same Garden of Remembrance where Edith’s ashes had been scattered.