McNeilance, John Alexander

McNeilance, John Alexander (John)


SS Empress of Canada (London), Merchant Navy

Died as the result of enemy action on Sunday 14 March 1943 (aged 49)

No known grave


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Tower Hill Memorial, London, England (Panel 47)


John Alexander McNeilance was born at 4.30 am on 26 May 1893 in Leith, Scotland and he was the youngest son of Alexander and Elizabeth (Eliza) McNeilance (nee Howatson, sometimes Howetson) who lived at 13 Henderson Street, Leith.  Alexander McNeilance worked as a marine engineer and the McNeilance family moved from Leith to Belfast where they lived in Mountcollyer Street and later at 39 Greenmount Street.  Alexander and Elizabeth McNeilance had seven children including Elizabeth, Anne (Annie), Samuel and John Alexander.  Their other three children died young.

When John Alexander McNeilance left school, he worked as an apprentice shipwright and qualified as a carpenter.  On 2 March 1915 he and Elizabeth (Lily) Robinson were married in Newington Presbyterian Church, Belfast, and they had at least two children:

Elizabeth Howatson (born 29 December 1915 at 54 Mountcollyer Avenue, Belfast)

Eileen (born 26 June 1917 at 110 Nelson Street, Belfast)

They lived at 110 Nelson Street, Belfast and, in his identity papers, it was recorded that John Alexander McNeilance was 5 feet 10½ inches tall and he had tattoos on both forearms.  His wife Lily died and his marriage to Rowena Crawford was registered in the second quarter of 1925 in Salford, Lancashire.  The birth of their son Roy Howatson McNeilance was registered in the third quarter of 1927 in Salford.

During the Second World War John Alexander McNeilance served as a carpenter aboard the SS Empress of Canada.  The Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Empress of Canada was an ocean liner built in 1920 for Canadian Pacific Steamships by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company at Govan on the Clyde in Scotland.  Based in Vancouver, she sailed between the west coast of Canada and the Far East until 1939.  Following the outbreak of the Second World War the SS Empress of Canada was converted for use as a troopship and she carried ANZAC troops from Australia and New Zealand to the war zones in Europe.

On 14 March 1943 while on route from Durban in South Africa to Takoradi in Ghana, carrying Italian Prisoners-of-War along with Polish and Greek refugees, the SS Empress of Canada was torpedoed and sunk by the Italian submarine Leonardo Da Vinci approximately 400 miles south of Cape Palmas in Liberia.  There were about 1,800 people aboard and around 400 died; many of them were Italian Prisoners-of-War.

After Carpenter John Alexander McNeilance died on 14 March 1943 his sister Annie Houston and her family who lived at 2 Church Street, Bangor placed a Roll of Honour notice in the 18 March 1944 edition of the County Down Spectator and it contained the text:

No stone to mark his resting place

Annie McNeilance and Alexander Houston were married on 27 August 1905 in St. Anne’s Church of Ireland Church, Belfast.

At the time of Carpenter John Alexander McNeilance’s death the family address was 124 Church Lane, Marple, Greater Manchester.  His effects amounted to some £425 and probate was granted to his widow Rowena who was then living at 39 Burnside Avenue, Salford.

Carpenter John Alexander McNeilance was 49 when he died, and he is commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial in London.