Signalman Henry Kane (D/JX 165720) served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. Born on 19th May 1897 and known as Harry, he was the son of William Henry Kane and Margaret “Maggie” Kane (née McKee) of Joseph Street, Portadown, Co. Armagh, and the husband of Sarah Kane of of 26 Railway Street, Portadown, Co. Armagh.
Harry and Sarah’s son, Corporal James Henry Kane served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World. Harry’s brother James Kane saw action during The Great War with the Royal Marine Police, while another brother David Kane served in 12th Battery, 3rd Searchlight Regiment, Royal Artillery during the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940.
Signalman Kane served in both The Great War and the Second World War. He first enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1913 aged 15 years old. In October 1914, Kane sustained injuries while serving off the Belgian coast on H.M.S. Rinaldo. During his recovery, he received a visit in a military hospital from the Princess Royal. By 1916, however, he had returned to service. He saw action at the Battle of Jutland on H.M.S. Attack. He again had a lucky escape in 1918 when H.M.S. Phoenix came under attack from a German submarine.
In the interwar period, Kane served as Chairman of the Edenderry Arch Committee in Portadown. He also continued his service in the Royal Navy supporting the Baltic States in the Russian Civil War sailing on H.M.S. Vanoc in 1919. In 1920, Harry left the Royal Navy. Apart from one week per year with the Royal Fleet Reserve, he spent the next 19 years on dry land and working for the Portadown Gaslight Company.
During this time, Harry Kane was a popular footballer in the town. He played centre-half for Edenderry Arrows Football Club and spent the 1926-1927 season as a trainer with Portadown Football Club at Shamrock Park. He also found time to be a member of the Portadown Branch of the British Legion, Portadown Fire Brigade, and the Portadown Homing Pigeon Society. He was also a member of the loyal orders, in both Edenderry Temperance and Benefit L.O.L. No. 322 and Allen’s Chosen Few R.B.P. No. 25.
With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the Royal Navy recalled Signalman Kane. While serving on H.M.S. Courageous, he once again met a member of the royal family when King George VI inspected the crew. Throughout the conflict, Kane served on destroyers before joining the crew of the Q-Ship H.M.S. Prunella (formerly Cape Howe). A Q-Sip was a heavily armed merchant vessel with concealed weaponry designed to lure in U-Boats.
Signalman Kane died on 21st June 1940 aged 43 years old while serving on H.M.S. Cape Howe sailing under the name Prunella. The Q-Ship came under attack from U-28. Following the attack, Kane spent several days on a lifeboat awaiting rescue. He has no known grave and his name is on Panel 39, Column 2 of the Plymouth Naval Memorial. His name is also on the Portadown War Memorial and the Seagoe Church of Ireland War Memorial, Portadown, Co. Armagh and commemorated on the Kane family plot at Seagoe Church of Ireland Churchyard, Portadown, Co. Armagh.
After Kane’s death, Commodore Critchley wrote to his widow Sarah Kane paying tribute to the Portadown man, stating that Harry helped maintain the high traditions of the Royal Navy.
Another story came to light after Kane’s death. It surrounded an engraved watch received during his time as Chairman of the Edenderry Arch Committee. The Committee presented Kane with the watch on his recall and service on H.M.S. Eclipse in 1939. While on the lifeboat in 1940, Kane realised he would not make it home and gave the watch to Seaman Robert N. Ayre of Belfast. Harry asked that the watch be returned to his wife at home. Seaman Ayre also lost his life during the war but his wife kept the promise.
During the Belfast Blitz in April 1941, Mrs. Ayre left her home as part of a mass evacuation of her area of the city and came to live in Portadown, Co. Armagh. She lived for a time with Mrs. Jackson of Meadow Lane, Portadown, Co. Armagh. On hearing the story of the watch, Mrs. Jackson recognised it as Harry’s and the promise made by Seaman Ayre was kept.
After the Second World War, the Edenderry Arch Committee in Portadown, Co. Armagh dedicated a new arch to Signalman Kane. Volunteer labourers constructed the new arch in the town foundry. The impressive arch comprised 1,372 pieces held together by over 5,000 welds and 2,000 bolts. On 11th July 1951, Harry’s widow Mrs. Sarah Kane unveiled the arch and it has stood in the Edenderry part of the town each July since.