American war hero’s grave found
Discovery while searching for sister’s last resting place
A Stirling man has uncovered the grave of an American war hero in a Scottish cemetery.
Lachlan MacNeil (69), from Broomridge, discovered the untended lair while searching at Sandymount Cemetery, Shettleston, for the grave of his sister, Sarah, who died as an infant.
Lachlan, originally from the east end of Glasgow, served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from 1976 until 1989, and in 1988 he re-located to Stirling.
During his search to track down his sister’s last resting place he stumbled across the grave of Francis Kelly, a recipient of the Medal of Honour, the American equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
Mr Kelly, formally known as Archibald Houston, was born on July 5, 1860, in Boston, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the US Navy on April 21, 1898, at the outbreak of hostilities between the United States and Spain.
He signed up for one year on board the USRS Franklin at the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia, and within six weeks had earned the prestigious award.
Francis enlisted as a fireman, having amassed ten years’ experience working in engine and fire rooms in the merchant service, and was a crewman on the US Navy steamship Merrimac.
He was one of six crewmen who volunteered to take on a daring mission to sink the Merrimac at the mouth of Santiago harbour, Cuba, as part of a tactic to trap the Spanish fleet.
As the ship sailed towards Santiago harbour on June 2, the crew were spotted by a Spanish torpedo boat that opened fire as they entered the harbour mouth and the ship’s steering was damaged, preventing it from being positioned correctly at the mouth of the harbour.
Under fire, the crew abandoned ship but the small boat sent to rescue them was sunk by enemy fire.
The survivors clung to the wreckage for an hour until they were picked up by the Spanish fleet and held captive for 33 days until they were exchanged for Spanish prisoners of war.
Francis, awarded the Medal of Honour, remained in the US Navy after the Spanish-American War and rose to the rank of chief machinist mate.
He moved to Scotland, married Agnes Campbell and lived at Nicholson Street, Townhead in the east end of Glasgow and died aged 78 in May 1938.
Lachlan said: “On my very first visit I was immediately struck and awed at the number of war graves I observed in the course of my search.
“This prompted me to carry out some investigative work into the history of Sandymount Cemetery and, in particular, its association with our war dead. It was during this search I discovered the unmarked grave of Francis Kelly in Lair 142.”
For years, the grave was marked with a tiny wooden stake until Lachlan and a group of ex-paras from the Airborne Forces Association Scotland found it, cleaned it up and held their own ceremony marking the unveiling of the new grave.
Lachlan added: “It’s my aim to get recognition for Francis with the support of the Airborne Forces Association Scotland No 1 Branch.
“It only seemed right that we tidied up his grave and mark it in a way befitting such a man.”
It seemed right that we tidied up his grave
US hero Francis Kelly
Paying their respects From left, Matt Mulligan, Lachlan MacNeil and Jim Colquhoun