Frank McKenna was born in Seacombe, Wallasey, Cheshire, England, on the 26th April 1894, the son of James and Charlotte McKenna, (née Higgins). The family home was at 2 Laburnum Cottage, Kelvin Road, Seacombe, Wallasey.
Frank McKenna was a professional seaman in the Mercantile Marine and he engaged as a trimmer in the Engineering Department on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool on 12th April 1915 at a monthly wage of £6-0s-0d. and joined the liner on the early morning of 17th April 1915 in time for her last ever sailing out of the River Mersey. His previous ship had been the White Star liner Adriatic.
Three weeks later, on the afternoon of 7th May 1915, with the liner on the homeward bound leg of her return trip, she was torpedoed and sunk within sight of the southern coast of Ireland and only hours away from her home port.
Frank McKenna survived this sinking and on his return home, gave an account of his experiences during the disaster which was published in his local newspaper,
The Wallasey News, on Saturday May 15th 1915. The article stated: -
Frank McKenna ..... was thrown into the water as the boat heaved onto her side, and swam about for a long time. He saw the propellers strike one boat full of people, cutting the boat to pieces. A friend of his was helping Captain Turner on the bridge at the time, but when Captain Turner saw that it was all up with the ship he told my friend “You go and save yourself now; I can manage myself here,” and the captain stayed there.
“There were hundreds of people thrown into the water, and the screaming was awful. One man dived from the top deck when she was high and he hit a boat, dashing himself to pieces.”
The friend of his ..... helping Captain Turner on the bridge, was probably Able Seaman Hugh Robert Johnston who came from Litherland in Lancashire and was helmsman at the time the
Lusitania was struck. He also survived the sinking.
Another local newspaper, The Wallasey and Wirral Chronicle also interviewed him and gave a slightly different account of his experiences in its edition of Saturday 15th May 1915. It stated: -
Another man who had a narrow escape from death was Frank McKenna a trimmer, 2 Laburnum-cottages, Seacombe. He was with Michael Thompson, and the two were washing when the crash came.
They rushed up on deck, and the last McKenna saw of Thompson was with a life-belt. As for McKenna, he was heaved into the water, and for some time swam about supporting himself with a deck chair. For about two hours he was in the water till he managed to get on to a raft.
Michael Thompson was Trimmer Michael Thompson from Alfred Road, Seacombe, who lost his life in the sinking, together with his older brother John, who was also a trimmer. The
Chronicle account continued: -
When finally rescued he was conveyed by boat to Queenstown, where everybody showed tokens of the greatest kindness. Early on Sunday morning he arrived in Liverpool, where his mother, who had been anxiously waiting for him since midnight when she first heard of his safety, gladly welcomed him home again.
A follow up to the sinking occurred within days of McKenna’s return home. He was arrested and brought before Wallasey magistrates on a charge of being drunk in Victoria Place, Seacombe, on Wednesday 12th May, only five days after the sinking. However, leniency was shown because of his recent ordeal, as the Chronicle for Saturday 15th May reported: -
The Chief Constable (Mr. P.L. Barry) asked permission to withdraw charge. The defendant, he had ascertained, was one of the Lusitania survivors and his friends had been giving him too much to drink. The chairman, (Mr. E. Russell Taylor) said the case would be dismissed. He hoped that this would be a warning to defendant, especially after the warning he had had a few days previously.
At about the same time, Frank McKenna was officially discharged from the last voyage of the
Lusitania at Cunard’s office in Liverpool and was paid the balance of wages owing to him, which amounted to £5-14s-8d., (£5.73p). This sum was in respect of his service from 17th April 1915, until 8th May, 24 hours after the vessel had gone down!
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1911 English Census, 1901 English Census, Cunard Records, Wallasey News, PRO BT 100/345., Wallasey & Wirral Chronicle, PRO BT 350.