Corporal James Patrick McCann
On 17th November, 1962, Britain was suffering what the R.A.C. called, “the worst packet of Arctic weather in November for at least 10 years.” It left a trail of disruption across the North and sadly caught out a party of servicemen who were in Snowdonia training for an attempt on Mount Kenya due to take place the following February.
Squadron Leader Tony Back, a South African stationed at Kenley, Corporal James Patrick McCann and Junior Technician Richard William Blatch were returning from an Inter-services climbing trip to ‘Craig yr Ysfa’ near the village of Capel Curig, Snowdonia, when the blizzard set in.
McCann was the first to show signs of distress and then Blatch could not go on. The freak storm became “savage,” worse than anything S/Ldr. Back had experienced – Blatch could only crawl and Back was trying to drag McCann to safety using a rope. Occasionally, they glimpsed a glow of light from the farmhouse they were heading for and saw the occasional sweep of car headlights, but they only made it 100 yards before collapsing from exposure.
Back realised that their only hope was for him to set off and seek help alone. He gave Blatch some food and a torch to use as a signal when he returned. However, by the time an Inter-services search party returned, there was no signal to be seen. They continued to look for the men in the darkness and thick snow until 3.30am and resumed the search at dawn when they were joined by parties from the Matthew Boulton Technical College, Birmingham, and the Bangor University Mountain Club, who were at the Ogwen Cottage Mountain School, and by a section of the R.A.F. Valley mountain rescue team operating from Beddgelert. However, they searched in vain – Jim and Richard had died frozen together, only 400 yards from the A5 road, huddled against a dry stone wall for protection.
Corporal James Patrick McCann was born in 1926 in Clonaslee, Ireland. In 1952, he married Muriel E. Ferriman in Rugby, Warwickshire. The couple were still in Rugby when Muriel gave birth to their first son, Paul, the following year, but had moved to Uxbridge by 1959, when their second son, Peter was born. The family lived at 29 Anson Close, Kenley, at the time of Jim’s death and Muriel struggled to cope with the tragedy. Consequently, Peter was brought up by his Grandparents and Paul was taken in by a neighbouring family, the Coopers, who brought him up as one of their own.
Corporal McCann was laid to rest in St. Luke’s churchyard, Whyteleafe, where the dedication on his grave reads:
Cherished memories of a beloved husband and devoted father Muriel Paul Peter.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.