In search of Private Lawrence Heenan
Surname research can be a tiresome task at times. There really isn't much excitement I can muster when faced with yet another spreadsheet that needs re-formating or another data source that has to be added to my database. It's all necessary, just not very interesting.
What makes it worthwhile are those moments when you make a discovery that ties many facts together or brings one particular individual to life.
I had one such experience this weekend with one of the soldiers whose lives I have been trying to piece together and to re-unite them with their families.
Lawrence (sometimes known by the alternative spelling of Laurence) was killed while fighting in Belgium in World War 1. The Commonwealth Graves Commission website gives only a few basic facts about him: his regiment, the date of his death and the place of his memorial.
Thanks to the availability of service records and census records on line I was able fairly quickly to locate him as the son of Lawrence Heenan, a miner, and his wife Margaret. Though I haven't found any photograph of him I have the start of a mental picture since I know his height and weight when he joined the army. Slowly he began to come alive.
But I was curious. Where exactly did he die and in what circumstances?
For that I had to turn to the war diary kept by the commanding officer of his battalion, the 10th service battalion of the Argyll and Sunderland Highlanders regiment.
I knew he was killed on October 15, 1915 but when I found the entry for that day it was to learn there was no fighting at all that day involving the battalion. Instead they had been pulled back from the trenches and were in a camp. So how could he have died?
I think I've found the answer.
Two days earlier a German bomb exploded under a crater, killing about 70 men from the battalion. Some were in dug outs that collapsed as a result of the explosion. My supposition is that Lawrence Heenan was one of those people. I assume it took a few days before his body could be dug out and he could be identified - hence why officially he was not declared dead until the 15th.
I can't say this was an 'exciting' find because reading the diary is a sobering experience. The unemotional language in which the episode is related and the large number of deaths is recorded made it even more so.
Read Lawrence Heenan's biography here.