Edward Heenan was one of three brothers from Goole in Yorkshire who joined the army early in World War 1.
He was working as a bricklayer's labourer when he went to the recruiting station in Hull on January 7,1915. He was 34 years old, single and living in Nornabell Street, Hull. He was attached to the 12th (Service) Battalion East Yorks Regiment.
His younger brothers Patrick and Thomas followed in his footsteps, volunteering for the army in 1915. All three saw active service overseas. Only Patrick and Thomas survived the Great War.
Patrick was working as a docks labourer when he joined the army, initially being attached to the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment. By March 1915 he was transferred to the 19th Labour Corps. His service records are missing but from various medical and conduct records we know that he served in France for at two years and two months. In March 1919 while unloading rations he caught a cold which developed into bronchitis. He was hospitalised, first at a casualty clearing station either in France or Belgium and then sent back to the UK to the Berridge Road Auxiliary Hospital in Nottingham. He was discharged from the army in June 1919.
Thomas Heenan was attached to the 12th Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment (the same battalion as his brother Edward). He was with them in Egypt from New Year's Eve, 1915 which resulted in the award of the 1914 Star. He later moved to the West Yorkshire Regiment.
Edward Heenan’s war
When he signed his attestation papers, Edward Heenan declared his age, occupation, address and his father's name and address. What he didn't declare (he wasn't required to do so) was that he had a prison record.
He had served at least 13 sentences at Wakefield Prison, all for drunkeness. On one occasion, on January 1912, when in court on a charge of being drunk and disorderly on Boxing Day, the chairman of the Goole magistrates commented that he had been before the bench 23 times. Edward was, according to the report in the Hull Daily Mail,
... a habitual drunkard, evidence showing that when drunk, which was frequent, was disgusting in his behaviour and a danger to himself and the public.
The magistrates seemed to have had a sense of humour because they told him they were doing him a great kindness by sending him to Cattal [prison] for three years. "It's a beautiful place we are sending you to." added the chairman.
Records from Wakefield Prison show Edward Heenan as a prisoner on many occasions between 1902 and 1909, for sentences of seven and fourteen days labour and hard labour. 1905 saw him in the prison in June, August, September and October. He was always described as a labourer, born in Goole and Roman Catholic.
His penchant for a drink continued when he was in the army. Given the horrendous conditions in which the troops laboured at the Somme, and their almost daily brush with death, it's understandable that on rest breaks away from the front line, some of them let their hair down. However Edward Heenan's conduct record indicates that his offence was committed in "in the field" suggesting that it did not happen while the battalion was at rest. This would have been considered a more serious matter which explains why on two occasions when he faced a charge of being drunk - one in August and the other in October 1916 - he was sentenced to Field Punishment No 1, the more severe of two field punishments available to commanding officer. He would have been placed in fetters and handcuffs or similar restraints and attached to a fixed object, such as a gun wheel or a fence post, for up to two hours per day. This might have been executed in a field punishment camp set up for this purpose a few miles behind the front line. In addition part of his pay was forfeited.
Edward was killed in action on 13th November 1916.
The war diary of his battalion describes how the troops were engaged in continual training for a new attack, what became known as the Battle of Ancre.
Three battalions of the East Yorkshires were involved. The 12th Battalion apparently "made splendid progress in the initial stage" with all objectives captured in less than 20 minutes and with few casualties, More than 300 prisoners were captured and sent back only for half of them to be killed by their own guns as they marched across No Man's Land.
But the diary goes on to note that the 12 Battalion then encountered difficulties. The trenches had been blown up so extensively it was impossible to make them really defensive and then they faced two German counter attacks. These "...were annihilated by our Lewis guns. The whole day was spent in fighting small parties, bombers and snipers. In the evening, as there was a danger of being surrounded, it was decided to withdraw, the last party retiring about 8.45 p.m.”
Did Private Heenan die in the first wave of the attack or during the German counter attacks? As an 'other rank' his name is not recorded as a casualty in the diary so we will never know.
His father was informed on September 8 the following year that since there had been no further news of their son, the Army Council had concluded that he had died on November 13 or since. The family received the customary condolence letter from the King and his Victory, British and 1915 Star medals. His pay of £1.17s 5d was made over to his father paid to his father in November 1917, followed by a war gratuity of £8 10s in October 1919.
Since Thomas Heenan's body was never found there is no grave. He is instead commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial and the Kingston upon Hull War Memorial.
Edward Heenan’s Family
Private Edward Heenan was one of nine children born to Michael Heenan and his wife Mary Walsh. Four of them died at an early age. Michael declared in his 1911 census return that he was born in Dundalk which is the county town of County Louth in the east of Ireland but in an earlier (1891) census he gave his birth location as County Mayo right on the other side of the island. His wife was said to come from Claremorris in County Mayo.
The date when they left Ireland to settle in Yorkshire is unknown. There is a marriage between Michael Heenan and a Mary Welsh recorded at Howden in Yorkshire in 1868 but whether this is the same couple is not yet confirmed. What we can say with certainty is that their first recorded appearance as a family is in the 1871 census when they are living in Yorkshire. They have a daughter Rose A who is one year old and born in Swinefleet but she may not have been the first born child.
Michael worked as a farm labourer but by the time of the 1911 census when he is aged about 74 he states that he is a bricklayer's labourer and employed by a builder. It's hard to believe that he was still in active employment in a manual role at that age. He died in 1930. His wife had died in 1917.
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission [https://www.cwgc.org]
- Census of England 1871, 1891, 1901, 1911 The National Archives Accessed via findmypast.com
- Hull Daily Mail, January 1 1915 page 8 accessed via British Newspapers Online
- Soldier's Effects Log, The National Archives accessed via
- Medal cards: National Archives collection WO 372 Accessed via Ancestry.com
- War Diary of the 12th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment, The National Archives, ref WO 95. Piece 2357
Accessed via Ancestry.com
West Yorkshire, England, Prison Records, 1801-1914 accessed via ancestry.com