Today we meet Claude Rigby Heenan, a man who was honoured by his King for services rendered on the Western Front during World War 1.
Claude was born in the Brentford district of Essex in 1876, the son of Willian Henry Heenan, a land agent and broker, and Hannah Parnell.
On 7 April, 1904, at the age of 28, Claude left his home in Camden, near London, and sailed from Liverpool to Cape Town in South Africa. He described himself as a journalist and said his intention was to stay in Cape Town. Also on board the SS Persic was a Miss L E Heenan (his younger sister Lilian Eva. ).
It was not his first visit to South Africa – in November the previous year, while occupied as civil servant, he had arrived in Liverpool having sailed from Cape Town – the purpose and the duration of that trip is not recorded. Also not known is whether on his arrival in South Africa he continued to work as a journalist is unknown. At some point however, he changed paths again and became a sugar planter.
While war broke out in Europe, he joined the South African Infantry Brigade, as a Captain in A Company, 2nd Battalion. The Brigade arrived for training in England in November 1915. Although trained for service on the Western Front, the Brigade was sent first to Egypt. By April 1916 they were in France, disembarking at Marseilles on the 20th.
The beginning of July 1916 saw them in the battle front of the Somme where they became embroiled in a relief operation at the Glatz Redoubt near Mountauban-en-Picardie. By 8th July, elements of the Brigade were in Bernafay Wood and, by 10th July, were supporting British attacks on Trône Wood. In its first week in the battle the Brigade sustained 537 casualties.
Between 15th and 20th July 1916, the Brigade entered Delville Wood, a tactically important salient protruding into the German second line. They came under a fierce and intense attack by German artillery during which the S.A Brigade ran out of ammunition and resorted to hand-to-hand combat.
By the time they were relieved by other forces, 1709 men of the Brigade had been wounded, more than 670 killed and 186 were missing out of the 3,100 men who went into the woods. .
Claude Rigby was one of the men wounded in the chaos of the Delville Woods battle. The extent of his injuries is not known but clearly were not so severe that they prevented him continuing to serve in the war. In 1917 he was promoted to the rank of Major.
In June 1918, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order by King George V in the Birthday Honours List.
The announcement in the London Gazette read:
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased, on the occasion of His Majesty’s Birthday, to approve of the undermentioned rewards for distinguished service in connection with Military Operations in France and Flanders. Dated 3rd June, 1918:
Claude Rigby Heenan returned to South Africa, living towards the end of his life at Maidstone, Natal province, and occupied as a sugar planter. He died at a sanatorium in Durban on July 13, 1943 as a result of cancer in his larynx. He was 67 years old and unmarried. Probate records show that the value of his estate was more than £300 at the time of his death.
He was buried at Stellawood cemetery, in Durban.
- Civil registration, births England and Wales: Q2 1876, Vol 3a page 54a. Accessed via Find My Past.com
- Electoral register: Borough of Camden, constituency of S. Pancras South. 1899 and 1900. Accessed via ancestry.com from original records held by London Metropolian Archives
- Battle of Delville Wood: http://www.delvillewood.com/rolcallh.htm
- DSO Award: London Gazette: June 3, 1918, page 6462
- History of Infantry Regiments, South Africa: http://www.ww1infantrycos.co.uk/south%20african%20brigade.html
- Probate records: South Africa, Pietermaritzburg Estate Files 1846-1950, Accessed via FamilySearch.org