In the latest blog post for the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019. we look at a man who was honoured for his courage and bravery in a battlezone.
Neville James Heenan
Neville James Heenan was in the midst of his legal studies when war broke out in Europe. He enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force in October 1915, just a month before his 23rd birthday. He set sail from Melbourne, Australia on 20 May 1916, arriving at Plymouth, Devon on 18 July.
According to his service record he proceeded overseas to France with 107 Howitzer Battery, 8th Field Artillery Brigade, Australian Field Artillery. leaving Southampton on 31, Dec 1916, disembarking from Le Havre the following day, the 1st of January 1917. By then he had already been promoted to second Lieutenant.
The records show multiple occasions on which he was given medical treatment for gas poisoning. On 25 June 1917 he was admitted to a hospital at Boulogne. A few days later on 1 July, his unit was evacuated from the field because of a gas attack. On 11 July 1917 he was granted 21 days sick leave to London.
On the night of 19 August his unit was in action near Messines, Belgium when it came under heavy shelling. The official report recorded that
A quantity of charges were being ignited and a dump of gas shell thrown about. The officers of the Battery attempted to extinguish the fire but the Battery Commander, considering the risk too great, prevented them. Lieut Heenan, coming from another direction, did not hear this order and extinguished the fire single handed and at great personal risk from enemy shell, burning charges and leaking gas shell, thereby saving the ammunition, preventing injury to personnel and setting a very fine example to his men.
The official citation states that he was awarded the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”
Neville James returned to the field and within a short time was again gassed in November 1917. The attack was described as “severe gas poisoning” and required him to be transferred to England for treatment. 1918 saw him in England, partly on leave but also allocated to an artillery school. When he returned to France he succumbed to influenza which required treatment at Rouen.
He returned to Australia on the ship the Anchises in March 1919, to recommence his studies. He subsequently served as a solicitor and barrister. During World War 2 he was again called into service, but did not appear to have seen active service. Records I’ve looked at indicate he was a Captain (acting) with a recruiting division.
The Family of Neville James Heenan
Neville James’s family originally came from Borrisokane, county Tipperary in Ireland and emigrated to Australia in 1854. One of their son’s Michael Heenan, tried his hand at gold prospecting but gave that up in favour of becoming a farmer. In later life he was elected as a councillor in Esperance, Western Australia. Neville James was the eldest son of Michael and Josephine Frances McCarthy. For additional information on this family see an article I wrote about Neville’s younger brother Eric Michael Heenan.