They went from the fields of Ireland, the villages of Scotland and the cities of England. Some put away their farrier’s tools; others their hunting traps and their miners’ lamps, never to pick them up again.
Husbands, sons, fathers and brothers; they went to war in service of their country, either volunteering because they believed the cause was just or commanded by their Queen and heads of state.
Twenty two men bearing the surname of Heenan died during the Great War. One of them fell on the mountains in Gallipoli, one died in the arid landscape of Iran, two went missing at sea. Most of these men died in the mud of Belgium and France in battles whose names have become legendary for the scale of the casualties.
Researching their stories has been a humbling experience. These were ordinary men not heroes, men who, with one or two exceptions, had never intended to become a soldier. Reading the diaries of their commanding officers it was hard not to feel that so many of these battles and assaults achieved little. That they lost their lives to gain an objective only for it to be lost within a few weeks or months.
Ten of these men were never located. Instead of a grave they are simply a name on a memorial.
I embarked on my research with the intention of getting to know these men, to give them form and shape beyond the name. I was hoping to connect them all with their families.
One man – Shoeing Smith Corporal Timothy Heenan – I connected with Cardinal John Heenan, Archbishop of Westminster. Another – Michael Cornelius Heenan – came from India where his family was employed by the public and military works department in Bengal. One young man – George Heenan- I traced to a pub run by his parents in Hillsborough, County Down, Ireland that is still in business today.
Sadly, and despite extensive efforts, one man remains a complete mystery. Able Seaman P Heenan was presumed drowned when the ship SS Gower went missing in the Irish Sea in 1917. No records exist that enable me to give him a name let alone a family.
But he will still be remembered.
To find out more about these soldiers read their individual stories in the Military Records/World War 1 section of this website via this link. Alternatively use the drop down menu at the top of the screen.