Little is known about Private Henry Heenan beyond what is recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. His service records are missing, presumably destroyed in 1940 during a bombing raid on the War Office in London where the records were held.
His service number of 9890 provides a clue that he was already a member of the armed forces by the time war broke out in 1914. That number seems to have been issued to a soldier around mid-October 1912. (9889 was issued on the 14th of that month).
His medal record shows that he was certainly in the first wave of soldiers despatched to the Western Front. In his record of entitlement for the 1914 Star, his eligibility date is given as September 8, 1914. The 2nd Battalion of the Leinster Regiment embarked for France in September, landing at St Nazaire on the 14th of that month. It was to remain on the Western Front for the duration of the war, participating in some of the most fierce battles on the Somme and at Ypres .
August 1917 saw the battalion stationed near Dickebush, a village in the Ypres Salient behind the front lines which had one of the largest concentrations of troops in the years 1915-1917. The 3rd Battle of Ypres (more commonly known as the Battle of Passchendale) had been underway since July 31st.
Though summer, it rained heavily and persistently in the region that year, turning the heavy clay soil, already churned up by artillery bombardment, into thick mud. The whole operation became literally bogged down in thick, sticky Flanders mud. Progress was so slow and the objectives so poorly defined, that it took eight weeks to capture Passchendaele Ridge. The cost to both sides in human casualties was immense.
The war diary kept by the battalion’s commanding officer says little of this.
Surrounded by death, it’s understandable that Private Henry Heenan should open his paybook on August 7, 1917 and write his final wishes. It was a simple statement:
In the event of my death I leave all my property and effects to my wife Mrs Heenan, 48 Elgin street, off Rochester St, Glasgow
Five days later he become one of the fallen himself.
The circumstances in which he died are unknown. The war diary shows that on the 1st of August, the battalion had moved back from the stretch of line on the Ypres Ridge that they had been holding. They spent the next few days resting in camp. On August 11 they proceeded to ‘Canada Tunnels’ near ‘Shrewsbury Forest’, a location named by the 2nd King’s Shropshire Light Infantry in March 1915, where they were to relieve another battalion.
All the diary says is: “Relief completed 6am. 2 O.R killed during relief”
Private Henry Heenan was one of those O.Rs (Other Ranks).
He has no known grave. In common with all the other United Kingdom and New Zealand servicemen who fell in action before midnight on August 15, he is commemorated at The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing .
I have not found any memorial to him in his home town of Glasgow.
Private Henry Heenan’s family
The only clues about his family come from Private Henry’s will, the Soldier’s Effect register and a list published by His Majesty’s Stationery Office, at the behest of the War Office, of all those who died during the Great War.
The combination of these sources indicates that:
- Private Heenan was born in Barony, Glasgow, Lanark.
- He enlisted at Glasgow (and was thus resident in that area sometime in the period 1912-14.
- His wife’s first name was Elizabeth
- She was living in 1917 at 48 Elgin street, off Rochester St in Glasgow
None of these facts have unfortunately enabled me to trace his relatives or any further information about this soldier. The 1911 census does have a Henry Heenan as head of a household in 14 Villiers Street, Glasgow that consists of his wife Isabella and four children but I can’t be certain this is the right man. There is another possible candidate in the form of a Henry Heenan who in the 1901 census is living with his parents in Soho Street, Camlachie, Glasgow. But again this is unconfirmed.
We can speculate that, since he joined an Irish regiment, that either he was born in Ireland or his immediate family were from Ireland. The Leinster regiment recruited in central and eastern Ireland and had its main base in Birr (County Offally) so there may be a connection there to explore in the future.
Searches for Elizabeth Heenan, his widow, have also been unsuccessful.
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission [https://www.cwgc.org]
- War medal entitlement. Source The National Archives WO 329 Published by Ancestry.com
- The War Diary of the 2nd Battalion Leinster Regiment: Source: The National Archives,WO 95. Piece 2218/2
- Census of Scotland 1901, 1911: General Register Office for Scotland. Published by Scotland’s People
- Soldier’s Effects Register: The National Archives, accessed via Ancestry.com
- Formation of the Leinster Regiment: The Long Long Tail [https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/] and The WarTime Memories Project [https://wartimememoriesproject.com]