Hugh Heenan

Private 43122 

2nd Battalion The Royal Scots (Lothian) Regiment
Arras Memorial, France 

Killed In Action 9 March 1917 

Hugh Heenan died on the first day of the Battle of Arras, a major British offensive which was meant to deliver a knock out blow to the German forces.  By the time the offensive ended six weeks later, more than 30,000 men had been killed.

Hugh Heenan’s war

Hugh Heenan had been called up for service in April the previous year. He was 21 years old at the time and living at Garnock Place, Kilbirnie, a small town in Ayrshire.  

By the end of July that year he was on his way to France as part of the Expeditionary Force.  The 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots had been in France since the beginning of the war and had already seen action in Ypres and the Somme.

By the spring of 1917 they were stationed to the east of the city of Arras. A new offensive was planned in conjunction with a major French assault, the Nivelle Offensive, 50 miles to the south. The French attack was timed to start a week after the British attack allowing the latter to, hopefully, draw German troops away from the French front. The British Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Haig, was not in favour of an attack at Arras, believing the main effort of his armies should be directed north. He was however over-ruled by Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister.

The war diary of the 2nd Battalion, Arras, describes how the day before the attack, a Sunday, was spent in a church parade followed by final preparations for the offensive. 

The plan was for the attack to be carried out in phases with each assault group given specific objectives.

The diary reports:

Battalion moved out of NELSON Gate to assembly position for the attack.

The assaulting brigade - the 76th - had carried its objective which was the first system of German trenches

Later it was reported that the 9th brigade had captured its objective which was the village of Tilloy-les-Mafflaines. Eighth Brigade with the [2nd Royal Scots] on the right .... given the task of capturing the Feuchy line which was called the brown line, an advance of about 3000 yards.

The advance started most successfully and quite a number of prisoners were taken in the various trenches but when they had come up within about 600 yards of the brown line, the attacking troops were caught by heavy machine gun fire ... and further advance became impossible. This was due to the fact that the brigade on our left had failed to take the front. 

The battalion dug in during the night about 600 yards west of brown line and orders were given for a further attack the following day. 

Private Hugh Heenan is recorded on the memorial at Kilbirnie unveiled on October 7, 1922.

At sometime during that day and night Hugh Heenan lost his life.

By the 13th of April, when the battalion ordered to return to Arras, the commanding officer reported that 35 'other ranks' had been killed, 74 wounded and 43 were missing as a result of the Arras operations. 

As the war diary indicated there were some successes in the early stages of the offensive. Unfortunately the weather was against the attacking troops. Rain had fallen intermittently during the day but by night it had become a driving blizzard of snow and sleet, making it impossible for the artillery to move their guns forward to sustain the gains and support the advancing troops. 

He was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals.

Hugh Heenan’s Family

Information is scarce about Hugh Heenan’s family. On his attestation record he declared that he was born at Barony, Glasgow and he was aged 21 (thus putting his date of birth as around 1895). As yet I have not been able to find any record of his birth. 

He named his mother Mary as his next of kin when he enlisted. At the time she was living at 6 Garnock Place, Kilbirnie (the address given by the soldier as his own residence).  The fact he did not name his father as his next of kin would suggest that his father was dead by that date. 

One other clue comes from a note within the soldier’s service records to the effect that a memorial scroll was sent to a Mr John Heenan of that same address in October 1920 – this might be his brother.

Searches of census records for Scotland show there was a family with the surname of Heenan living in Bridge St, Kilbirnie, Ayrshire in 1901. 

John Heenan, head, aged 49, born in Duntocher, Dumbartonshire, Scotland, occupation of mason’s labourer

Wife Mary Jane, wife aged 40, born in Saltcoats, Ayrshire, occupation of flax preparer in Lin The Mill [this is an exact copy of the census record]

David son, aged 12, born Kilbirnie, Ayrshire. scholar

Hugh Heenan, son, aged 6 born Glasgow

The age of Hugh Heenan fits with the date of birth he gave on enlistment but without further evidence it’s impossible to confirm that this is indeed his family.

Sources

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission [https://www.cwgc.org]
  • Census of Scotland: 1901, General Register Office for Scotland Page: 1; Line: 3; Roll: CSSCT1901_226. Accessed via Ancestry.com
  • Medal cards: National Archives collection WO 372 Accessed via Ancestry.com
  • War Diary of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Scots Regiment, The National Archives, ref WO 95. Piece 1423/1-7: 8
    Accessed via Ancestry.com