Harry Gilmore Heenan

Lieutenant Harry Gilmore Heenan. Photograph published with permission of his relative John Paul Critchley.

Harry Gilmore Heenan was born on Aug 25, 1923 to Peter Heenan, a headteacher in Hull, England and his wife Rose Mary (nee Blackburn). Harry's second name came from his maternal grandmother Margaret Gilmore.

He was a pupil at Douai School,  a public school run by a Benedictine community at Woolhampton, in Berkshire, and then joined the National Provincial Bank, working at the Beverley Road branch in Hull.

After officer training at Sandhurst he joined the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry, Royal Armoured Corps as a Lieutenant. 

According to a news report in the Hull Daily Mail shortly after his death was reported, Harry Gilmore Heenan had been with the 2nd Troop of the regiment for two years before his death and had been sent overseas shortly after the D Day operations.

He was killed in the Nijmegen area of the Netherlands on Sept 25, 1944, when he was 21 years old. It appears that his death was the result of a tragic accident.

In a letter to his family, Major John Senken from the Nottinghamshire  and Sherwood Rangers paid tribute to Harry Gilmore's skills as an officer. The letter, published in the Hull Daily Mail on October 20, 1944, indicates that four days prior to his death Harry Gilmore Heenan had led his troops through two miles of open road and close to enemy forces to guard a road. They remained in their location all night, coming under shell attack but managed to destroy a German force.

Major Senken's testimonial describes how on the day Harry Gilmore died he had gone to the aid of a sister troop in a difficulties due to an increasingly heavy shell fire from a concealed 88mm gun. "Some infantry near Harry spotted the gun. He whistled his tank round the corner and down down the road and knocked the gun out with its crew, ammunition lorry and all. It was while returning after a reconnaissance on foot to see the damage he had done that he was shot, about six in the evening. "

He concludes: "I have no hesitation in saying that no finer officer ever led a troop in this regiment."

Harry Gilmore Heenan

Headstone Harry Gilmore Heenan, Netherlands

A more detailed explanation of Harry Gilmore Heenan's death is recorded in The Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry 1939-1945 , a history of the regiment published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson. The young Lieutenant, was returning to his tank when he accidentally dropped his Sten gun and it fired. He died as a result of his injuries a short time afterwards.

The men in the tank he rescued did not learn of his death until later that evening. One of them, Captain David Render, has told of his regret that he did not have a chance to thank the Lieutenant for saving his life.

According to Eric Baume, a journalist who was with the press corps in the Netherlands, Lieutenant Heenan was initially buried at a plot opposite the Hotel Sionshof in Nijmegen. This town on the Waal river, close to the German border.In September 1944, had been the jumping off point for the first combined American-British attack on the bridges in Nijmegen in September 1944. The hotel was used as a base by the international press corps. Lieutenant Heenan's body was later moved to the Jonkerbos War Cemetery in the Netherlands where his headstone bears the inscription “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.”

Harry Gilmore Heenan’s Family

He was the eldest of two children born to Peter Heenan and Rose Mary Blackburn, his younger sister Brenda was born in 1926.

Peter Heenan was born on August 25, 1892 and married in Yorkshire in 1922. In the 1939 National Register the family is registered as living at 18 Hull Road, in Halternprice, Hull. By the time of their son's death, they are living in Cottingham and Peter Heenan is headteacher at St Charles' School in Hull.

They are part of family group 122. Further details can be located via this link or by using the Search/People option on the top menu of the website.

Sources

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission [https://www.cwgc.org]
  • 1939 National Register. Published by Find My Past www.findmypast.org
  • Civil registration birth: Harry G Heenan, mother's maiden name Blackburn. Registered Q3 1923. Halifax registration district, vol 9a page 649  Published by Ancestry www.ancestry.org
  • Hull Daily Mail, Friday October 20, 1944, page 6. Accessed via the British Newspaper Archive https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/
  • Hull Daily Mail , Thursday October 4, 1944 page 4 Accessed via the British Newspaper Archive https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/
  • Circumstances of Harry Gilmore Heenan's death and burial are recorded in The Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry 1939-1945 and Five Graves at Nijmegen by Eric Baume. Both are referenced in the Facebook group maintained by the Sherwood Rangers https://www.facebook.com/pg/sherwoodrangersyeomanry/