Private Lawrence Heenan was born in Scotland, one of ten children born to Laurence, a coal miner from Ireland and his wife Margaret Heenan, from Lanarkshire.

The exact location of his birth is uncertain. In the attestation papers completed on joining the army he is said to have been born in Denny. Stirlingshire but in the 1891 census he is recorded as having been born in about 1886 in Broxburn, Linlithgowshire (now part of West Lothian) in the south of Scotland.

By the time of the 1891 census the Heenan family was living in number 10 Stirling Row in the Duniplace district of Stirling, a house which had two rooms with windows. His father and two of his elder brothers, James and John were working as coal miners and his elder sister Ann was a paper mill worker. Ten years later the 1901 census shows that Lawrence is himself a coal miner.

Lawrence (known also as Laurence) Heenan enlisted into the Argyll and Sunderland Highlanders Regiment at Stirling on October 27, 1914. He gave his age as 28 years and four months and declared that he was working as a miner. He measured five feet 2 inches, weighed 125 lbs and had a 37 inch waist. He was described as having a fresh complexion with brown eyes and hair. The medical officer noted that he was under the preferred height for a solider but otherwise was a good recruit and would develop to the required standard.

Consequently he was assigned to the 10th (Service) Battalion as a Private with the service number of S/6222. 

His first months were spent undergoing training, stationed in billets first at Bordon, then New Alresford and finally, in February 1915, at Bramshott. He seems to have been a good soldier generally except  for one period in December 1914 when he was found drunk in his billet and was fined 7 days pay.

Training came to an end in May 1915 when orders were issued to the 10th (Service) Battalion to join the Expeditionary Force in France. The Battalion landed at Boulogne on May 11 and made its way to the Belgian front. A short time after arriving at the front, Lawrence Heenan, like thousands of other soldiers, made a will. It was a simple declaration that  “In the event of my death I leave the whole of my property and effects to my father Lawrence Heenan of 17 Herbertshire Street, Denny.”

Sketch of trenches defended by Argyll and Highlanders 10th Battalion

His time on active service was short lived. Lawrence Heenan was killed in action in Flanders, Belgium on October 15, 1915.

According to the war diary kept by the Battalion commander there were no reports of attacks or casualties involving the 10th (Service) Battalion on the 15th. In fact the men had been pulled back from the front two days earlier and were now in camp well away from the action.

So we have a mystery. Why was October 15th given as the date of Lawrence Heenan’s death? One possibility is that he was injured in an earlier attack and died some time later as a result of his wounds. But there is no trace of his admission to a field hospital.

One clue comes from a list of soldiers killed during the war that was published by the War Office in 1929. It identifies 30 men, including Lawrence Heenan, all from the 10th (Service) Battalion that died on October 15.

The answer lies in the daily War Diary kept by the Battalion commander. On October 13  the  Company A within the battalion was stationed in in trench number 29 near Dickebush while Companies B and C were in reserve dug outs at Canal Bank and Spoil Bank. The sketch map above shows the deployment of the forces and the position relative to the German lines. 

The diary records:

At 6am the enemy exploded a large mine under old CRATER in trench 29. This did a great deal of damage in front and at the BLUFF and was most regrettable in that we lost about 70 men, 14 of whom were killed and 16 missing. All dug outs nearby were completely blown in causing many men to be buried. The men though for the most part new to trench warfare stood absolutely firm under these most trying circumstances.

A letter to the family from another soldier in the Battalion confirms that Lawrence Heenan died as a result of the explosion and adds further detail.

Letter to Lawrence Heenan’s elder sister Ann

It is with the greatest of regret that I have to inform you that Larry was killed on Friday morning, in the trenches. It was very hard on him after coming through five days hard fighting in the big advance. We were only out for three days after the fighting when we were packed off to the trenches in Belgium and it was there, in the trenches that Laurence met his death. We were blown into the air by a German mine, burying half our company. I may say in closing Larry was a big favourite out here. We miss his presence greatly.

The Scotsman newspaper reported his death on Nov 4, 1915

 

Lawrence Heenan, 10th A and S H, was killed in action about 15th October.  Official intimation was received by his father Mr Lawrence Heenan, Herbertshire Street. Pte Heenan was 25 years of age and, previous to joining the army a year ago, worked in Woodyet Pit, Denny. Mr Heenan has five sons in the army.

Lawrence Heenan’s death is commemorated at the Menin Gate memorial in Ypres, Belgium on panels 42 and 44. He was posthumously awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. A war gratuity of £3 5 shillings and 10pence was paid to his father in March 2016. A sum of £3 was paid to his brother James in November 1919.

Lawrence Heenan’s Family

Father: Laurence Heenan who was born about 1850 in Ireland. He was the son of Patrick Heenan, a farmer, living in County Kildare. Laurence Heenan worked variously as an ironstone miner and then, in later years as a coal miner.  He died in October 1918.

Mother: Margaret Curren was born in Airdrie, Lanarkshire about 1851. She died in Hamilton Lanarkshire in 1891 as a result of septicaemia. 

The couple married at Denny in Stirlingshire, Scotland on 22 Oct 1869. They had five sons and five daughters. In the early years of their marriage they lived in Denny, Stirlingshire where four of their children were born between 1870 and 1879. They then moved to Broxburn, Linlithgowshire where their son Lawrence and daughter Mary were born. By 1887 they were in Rosehall, Lanarkshire where their son Thomas was born. 1889 saw them in Slamannan, Stirlingshire where their final child Margaret was born. After his wife’s death it appears Lawrence Heenan returned to Denny where he lived with his daughter Ann and her husband Patrick McNally. 

Sources

  • Marriage of Laurence Heenan and Margaret Currens October 22, 1869, Parish Church of Denny, County of Stirlingshire. Source: Register of Parish Marriages 476/31 Page 16 entry number 31. Published by Scotland’s People
  • Census of Scotland 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901: Published by Scotland’s People
  • Lawrence Heenan’s birth: 1881 Renfrew, Scotland. Source: Civil registration births ref 575/ 149 Published by Scotland’s People
  • Lawrence Heenan’s death: Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • Lawrence Heenan’s military service papers: ref The National Archives WO363-4. Published by Ancestry.com
  • The War Diary of the 10th (Service) Battalion: Source: The National Archives, Diary number 1772  Ref WO95/1772
  • In Remembrance of the Members from St Alexander’s RC Church’ booklet. Located at Falkirk Archives
  • Lawrence Heenan’s death was reported in The Scotsman Nov 4, 1915 and the Falkirk Herald, November 11, 1915,  [accessed via the British Newspaper Archive]