Francis Joseph Heenan survived more than three years on the Western Front only to die in the Spanish flu pandemic eight days before the Great War came to an end. On the day he died the Allied Governments had agreed to Germany’s proposal for an armistice. Peace was days away.
Private Heenan was serving in France at the time with the 30th Ammunition Section of the Army Ordnance Corps, responsible for the maintenance and repair of weaponry, munitions and other military equipment.
His service records are not available so we do not know exactly when he joined the army nor his location on the day of his death. The war gratuity of £20 that his father received after his death was equivalent to 42 months of service, indicating that he probably enlisted around May 1915. His medal index card shows that he arrived in France on October 31, 1915.
Francis Heenan’s Family
He was the seventh of nine children born to Denis Heenan and Ellen Kennedy who married in St Vincent’s Church, Sheffield in 1879. Denis was the son of an Irish immigrant family, Patrick and Ellen Heenan who settled in Sheffield in the mid 1850s. Denis and Ellen initially lived in the Nether Hallam district but by the time of the 1891 census they had moved to Attercliffe which became one of the important industrial centres in Sheffield. It was an area of rapid population growth as the major steel and engineering works opened up.
The steel industry provided the Heenan family with an income for more than 30 years. Denis Heenan had several jobs associated with steelmaking: iron tilter, steel casting filter and steel casting dresser. By the time of the 1911 census he was occupied as a blacksmith in a steel foundry.
At the time when he attended a recruiting station in Sheffield, Yorkshire, Francis Heenan had begun to follow in his father’s footsteps into the steelworks of Sheffield. The 1911 census for England shows that he was living with his parents at number 35 Washford Road, Attercliffe cum Darnall, and working as an apprentice in the cutting department of a steel rolling mill. He was 17 years old at the time.
His youngest brother John Basil was involved in manufacturing though it’s not certain this was in the steel industry. In the 1939 census he is recorded as being a jig and press tool foreman.
His older brother Edmund also saw service in World War 1 with the Royal Naval division for a short time until sent back to his civilian job in the Sheffield steelworks. He re-enlisted and this time served as an engineering apprentice. By 1939 he is recorded on the National Register as a fitter. Both brothers continued to live in the Sheffield area.
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission [https://www.cwgc.org]
- Civil registration England and Wales: General Register Office. Accessed via Find My Past and Ancestry.com
- Census of England: 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911. The National Register of 1939: The National Archives accessed via Find My Past
- Medal cards: National Archives collection WO 372 Accessed via Ancestry.com
- Soldier’s Effects Ledgers, accessed via Ancestry.com
- Information provided by the grand-daughter of Francis Joseph Heenan