Private John Heenan

John Heenan was 20 years old when he left his job as a labourer on Shaw’s Farm in the Hexham area of Northumberland to enlist for the army.

He was assigned to the Northumberland Fusiliers on 14th of November 1914. On April 20, 1915 he was sent to France as part of the Expeditionary Force but within eight days he was wounded and seems to have been admitted to a hospital at Le Touquet.  He embarked for England on May 5th that year, remaining in England until September. From September 22 1915 until early in March the following year he was overseas with the 4th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers.

He was despatched back to the UK in March 1916 when there is an indication he was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps although subsequent correspondence between different departments of the army indicates there was confusion about his assignment. One officer with the 149th Brigade of the Machine Gun Corps said that he had no knowledge that John Heenan had been assigned his brigade. “This man was not taken on my strength and I have no knowledge of his transfer to the Machine Gun Corps'” he writes.

Inquiries were also made to his family but apparently all they could say was that to the best of their knowledge, at the end of his furlong, he had reported back for duty.

Some of the records held by the War Office do indeed list John Heenan with the 149th Brigade so it’s possible that he was with them for a short time before transferring to his final brigade, the 234th.

According to the War Graves Commission records Private John Heenan died in Flanders on April 30, 1918. His casualty records indicates he was admitted to a field hospital two days earlier suffering with a chest wound and from the effects of gas. He died at 3.30pm on April 30.

Hexham War Memorial Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

The precise information about the circumstances of his death are not available but the war diary entry by Major W R Styles on that day describes the 28th as a day of “more or less normal activity”. The 234th were stationed in the vicinity of Hinges where they were defending a canal. He goes on to note that the German shelling focused on the canal bank, bridges across the canal, and roads and villages behind the Allied lines. During the night there was a “considerable amount of gas shelling.” It may be that John Heenan was injured during one of those gas attacks. He died in the 18th General Hospital, Cameria, France

He was buried at Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. He is also commemorated on Face 10 of a memorial cross in Hexham, Northumberland which was unveiled in September 1921. Further details about the memorial are available on this website.

John Heenan’s family

Very little information is available about John Heenan.The Commonwealth Graves Commission record indicates he was a native of Crawcrook, Ryton-on-Tyne, Northumberland and had been born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, Northumberland. His parents were Michael and Margaret Heenan, who at the time of his death were living in Ryton-on-Tyne.

The Soldiers’ Effects Register indicates he had two brothers, Peter and Michael, and a sister called Mary Alice.  They were alive at the time of his death and in fact received his back pay, his war gratuity and his medals between 1919 and 1920.

On his attestation documents he gives his next of kin as an aunt by the name of C Conkleton, living at Pearson Street in Hexham – the absence of either his parents as next of kin suggests they had died prior to 1914. However I have been unable to locate the family in any of the census records or civil registration records.