Died 24 February 1941
Thomas Heenan died while trying to protect a convoy through the North Atlantic.
He was a greaser on board HMS Manistee, a merchant navy vessel commandeered in 1940 by the Royal Navy to serve as an ocean boarding vessel during World War 2. Until that time she had plied a passenger and banana route between the Caribbean and the United Kingdom.
Almost immediately on entering the war service she was attacked by a Uboat off the coast of Ireland. Fortunately none of the torpedoes hit their mark on that occasion.
On February 18, 1941, the Manistee left Liverpool escorting a convoy of more than 40 vessels, bound for North America to collect badl needed foodstuffs and equipment.
The convoy dispersed at 9pm on the 23rd after reports were received of enemy vessels in the area. The Manistee came under fire from a U-Boat later that night. The engine room was hit. A few minutes later an Italian submarine, the Bianchi, fired a torpedo and hit the stern of the Manistee. The U-boat continued in pursuit of the Manistee, firing more topedoes, one of them hitting the stern and causing the ship to sink. The commander, 18 officers and 122 ratings were lost.
There is scant information about Thomas available on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. It’s just the basic detail of his service number, role, date of death and the fact he is recorded on the naval memorial at Liverpool, Lancashire.
Additional records held by The National Archives help to flesh out the picture a little.
One of those documents – called a T124X form – indicates that Thomas Heenan was in the merchant navy at the time when the Manistee was commandeered.
The T124X is an agreement signed by merchant seamen to bring them under Navy Rules. During World War 2 a large number of merchant seafarers and fishermen found themselves onboard ships that were requisitioned by the Royal Navy. Many of these men volunteered to remain onboard as crew, working alongside Royal Navy personnel. While they remained on their civilian pay and leave conditions, they were required to sign T124X or T124T agreements which placed them under the Naval Discipline Act and strengthened their case for similar recognition to their Royal Navy colleagues.
Thomas Heenan signed such a document on November 20, 1940. In it he gave his date and place of birth as May 20, 1909 in Glasgow, Lanarkshire. This means he was 24 years old when he died.
The document also gives a physical description. He was 5ft 7inches tall with blue eyes and fair hair and complexion. He had a tattoo of two hearts on his left arm with the message “True Love”.
But there the trail goes cold. There are no birth records for a Thomas Heenan in Scotland in 1909 and no child of the relevant age in the 1911 census in Scotland. Perhaps he was mistaken about where he was born? Or perhaps he gave incorrect information about the date of birth?
Without this it will be difficult to find his family.
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission [https://www.cwgc.org]
- UK, British Army and Navy, Birth, Marriage and Death Records 1730-1960: Ancestry.co.uk from