Patrick Heenan's war was of very short duration. He enlisted into the 8th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers at Belfast. They landed in France in February 1916. By April that year he was dead, a victim of the first large scale use of chemical weapons during a war.
The 8th Royal Inniskillings were in the Loos area, in billets at Philosophe (a town between Bethune and Lens) in April 1916. The morning of 27th saw a very heavy bombardment just after 5am so the battalion stood ready to move up into the line. At the same time the German troops began shelling Philosophe itself and released a cloud of gas. afterwards. A and B remained in the line until night, retiring to billets on Philosophe about 11.30pm.
The following day the 8th Battalion moved into the line to take over from the 7th Inniskillings.
The war diary for the battalion reports that around 3am on the 29th April, the enemy began heavy shelling and simultaneously released gas which became very dense. The gas came from two pipes which had been laid half way across no man's land. The commanding offer reported:
Gas came over in two clouds., the first of a greenish colour, the second of a yellowish creamy colour. Gas was then driven back across enemy lines - he must have suffered heavy casualties as ambulances were seen coming. Enemy made no attempt to attack on our front. Gas passed about 5am and enemy was absolutely quiet throughout rest of the day.
No details are given about the casualties that day (there seem to be a few pages of the diary missing) but the War Office sponsored book Soldiers Died in the Great War records that 50 men died that day.
Official records state that Patrick Heenan died of his wounds. A brief report in the Belfast News-Letter, says he died from the effects of gas. The green gas referenced in the diary may have been chlorine; a powerful irritant that can inflict damage to eyes, nose, throat and lungs. A high concentration can cause death by asphyxiation.
Patrick Heenan's family
Patrick was the eldest and only son of a couple from Belfast. His father (also called Patrick) was a young man of nineteen and working as a butcher when he married Annie O'Neill in Belfast in 1895. His own father, a bleacher by the name of Thomas Heenan, was already dead at that time.
By the time of the 1911 census Patrick (senior) had changed occupations to become a cabinet maker. He was a widower, with a young family to support. His wife Annie had died in 1907, aged 29.
Occupants of 10 Boundary Street, Wood Vale Ward, Belfast, County Antrim
Patrick Heenan, Head of Family, Widowed, age 33, born Belfast. Occupation of cabinet maker
Patrick Heenan, Son, Single, aged 13, born in Belfast
Agnes Heenan, Daughter, Single, age 11, born in Belfast
Letetia Heenan, Daughter, Single, age 5, born in Belfast
The family were Roman Catholic.
Patrick Heenan (senior) got caught up in the movement for Home Rule in Ireland. He was listed as a "Nationalist' in 1910 in an article in the Belfast Morning News on Sept 29 which declared that the Unionist supporters had objected to him and he must must attend court to refute allegations against him or face having his name struck off something called "The Long List."
Whether he did is not known.
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission [https://www.cwgc.org]
- Census of Ireland, 1911 The National Archives of Ireland Accessed via findmypast.com
- Belfast Morning News, accessed via Find My Past
- Belfast News-Letter, accessed via Find My Past
- Soldier's Effects Log, The National Archives accessed via Ancestry
- Medal cards: National Archives collection WO 372 Accessed via Ancestry.com
- War Diary of the 8th (Service) Battalion Inniskilling Fusiliers, The National Archives, ref WO 95. Piece 1997/3
Accessed via Ancestry.com
- Civil registration Ireland, accessed via irishgenealogy.ie