Charles Stuart Heenan
1/6th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment
Lievin Communal Cemetery Extension, France
Killed In Action 12 May 1917
Charles Stuart Heenan was a young organ builder whose career came to an abrupt end when he was was killed in Northern France in May 1917 during the Arras offensive. He was 30 years old.
Charles Heenan’s war
Unfortunately there is very little information available about this soldier's time in the army. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) indicates he enlisted at Birmingham but doesn't give the date at which occurred. There is no trace of his service records which would show definitively when he joined the army and when he was sent to the Western Front.
However his medal entitlement is a good indication that he did not see active service before 1916. After his death he was awarded the Victory Medal (given to all those who entered a theatre of war) and the British War Medal (given to a member of the fighting forces who had to leave his native shore in any part of the British Empire while on service.). He did not receive the 1914-15 Star which was issued to all personnel, (with a few exceptions), who served in a theatre of war before 31 December 1915.
On that basis we can say with certainty that Charles was not on active duty until February 1916 at the earliest when his battalion returned to France after a month in Egypt. It's possible that he was a volunteer recruit but equally feasible that he had been conscripted under the Military Service Act introduced in March 1916 following the disappointing response to the Derby scheme for volunteers the previous year.
His record of personal effects is a further indication that his time in the army was of relatively short duration. By the time of his death he had accumulated pay of £2 2s 9d, a modest sum which was paid to his nearest surviving relative.
If Charles Heenan joined them during 2016 he would have been involved in various actions on the Western Front including the diversionary attack at Gommecourt.
Circumstances of the death of Private Charles Stuart Heenan
The spring of 1917 marked the start of a new offensive on the Western Front.
Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Armies in France and Flanders said his intent was to squeezeout the German troops and make withdrawal difficult by launching a series of converging attacks, The plan met with some initial success and the Battle of Vimy and the First Battle of the Scarpe resulted in the British troops gaining some territory. But these achievements were now maintained and the hoped for progress did not materialise.
At the time the 1/6th Battalion were deployed in the area of Liévin, west of Lens in northern France.
The war diary for the Battalion does not indicate there was any major attack on the 12th May which would explain how Charles Heenan died. In the days immediately before the 12th is simply reports a series of movements between trenches and time spent in brigade reserve. But by the end of that month 17 men had been killed, 7 were missing and 2 had died from wounds sustained previously. There were also 65 men wounded.
Commemoration of Charles Heenan
Charles Heenan was buried in plot IV. D. 10 at the Lievin Communal Cemetery Extension. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records he was initially buried at Angres Churchyard, along with 25 other soldiers from the United Kingdom, nine men of the Canadian Garrison Artillery and five German prisoners. They were then moved when the Lieven extension was created.
He is also commemorated in a Book of Remembrance that was created at Holy Trinity Church in Sunderland. Page 121 of the book records
1/6th Bn South Staff Regt
241732 Pte Charles Stuart Heenan b:Sunderland. Lived: Walsall.
KIA: France & Flanders 12-5-1917
Charles Heenan’s Family
Charles was born to Joseph Heenan and his wife Amelia Laine who had left the town of Maryborough in County Laois, Eire, shortly after their marriage in 1870 and settled in Newcastle upon Tyne. The first of their eight children was born there in 1871.
At the time of his marriage Joseph was working as a warden in the asylum at Maryborough. That’s probably how he met his future wife since her father was also employed as a warden in the same asylum.
In Northumberland however Joseph tried his hand at a variety of occupations.
In the 1881 census when he and Amelia were living at Clumber Street, Elswick he was working as a barman in the wines and spirits trade. By the time of the next census he had become a licensed victualler and moved to Gallowgate in the heart of the city. He switched direction entirely after that because in 1901 he is recorded as being a gun fitter living in Cookson Street, Westgate. Fast forward another 10 years to 1911 and Joseph Heenan is now a worker at Armstrong Whitworth and Co.
Charles Heenan was the couple’s seventh child, born in 1886. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission describes him as born in Sunderland. His birth was registered (his middle name is spelled as Stewart rather than Stuart) in the Durham registration district in Q2 that year. In the different census years he is variously recorded as being born in Sunderland, Newcastle and Durham.
By the time he had joined the army, both his parents had died. His eldest sister Amelia Rebecca died at the age of two in 1873, his brother, William James died aged two in 1882 and his youngest brother Sydney Howard, died aged one in 1882. Charles’ personal effects record indicate that all remaining siblings had also died except for his sister Maud who is described as “his sole legt”. In September 1917 she received the pay he was due, then in November 1919 she received the amount of £6 as a war gratuity, a payment introduced in December 1918 as a payment for men who served in the First World War for at least 6 months of home service, or for any length of service if a man had served abroad.
On the eve of World War 1 Charles was employed by Blackett & Howden, at Heaton, one of the premier organ building companies in England. Established in 1893, the company was keen to build organs to a higher standard than every other company. They undertook commissions across the country which may explain why, according to the Book of Remembrance in Sunderland, he was living in Walsall at the time he joined the army.
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission [https://www.cwgc.org]
- Civil registration England and Wales: General Register Office Vol 10a page 731
Accessed via Find My Past
- Census of England: 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911. 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
- War Diary of the 1/6th South Staffordshire Regiment, The National Archives, ref WO 95/2687. Accessed via Ancestry.com