Wednesday, 27 February 2013


Today, the 27th February 2013 it is the 50th anniversary of the death of my paternal Grandfather Michael Hannan.  Michael was only 41 years old when he passed away, he left a wife and two young sons; Michael and Peter.  I was never fortunate enough to meet my Granddad Michael as he died before I was born.  But, with the stories from my dad and my Mama Ada, along with the many photos they have of him I was able to build up a picture of the man who had whisked my Mama off of her feet and was brave enough to take on the fiery 5ft 1 ½ inch tall East End girl that she was.  Since then I have found out lots more about the life of Michael Hannan whilst researching my family tree. 
Here is his story
Michael was born on 5th October 1921, the second son of three boys born to Maud and Thomas Hannan.  His elder brother Thomas was born a few years earlier, in the aftermath of World War 1 on 11th December 1919.  His younger brother Bernard came a few years after Michael on 13th December 1923.  According to the baptism records of the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation all three boys were born at 21 Spencer Street, straight across the road from the church.  On speaking with Thomas Jnr “Uncle Tommy” in 1996 he told me that the boys had all been very large babies; Tommy 11lbs, Michael 13lbs and Bernard 15lbs. 
Michael on the donkey
with his brother Thomas
Michael was baptised “Michaelis Jacobus Hannan” on 23rd October 1921.  The Hannan family still followed the Roman Catholic faith that Michael’s Grandfather  ~ Michael Snr had practised when he arrived in Chesterfield back in the 1870’s.  He was a labourer born in a small hamlet named Attymachugh in County Mayo, Ireland (but that’s another story for another day). 
“Jacobus” in Latin can be translated in English to Jacob or James, up to now I have found no other members of the family who Michael may have been named after, but it does appear that the name did have some special meaning to the Hannan family; the name was passed on to his first son Michael born in 1947, who was actually baptised “Jacobus Hannan” but named Michael in the civil registrations and is known as Michael.  I would love to know why this was and who “Jacobus” was.
Back to the baptism of baby Michael in 1921, he had two God Parents or “Patrinus fuit” as the Roman Catholic Church called them.  One female named Margaret Hannan who I would expect was his Grandmother and one man named John Thomas Harbottle.   John Thomas Harbottle was married to the Aunt of Michael’s father Thomas (Great Aunt of Michael).  She was named Annie Hannan and she married John on 28th May 1917.  She was 51 years of age at the time and this was her first and only marriage (but again, Annie has her own story to be told at another time).
Michael received his confirmation on 21st May 1933.    He attended the Roman Catholic School in Chesterfield.  The family moved to their own home at 59 St Helen’s Street and lived in a two up two down terrace house.  On leaving school Michael worked for a grocers and had various driving jobs. He followed the Roman Catholic Church until his death and used to worship at the Roman Catholic Church in Poplar when he went to visit his in-laws.
The peaceful life was shattered with the onset of World War 2 and Michael and his two brothers all played their part in the war effort.  Michael joined the Royal Engineers as a driver on 7th April 1941.  Thomas joined the Army and Bernard the Navy.  There is supposed to be a newspaper article telling of an occasion when all three brothers were stationed at the same place, but try as I might I have not found it ~ yet.
Michael was Private 1950518, his service records describe him as aged 19 years and 5 months, 5ft 7 ¾ inches tall, weight 141 lbs.  He had a healthy complexion, grey eyes and his Irish roots gave him auburn hair.  We are even told that he had a mole on his left shoulder blade and a scar on his right thigh.
Description - Service Records

He was sent for Military Training at Halifax and posted to the "CWTCRE" which I have later discovered was the Chemical Warfare Training Centre Royal Engineers.  Those two words “Chemical Warfare” have meant that I have hit a major brick wall with regard to his duties and whereabouts.  Much of the information is still classified and will continue to be so.  I am afraid we may never find out what Michael was involved with during his time with the Royal Engineers. 
What I have been able to decipher from his service records is that in July 1941 he was posted to the 11th Chemical Warfare Training Battalion.  A month later on 30th August 1941 he was disciplined for failing to appear at an appointed place at South Molton.  For his “crime” he was to forfeit two day’s pay. 
The service records then jump to 25th March 1943, 19 months later.  During these months there are no references at all to any service for Michael on his documentation. What was Michael doing? Where was he based? We will probably never know.  He never spoke of Chemical Warfare or his involvement to my dad, the information was all new to us when we read his service records.
And so in March 1943 Michael was posted from the Chemical Warfare School to the Depot Battalion at Bownes.  He moved around England over the next month’s being based back in Halifax and what looks like Stroud. 
In November 1943 he was transferred to “B Coy” and soon found himself in trouble again.  He was granted leave on 4th December 1943 and was due back to base at 23.59hrs that same day.  Michael must have been preoccupied as he did not return until 17.20 the next day; 5th December.  He was absent without leave for 17 hours and 21 minutes.  For his penalty he was fined 1 days’ pay.
What caused Michael to neglect his duties as he did? 
We should ask the question “who caused Michael to be absent without leave”. 
The answer ~
Miss Ada Frances Masterson of Willis Street, Poplar, London, daughter of William James and Charlotte Masterson.  On 4th December 1943 Ada and Michael were married at the Register Office in Chesterfield.  They were both 22 years old and Ada was serving as a Private in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. 
The couple had met in Chesterfield after Ada and her younger brother James had been sent to stay at Vincent Crescent in Brampton, Chesterfield with their Aunt Ada and her husband George Wadge.  James was 10 years younger than Ada so he would have remained for a while in rural Chesterfield, safe from the terror in London.  But Ada was older and she would have probably enjoyed her new found freedom in Chesterfield, away from her parent’s watchful eyes.  She joined the ATS in 1942 at Derby so she must have joined whilst staying in Chesterfield.

The marriage was witnessed by Michael’s parents Thomas and Maud Hannan, it is not known who else if anyone, was present.  Michael must have wished more than anything that he did not have to return to his barracks and so I think we can forgive him his little extra time with his new bride.  Especially as just days later on 12th December Michael embarked for North Africa.  We know from there he was sent to Italy and we have lots of photographs of him looking like he is enjoying his time in the warm weather. 
Michael is front left, without his shirt on!
 In August 1945 Michael was promoted to Corporal.  He returned to British soil in December of 1945 and spent the remainder of his service being stationed at various training schools and was reverted to home establishment in February 1946.   He received the following reference from the Royal Engineers -
Character Reference - Service Records

Michael returned to St Helen’s Street and resumed his civilian life with his new bride.  They continued in the Hannan tradition and produced two sons and no daughters; Michael in 1947 and Peter in 1948.  In the early 1950’s they got their own house at Taylor Crescent, Spital but later on they spent the rest of their lives living at 69 St Helens Street, just a few houses away from Thomas and Maud who lived at 59 St Helens Street.  Number 69 was right right next door to Abercrombie Junior School, the school my brother and I attended years later.
Michael worked at various jobs including at Robinson’s Works and later for R Orme & Co as a grocery provisions dealer.  In his spare time Michael was a keen darts player and was a member of the Chesterfield Arm’s Pub team; he also liked to watch the cricket.  As many did in post war Britain, Michael tended an allotment which was just a quick walk for him and his boys off of Dowdeswell Street.  The family took holidays in Poplar visiting Ada's family.
Sadly Michael’s mother died on 12th December 1960, aged 65 years old.  She was buried at Boythorpe Cemetery which is set on a hill overlooking Chesterfield.  Thomas used to call at his son's house everyday for a cup of tea and a chat, this continued after Michael's death.
Not long after on 27th February 1963 Michael suffered a pulmonary infarction with a terminal pulmonary embolism and bilateral adrenal hemorrhage.  He was an inpatient at the Chesterfield Royal Hospital at the time and a telegram was sent to Ada telling her to report to the hospital as soon as possible.  We do not know why he was in hospital or what the exact events were, but sadly Michael had his young life cut short at only 41 years of age.
The funeral service was carried out at the Church of the Annunciation on Spencer Street on 4th March and he was then interred at Boythorpe Cemetery just behind the resting place of his mother Maud.  His obituary was placed in the Derbyshire Times on 8th March 1963, my Mama had sent a picture of him in his “tropical” uniform looking happy and carefree to be placed with the obituary but for some reason the picture was not printed. 
Fifty years late it may be, but here is the picture meant for my Granddad’s obituary > > > > > > >
After the funeral the family had a small gathering back to the house at 69 St Helens Street.  Letters of condolence were plentiful and R Orme & Sons received letters telling of the good work Michael had done for them.
Ada never remarried, she worked hard and cared for her two son's.  Like Michael she also enjoyed playing darts and dominoes at the local pubs; The Neptune and The Chesterfield Arms.  She worked as a cook at the local bus depot until she retired.  Ada passed away 25 years later on the day before Michael; the 26th Febraury 1988. 
~ X ~

Ada Frances Hannan
26th February 1988
Michael Hannan
27th February 1963
~ X ~ 

Does anyone know any more information about Michael Hannan and his time with the Royal Engineers? 
Do you recognise any of the men on the photo of the Royal Engineers in Italy?
Please do add your comments and let me know if you have any more information.
Thank you for reading. 








  1. This is wonderful. Very well written and very interesting. You really set the scene. I smiled thinking of your grandfather going AWOL to spend time with your grandmother and I felt sad that he died so young his photo had not been included in the obituary and pleased that you have posted it now. I think your written tribute would be better than the obituary 50 years ago.

    Well Done.

    I have subscribed and hope that you write more soon.


  2. Hi Sharon,
    Firstly; thank you for reading my blog! It's lovely to hear that the stories are interesting to not just family members.
    Secondly, thank you very much for your compliments - they are appreciated and inspire me to write more. I am afraid that I have been neglecting this blog as I have had too many other projects on going! So I will return to my own family ASAP and continue with the children of Michael and Margaret Hannan.
    Thanks for subscribing.

    1. I look forward to reading more soon Louise.