I received the death certificate for Patrick Sheehan recently. As often happens with eagerly anticipated family history documents, it offers some additional information, but doesn’t answer all the questions I thought it might.
First things first- I don’t believe there’s any doubt that the certificate is that of my grand uncle Patrick, the younger brother of my Grandfather Nicholas Sheehan, and of Ellen Sheehan. The entry under “occupation” reads “of Fenor, Waterford Ireland, Private Machine Gun Corps, Farm Labourer”. His age is recorded as 30, which agrees with the census records from 1901 and 1911. (It doesn’t match the age inscribed on his gravestone, 24- that still puzzles me, but, given the other evidence, I can only assume that the age on the gravestone was a mistake.)
The primary cause of Patrick’s death is listed as “tubercular empyema”. The condition, a complication of tuberculosis, is still difficult to treat, and often requires surgery as well as anti-tuberculosis drugs. In 1919, the drugs were still years off, and the surgical techniques not as advanced as today’s, so the mortality rate was high. Tuberculosis was endemic in the UK and Ireland at the time, taking 50,000 lives in 1916, and only increasing as the war dragged on.
While the death certificate confirms that Patrick died at Belton Park in Grantham, the headquarters of the Machine Gun Corps, it doesn’t offer any additional information on his experience during the war. Hopefully we’ll find out more eventually. Meanwhile, I’ve added this information to Patrick’s remembrance page at the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.