Robert Millar Keenan

Private Robert Millar Keenan from Belfast, Co. Antrim served from Dunkirk, France through North Africa and Italy with the British Army during World War Two.


Robert Millar Keenan

Private Robert Millar Keenan saw action across Europe and North Africa during World War Two, including the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940. He also experienced the Blitz of Coventry during his time in the UK.

Private Robert Millar Keenan served in the British Army during World War Two. Born on 1st July 1903, he was the son of James Keenan and Martha Keenan (née Nelson) of Belfast, Co. Antrim. His place of birth was quarters attached to Chichester Street Fire Station, Belfast, Co. Antrim.

The Irish Census of 2nd April 1911 lists the family at 15 Tenth Street, Woodvale, Belfast, Co. Antrim. James and Martha are 48 and 47 years old. The children vary in age; Thomas (27), Hugh (22), Mary (19), John (16), James (11), Robert (8), Frances (6).

On 2nd April 1925, he married Isabella Mary Fitzpatrick at St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, Co. Antrim. Keenan’s home was still at 15 Tenth Street, Belfast, Co. Antrim. Isabella was from the nearby 168 Agnes Street, Belfast, Co. Antrim. John Keenan and Agnes Millar witnessed the ceremony.

Robert and Isabella gave birth to a daughter Martha Nelson Keenan on 12th August 1926. Martha died in infancy on 14th May 1927. A son who took his father’s name was born on 8th April 1928. A second daughter, Sarah Keenan was born on 22nd February 1930. 1930 also saw the death of Robert’s mother Martha Keenan on 16th March 1930 in Donaghadee, Co. Down.

Blitz damage in Coventry, Warwickshire, United Kingdom

Imperial War Museum Photo: H 5600 (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection). Bomb damage in the city centre of Coventry, Warwickshire, England after a Luftwaffe attack as part of the Blitz on 14th November 1940. Photo taken by Lieutenant Taylor - War Office Official Photographer.

Robert Millar Keenan at War

Keenan enlisted in the army at Belfast, Co. Antrim on 12th February 1940. He enlisted into the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps and was posted to No. 5 Training Centre as a Private. On 13th March 1940, he was posted to 83 Company.

Between 27th March 1940 and 22nd June 1940, Robert Millar Keenan fought in northern France. With the British Expeditionary Force, he would have been part of the massive evacuation of Dunkirk. On his return to the so-called safety of the United Kingdom, he picked up injuries in Coventry when the Luftwaffe attacked in 1940.

The next few years saw Robert Millar Keenan posted to the following:

  • 15th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 26th August 1941.
  • 31st Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 10th January 1942.
  • 114 General Transport Company, Royal Army Service Corps on 15th February 1942.
  • 100 General Transport Company, Royal Army Service Corps on 7th March 1942.
  • 22 Initial Training Centre, Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 10th August 1942.
  • 8th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 27th August 1942.
  • 31st Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 19th October 1942.
  • No. 29 Prisoner of War Camp on 12th November 1942.

From 26th November 1942 to 17th August 1945, he was with 1st Army in North Africa and Italy. He was released to the army reserve on 21st November 1945 and discharged on 10th February 1954. Keenan received the following medals for his service during World War Two:

  • 1939-1945 Star.
  • Africa Star with First Army Clasp.
  • Italy Star.
  • Defence Medal.
  • British War Medal 1939-1945.

On 10th January 1943, Robert and Isabella had another daughter named Isabella Mary Keenan in Coleraine, Co. Londonderry. Isabella died aged 2 years old on 19th March 1945 in Belfast, Co. Antrim. 23rd October 1946 brought the death of Robert’s father James Keenan.

On 25th February 1958, Robert Millar Keenan died at his home at 37 Ballysillan Drive, Belfast, Co. Antrim. His grave is in Section S1, Grave 502 of Belfast City Cemetery, Belfast, Co. Antrim.