Coastwatchers to be commemorated

Mosgiel resident Bob Heenan holds a photograph of his brother Arthur, who was one of 17 New Zealand coastwatchers killed by Japanese soldiers on Tarawa Atoll in October, 1942. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Mosgiel resident Bob Heenan holds a photograph of his brother Arthur, who was one of 17 New Zealand coastwatchers killed by Japanese soldiers on Tarawa Atoll in October, 1942. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Two Otago men beheaded by Japanese soldiers during World War 2 are among those being commemorated this month in New Zealand's first official tribute to the work of all coastwatchers.

Clifford Pearsall, of Lawrence, and Arthur Heenan, of Middlemarch, were two of 17 New Zealand coastwatchers executed by their Japanese captors on Tarawa Atoll, in what is now Kiribati, on October 15, 1942.

They died with five British and Australian civilians, shortly after an American bombing raid on Tarawa.

On October 15, the 70th anniversary of the killing, a commemorative service will be held at the National War Memorial in Wellington to officially pay tribute to all those posted to about 60 coastwatching stations established throughout the Pacific during World War 2.

Arthur's younger brother, Bob Heenan (86), of Mosgiel, planned to attend the ceremony with other family members.

His older brother hoped to travel with his two daughters from Invercargill to Wellington, where his sister and other relatives lived.

Mr Heenan, who was just 15 when Arthur left for the islands, said his brother was excited about travelling overseas and proud to be a coastwatcher.

Arthur and Clifford both worked for The Post and Telegraph Department and, as coastwatchers, were tasked with tracking enemy movements and reporting back to Allied forces.

Arthur celebrated his 22nd birthday a few weeks before his capture and death, while Clifford was aged just 21 at the time.

Their bodies were believed to be among those unearthed in a pit in Kiribati during 2010, although no official identification has been made.

Mr Heenan said he was proud of his brother's sacrifice and pleased coastwatchers were being commemorated in a national service.

"We didn't know if they would ever have one. The coastwatchers didn't get a great deal of publicity. He [Arthur] would have been 92 last Wednesday," he said.

Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said the coastwatchers' story was one of heroism, sacrifice and suffering, and not widely known.

"A number were killed and many of the remainder endured years of captivity as prisoners of war," he said.

Recognition of the coastwatchers' sacrifice was overdue, Lt-gen Jones said.

Family and friends of coastwatchers interested in attending the Wellington service were asked to contact Jess Caldwell on (04) 496-0204.

- rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

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