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
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
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
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
"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