I've never done this kind of challenge before but it seems a good way to motivate me to develop more content for the blog and to do some additional research.
I'm going to base my posts on the first names of individual Heenans within my database.
Let's begin at the beginning with the letter A.
Arthur Clarence Heenan
My chosen individual today is a young soldier who was executed by the Japanese in 1942.
Arthur was born in September 1920 in Middlemarch, a small town serving the needs of farmers in the Otago region of New Zealand's South Island. He was the eldest son of Edward Percy Heenan and Martha McQueen Cranstoun. His great grandfather Dennis Heenan had been one of the earliest settlers in the region, having arrived in 1850.
In 1941 Arthur Heenan was a telegraph cadet with the signal corps of the New Zealand Coastwatchers, part of the New Zealand expeditionary force in the Pacific. The Coastwatchers, mostly New Zealanders, were posted to islands around the Pacific in the period before Pearl Harbour. Their role was to observe enemy movements and rescue stranded Allied personnel.
Arthur Clarence Heenan embarked from Auckland on the SS Matua on July 12, 1941, within a contingent of radio operators. The ship's passenger list indicates that his destination was Suva, Fiji but by 1942 he was located in the Gilbert Islands, a chain of sixteen atolls and coral islands in the Pacific Ocean about halfway between Papua New Guinea and Hawaii. The position of the coastwatchers became increasingly difficult as the Japanese forces moved rapidly, capturing one island group after another.
Seven of the New Zealand coastwatchers were captured in the northern Gilbert Islands, and sent to Zentsuji POW Camp in Japan. Other members of the team who were operating from the southern Gilbert Islands, including Arthur Clarence Heenan, were captured and held on the island of Tarawa.
Their remains have never officially been located.
How did Arthur Clarence Heenan die?
For a long time, his family did not know the exact fate of their son beyond the fact he had been killed. It was not until January 1944, when a letter arrived from the Gilbert Islands, that they learned the truth.
The letter from Sister Mary Claver of the Sacred Heart Mission in Maiana, an atoll within the Gilbert Islands, told the family that Arthur Heenan had been stationed in Maiana with two other New Zealand soldiers for about 12 months. It was a quiet and monotonous life but Sister Claver said that he seemed happy nevertheless, spending the time in between his duties reading and studying.
In December 1941, he made his last will and testament in which he bequeathed all his estate to his father.
On 25th September 1942, Japanese soldiers landed on Maiana to search for wireless operators. Arthur smashed the wireless set and then the three men hid in the bush, emerging after three days when the Japanese party departed empty handed. The New Zealanders returned to their house to find it had been stripped of food and furniture.
Ten days later, the Japanese army returned, this time doubled in strength. Arthur was captured in his house and kept imprisoned in a native hut overnight. The following day he and his two fellow soldiers were escorted to the nearby island of Tarawa (about 20 miles north of Maiana) where they were held captive along with more than 20 other men.
According to Sister Mary, their fate was sealed when American forces began bombing the Gilbert Islands.
Hope rose in the hearts of the 30 prisoners on viewing American plane (sic) and they showed their glee, but this enraged the Japs and consequently they decided on hastening their end. .... they were lined up as though for drill, and one after the other their heads were cut off, and kerosene was thrown over their bodies and they were burnt.
In August 1944, the Supreme Court of New Zealand reviewed documentation including the letter from Sister Claver, the last will and testament of Arthur Clarence Heenan (dated December 1941) and an affadavit from Arthur's father. They granted administration of the estate, effects and credits of the young solider to the Public Trustee.
In memory of Arthur Clarence Heenan
United States Marines erected a memorial made from coconut wood on Tarawa in 1944. Subsequently New Zealand Post Office radio staff were invited to contribute to the Tarawa Memorial Fund. Some of the money from this fund was used to pay for a bronze memorial plaque to the nine radio operators killed by the Japanese.
A new memorial was erected on Tawara in 2002, to mark the 60th anniversary of the atrocity. This was designed and constructed by the Office of Australian War Graves, Department of Veterans Affairs.
Arthur Heenan is also commemorated on the Bourail Memorial in New Caledonia, New Zealand.
The London Gazette, 8 November 1945.
“Posthumous mention in dispatches for exemplary conduct in coastwatching and communication duties in the Gilbert Island area in the face of the enemy, in spite of overwhelming odds and the knowledge that relief or escape was impossible, is awarded to the following: ….. Corporal Heenan, Arthur C.”
- Tarawa Memorial: New Zealand History https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/tarawa-coast-watchers-memorial
- Last will and testament of Arthur Clarence Heenan: Archives New Zealand Auckland Office
- Probate on estate of Arthur Clarence Heenan: Wellington Probate Files 1843-1939, Archives New Zealand Auckland Office
- Letter from Sister Mary Claver: contained within probate files (as above)
- New Zealand Memorial: FindaGrave.com
- Soldiers’ graves located: blog at https://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2010/11/remains-of-22-pi-coastwatchers-located.html
- Passenger lists: Passenger lists 1839-1973 Archives New Zealand Wellington Office