1942: Avraham Stern, a strange bedfellow 270: St. Valentine

1942: Patrick Stanley Vaughan Heenan, Japanese spy

February 13th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1942, with the British about to abandon Singapore to the Japanese, turncoat officer Patrick Stanley Vaughan Heenan was summarily executed at Keppel Harbour.

Heenan, who had taken a long leave in Japan in 1938-39, used a wireless set to feed intelligence aiding the Japanese army’s invasion of Southeast Asia.

Heenan was caught on December 10, but there was little werewithal to handle his case as the defenders’ situation deteriorated desperately — less for anything Heenan had on offer than for the comprehensive weakness of the British position. He never seems to have been judicially sentenced, but he was shot by a guard chosen by lot two days before Britain surrendered Singapore. Something of an outsider to begin with, Heenan had begun taunting his guards on their impending defeat.

The particulars of Heenan’s betrayal, and even his identity, were covered up until long after the war. His name was even listed on Britain’s Battle of Singapore memorial.

Part of the Themed Set: Unruly Britannia.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,England,Espionage,Infamous,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Singapore,Soldiers,Spies,Summary Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

5 thoughts on “1942: Patrick Stanley Vaughan Heenan, Japanese spy”

  1. Fiz (UK) says:

    I can’t really say I care about the fate of this man. My brother in law lost his father when he was shot by the Japanese at Changi for the supreme crime of listening to the BBC World Service! We found his last letters to his wife inside a hidden desk drawer. My brother in law had never seen them before and it was a great shock to us all. His last sentences were ” They are coming for me now. Kiss the boy for me and always remember I love you”. I’d rather remember him than a spy!

  2. E Wright says:

    An old thread, but the history is even older. Fiz, your brother in law’s father would have been treated as a spy by the Japanese because they knew from German Intelligence that the BBC was used to pass cryptic messages to operatives in the field. That is why possession of a crystal set was strictly forbidden for enemy detainees.

  3. E Wright says:

    On the subject of Heenan it is worth bearing in mind that under British military law there is no such thing as summmary execution. Therefore he was murdered. Taunts by a prisoner (and we only have the murderers word for it) are never an excuse for killing them.

    There was a lot of hysteria at the time about spies. Non white civilians were in many cases shot for flashing a torch or walking too close to a pill box. Heenan wasn’t liked and was apparently a bit of an odd ball. He was under suspicion because he had spent time in Japan and had Japanese acquantances. The idea that he was caught with a typewriter that sent signals is preposterous. No such technology existed at the time. There were typewriters which could encode messages (Enigma) but they were highly guarded and certainly not issued to double agents. They werent in any case used by the Japanese. As for sending radio messages, single side band radio needs huge antenna to be sent any distance, as does SWR. Seems like a hatred had built up among mess officers and they were out to get him. They saw what they wanted to see.

    Although Heenan had an Irish name he wan’t Irish. He was born in New Zealand out of wedlock but took his father’s name. His father was an Indian colonial of Irish extraction. Heenan went to public school in England and joined the Army at 19. Apparently he didn’t get along with anyone. I’m starting to suspect he had Aspergers Syndrome which of course would have been unrecognised in the day.

  4. E Wright says:

    The relevant law under which Heenan could have been tried by courts martial was the Treachery Act of 1940. That would have required the presenting of evidence. There are countless cases of summary executions having taken place in both Singapore and Hong Kong during the Japanese invasion – mostly native civilians accused of spying for flashing lights, but also for looting. The Japanese were more ruthless but the Commonwealth side can’t claim the moral high ground either.

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