World War II hero Teddy Sheean to posthumously receive Victoria Cross

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has recommended the Queen posthumously award World War II hero Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean a Victoria Cross.

Key points:

  • An expert panel recommended Teddy Sheean receive a Victoria Cross for World War II valour
  • He was a seaman on board HMAS Armidale when it was attacked by the Japanese in 1942
  • He was last seen firing an anti-aircraft gun at enemy airplanes when the Armidale sank

Tasmanian Sheean, an 18-year-old with less than two years at sea, was an Ordinary Seaman on the minesweeper HMAS Armidale when it came under heavy attack from Japanese aircraft off the coast of what is now Timor-Leste in 1942.

Mr Morrison ordered an expert panel re-examine the case for Sheean receiving Australia’s highest military honour after earlier attempts had failed to recommend he receive a Victoria Cross.

Sheean is recorded as helping launch life rafts before returning to his anti-aircraft gun to fire at enemy aircraft that were strafing his shipmates as they floundered in the water, despite the order having been given to abandon ship.

Dale Marsh's painting of Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean depicting him strapped to a gun on HMAS Armidale.
Dale Marsh’s painting of Teddy Sheean hangs in the Australian War Memorial.(Australian War Memorial)

Witness accounts from the day have him firing as the ship sank. He was never seen again.‘Gun still firing as ship sank’Eyewitness accounts of Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean’s act of extraordinary bravery in 1942 Read more

Mr Morrison said he had accepted the findings of the expert panel.

“That there is compelling new evidence in support of higher recognition for Sheean, that Sheean was done a substantial injustice in consideration of his actions in the original decision-making period in 1942 to 1943,” he said.

“And Sheean’s courageous sacrifice of his life to save his shipmates makes him eligible for the Victoria Cross for Australia and the highest level of recognition should be accorded in this exceptional case.”

Former defence minister and Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson chaired the expert panel. The panel also included former solicitor-general David Bennett QC, former secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peter Shergold, and senior curator and historian at the NSW Anzac Memorial, Brad Manera.

Dr Nelson said Teddy Sheean’s story was inspiring.

“I would say to all Australians as we live through the most significant adversity in our lifetimes, approaching the 75th anniversary of the Second World War, let Teddy Sheean inspire us to be a people that are selfless, caring and brave,” he said.

Previous attempts at having Sheean awarded a VC have been unsuccessful, with a 2013 inquiry finding Sheean’s actions “did not reach the particularly high standard required for recommendation of a VC”, and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence refusing to consider him for the accolade in 2017.

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In May this year, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said a review held in 2019 by the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal had found “no new evidence that might support reconsideration of the valour inquiries recommendation”.

Soon after that announcement, tribunal chairman Mark Sullivan wrote to Ms Reynolds saying she had misrepresented the findings of the tribunal, demanding she “correct the record”.

Sheean’s family have been fighting for the recognition for more than 30 years.

Sheean’s nephew, Garry Ivory, said in May the review had given the family cause to be “very hopeful that this will get us over the line”.

At a media conference this afternoon, he said he cried tears of joy when he was told of the PM’s recommendation.

“I’ll remember two dates forever now: the 1st of December 1942 is when Teddy’s action was, and now the 10th of August 2020 is going to be a very, very special date in my mind forever,” he said.

World War II ship.
HMAS Armidale at sea in Port Moresby.(Australian War Memorial)

In a statement, Tasmania’s Minister for Veteran Affairs Guy Barnett said today’s announcement was “worthy recognition of an extraordinary Tasmanian”.

Mr Barnett, a longtime campaigner for Sheean to receive the award, said he and Sheean’s family “always believed the evidence was overwhelming and it has been an honour working with Garry and the Sheean family these past 17 years to ensure Teddy’s bravery and sacrifice is recognised appropriately”.

“We also particularly acknowledge the only remaining survivor of the Armidale, Ray Leonard, who witnessed Teddy’s actions in 1942 and has been an inspiration and great supporter,” he said.

“The motto of the HMAS Armidale was ‘Fight On’ and all of those involved in this campaign can now rest, satisfied that on behalf of Teddy and his crew mates we did fight on relentlessly, sometimes when the odds seemed against us.

“Teddy’s extraordinary bravery and sacrifice to protect his mates should be a time to reflect, and also celebrate, for all Australians — especially at a time when we need inspiration.”

Source: ABC News 10th August 2020

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