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Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean VC

By Dr John K Haken

Edward Sheean VCI want to thank Ray Windlow for his very generous consent to use this outstanding artwork on this important page.  This art is protected by copyright, so if you would like a copy, please contact Ray using the link above.

Ray is a member of the Descendants of the Rats of Tobruk - Australia Association

The Victoria Cross for Australia continues the traditions of the Imperial Victoria Cross as our highest award for bravery. Like several other Commonwealth countries, Australia adopted a local honour system but retained the Victoria Cross as the principal bravery award. 96 Victoria Crosses were awarded to Australians under the Imperial system since the Boer War and subsequently 4 Victoria Crosses for Australia. However, none of these awards were made to naval personnel. A procedure sometimes followed in the past was to approve a lesser Award including the recent posthumous naval award to ordinary seaman Teddy Sheean.

The recent much belated posthumous award of the Victoria Cross for Australia and replacement of the Mention in Despatches follows years of agitation and several enquiries.

As Sheean's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander D. Richards did not provide a recommendation the Honours and Awards Tribunal, this denied the award of a Victoria Cross award because his actions did not reach the particularly high standards required for recommendation of a Victoria Cross. However Sheeans heroism and sacrifice, has been remembered and commemorated by many others. Eight of these commemorations are now described.

The Sheean Memorial consisting of a bass relief sculpture of Sheean in uniform is located in the main street of Latrobe, Northern Tasmania. It is at the entrance to the Sheean Walk of Remembrance. The Sheean Walk is 1.2 kilometres in length and features plaques relevant to conflicts of Word War 2 and later in Korea, Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam campaigns in which Australia was involved. During 2001 a plaque was unveiled following the commissioning of HMAS Sheean. Both the memorial and Walk projects were initiatives of the Latrobe Council financed by public subscription. The memorial was officially opened on 12 December 1992.

Another memorial also in Northern Tasmania was erected by the RAN Corvettes Association of Australia and dedicated on 1 October 1987. The memorial is located in Shropshire Naval Memorial Park, Dial Street Ulverstone.

The Teddy Sheean Memorial Grants Program established by the Tasmanian Government through the Department of Communities in 2014 initially for three years provides grants for the maintenance of war memorials. The program was continued in 2018-2019 for another 3 years. The budget being $100,000 per year, distributed in two rounds of grants, each of $50,000.

The Royal Australian Navy honoured Teddy Sheean, by naming a Collins Class submarine HMAS Sheean. Sheean commissioned on 23 February 2001. This was the first occasion a vessel of the RAN was named after a rating. The submarine was launched on 1 May 1999 by Mrs Ivy Hayes, a sister of Teddy Sheean.

The Sheean Award was established in the Seamanship School at HMAS Cerberus for the best trainee and the Ordinary Seaman Sheean Award for Gunnery was presented between 1986 and mid 1990s for the Quartermaster/Boatswains Mate course.

The Australian Navy Cadets named a training unit TS Sheean at Tewantin Queensland in his honour in 2003. The Veterans Affairs Minister announced in parliament that a full-size statue of Teddy Sheean will be erected in Latrobe.

A painting of Teddy Sheean by Dale Marsh in 1978 firing his Oerlikon Gun on the deck of HMAS Armidale hangs in the Australian War Memorial.

The bar at the Latrobe RSL Club is named The Sheean Bar as a lasting tribute.

Disquiet about the initial decision not to award a Victoria Cross continued over the decades and the matter was the subject of several enquires. The enquiry of 2013 (Valour Enquiry) recommended that The Victoria Cross for Australia not be awarded, a recommendation accepted by the Government. A second enquiry in 2019 by the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal recommended that the award be made but the Government was not convinced and the award was not supported. As the matter was becoming a political issue, particularly in Tasmania, the Government appointed a third and independent enquiry. The enquiry was chaired by Dr Brendan Nelson, the former Director of the Australian War Memorial. The recommendation of this enquiry, to make the award, was immediately accepted and acted upon by the Government of Australia.

The youngest of a large family of 14 children, Edward Sheeanv was born in northern Tasmania at Lower Barrington near Devonport on 28 December 1923. Soon after the family moved to Latrobe also adjacent to Devonport. Young Teddy worked as a farm labourer before enlisting in the Royal Australian Navy Reserve on 21 April 1941. After training in Hobart and Victoria he was posted to Sydney on 11 May 1942 and destined to form part of the crew of the newly constructed Bathurst Class minesweeper HMAS Armidale.

War service for HMAS Armidale commenced on 29 November 1942 when the vessel sailed for Timor in company of sister ship HMAS Castlemaine to evacuate troops and civilians. The ships escaped attack by Japanese aircraft after missing a rendezvous with the auxiliary patrol boat HMAS Kuru. Subsequently a decision was made that HMAS Kuru and HMAS Armidale would proceed independently to Timor. Unfortunately, enroute to Timor, HMAS Armidale was torpedoed and bombed by Japanese aircraft.

After the order to abandon ship, Teddy Sheean although seriously wounded assisted in launching life rafts before manning his gun thus protecting the survivors. One aircraft was hit before Teddy Sheean sank with the ship on 1 December 1942 still firing. Of the 149 on board HMAS Armidale, there were 49 survivors.


Call the Hands

Issue No. 46 October 2020

Teddy Sheean served on HMAS Armidale.  Click here for more details.