ANTHONY ALBANESE – OPINION PIECE – TASMANIAN WAR HERO TEDDY SHEEAN DESERVES VICTORIAN CROSS – SUNDAY, 24 MAY 2020
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
TASMANIAN WAR HERO TEDDY SHEEAN DESERVES VICTORIAN CROSS
On December 1, 1942, off the coast of what is now Timor Leste, HMAS Armidale came under attack from 13 Japanese aircraft.
Two torpedoes struck the port side of the overcrowded and underdefended ship. The first one hit the mess deck, killing those in its path. The second exploded in the engine room.
Soon after, the order came to abandon ship.
With the Armidale sinking, the enemy aircraft turned their fire on to the crew, many wounded sailors jumping into the sea were machinegunned in the water.
Imagine the horror of that moment: the hail of gunfire from strafing planes, the shifting groans of the fast-sinking ship, the screams of the wounded and dying, bobbing in a sea awash with black engine oil.
Amid this carnage and chaos, an 18-yearold from Tasmania, Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean, showed the most extraordinary courage.
Already wounded on his back and his chest, Teddy helped his mates free one of the Armidale’s life rafts and rather than climb aboard in hope of survival, he returned to the ship’s deck and strapped himself to one of the Oerlikon cannons.
Teddy shot down at least one enemy plane and his steady stream of gunfire drew the other aircraft away from his comrades in the water long enough to give them a chance to regroup.
There’s a painting in the Australian War Memorial Collection that depicts this moment.
We can see Teddy’s broad back, a leather strap and his steady hands holding him to his gun, shorts stained with blood, water lapping on the tilting deck, bombs exploding in the angry sea and the sky dark with smoke and enemy planes.
If ever there is an image that captures the definition of courage as grace under pressure, surely this is it, and if ever there was a deed worthy of the highest military honour, surely this is it too.
Of the 149 aboard the Armidale that day, only 49 would live to tell the tale. Many recalled the sight of Teddy’s gun still firing, the tracer visible, even as the waves closed over the top of the sinking Armidale.
I don’t know why Teddy’s powerful and profound demonstration of valour has not received the recognition it so obviously deserves.
What I do know is how Teddy’s family and many other supporters in Tasmania have strived proudly to correct this oversight.
Last week, the Government rejected a unanimous recommendation made in July 2019 by the independent, 11-member Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal that Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia.
The tribunal’s decision, its endorsement of the selfless courage of a young man far from home almost 80 years ago, is more than enough reason for the Commonwealth Government to act.
Precious few Australians who saw service in the Second World War are still with us.
All we can offer to those who are gone is the respect of history, the eternal thanks of a grateful nation.
It is never too late to honour the meaning of Lest We Forget, or to commemorate the courage of one of our own.
The strong message from his family, advocates in his home state, as well as men and women across our veteran community is that Teddy Sheean deserves the Victoria Cross.
It’s time for the Australian Government to follow their lead and do the right thing in honour of a brave Australian.