The 101st Victoria Cross for Australia, posthumously invested upon Ordinary Seaman Edward “Teddy” Sheean VC, has gone on permanent display in the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial.
The medal went on display the day after the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd) presented the insignia of the Victoria Cross for Australia to the Sheean family at a ceremony at Government House.
Sheean is the first member of the Royal Australian Navy to be honoured with a VC. The award is also the first to be retrospectively given to an Australian.
Memorial Director Matt Anderson said the Sheean family’s donation of Ordinary Seaman Sheean’s medal group to the National Collection was a great honour.
“Teddy Sheean’s actions 78 years ago were nothing short of remarkable. While his heroism has long been recognised in our galleries through a painting depicting his selfless act of valour, he was not where he should have been. Teddy belongs in the company of heroes in the Memorial’s Hall of Valour,” he said.
“Teddy’s family has given Australia an extraordinary gift. We can now display permanently his Victoria Cross medal group so that generations to come can understand the incredible act of bravery and selflessness he exhibited in December 1942.
“On behalf of the staff and Council of the Australian War Memorial – indeed, on behalf of all Australians who have or will visit the Memorial to understand the impact of war on Australians and our society – the Sheean family has our deepest gratitude. We will take good care of Teddy’s VC,” Mr Anderson said.
Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean was killed during a Japanese aircraft attack which sank the Bathurst-class corvette HMAS Armidale in the Arafura Sea on 1 December 1942. After the order to abandon ship was given, Sheean stayed at his post at the aft Oerlikon gun, firing as the ship sank.
Of the 149 men on board Armidale, 47 died when it was attacked; 49 men were rescued a week after the sinking. Ordinary Seaman Russel Caro, who survived the attack, later said:
“Teddy died, but none of us who survived, I am sure, will ever forget his gallant deed … When the order to abandon ship was given, he made for the side, only to be hit twice by the bullets of an attacking Zero. None of us will ever know what made him do it, but he went back to his gun, strapped himself in, and brought down a Jap plane, still firing as he disappeared beneath the waves.”
Sheean was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches “for bravery and devotion to duty when HMAS Armidale was lost”. Sheean was honoured by the Royal Australian Navy in May 1999 when Collins-class Submarine No. 5 was named HMAS Sheean, the first occasion of an RAN vessel being named after an ordinary seaman.
On 1 December, Sheean’s story was featured in the Last Post Ceremony at the Memorial read by the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan AO RAN. The ceremony was attended by the Governor General and members of the Sheean family.