War hero Teddy Sheean awarded Victoria Cross after 78 years
Ordinary Seaman Edward “Teddy” Sheean would have plenty of thoughts if he was alive to see the events unfolding on the manicured lawns of Government House in Canberra.
A gathering of the country’s most powerful and most respected assembled under a marquee, along with his family to honour his incredible sacrifice on this very day in 1942.
While it should not have taken this long for Australia to recognise his extraordinary bravery, today’s ceremony has righted that wrong as he became the first Navy crew member to be awarded the Victoria Cross, Australia’s highest military honour.
Governer-General David Hurley said the story of his dedication touches all those around him because it highlights the ANZAC spirit - mateship, endurance, courage and sacrifice.
Ordinary Seaman Sheean was just 18 years old, the youngest member of the crew of HMAS Armidale on patrol off the coast of East Timor, when the vessel came under heavy attack from 13 Japanese aircrafts.
The Armidale was hit by two torpedoes and, as it began to rapidly sink, the order was given to abandon ship.
But as survivors jumped into the sea, they were machine-gunned by the enemy aircraft.
The young sailor helped launch a life raft, then disobeyed orders and returned to his gun, strapped himself in and began firing at the Japanese fighter planes.
According to Navy records, he was wounded in the chest and back, but still managed to shoot down one bomber and keep other aircraft away from his comrades in the water.
His final moments are remembered by those who saw him, saying he was still firing his gun as HMAS Armidale slipped below the waves.
In total, 49 of the 149 men who’d been onboard survived.
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison was unable to join today’s ceremony in person, as he is currently in quarantine after returning from Japan, he still issued a video message.
He spoke for many when he asked what made this young man from Tasmania do what he did that day, "to forsake a possible rescue, climb a listing deck and strap himself in?"
"Whatever it was that caused Teddy Sheean to act so decisively and determinedly on that afternoon with blue skies and calm seas, we find ourselves drawn to it," Mr Morrison said.
Mr Morrison speculated that maybe Ordinary Seaman Sheean wanted to live up to the example of his five older brothers who joined the service before him.
Whatever it was, his actions on that day are truly inspirational.
"His story resonates because as Australians, we continue to see and hope to see part of Teddy in the world around us – selflessness, loyalty and honour," the Governor-General said.
Now, 78 years later, his family was able to beam with pride and hold the bronze cross which will forever honour the extraordinary achievements of Ordinary Seaman Edward "Teddy" Sheean.
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