During a special media event held at Government House on 12 August, it was announced that the Queen had approved a posthumous Victoria Cross for Ordinary Seaman Edward “Teddy” Sheean, after his family fought for more than 30 years to get recognition of his brave actions during World War II. This makes Sheean the first RAN member to be awarded a VC.
The Victoria Cross for Australia is the pre-eminent award for acts of bravery in wartime and Australia's highest honour. According to Defence, the medal is made out to individuals "who, in the presence of the enemy, display the most conspicuous gallantry, or daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty".
In 1942, Sheean was the youngest crewman on the Australian minesweeper HMAS Armidale as a loader for the ship’s Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns.
Less than six months later in the vicinity of Timor, HMAS Armidale came under co-ordinated torpedo and bomb attack by enemy Japanese aircraft.
Returning to his station while wounded, the 18-year-old Sheean strapped himself to the anti-aircraft gun and opened fire at the enemy. He tried to defend his shipmates who had abandoned ship and were being strafed by gunfire from the enemy aircraft.
Witnesses described how he hit at least two enemy aircraft before he went down with the ship.
Attending the announcement, Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mike Noonan said Sheean’s heroism was a standard for sailors of the modern Navy to aspire to.
“It is indeed a great day for our Navy, our nation and for a young Australian sailor who paid the highest price to save his shipmates from certain death,” VADM Noonan said.
“His spirit of courage, sacrifice and service is an enduring part of our Navy, living on through our fleet and our people.
“This is a proud moment for his family who have fought for many decades for this outcome and I congratulate them on their perseverance.
“The Victoria Cross for Australia is a great honour for the late Teddy Sheean, for his shipmates, for the RAN, for the ADF and for our nation.”
HMAS Sheean, a Collins Class submarine, is the first and only ship in the RAN to bear the name of an ordinary seaman.