What would ordinary sailor Edward “Teddy” Sheaan think if he could have seen the events in the manicured gardens of Government House at Yarralumla in Canberra on this first day of summer of this wacky year 2020?
A gathering of the most powerful and respected in our nation gathered under a canopy, protected from the bright sun, along with their family to honor their incredible sacrifice on this day in 1942.
It is a mistake that it took Australia so long to properly acknowledge the extraordinary bravery of ordinary seaman Sheaan, but today’s ceremony has finally corrected that mistake, as he became the first member of the Navy crew to receive the Victoria Cross, Australia’s highest military honor.
As Governor General David Hurley noted, the story of his bravery moves us all because it exemplifies the spirit of Anzac: companionship, endurance, courage and sacrifice.
Ordinary sailor Sheean was only 18 years old, the youngest member of the HMAS Armidale crew patrolling off the coast of East Timor, when the ship was heavily attacked by 13 Japanese aircraft.
The Armidale was hit by two torpedoes and, when it began to sink rapidly, the order was given to abandon ship.
But when the survivors jumped into the sea, they were machine-gunned by enemy planes.
The young sailor helped launch a life raft, then disobeyed orders and returned to his gun, buckled up and began firing at the Japanese fighter jets.
Navy records show that although he was injured in the chest and back, he managed to shoot down a bomber and keep other planes away from his companions in the water.
The ordinary sailor Sheean’s last sight was while he was still firing his gun as the HMAS Armidale glided beneath the waves.
In all, 49 of the 149 men on board survived.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was unable to join today’s ceremony in person, as he remains in quarantine after his trip to Japan.
But, in a video message, he spoke on behalf of many when he asked what made this young Tasmanian do what he did that day, “abandon a possible rescue, climb a sloping deck and buckle up.”
“Whatever it was that made Teddy Sheean act so decisively and determined on that afternoon with blue skies and calm seas, we were drawn to it,” Morrison said.
Morrison speculated that perhaps Ordinary Seaman Sheean longed to live up to the example of his five older brothers who joined the service before him.
The governor-general quoted the last surviving Armidale sailor, Dr. Ray Leonard, who described ordinary sailor Sheean as “a popular man, personable, warm, and sympathetic. He did not speak in a low voice. He did not lack confidence, he was ambitious.”
Whether there was something in his character or his upbringing that sparked such courage, his actions on that day are truly inspiring.
“His story resonates because, as Australians, we continue to see and hope to see a part of Teddy in the world around us – selflessness, loyalty and honor,” said the Governor General.
Now, 78 years later, his family was able to shine with pride and hold the small bronze cross that will forever honor the extraordinary accomplishments of ordinary sailor Edward “Teddy” Sheean, ending their long struggle and, for them, making 2020. a Great and positive year in a country that has improved so much so long ago thanks to the exploits of your heroic relative.