It’s been a long time coming, but ordinary seaman Teddy Sheean has finally been posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross in Canberra almost 80 years after his heroic acts as an 18-year-old in World War II.
On the 78th anniversary of his World War II death, seaman Sheean was awarded Australia’s highest military honour for giving his life to save his mates.
On Tuesday at 11.30am, Governor-General David Hurley presented the Victoria Cross to family of the ordinary seaman at a ceremony at Canberra’s parliament house, describing Teddy Sheean’s “gallantry and courage” he showed 78 years ago.
“Today … is a momentous and a historic day.”
“It’s part of why Teddy’s story is relevant to us today, particularly given the events of the last year, because, in the toughest of times, he, and many like him stepped up to serve their country.
“Teddy Sheean exemplified the characteristics that the first Anzacs left us – mateship, endurance, courage and sacrifice.
“Finally, Teddy’s story resonates because of those who have carried it forward. For the family, the ship mates and the community who never let him be forgotten, who insisted and persisted to bring us to today,” he said.
Sheean’s nephew Garry Ivory is among family who have for decades fought for recognition.
“I’ll have two hankies in the pocket because I’m pretty sure there’ll be tears,” Mr Ivory, who travelled from Tasmania and who sat among dignitaries and military personnel for the outdoor presentation, said.
“It’s been a long time coming, but the feeling has made it all worthwhile. I had my doubts but I was never going to give up.”
He strapped himself to an anti-aircraft gun, fired at enemy planes as the ship went down and is credited with saving the lives of 49 crewmates.
In an emotional interview released by the Defence Department, Sheean’s ship mate, Dr Victor ‘Ray’ Leonard, remembered that fateful day ahead of the honour being bestowed upon his friend.
“What was going on in his mind as he made his way up that sloping slant of the … ship to a point in which he must have known he was about to die.
“While we thought and thought about that, but we couldn’t encompass it. It really didn’t make sense. It was… It was… It was so unbelievable that anyone could do it. But we knew he did do it,” he said, as he and other sailors managed to escape the sinking ship, floating for days until rescued.
An expert panel in July found an earlier decision to deny Sheean a Victoria Cross was wrong, with Scott Morrison describing it as a “substantial injustice”.
The Queen in August agreed to award Sheean the medal, the 101st given to an Australian.
The Last Post was played at the ceremony before the medal is put on display at the War Memorial’s Hall of Valour on Wednesday.
His final act is the subject of a Dale Marsh painting which hangs in the Australian War Memorial.
“I would look at a copy of the painting – that used to inspire me,” Mr Ivory said.
“He fought to his last breath, so I can do the same.”
Sheean was born in Tasmania as the youngest of 14 children and will be the first member of the Royal Australian Navy to receive the award.
HMAS Sheean, a Collins Class submarine, is the first and only Royal Australian Navy ship to bear the name of an ordinary seaman.
“He’s symbolic of all our veterans, past, current and future,” Tasmanian Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Guy Barnett, who has campaigned extensively for Sheean, said.