The following item would have been appropriate for an Anzac Day posting but came to my attention only after that day had passed. Nonetheless, I will post it because it has a significance that goes beyond Anzac Day.
Some time ago, I read about a young sailor, Edward Sheean, who had been killed in action in 1942.
I came across his name again yesterday when I saw an item in the previous week's Sunday newspaper that I was throwing out. The news item that caught my eye was that eleven sailors and two soldiers are being considered for posthumous Victoria Cross awards for acts of bravery and gallantry. Not one sailor has ever been awarded the Victoria Cross. Included in the list of persons being considered are Edward Sheean and Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, who is today remembered for collecting the wounded from the Gallipoli battlefields with his famous donkey.
Edward Sheean with his family, c1941.
Back row: Edward (Teddy); Frederick.
Front row: James (father); Mary (mother); William.
Edward “Teddy” Sheean was born on 28 December 1923 in Barrington, Tasmania. In 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Australian navy as an Ordinary Seaman. Upon completion of his training he was posted to the corvette HMAS Armidale.
On 1st December 1942 the Armidale was attacked by Japanese aircraft – 9 bombers and 4 fighters - whilst enroute to Timor. Despite taking evasive action, the vessel was struck by two air-launched torpedoes. As the vessel began to sink, the order was given to abandon ship but crew members who leapt into the sea were strafed by the attacking aircraft. After assisting to free a life raft, Sheean was struck by bullets in the chest and back. He managed to scramble across the listing deck, strapped himself into the aft Oerlikon 20mm cannon and began shooting at the fighters to protect the sailors already in the sea. He managed to keep the Japanese aircraft away, shooting down one of the Japanese planes and damaging two others, all the while as the water kept rising up his body.
According to Ordinary Seaman Russell Caro, Sheean was “still firing as he disappeared beneath the waves”.
Sheean's crewmates later testified to witnessing tracers rising from beneath the water's surface as Sheean was dragged under.
Of the 149 men aboard the Armidale, 49 survived. Many of the survivors attributed their lives to Sheean’s actions.
For his "bravery and devotion when HMAS Armidale was lost", Sheean was recognised with a posthumous Mention in Despatches, although many hold that he was worthy of a Victoria Cross.