Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean VC

Seaman Edward Sheean

Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean was born on 28 December 1923 at Lower Barrington, Tasmania, fourteenth child of James Sheean, labourer, and his wife Mary Jane, née Broomhall. Soon afterwards the family moved to Latrobe. Teddy was educated at the local Catholic school. Five foot 8½ inches (174cm) tall and well built, he took casual work on farms between Latrobe and Merseylea. In Hobart on 21 April 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman, following in the steps of five of his brothers who had joined the armed forces (four of them were in the Army and one in the Navy). On completing his initial training, he was sent to Flinders Naval Depot, Westernport, Victoria, in February 1942 for further instruction.

In May Sheean was posted to Sydney where he was billeted at Garden Island in the requisitioned ferry Kuttabul, prior to joining his first ship as an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun loader. Granted home leave, he was not on board Kuttabul when Japanese midget submarines raided the harbour and sank her on 31 May. Eleven days later he returned to Sydney to help commission the new corvette HMAS Armidale (I), which carried out escort duties along the eastern Australian coast and in New Guinea waters. Ordered to sail for Darwin in October, Armidale arrived there early next month.

On 29 November Armidale sailed for Japanese-occupied Timor, in company with the corvette HMAS Castlemaine, to withdraw the exhausted Australian 2/2 Independent Company, evacuate about 150 Portuguese civilians and 190 Dutch troops, and land soldiers to reinforce Dutch guerrillas on the island. Arriving off Betano before dawn on 1 December, the ships rendezvoused with the naval tender HMAS Kuru, which had already taken the civilians on board. When these people were transferred to Castlemaine, she sailed for Darwin, leaving the other two vessels to carry out the rest of the operation. From 12:28 Armidale and Kuru came under repeated attack from Japanese aircraft. Despite requests, no air cover was received.

Armidale Podcast

The Armidale Podcast (9 x 40-minute episodes) recounts the dramatic, riveting and historic true story of Lieutenant Commander David Richards and his brave young crew (average age 21) - including Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean VC - who battled disaster, and extreme conditions on the open sea - bound by comradeship, duty and their instinct for survival.

Episode 1: Sitting Ducks.

It is Tuesday the First of December … 1942 … at the height of the Second World War. The Australian Naval ship, HMAS Armidale, led by Lieutenant Commander David Richards with his brave young crew (average age 21), has been dispatched on an overnight mission to relieve wounded, ill and battle-weary Australian troops … and evacuate Portuguese civilians. And there’s another key objective, to land 63 Dutch East Indies (Javanese) fighters at Betano Bay, Timor. The mission does not go to plan. Having been spotted by the Japanese Air Force, Armidale is attacked on three separate occasions. Forced to hide in rain squalls to evade the attacks, Armidale misses the planned rendezvous at Betano Bay.

Episode 2: Air attack is to be considered ordinary, routine, secondary warfare.

Notifying Darwin of their situation, Armidale is ordered back in to complete the mission. The ship is attacked and sunk in a 3-minute hellfire by 9 bombers and 3 zeros. Armidale is in pieces. The front of the ship is heeling sharply to port and going down. It is here we learn the detail of Teddy Sheens brave action that saw him posthumously, awarded the Victoria Cross. After Armidale is gone Darwin sends the message ‘air attack is to be considered secondary ordinary warfare.’ There are over 100 survivors in the water - and dead bodies everywhere.

Episode 3: Agony, thirst, hunger ... hope.

After a rough night, the survivors, numbering around 100 men, have the makeshift raft, Carley raft, and motor boat which is being used as a refuge for the seriously wounded. Sharks are circling and another threat appears in the form of deadly sea snakes.

Episode 4: Bravery, ingenuity, survival.

In the motor boat, the rowers have been doggedly pushing on all night, heading for the reconnaissance area. At the scene of the sinking, the men, with amazing effort, have been able to re-float the whaler by managing to get the stern out of the water and onto the raft. It is riddled with bullets and a gaping hole near the stern. They are now faced with the seemingly impossible task of trying to patch it up.

Episode 5: A difficult decision.

Picking the crew to row the whaler, who will stay with the rafts and who will go? The motor boat makes good headway until the engine gives out. Catalinas, together with Hudsons and Beaufighters, are combing the Timor Sea.

Episode 6: Rescue for some.

The men from the motor boat are rescued and arrive in back Darwin and immediately are required to appear before a Board of Inquiry. On the whaler, this debilitated but determined crew has rowed the disintegrating whaler more than one hundred and thirty nautical miles. Can those who were left at the scene of the sinking survive?

Episode 7: Rescue for the Whaler and sworn to secrecy and a complete publicity ban.

The inquiry continues with the sailors, injured as they are, giving evidence. Rescue comes for the men on the whaler. They are under strict orders to say nothing of their mission. It has been 9 days since the sinking and 5 days since the whaler set off.

Episode 8: The behaviour and conduct of the Ship’s Company was at all times of the highest order.

Some of the rescued get to go home. How will the survivors cope with the ordeal of the sinking, emotionally and physically? What impact will the secrecy placed on the Timor mission have on their Navy careers ... and their lives? And what of the men on the raft?

Episode 9: Who we are and the best we can be.

Thanks to a monumental effort and commitment, Teddy Sheean’s heroism is finally acknowledged when he is posthumously honoured with The Victoria Cross for Australia. Many of the survivors endure nightmares, emotional pain, mental anguish yet... despite their ordeal ... quite a few like Ted Morley lived to old age. The last of them, Ray Leonard, passed away in July 2021. He was ninety-eight years old.

Produced and Directed by Craig Monahan
Written by David Webster and Craig Monahan
Narrated by Marco Chiappi, Jenny Seedsman, Tom Russell and Andrew Martin
Sound Mix by Pete Smith
Research by John Cundill, Craig Monahan and David Webster

Special thanks to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Royal Australian Navy

The Loss of HMAS Armidale (I)

Shortly before 14:00 on 1 December 1942, Armidale, by then separated from Kuru, was attacked by no less than thirteen aircraft. The corvette manoeuvred frantically. At 15:15 a torpedo struck her port side and another hit the engineering spaces; finally a bomb struck aft. As the vessel listed heavily to port, the order was given to abandon ship. The survivors leapt into the sea and were machine-gunned by the Japanese aircraft. Once he had helped to free a life raft, Sheean scrambled back to his gun on the sinking ship. Although wounded in the chest and back, the 18-year-old sailor shot down one bomber and kept other aircraft away from his comrades in the water. He was seen still firing his gun as Armidale slipped below the waves. Only 49 of the 149 men who had been on board survived the sinking and the ensuing days in life rafts.

HMAS Armidale under aerial attack, 1 December 1942. (Used with permission of Maritime Artist John Ford)
HMAS Armidale under aerial attack, 1 December 1942. (Used with permission of Maritime Artist John Ford)


Sheean was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery and in 1999 HMAS Sheean, a Collins Class submarine, was named after him - the only ship in the RAN to bear the name of a junior sailor.

In 2020, following a sustained public campaign to have Ordinary Seaman Sheean’s selfless actions appropriately recognised, an expert panel recommended to the Australian Government that he be considered for the the award of a Victoria Cross.

On 12 August 2020 His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d) Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia announced that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had approved a posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to Ordinary Seaman Sheean.

In doing so, Ordinary Seaman Sheean became the first member of the Royal Australian Navy to be awarded Australia's highest honour for valour.

On 1 December 2020, 78 years to the day since the death of Ordinary Seaman Sheean and the loss of HMAS Armidale (I), the Governor-General presented the insignia of the Victoria Cross for Australia to Teddy Sheean’s family at a ceremony held at Government House in Canberra, ACT.

Source: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sheean-edward-11671.

HMAS Armidale, the small Bathurst class corvette in which Ordinary Seaman Edward 'Teddy' Sheean performed his selfless act of valour.
The painting by artist Dale Marsh that captures Sheean's valour.
The painting by artist Dale Marsh that captures Sheean's valour in Armidale's final moments. Used with permission of the Australian War Memorial (AWM ART 28160)