Garry Ivory cried tears of joy when he found out the Prime Minister recommended his uncle, Tasmanian World War II hero Edward “Teddy” Sheean, be awarded Australia’s highest military honour.
- Garry Ivory has been fighting for 32 years to have his uncle, Teddy Sheean, posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross
- Sheean was 18 when he strapped himself to an anti-aircraft gun on the sinking HMAS Armidale in 1942, shooting at Japanese fighter planes
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison will recommend to the Queen that Sheean be awarded the top military honour
“I’ll remember two dates forever now: the 1st of December 1942 is when Teddy’s action was, and now the 10th of August 2020 is going to be a very, very special date in my mind forever,” Mr Ivory said.
“I’ve been fighting now for 32 years. We’ve had our ups and downs but we’ve never given up.”
Mr Ivory said he wished his mother, Sheean’s older sister, was still alive to enjoy the moment.
“It’s been a long battle but believe me, I would do it all again because I believe so strongly in it.”
At 18 years old, Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean was the youngest and most junior sailor on HMAS Armidale.
After an order to abandon ship, he helped to cut the ropes on a lifeboat, but he did not join his shipmates as they made their escape.
“He sees the Japanese fighter planes, the Zero, strafing, shooting the men in the water,” former defence minister and Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson said.
“Instead of getting into the boat, where he probably would have survived, he turned — unwounded —and then, making his way back up to the back of the ship, he’s shot and wounded.
“He gets to the gun, he straps himself into the gun and then fires that gun at the Japanese aircraft.
“He damages two of those aircraft, he’s shot and wounded again and either dies at the gun or from drowning as he’s drawn under the sea … with the sinking ship.”
Long road to Victoria Cross recommendation
Mr Ivory said he had not heard much from his family about his uncle’s bravery on December 1, 1942, but after reading HMAS Armidale: The Ship that had to Die by Frank Walker, he took up the fight to have Sheean recognised with a Victoria Cross.
Getting to this point has taken years and there have been many twists in the saga.
A 2013 inquiry recommended against posthumously awarding the VC to the sailor born at Lower Barrington in Tasmania’s rural north-west.
Last year, the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal unanimously recommended Sheean receive a VC after examining his 1942 bravery.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected the recommendation but later he announced an expert panel — chaired by Dr Nelson — would review the matter.
Today Mr Morrison accepted the panel’s advice that Sheean be recommended for a VC.
The recommendation now goes to the Governor-General and then the Queen.
Events conspired ‘to do injustice’
Dr Nelson said there had been “maladministration by omission” in Sheean’s case.
“In this particular case, which is an exceptional case of conspicuous gallantry, of pre-eminent valour, a whole series of events conspired to do an injustice to the recognition of this young man’s bravery,” he said.
“I don’t anticipate that in my lifetime that I’m likely to see another case like this emerge,” he said.
Dr Nelson said his “natural disposition” was not to support retrospective awards, but Sheean was an exception.
“No-one should be critical of [HMAS Armidale commanding officer] Lieutenant David Richards,” he said.
“The ship was lost on the 1st of December, he returned to Darwin having been at sea with 22 survivors for six days.
“The next day he writes the report. Not all of the witnesses have returned that are able to give the evidence for what Sheean had actually done, and then [there are] a series of missteps by the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board that considered the report [and] sent it on to the admiralty.
“There’s a whole lot of missteps and missed opportunities then that follow at the end of the war and then the decades that follow.”
VC would be first for Royal Australian Navy
Tasmania’s Veterans Affairs Minister Guy Barnett joined Mr Ivory 17 years ago campaigning for a VC for Sheean. The two have become friends.
Both shed tears at the news their long campaign had been successful.
Mr Barnett said new evidence that had come to light included information from Japanese war records that the fighter planes were trying to avoid the HMAS Armidale.
Mr Barnett said he was “absolutely joyous” following the Prime Minister’s announcement.
“It’s justice for Teddy, it’s justice for the Sheean family,” he said.
It is also the first VC awarded to a member of the Royal Australian Navy.
Once officially bestowed, the family will take the medal on a tour of Tasmania before donating it to the Australian War Memorial.