Garry Ivory’s pursuit for his uncle to be posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross has far exceeded the war hero’s 18 years of life.
Mr Ivory first learned of Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean’s legendary story 32 years ago and his fight to see his forebear’s legendary action rightly honoured has not been without stress, pain and disappointment.
Though he cried tears of joy on Monday when Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced he would recommend to Queen Elizabeth that Ordinary Seaman Sheean be bestowed military’s highest honour for sacrificing his life for his mates 79 years ago.
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Mr Morrison’s decision came after the federal government refused a recommendation from the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal in May for a posthumous commendation.
After public and political backlash, Mr Morrison convened an expert panel to determine whether there was compelling new evidence to support the awarding of a VC.
Panel member Brendan Nelson said he came to the investigation with an open mind but a disposition not to support a retrospective award.
“Awarding a Victoria Cross eight decades after the events is something that should not be entered into lightly and only when the evidence is compelling,” he said.
Ordinary Seaman Sheean’s story is well-known.
Born in Latrobe, he was 18 years old when he died onboard HMAS Armidale in 1942.
Testimony from those who evacuated the ship as it was under attack from Japanese aircraft showed Ordinary Seaman Sheean jumped on an Oerlikon gun to fire at Japanese aircraft to defend his shipmates as the ship sunk.
However, the subsequent report on these actions by the ship’s commander was incomplete and inaccurate – something Dr Nelson described on Monday as an uncontested fact.
From then, policies that prevented VCs from being posthumously awarded and awarded to members of the Royal Australian Navy continued to block numerous attempts for Ordinary Sheean to receive something greater than a Mention in Dispatches.
Dr Nelson said the panel found new evidence to support the well-known version of events from records kept by the National Institute for Defence Studies in Toyko.
He said the records contained meticulous detail on the six minutes between the attack from Japanese bombers and the sinking of HMAS Armidale.
Dr Nelson said the records showed Ordinary Seaman Sheean had initially obeyed orders to abandon ship, but at the last minute, decided to respond to the attack.
He said the attacking aircraft sustained fire from the ship; two of which were damaged.
Mr Ivory said he wished his mother, who was two years older than Ordinary Seaman Sheean, was alive to enjoy the victory.
“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’ve never given up,” he said.
“It’s been a long battle, but believe me, I’d do it all again.
“What has kept me going is belief more than anything else.
“I’ll remember two dates forever now – the first of December, 1942 which was when Teddy’s action was, and now, the tenth of August, 2020.”
Mr Ivory said the family would donate the VC to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra once it had been received, but not before a planned tour of Tasmania.
“I have no idea how long the process [will be], but after 32 years, I’ve learned to be a very patient man,” he said.
Then a Liberal senator, state government minister Guy Barnett joined Mr Ivory 17 years ago in a fight to see Ordinary Seaman Sheean get the award he was deserved.
On Monday, he said perserverence from Mr Ivory’s family, veterans, and other supports was key to the victory.
“It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of pain and disappointment along the way,” Mr Barnett said.
“When you know something is true, you keep fighting. You go all the way.
“It’s justice for Teddy and it’s justice for the Sheean family.”
He said it was also a win for the Royal Australian Navy.
“Out of 100 Victoria Cross recipients, not one from the Navy – today is your day,” Mr Barnett said.
Braddon Liberal MHA Gavin Pearce said he had long believed Ordinary Seaman Sheean deserved higher recognition than Mentioned in Dispatches.
“This decision rightfully bestows appropriate recognition of his acts of gallantry,” he said.
“Throughout this process, it was vital that the sanctity and the dignity of the awarding of the Victoria Cross were maintained, as well as the good conduct and character of Ordinary Seaman Sheean.
“I believe that this rigorous examination has done that.”
Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie also supported the decision.
“No matter how messy, and how stupid, and how pigheaded this whole process to get here has been, I don’t care,” she said.
“I am just so thankful we got here at all.
“It’s taken too long, and it’s cost us too much, and it’s been a fight for his family that family should have to put up with, but we have got there.
“This decision today gets right what the Prime Minister got so badly wrong.”
Mr Morrison said Ordinary Seaman Sheean’s case was exceptional and questions over legitimacy for a posthumous VC commendation had emerged many years after World War II.
“Sometimes justice takes a long time, but I’m pleased that it is now being addressed,” he said.
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