Ahead of today’s investiture ceremony for Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean VC, the crew of HMAS Armidale (II) conducted a commemoration ceremony for HMAS Armidale (I) over the site of its wreck off the coast of Timor-Leste.
The crew honoured the 100 servicemen who lost their lives when Japanese aircraft sunk the then Royal Australian Navy corvette on 1 December 1942, during World War Two.
The ceremony was particularly special because of the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to Ordinary Seaman ‘Teddy’ Sheean, according to the Commanding Officer of Armidale (II), Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bernard-Chandler.
“Armidale (II) is very proud of its linkage to Armidale (I),” Lieutenant Commander Bernard-Chandler said
“We proudly display a copy of the iconic painting from the Australian War Memorial in our main passageway of ‘Teddy’ Sheean’s gallant act, and we often hold ourselves to what we believe his principles were: mateship, loyalty and looking after each other.
“It’s important for the Navy to remember this act as it shows courage under fire and also humility in looking after each other. It also reminds us of the tragedy of war.”
Shortly before 2pm on 1 December 1942, Armidale was attacked by no less than thirteen Japanese aircraft.
At 3:15pm 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.
Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Tammy Vaughn of Armidale (II) participated in the ceremony. She said she was proud that ‘Teddy’ Sheean was awarded the Victoria Cross because he displayed courageous acts of valour that inspires all sailors in the Navy to this day.
“Remembering the sacrifices he made for our country and how brave and courageous he was when he went down with the ship, strapped to his gun, inspires me to strive to be as good,” Able Seaman Vaughn said.
“It is important that Navy continues to mark these occasions as a way to pay our respects to our fallen heroes. It is a big part of Navy’s history that should not be forgotten.
“Looking at everyone’s faces during the service, you could tell that everyone was so proud to be a part of it.”
Ordinary Seaman ‘Teddy’ Sheean is the first member of the Royal Australian Navy to be awarded Australia's highest honour for valour.
His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d) Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia will present the VC to ‘Teddy’ Sheean’s family at about 11:30am (AEDST) today.