Teddy Sheean VC
A Selfless Act of Valour
Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2021
Paperback 180pp RRP $29.99
Reviewer: Roger Buxton, August 2021
On 1 December 1942 HMAS Armidale was operating south of Timor to land Netherlands East Indies soldiers, and to evacuate refugees, when she was attacked by Japanese aircraft. Struck by two torpedoes and one bomb, Armidale was reduced to a sinking condition and the order was given to ‘Abandon Ship’. Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean, a 20 mm Oerlikon gun loading number, was abandoning ship when, twice wounded by a strafing fighter, he returned to his gun and engaged the attacking aircraft. He was reported to have shot down one of the attackers and was still firing, strapped to his gun, as Armidale sank with him.
This was a conspicuously brave action meriting recognition, and the rules for awarding decorations for bravery limited posthumous awards to either the Victoria Cross (VC) or a Mention in Despatches (MID). Ordinary Seaman Sheean was Mentioned in Despatches, although many subsequently considered that he should have been awarded the Victoria Cross.
Teddy Sheean was born in Barrington, Tasmania in 1923, and the book follows his early life, education, and service in the RAN until the fatal attack on Armidale by Japanese aircraft.
As Ordinary Seaman Sheean’s last action appears to merit the VC – and no VC was awarded to any member of the RAN during the War – Tom Lewis explains the unusual administrative procedure for recommending and awarding decorations for bravery in effect at the time, and the subsequent efforts on behalf of Sheean.
Tom Lewis had previously published this book in 2016 as Honour Denied – Teddy Sheean, a Tasmanian Hero, and this revised edition was published following the award of the VC in 2020.
There are extensive endnotes, a comprehensive bibliography, and useful appendices in this meticulously researched book. Written for the general reader, the book contains sections such as ‘The Development of Warships and Guns at Sea’ that can be skimmed or omitted by naval historians or ‘former naval persons’.
As Teddy Sheean’s last action and his award of the VC many years later are well known events, this book is recommended for those interested in the convoluted system of decorations for bravery and the long struggle on Sheean’s behalf. A small criticism: my copy has no endnotes for the 32 notes in Chapter 7.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for providing this copy for review.