Tasmanian World War II hero Teddy Sheean will not be awarded a Victoria Cross, with the Federal Government deciding to hold to an earlier decision that his actions “did not reach the particularly high standard” for Australia’s highest wartime honour — a decision blasted by Senator Jacqui Lambie as “cowardice”.
- Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean was a seaman on board HMAS Armidale when it was attacked by the Japanese in 1942
- Sheean, who was already wounded twice, was last seen firing an anti-aircraft gun at enemy airplanes when the Armidale sank
- A long-running campaign to have Sheean awarded a Victoria Cross has failed
The Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal was reconsidering whether the sailor should receive the honour, something his nephew Garry Ivory had spent 30 years campaigning for.
The Defence Minister Linda Reynolds confirmed on Wednesday afternoon the Victoria Cross (VC) will not be awarded.
Sheean died in 1942 defending HMAS Armidale from Japanese warplanes off the coast of what is now known as East Timor.
The wounded 18-year-old Ordinary Seaman strapped himself to an anti-aircraft cannon and fired at the attacking planes..
He was credited with shooting down enemy aircraft and helping save the lives of 49 crew, before he went down with the ship.
Previous attempts at having Sheean awarded a VC have been unsuccessful, with a 2013 inquiry finding Sheean’s actions “did not reach the particularly high standard required for recommendation of a VC”, and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence refusing to consider him for the accolade in 2017.
A Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal held hearings in Hobart in March last year to reconsider whether Sheean should be awarded Australia’s top wartime honour.
The tribunal handed its report to the Federal Government in July recommending a VC be awarded to Sheean.
The Defence Minister Linda Reynolds confirmed to the senate on Wednesday afternoon the VC would not be awarded.
“The 2019 review by the tribunal did not present any new evidence that might support reconsideration of the valour inquiries recommendation,” she said.
“That is also my view and the view of defence.
‘Nation remains eternally grateful’, PM says
In a statement, a spokesman for Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Ordinary Seaman Sheean was an extraordinary Australian — but “no case has been made … Sheean was denied a VC because of manifest injustice”. .
“This Government’s, as well as the previous government’s, clear policy, and the expressed views of Her Majesty the Queen, is that consideration of the awarding of the Victoria Cross would only occur in light of compelling new evidence or if there was evidence of manifest injustice, such as where due process had not been followed,” he said.
“No compelling new evidence has been presented by the Tribunal that supports a reconsideration of the decisions by the authorities at the time to recognise the gallant actions of Ordinary Seaman Sheean on the HMAS Armidale with the award of Mention in Despatches in 1942.
“No case has been made that Ordinary Seaman Sheean was denied a VC because of manifest injustice.
“This is no way detracts from the service, dedication and sacrifice of Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean, for which our nation remains eternally grateful.”
‘He made the ultimate sacrifice’
In a statement, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Guy Barnett, who has been campaigning for Sheean to receive a VC for nearly two decades, said he does not accept the Prime Minister’s decision and would ask the Federal Government to reconsider.
“It is staggering that the Federal Government has not accepted the Tribunal’s recommendation that Sheean be posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross for his pre-eminent act of valour,” he said.
“Teddy’s conspicuous act of gallantry ranks him alongside other distinguished service men and women who have received our highest military honour for bravery, the Victoria Cross, including people like Harry Murray VC and Cameron Baird VC MG.
Mr Barnett said he was extremely disappointed.
“Last year’s Tribunal inquiry into Sheean’s actions was a merits-based review established by the Federal Government based on my application for a review consistent with the Defence Act (1903),” he said.
“During two days of public hearings held in Hobart last March, the Tribunal heard from myself as the applicant, the Sheean family, Royal Australian Navy (as respondent), RSL Tasmania and a published naval historian.
“The evidence presented was overwhelming and compelling in favour of a Victoria Cross. Based on that evidence, the Tribunal unanimously found that Sheean meets the eligibility criteria for the Victoria Cross for Australia.”
VC ‘denied out of cowardice’, says Lambie
Independent Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie said it was a slap in the face for Sheean’s family.
“They’ve been denied justice once again, and they’ve been denied it out of cowardice,” she said.
“The bureaucracy’s been afraid of revisiting Sheean’s case for decades, and that cowardice has just been extended today.
“What do we need to prove? What do we need to show? Here’s a seriously wounded 18-year-old who strapped himself to a cannon sinking into the sea, who brought down two Japanese fighters and saved 49 crew.
In its decision, the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal said it recommended the Minister for Defence Personnel recommend to the Sovereign that Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia.
The Tribunal said it considered a suitable citation for Sheean’s VC to be as “for the most conspicuous gallantry and a pre-eminent act of valour in the presence of the enemy in HMAS Armidale during a Japanese aerial attack in the Timor Sea on 1 December 1942.”