Biography

Birth date: 28 December 1923
Birth place: Australia: Tasmania, Barrington
Death date: 01 December 1942
Death place: Netherlands East Indies: Arafura Sea
Final rank: Ordinary Seaman
Service number: H1617 - Second World War, 1939-1945
Unit: HMAS Armidale

Edward "Teddy" Sheean was an ordinary seaman serving on HMAS Armidale whose death during a Japanese aerial attack on his ship has become a well-known episode in Australian Second World War lore.

Sheean was born at Lower Barrington, Tasmania, on 28 December 1923. He received his education in a Catholic school at Latrobe in Tasmania and, having completed his schooling, worked on farms in the area where he grew up. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve in April 1941 and began his initial training in Tasmania. In February 1942 he was sent to the Flinders Naval Depot at Westernport in Victoria to continue his training, and the following May he was posted to Sydney.

At the end of that month, the vessel on which he was billeted, the former ferry Kuttabul, was sunk during the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour. Fortunately for Sheean he was in Tasmania on home leave that night. He returned to Sydney 11 days later to begin his service as an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gunner on the newly commissioned corvette, HMAS Armidale. Armidale spent her early months on relatively uneventful convoy escort duties along Australia's east and northern coasts.

In October 1942 Armidale's captain, Lieutenant Commander David Richards, was ordered to Darwin and, on 29 November, the corvette began her last operation. Along with two other vessels, she was to undertake a resupply and evacuation mission to Japanese-occupied Timor.

Having been seen by Japanese reconnaissance pilots shortly after leaving the port, Armidale was destined for a dangerous journey. She and the other corvette on the operation, HMAS Castlemaine, missed the rendezvous with the third ship, in Timor's Betano Bay, but met her later some 100 kilometres off-shore. The plan having gone awry, Armidale was ordered to return to Betano the following night. Facing a long day in enemy waters and the certainty of attack, the crew waited.

When in the mid-afternoon she was hit by two aircraft-launched torpedoes, Armidale began to sink fast. Sheean was wounded and, rather than abandon ship, he strapped himself to his Oerlikon and began to engage the attacking aircraft even as the ship sunk beneath him. He shot down two planes, and crewmates recall seeing tracer rising from beneath the surface as Sheean was dragged under the water, firing until the end. He died on 1 December 1942 aged just 18. Only 49 of the 149 men on board survived the attack and subsequent ordeal on rafts and in life boats.

Many consider that Sheean's actions deserved the Victoria Cross, an award for which he was not recommended at the time although he was Mentioned in Dispatches. He has subsequently been honoured in a well-known painting at the Australian War Memorial and by having a Collins Class submarine named after him in 1999 - the only vessel in the Royal Australian Navy to be named after an ordinary seaman.

Rolls and Awards

Roll of Honour

  • Rank: Ordinary Seaman
  • Date of Death: 01 December 1942
  • Unit: HMAS Armidale

Honours and Awards : Mention in despatches

  • Unit: HMAS Armidale
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Collection Items

Photograph

044154

Studio portrait of the Sheean brothers of Lower Barrington, Tasmania, both Australian sailors serving on HMAS Derwent. On the left is H1646 Stoker Class II Thomas (Mick) Sheean and on the right is H1617 Ordinary Seaman (OS) Edward (Teddy) Sheean, RAN. Teddy Sheean was killed on 1 December 1942...

044154

044155

Studio portrait of the Sheean family. Identified left to right, back row: H1617 Ordinary Seaman Edward (Teddy) Sheean RAN; 6849 (VX51790) Private Frederick Sheean. James Sheean; Mary Sheean and VX52321 Private William Henry Sheean. Teddy Sheean was killed on 1 December 1942 during an attack by...

044155

Art

Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean, HMAS 'Armidale'

Depicts the figure of Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean, HMAS 'Armidale' from back half prone on deck at stern of ship dressed only in shorts and boots, a wound on his right thigh, firing an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun at Japanese bombers; a number of seamen are in the water having abandoned ship....

ART28160

Film

The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (H1617) Seaman Edward Sheean, HMAS Armidale, Royal Australian Navy, Second World War

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind...

PAFU2013/150.01

Private Record

Heraldry

1939-45 Star : Ordinary Seaman E Sheean, HMAS Armidale

1939-45 Star. Impressed reverse with recipient's details.

REL36137.001

Pacific Star : Ordinary Seaman E Sheean, HMAS Armidale

Pacific Star. Impressed reverse with recipient's details.

REL36137.002

British War Medal 1939-45 with MID oakleaf : Ordinary Seaman E Sheean, HMAS Armidale

British War Medal 1939-45 with mentioned in despatches oak leaf on ribbon. Impressed around edge with recipient's details.

REL36137.003

Australia Service Medal : Ordinary Seaman E Sheean, HMAS Armidale

Australian Service Medal. Impressed around edge with recipient's details.

REL36137.004

Sound

Three 'Turn of the Century' ABC Radio Programs featuring Dr Peter Stanley discussing aspects of Australia's military involvement in war and peacekeeping throughout the 1900s

PROGRAM 1: Dr Stanley discuses attitudes to war and Australia's committment to war; Australian's went to the Boer War (South Africa) with idea that war was romantic and adventurous but during the century there was a changing view of war; men went to the Great War initially with enthusiasm but the...

S02107

Timeline

Date of birth 1923-12-28 Barrington, TAS.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1941-04-21 Enlisted in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve and began his initial training in Tasmania.
Other 1942-02 Sent to the Flinders Naval Depot at Westernport in Victoria to continue his training.
Other 1942-05 Posted to Sydney and later began his service as an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gunner on the newly commissioned corvette, HMAS Armidale.
Other 1942-10 HMAS Armidale was ordered to Darwin.
Other 1942-11-29 The HMAS Armidale began her last operation, to undertake a resupply and evacuation mission to Japanese occupied Timor.
Date of death 1942-12-01 Killed during the attack by Japanese aircraft which sank the Bathurst Class corvette HMAS Armidale in the Arafura Sea. As the crew were abandoning ship the Japanese aircraft began machine gunning survivors in the water. When he saw this, Sheean, though himself wounded, manned the aft 20 mm Oerlikon gun and began shooting at the attacking aircraft, shooting one down and damaging two others. Sheean remained at the gun and continued to engage the enemy aircraft as the ship sank.
Date of honour or award 1943-06-29 Posthumous Mention in Despatches for his involvement in defence of the HMAS Armidale and its crew from enemy attack.