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Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Page: 7685

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (Braddon) (21:56): July celebrates the centenary of the Royal Australian Navy. The member for Bennelong, who is in the House, moved a member's motion last night which I was happy to support. The Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal is now looking to investĀ­igate the cases for a number of posthumous Victoria Cross applications. Since 2001 I have been advocating the cause of one Tasmanian in particular who is on that list, Teddy Sheean, and there is a second Tasmanian, Richard Emms, who also has an extraordinary story to tell.

I will read a citation from an eyewitness of the events of 1 December 1942 given to the deceased Frank B Walker, who was a Lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy from 1940 to 1945. In his book The HMAS Armidale: the ship that had to die he has made the case for Teddy Sheean to be awarded a posthumous VC.

I quote from that eyewitness statement to Frank Walker:

My name is Victor Raymond Leonard.

I declare that on 1 December 1942 I was a member of the crew of HMAS Armidale when our ship was attacked by Japanese bombers and fighter planes. Struck by a torpedo, Armidale almost immediately developed a list to port and began to sink. The order to abandon ship was given by our Captain and as I made my way down from the bridge to the starboard deck where a group of us tried unsuccessfully to launch the whaler.

I abandoned ship by jumping off to starboard and quickly realised that I was in danger of being sucked under by the sinking ship or struck by Japanese machinegun fire. I immediately commence to swim away from the ship and as I did so I heard, in addition to the enemy's machinegun fire, a different sound which I recognized as coming from an Armidale Oerlikon gun. I swam some distance as fast as I could and when I stopped and looked back all I could see were the stern and propeller of our ship as it sank.

For the next ten minutes or so we were machine gunned by enemy fighters. When these planes departed I swam towards the focal point of our motor boat and there I met up with my shipmate Ordinary Seaman Russell Caro who told me, and others within hearing, that as Armidale was sinking he saw Ordinary Seaman Edward (Teddy) Sheean firing the after-deck Oerlikon at attacking planes, and saw Sheean, still at his gun, go down with the ship. Some other crew members said that they had witnessed these same events. Subsequently, during the days when we were adrift on the raft and in the whaler Caro expressed to me his admiration for Sheean's heroic behaviour. 'I, personally, did not see Sheean firing the Oerlikon as our ship sank, but I believe that my hearing of Oerlikon gunfire as I swam away from the ship is consistent with the description given by Caro of Sheean's actions.

I would like to put on record that during the six months that we were shipmates on Armidale, and during our friendship over the many post war years I regarded Russell Caro as a man of integrity. Accordingly, I do not doubt the truthfulness of his description of Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean's exploits as HMAS Armidale sank on 1 December 1942.

Victor Raymond Leonard PhD.

Onetime: Ordinary Seaman, HMAS Armidale

Sometime: Chief Psychologist, Dept. of Veterans' Affairs.

As I mentioned last night, in 100 years not one member of the Royal Australian Navy has ever been awarded the Victoria Cross, not one single member in a service that has a very rich record of heroism and valour. The AIF have indeed, the Royal Australian Air Force have indeed, but not the Royal Australian Navy. I hope that the Defence Honours and Awards Appeal Tribunal does the right thing at last and awards a VC to Teddy Sheean. He deserves it. (Time expired)