A True Australian Hero

Members of our College community may be aware of recent news regarding the posthumous awarding of the Victoria Cross to war hero, Edward “Teddy” Sheean, for his extraordinary efforts in the Timor Sea in 1942.

But few people would be aware of the efforts of an A.B. Paterson College student in the final months of the campaign to have this bravery recognised.

The fight for recognition of Teddy’s bravery – when he sacrificed his life to save his shipmates during the sinking of HMAS Armidale – has spanned four decades.

Several years ago, A.B. Paterson College student and history buff, Finlay Proverbs, learned of Teddy’s heroics and a previous decision by the Federal Government to deny this war hero his Victoria Cross (VC).

Finlay joined the fight, penning this touching tribute to Teddy, which has since been recognised by local MPs and shared with members of the RSL.

Well done Finlay on your efforts to ensure this true Australian hero is not forgotten.

My name is Finlay Proverbs, I’m 12 years old and I love history. 

During research for a Scout badge that I’d been trying to earn a few years ago, I came across a man named Edward “Teddy” Sheean (1923-1942). I later learned of the great sacrifice he had made for Australia and decided to conduct further research into him. As I learned more and more of Teddy’s story, I became passionate that he was worthy of a VC (Victoria Cross). I later approached Mr Guy Barnett MP (Minister for Veteran’s Affairs), who shared the thoughts I had for Teddy. He met with me and presented me with a book named “Our Heroes” (pictured below). This book was written by Minister Barnett and tells the tales of Tasmanian war veterans who had either earned, or should be awarded, a VC. Although he was just an ordinary seaman, Teddy Sheean was brave and loyal to his country. I believe this young man should get the VC because of his heroic, heartbreaking story.   

It was during World War 2 and Australia was on the brink of a Japanese invasion. On 24th November 1942, Commodore Cuthbert Pope organised an operation utilising HMAS ships Kuru, Castlemaine and Armidale. Castlemaine and Armidale were sent to the Japanese-occupied Timor Sea, located just north of Darwin, while Kuru picked up some Portuguese civilians from an island in the sea. On 1st December, the two vessels Castlemaine and Armidale met up with Kuru, which had already picked up the civilians. The civilians were then transferred to Castlemaine which then travelled to Darwin. Kuru and Armidale took separate routes, so Armidale was left alone, in the middle of the Timor Sea.

At 13:58, on 1st December 1942, HMAS Armidale was attacked by nine bombers and four fighters over the Arafura Sea, located north-east of the Timor Sea. Armidale took evasive action, manoeuvring frantically to avoid damage from the many bombs threatening to destroy it. At 15:15, the vessel was struck, and the order to abandon ship was given. People leapt into the water to escape from the sinking ship, but they were attacked by the bombers hanging above them. Enter Edward “Teddy” Sheean, an ordinary seaman who was onboard the Armidale at the time of its demise. He was assisting to free a life raft at the time he was shot with two bullets (one in the chest and back) by the Japanese. It was at that point that he decided to disobey the commander’s orders to abandon ship, instead strapping himself to the nearest Oerlikon gun and firing at the overhead bombers. Because of this, the Japanese aircraft were unable to shoot those in the water without losing themselves to Teddy’s shots. With the Armidale rapidly sinking, Teddy kept firing and managed to shoot down a bomber. He damaged a further two aircraft before Armidale’s stern was completely engulfed by the sea. Despite this, Teddy maintained fire as the water rose above his feet and didn’t stop even when he disappeared beneath the waves. He had died to save his crewmembers. 

He may have been wounded, but had he abandoned the ship he still could have swum to shore. Many years later, numerous people owe their lives to Teddy’s sacrifice and he is still being recognised across Australia for the brave act he performed to serve his country. He was the first non-officer to have a submarine named after him (known as the HMAS Sheean), and has had his story depicted in Lee Kernaghan’s song, “Forever 18.” “He kept on firing as he was dragged under. So noble, for someone so young,” are just some of the words featured in the lyrics of this song. The government has recently denied the request for Teddy’s VC, but I, as well as so many others, will not give up in our quest. Just know, Teddy, that we will never give up on you. You are a true hero of Australia. 

Finlay Proverbs - Year 7 Student