Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sheean, Edward (1923–1942)

by N. Watson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Edward Sheean (1923-1942), sailor, was born on 28 December 1923 at Lower Barrington, Tasmania, fourteenth child of James Sheean, labourer, and his wife Mary Jane, née Broomhall, both Tasmanian born. Soon afterwards the family moved to Latrobe. Teddy was educated at the local Catholic school. Five ft 8½ ins (174 cm) tall and well built, he took casual work on farms between Latrobe and Merseylea. In Hobart on 21 April 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve as an ordinary seaman, following in the steps of five of his brothers who had joined the armed forces (four of them were in the army and one in the navy). On completing his initial training, he was sent to Flinders Naval Depot, Westernport, Victoria, in February 1942 for further instruction.

In May Sheean was posted to Sydney where he was billeted at Garden Island in the requisitioned ferry Kuttabul, prior to joining his first ship as an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun-loader. Granted home leave, he was not on board Kuttabul when Japanese midget submarines raided the harbour and sank her on 31 May. Eleven days later he returned to Sydney to help commission the new corvette H.M.A.S. Armidale, which carried out escort duties along the eastern Australian coast and in New Guinea waters. Ordered to sail for Darwin in October, Armidale arrived there early next month.

On 29 November Armidale sailed for Japanese-occupied Timor—in company with the corvette H.M.A.S. Castlemaine—to withdraw the exhausted Australian 2nd/2nd Independent Company, evacuate about 150 Portuguese civilians and 190 Dutch troops, and land soldiers to reinforce Dutch guerrillas on the island. Arriving off Betano before dawn on 1 December, the ships rendezvoused with the naval tender H.M.A.S. Kuru, which had already taken the civilians on board. When these people were transferred to Castlemaine, she sailed for Darwin, leaving the other two vessels to carry out the rest of the operation. From 12.28 p.m. Armidale and Kuru came under repeated attack from Japanese aircraft. Despite requests, no air cover was received.

Shortly before 2 p.m. on 1 December 1942 Armidale, by then separated from Kuru, was attacked by no less than thirteen aircraft. The corvette manoeuvred frantically. At 3.15 a torpedo struck her port side and another hit the engineering spaces; finally a bomb struck aft. As the vessel listed heavily to port, the order was given to abandon ship. The survivors leapt into the sea and were machine-gunned by the Japanese. Once he had helped to free a life-raft, Sheean scrambled back to his gun on the sinking ship. Although wounded in the chest and back, the 18-year-old sailor shot down one bomber and kept other aircraft away from his comrades in the water. He was seen still firing his gun as Armidale slipped below the waves. Only forty-nine of the 149 souls who had been on board survived the sinking and the ensuing days in life-rafts.

Sheean was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery. A Collins-class submarine, launched in 1999, was named after him—the only ship in the R.A.N. to bear the name of an ordinary seaman.

Select Bibliography

  • G. H. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945 (Canb, 1968)
  • F. B. Walker, HMAS Armidale (Budgewoi, NSW, 1990)
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 21 Oct 1990, 18 Apr 1999
  • AWM 76, B444 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

N. Watson, 'Sheean, Edward (1923–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sheean-edward-11671/text20855, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 2 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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