THE family of Teddy Sheean say they are angered by the intervention of Australia’s most senior military leader in urging the Prime Minister to dismiss the renewed pursuit of a Victoria Cross for the Tasmanian war hero.
Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister of Defence Personnel Darren Chester to “strongly advise” them to not seek the honour for Teddy Sheean as it could “damage Australia’s relationship” with Queen Elizabeth.
General Campbell also warned the request to grant the young sailor a posthumous VC could open the floodgates to a “swath of additional claims for retrospective military honours” from “all past conflicts”.
Sheean’s nephew Garry Ivory said he did not believe “for one moment” that the bid to award Sheean a VC would upset the Queen.
“I would say the Queen would probably want to do the right thing,’’ he said.
Mr Ivory said he was “very angry” at General Campbell’s intervention, because high-ranking officials had “every opportunity” to put their case forward at last year’s Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal hearing into the case.
“But, in the end, the tribunal saw fit to recommend a VC for Teddy Sheean,’’ he said.
Correspondence from Australia’s top military brass said Queen Elizabeth II would be personally offended by further requests for Teddy Sheean’s VC commendation.
Mr Ivory said Sheean’s actions and bravery during the sinking of HMAS Armidale during World War II should be honoured with a VC.
The ship came under attack from Japanese aircraft on December 1, 1942, but Sheean, then 18, shot down an aircraft and stayed at his post until he was killed.
“He knew he wasn’t going to survive. He gave his life for his mates and his country. What more does he have to do to get a VC?” Mr Ivory said.
Teddy Sheean and fiancee Kath Lapthorne. Picture: GARRY IVORY
The tribunal dismissed the bid for Sheean to receive a posthumous award in 2013, but Tasmania’s Veterans Affairs Minister Guy Barnett applied for a review of that decision.
After hearings last year, the tribunal recommended Sheean be awarded a VC, but the Federal Government this month denied the bid.
Premier Peter Gutwein would not comment yesterday on General Campbell’s letter, but said he believed Sheean deserved a VC.
“I’ve been in contact with the Prime Minister,” Mr Gutwein said.
“He understands my view, he understands the view of the state, and we’ll continue to have those discussions.”
Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie accused Mr Morrison of “hiding behind Angus Campbell because he doesn’t want to be the face of this decision”.
She dubbed the Government’s decision not to take up the tribunal’s recommendation on Sheean’s case “a shocking captain’s call” by the PM.
The crossbench powerbroker also argued there was new evidence in the 2019 review, but did not go into detail.
“And if it upsets the Queen to have an Australian prime minister recommend an Australian war hero receive an Australian war honour, maybe we just let her be upset,” Senator Lambie said.
“Stop hiding, start leading,” she said of Mr Morrison, accusing him of leaking the letter.
Veteran Affair Minister Guy Barnett and the nephew of Teddy Sheean, Garry Ivory. Picture: PATRICK GEE
Labor MPs have also hit out at the Defence Chief’s arguments, saying they still believe the government should push for a VC.
Deputy Labor leader and defence spokesman Richard Marles also rejected General Campbell’s view.
“Obviously we respect the Chief of the Defence Force, but the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal found that Teddy Sheean should be awarded the Victoria Cross.”
“We support the outcome of that process. It is never too late to honour heroism.”
“The Chair of the DHAAT has reportedly written to the Minister and has made clear that the tribunal is of the view that there was new evidence and that the version of events stated at the time were inaccurate and understated Sheean’s actions.”
Member for Lyons Brian Mitchell said he was disappointed by the Defence chief’s view.
“The Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal recommendation was unanimous: Teddy Sheean deserves a VC,’’ Mr Mitchell said.
“The Government must now progress this and cross the bridge with the Brits when needed.
“We do not surrender doing what’s right, just to avoid offending someone overseas.”
The Mercury approached the Defence Department about General Campbell’s letter and was told he had no further comment.