Why is the government refusing to listen to the recommendation of its own inquiry for a Victoria Cross for Teddy Sheean?
If you want "evidence of manifest injustice" - what Defence says was not evident, then what do we call a WWII system that processed applications for bravery awards for the RAN through the United Kingdom, but those for the Army and RAAF within Australia?
Manifest injustice indeed!
I gave evidence last year to the inquiry. They did their job very well. Yet from last week the government has denied its own Tribunal, which has now come out fighting - and good on them.
The Royal Australian Navy has never been awarded a Victoria Cross.
Australians have received 100 VC's: 96 to the Army and four to the RAAF.
Sixty-four were awarded in World War I, and 20 in WWII.
Given the deserved retrospective decoration of Vietnam veterans of Long Tan, 50 years after the event, why is it not possible to recognise and remedy another injustice - that of the lack of a Victoria Cross for anyone from the Royal Australian Navy?
Teddy Sheean's is the most deserved, and it would go some way to remedy "manifest injustice".
Imagine today if every approval for an Australian gallantry award had to be ticked off by someone in London. That was what our Navy endured in World War II.
The other two forces had their awards approved here.
Navies take a long time to grow, and ours had been "parented" by the RN. When war arrived, there was no time for revision.
Fighting for its life against the Axis, Britain was under extreme pressure.
Teddy Sheean's is the most deserved, and it would go some way to remedy "manifest injustice".Dr Tom Lewis
There are at least five WWII naval personnel who could have received a VC.
Three got only a "Mention in Despatches", not a medal, but a badge, albeit a prestigious one.
But some of the bravest Navy personnel received no recognition whatsoever.
Ship's cook Francis Emms fought at his machine gun against Japanese aircraft until wounded, later dying, aboard HMAS Kara Kara in Darwin Harbour on 19 February 1942. He received only a mention.
Weeks later, Captain "Hec" Waller commanded HMAS Perth in battle until it was sunk, losing his life. Fighting alongside the Australian cruiser, also sunk, was USS Houston.
Her Captain Rooks received the highest American award, the Medal of Honor.
No-one noticed Waller had not been recommended for anything, except when - ironically - someone from the RN in Britain post-war noticed the anomaly. The paperwork was hurriedly filled in, only for Waller to receive just the mention in mention in despatches.
And at the end of 1942, Teddy Sheean manned his 20mm anti-aircraft gun even as the corvette Armidale sank underneath him, having disobeyed the order to abandon ship to save shipmates' lives.
At least these three were given a MID. Others received nothing.
Lieutenant Commander Robert Rankin, captain of HMAS Yarra, the sole escort of a small convoy, turned and charged an overwhelming number of Japanese warships.
The actions of "Buck" Taylor, a gunner on one of the Yarra's main guns, is unrecognised despite the same bravery as Sheean - staying at his gun so he could defend his shipmates.
Rankin, Taylor, and the ship's company received no recognition at all - once again the paperwork was not processed.
Compare that to the VC received for a 1940 Atlantic action where Captain Fogarty Fegen did the same thing.
He took the sole naval escort, HMS Jervis Bay, into action against a German force, defending his convoy as his ship sank beneath him and he died.
Why a VC for the RN and none for the RAN for a similar action?
The system the Navy endured in World War II is one of the most unfair ever perpetuated on Australian military personnel. It is more than time it was remedied.
Sheean is the best known of the five - the award of a VC to him would at least symbolise the righting of the wrong. And now its Tribunal has made the recommendation, the government should heed the findings of the inquiry it started.
- Dr Tom Lewis OAM is a former naval officer and the author of 15 military history books. His work Honour Denied, published by Avonmore Books, is an examination of the Sheean case. In 2017 he published The Empire Strikes South, which lists all of the Japanese air actions across northern Australia in WWII, including that which sunk the Armidale.