Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean VC (Royal Australian Navy) during WW2

‘Teddy’ Sheean was a farm labourer before he joined the Royal Australian Navy Reserve on 21 April 1941 as an Ordinary Seaman and four of his brothers were already serving in the Australian Army and another was in the navy.

After completing training, he was eventually posted as an anti-aircraft gun loader on HMAS Armidale which was on escort duties on the eastern coast of Australia and New Guinea before returning to the safety of Darwin in October.

HMS re sheenan

On 29 November HMAS Armidale along with HMAS Castlemain sailed to the Japanese-occupied Island of Timor to extract Australian soldiers of 2/2nd Commando Independent Company and land fresh troops to continue operations. Both ships then rendezvoused with HMS Kuru which had already taken the troops off the island and were then transferred to Castlemain.

At 12:28hrs on 1 December Armidale and Kuru came under heavy and repeated attacks from Japanese aircraft and the two ships became separated. By 14:00hrs Armidale was being attacked by at least thirteen aircraft and just over an hour later a torpedo hit the port side of the Corvette, another hit the engineering section and was quickly followed by a bomb striking the aft section.

As Armidale listed heavily to port and was close to sinking the order was given to abandon ship and as the survivors jumped into the sea the defenceless men were machine-gunned by Japanese aircraft. Instead of boarding a life boat 18-year-old Sheean ran to his gun as the ship was sinking and though already wounded in the chest and back he shot down one Japanese bomber, continued firing at other aircraft to keep them away from the men in the water and was seen still engaging the enemy as the ship disappeared under the sea.

Sheenan ABC news

Painting at AWM

Only 49 of the 149 members of HMAS Armidale survived and Sheean was mentioned in dispatches. In 1999 a Collins Class Submarine (HMAS Sheean) was named after him and is the only ship in the Australian navy to be named after an Ordinary Seaman.

HMS Sheenam now

HMAS Sheean

In 2020 following a public campaign a panel of experts examined eye witness accounts of his action and recommended the Australian Government posthumously award Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean the VC, and on 1 December 2020 members of his family received his Victoria Cross during a ceremony in Canberra.

Sheena1

Adrian Carton de Wiart VC, whose war service sounds like fiction but is all true!

Adrian Carton de Wiart fought in the Boer War, World War One, World War Two and during his military service from 1899 to 1947 he survived being shot in the stomach, groin, head, ankle, hip and leg. He also survived two air crashes, five escape attempts from a prisoner of war camp and after a doctor refused to amputate his fingers he bit them off. He also lost an eye and in 1915 was awarded the VC.

Adrian Carton de Wiart was born in Belgium in 1880 to an Irish mother and a Belgium aristocrat but it was widely rumoured he was the illegitimate son of the King of Belgium, Leopold II.

In 1899 he was sent to England to study at Oxford University but quickly dropped out and enlisted into the British Army under a false name and was known as Trooper Carton and was sent to fight in South Africa during the Boer War. He was shot in the stomach and groin and sent back to England but after recovering he rejoined the army under his real name and after being commissioned returned to South Africa in 1901.

During the British campaign against the ‘Mad Mullah’ in Somaliland whilst attacking an enemy fort Carton de Wiart was shot twice in the face and lost his left eye.

For a short time he wore a glass eye but whilst travelling in a taxi he threw it out of the window and put on a black eye patch which he wore for the remainder of his life.

Whilst serving on the Western Front as an infantry commander during the Great War he was wounded seven more times and after a doctor refused to amputate his mangled fingers he bit them off.

During the Battle of the Somme he was shot through the skull and ankle, at the Battle of Passchendaele he was shot through the leg and whilst fighting at Arras he was shot through the ear.

His citation for his VC during the Battle of the Somme States:“For most conspicuous bravery, coolness and determination during service operations of a prolonged nature. It was owing in a great measure to his doubtless courage and inspiring example that a serious reverse was altered. He displayed the utmost energy and courage in forcing an attack home. After three other battalion commanders had become casualties, he controlled their commands, and ensured that the ground won was maintained at all costs. He frequently exposed himself in the organisation of positions and of supplies, passing unflinchingly through fire barrage of the most intense nature. His gallantry was inspiring to all.”

Carton Medals Rotated

Despite losing various body parts Carton de Wiart said, “Frankly, I enjoyed the war”

From 1919 to 1921 he saw further action in Poland during the Polish-Soviet War and whilst on a train being attacked by the Soviet Cavalry he fought them off with his revolver from the running board of the train and at one point he fell onto the track and quickly jumped back to continue the fight. He later survived an air crash and spent a brief time in captivity.

He retired from the British Army in 1923 with the rank of Major-General (said to be honorary) and spent the next 16 years hunting on a friend’s 500,000 acre estate in Poland a few miles from the Soviet border. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 he was recalled as head of the British Military Mission in Poland and later escaped Poland with his staff whilst being chased by German and Russian soldier and despite being attacked by the Luftwaffe they made it to the Romanian border. Carton de Wiart then travelled back to England by aircraft after obtaining a false passport.

In 1940 he commanded Anglo-French forces in Norway with orders to take the city of Trondheim and with little support managed to move his troops over the mountains during which they were attacked from the air by the Luftwaffe, shelled by German navy destroyers and machine gunned by German troops and was eventually ordered to evacuate and board Royal Navy transports which were heavily attacked during their withdrawal.

On his 60th birthday he arrived at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, Scotland and after returning to his London home it was bombed out during the blitz and all his medals were destroyed and he had to apply to the War Office for replacements.

In 1941 he was appointed head of the British-Yugoslavian Military Mission and whilst on an aircraft flying to Cairo both engines failed and crashed in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya which was controlled by Italy. After being knocked out during the crash he was revived by the cold water and he along with the crew swum a mile to the shore where they were captured by the Italians and sent to a POW camp in Italy.

Carton de Wiart was involved in five escape attempts, including spending seven months tunnelling with other prisoners. After one escape he spent eight days disguised as an Italian peasant but was easily recognised because he had one eye, one arm and could not speak Italian.

In 1943 he was released from prison and acted as a negotiator for the Italian surrender after which he returned to England and became Churchill’s personal representative in China until 1947. Whilst returning to England he stayed at a guest house and whilst walking down the stairs he slipped on coconut matting and fell, knocked himself out and broke his back. After eventually arriving back at England it has been said a doctor successfully extracted an incredible amount of shrapnel from his old wounds.

Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Paul Chislain de Wart VC, KBE, CB, CMG,DSO eventually moved to County Cork, Ireland, where he died in 1963 at the age of 83.
After his death one commentator said: “With his black eyepatch and empty sleeve, Carton de Wiart looked like an elegant pirate and became a figure of legend”

Marcel Pinte the six-year old who worked for the French Resistance

(Musee Resistance)

French Resistance. Six-year old Marcel Pinte worked for the resistance carrying secret messages to various parts of the resistance network and his father, Eugéne Pinte (aka La Gaubertie) ran a resistance cell from their remote family farm. It was later said, with his school satchel on is back he didn’t raise suspicion.
  In August 1944 Marcel accompanied the Maquis to a night parachute drop of weapons and supplies and whilst waiting for the drop a member of the resistance had an accidental discharge with a Sten Gun during which Marcel was hit by several rounds and killed.  He was later honoured during the Armistice Day at a ceremony in Aixe-sur-Vienne, near the city of Limoges in central France.

Norwegian Resistance during WW2: Anne-Sofie Ostvedt

Anne-Sofie Ostvedt (soure common)

Anne-Sofie Østvedt, (later married Strømnæs), (2 January 1920 to 16 November 2009) was second in command of a Norwegian Resistance group called XU. Like many throughout occupied Europe during WW2 who later joined the resistance she started resisting by publishing underground newspapers and in December 1941 she was recruited by XU. Despite being only in her early 20’s she was vital to XU’s underground movement and became their second in command.  In 1942 the Gestapo was attempting to track her down, but her identity was not known by other members of the movement and she was only known as ‘Aslak’ which I understand is a male name in Norway. According to several accounts, after the war many members of the group who she gave orders to were surprised at her young age and the fact she was female.

Slapton Sands, England: The American tragedy before D-day

(source unknown)

Exercise Tiger was intended to prepare American soldiers and seamen for the invasion of Normandy.

On the night of 27 April 1944 Slapton Sands on the coast of Devon was selected for American troops to practice their landing at Utah beach because the area resembled the French coast. It was around 2 in the morning when their convoy which included landing crafts full of American soldiers were heading towards the beach when they were suddenly attacked by German E Boats which were on a routine patrol.

By the time the fast-moving E boats had left the area and the Royal Navy arrived 639 (some reports state 749) American soldiers and seamen had been killed. A subsequent investigation discovered many who abandoned their ships and landing crafts died from hyperthermia, others died in the flames of burning oil on the surface of the sea and many soldiers wearing heavy equipment drowned because they had not been taught how to use their life preservers.

To ensure D-day remained secret those who survived were ordered not to speak of the attack, all leave was cancelled to ensure news did not leak out and these soldiers later took part in the seaborne invasion.

The Slapton Sands Memorial

The fall details of the loss of American servicemen only came to the attention of the wider public in 1984 and there is now a memorial to those who were lost at Slapton Sands.

Wanborough Manor :A widely forgotten historic building connected with SOE during WW2

This 16th century manor house located near the Hogs Back in Guilford, Surrey is now private property which has been divided into several expensive apartments. Located in the small village of Wanborough from which it took its name, before being converted after the war Wanborough Manor was one large property in several acres of its own private grounds with a medieval barn and a small chapel.

In 1940 this large, isolated property along with its grounds were commandeered for war service and become the preliminary training school for the French Section of the Special Operations Executive and was officially referred to as STS 5, Ironically the manor is not far from a village called Normandy, and the first ‘students’ arrived in February 1941.

Apart from fitness training and being taught basic military skills Wanborough was used to weed-out those considered unsuitable to become agents and students the training staff believed would be unable to pass the advance training in Scotland and the finishing school at Beaulieu in the New Forrest. Wanborough was used until March 1943 when the Students Assessment Board (SAB) was established at Winterfold House near Cranleigh in Surrey.

French Resistance during the Battle of Vercors

A good video documentary on the Battle of Vercors from an American presenter. My only criticism is there was no mention of SOE who had been operating in the area for sometime and the OSS units he mentioned were not always required by the Maquis.

Auxiliary Units: Britain’s Resistance Network during WW2.

Documentary 2008

I found the interviews of former members of the Auxiliary informative but have mixed feelings about the dramatic reconstructions although these were based on events in occupied Europe and would have occurred in the UK if Germany had successfully invaded.

RAF Tempsford, Britain’s secret airfield during WW2.

Gibraltar Farm near Sandy Bedfordshire was considered unsuitable for any form of flying because of frequent fog and most of the land being waterlogged but was later considered ideal as a clandestine airfield because German air reconnaissance was liable to reach the same conclusion. To add to the deception lines were painted across the runway which looked like hedgerows from the air, hangers etc looked like rundown farm buildings and after the allies gained air superiority over Europe many of these precautions were relaxed. The farm became RAF Tempsford and the home of 138 Special Duties squadron which was responsible for transporting and supplying SOE, SIS and MI9 agents in Europe. Due to the land’s unsuitability crashes were frequent.

Halifax of 138 Squadron cashed on landing due to poor ground conditions.

161 Special Duties Squadron flew single engine Lysander Aircraft and later Hudson’s to transport agents and were responsible for air landings on remote farmland. During the moon period (SD Squadrons needed moonlight to navigate) 161 along with its ground crews were relocated to the fighter station at RAF Tangmere on the south coast. Because this station was almost 200 miles closer to France than Tempsford their aircraft which were also fitted with an extra fuel tank bolted between the undercarriage could fly deeper into France with sufficient fuel to return to Tangmere or divert to another field during an emergency.