Thursday, October 21, 2021

Last survivor of HMAS Armidale dies at age 97

Dr Victor ‘Ray’ Leonard, the last survivor of the corvette HMAS Armidale, sunk in action in 1942, has died in Victoria.

Armidale was lost in a fight for survival against Japanese aircraft on 1 December in the Timor Sea. Her end was distinguished not only by the resolve of her ship’s company, who fought their ship to end, but also by the bravery of 18 year old Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean, who returned to his 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun after the Abandon Ship order had been given. He died with the ship, and 78 years later, on 1 December 2021, a long fight to have Sheean’s bravery recognised with a Victoria Cross succeeded. Ray Leonard was a part of that fight.

Most of Armidale’s sailors, and those Dutch soldiers she had taken off Timor, died with the ship. But 49 of the 149 on board survived. They took to the shattered boats and Carley floats in the tropical seas, and for several days, battled for survival, seeing many of those on board die. Ray was amongst those who made it back to Darwin.

Ray had only been in the Navy for a year and a month. It had been a fierce and bloody fight, but it did not deter him. He stayed on in the force until 5 December 1945, now an Able Seaman and aged 24.

He had been born in Elsternwick, Victoria, and it was to Victoria he returned, and where he spent most of the rest of his life. He trained in psychology; completed a doctorate, and later became went on to become the chief psychologist with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He was married to Beryle for more than 75 years, with who he had several children, and who survives him.

Ray Leonard was always a strong supporter of the campaign to see the original Mention in Despatches awarded to Teddy Sheean to be upgraded to a Victoria Cross. He was delighted when the award was made last year.

In the last few weeks of his life, the Chief of the Navy sent a letter to Ray to tell him of how greatly his service had been appreciated by his country. It was read out to Ray, who was most touched.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Darren Chester said he was deeply saddened to hear of Dr Leonard’s passing.

“He passed away just shy of his 98th birthday and he had just celebrated 77 years of marriage with his wife Beryl,” Mr Chester said.

“My deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Ray.

“Vale Ray and thank you for your service.”

#TYFYSRoyal Australian Navy

Obituary text by Tom Lewis. Dr Lewis is the author of the biography ‘Teddy Sheean VC.’

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