Armidale’s last survivor disembarks
Victor ‘Ray’ Leonard, the last survivor of the corvette HMAS Armidale I, sunk in action in 1942, has died in Victoria.
CAPTION: Dr Victor Leonard in later life during a television interview. Story by Tom Lewis.
Armidale was lost in a fight for survival against Japanese aircraft on December 1 in the Timor Sea.
Her demise was distinguished not only by the resolve of her ship’s company, who fought their ship to the 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 went down with the ship, and 78 years later, on December 1, 2020, a long fight to have Sheean’s bravery recognised with a Victoria Cross succeeded.
Most of Armidale’s sailors, and those Dutch soldiers she had taken off Timor, died with the ship, but Victor ‘Ray’ Leonard was one of just 49 of the 149 on board who 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.
Dr Leonard was among those who made it back to Darwin.
At the time, Dr Leonard 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 continued to serve in the RAN until 5 December 1945, by which time he was a 24-year-old able seaman.
Dr Leonard was born in Elsternwick, Victoria, and it was to Victoria he returned where he spent most of the rest of his life.
He trained in psychology, completed a doctorate, and later went on to become the chief psychologist with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
He was married to Beryle for more than 75 years, with whom he had several children who survive him.
Dr Leonard was always a strong supporter of the campaign to see the original Mention in Despatches awarded to Teddy Sheean upgraded to a Victoria Cross and was delighted when the award was made last year.
In the last few weeks of his life, Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mike Noonan sent a letter to Dr Leonard telling him how greatly his service had been appreciated by his country.
The letter was read out to Dr Leonard, who was very touched.