A life of cheat­ing death

NEWS

Sunday Territorian - - NEWS - By BILLY RULE

THREE weeks be­fore Mark Don­ald­son per­formed the ac­tion that saw him awarded a Vic­to­ria Cross, he was blown up by an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice, wounded af­ter be­ing thrown 7m in the air.

Adding to the trauma, the next morn­ing his part­ner, Emma, was told by two army of­fi­cers that a he­li­copter sent to help res­cue Don­ald­son had crashed and they didn’t know how he was.

He es­caped the chop­per ac­ci­dent and soon re­turned to the front line to act with such brav­ery that he be­came the first Aus­tralian to re­ceive a VC in al­most 40 years.

The IED in­ci­dent is just one of many amaz­ing in­sights into Don­ald­son’s per­sonal life and front­line hero­ics in his new book, The Cross­road.

To tell his story, the Spe­cial Air Ser­vices Corporal re­ceived per­mis­sion from his chain of com­mand, which is stan­dard pol­icy and pro­ce­dure for serv­ing ADF mem­bers.

In a book that is emo­tion­ally pow­er­ful and, at times, a graphic ac­count of what hap­pens in the bru­tal­ity of war, the 34-year-old Perth res­i­dent also re­veals:

Pre­vi­ously un­told de­tails of his VC ac­tion and what re­ally hap­pened to those in­jured and killed around him.

How he was shot in the leg last year by an Afghan fighter.

His threat to quit the army if he wasn’t al­lowed to re­turn to the front line af­ter be­ing awarded his VC.

But in Au­gust 2008, three weeks be­fore his VC brav­ery, Emma, who was en­gaged to Don­ald­son at the time, thought her fi­ance may have suf­fered life-threat­en­ing in­juries.

‘‘I got a phone call about 7am from Mark’s work ask­ing me if I was home,’’ Emma re­calls. ‘‘First thing they said was, ‘He’s not dead . . . but we’ll be at your place soon.’

‘‘About 10 min­utes later, they rocked up and I was hav­ing a bit of a panic at­tack, some deep breaths.

‘‘They told me that Mark had been in­volved in an in­ci­dent and gave me what de­tails they had. But the whole pol­icy is that no news is good news so I knew things weren’t great. But at that stage they couldn’t tell me much more than he’d been in­jured.’’

Emma, who worked at the SAS at the time, waited three tense hours un­til Mark was able to ring through and let her know he felt OK. Later in Tarin Kowt hos­pi­tal, doc­tors found he had dents in his kneecap but cleared him of a bro­ken wrist.

‘‘It was def­i­nitely a ner­vous three hours,’’ Em­masays.

‘‘I knew he was in­jured but didn’t know what the in­juries were. I knew he wasn’t dead but I didn’t know if he’d lost a leg or an arm or what had hap­pened to him. We’re just glad he’s safe.’’

The cou­ple mar­ried at the end of 2008 and have two young chil­dren Kaylee, 7, and Hamish, 2.

When asked how many times he has ‘‘cheated death’’ while serv­ing his coun­try, the 34- year- old humbly plays down the dan­gers of his job.

‘‘ There were a cou­ple of times in the VC con­tact where I was lucky,’’ he ad­mit­ted this week.

‘‘To de­scribe it as ‘cheat­ing death’ is too broad. Is it when you’ve ac­tu­ally died and come back to life or is it when it’s been a close call?

‘‘A miss is a miss, whether it’s an inch or a mile.’’

Pic­ture: ROSS SWAN­BOR­OUGH

VC hero Mark Don­ald­son with his wife, Emma, and two chil­dren, Kaylee and Hamish

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