Authorities found wanting after war death
Death of a Soldier: A Mother’s Story By Margaret Evison Biteback Publishing, 300pp, $34.99 (HB) Distributed in Australia by NewSouth Books
AYEAR after her son’s death on the front line in Afghanistan, Margaret Evison sat down at her kitchen table to watch the frenetic headcam footage of the event, terrified of what she might see.
Instantly recognising her wounded son Mark, who was 26 and a lieutenant in the Welsh Guards, she scanned the screen for evidence of that well-worn phrase ‘‘ he did not suffer’’.
Yet the panicked voices of the men in his platoon betrayed the true nature of his demise. With the expected helicopter nowhere in sight, the men tended frantically to Evison’s gunshot wound, collectively willing him to life.
But as his heart bled out, the young lieutenant’s suffering encircled his men, as it did his mother watching a year later, as they stood equally powerless to save him at the end.
Margaret Evison’s Death of a Soldier: A Mother’s Story, is a study of 21st-century warfare, grief and institutionalised power. As an adventurous, bright and charismatic soul, Mark was a natural fit for the army, and Evison freely acknowledges her son’s eagerness to join the Welsh Guards.
But the Sydney-born author questions why that commitment to serve his country was not reciprocated by the Ministry of Defence and the British government.
For her, the posting of her son to Nad-e-Ali in Helmand Province, one of the most dangerous places on earth, and the seriously inadequate medical equipment, food and radio communication equipment issued to support him and his men, speaks of a certain ‘‘ lack of institutional care’’.
Moreover, the ministry’s attempts to control, through censorship and influence, the information surrounding Evison’s death go to the heart of the author’s suspicions that it was not a simple matter. This book is her response to an implacable judicial and political system that seeks to keep the good name of the military at all costs.
A black-and-white photograph of Evison included in this book shows him sitting cheerily at his patrol base, bordered by the few personal possessions allowed in his army kit. Lying to one side is his journal, a ‘‘ goodbye present’’ from a desolate friend on his departure from London. It is a compelling image, since his journal ultimately provided Evison with a command over time and truth that he was unable to find in life.
Free from army strictures, within the pages of the volume he documents his equivocation about his role in the war in Afghanistan. When the journal was delivered to his mother’s door just two months after his death on May 12, 2009, it was a revelation. Her son writes of the excessive weaponry available to soldiers: he leaves the armoury with ‘‘ enough kit to start my own war’’, and describes weapons that he had never seen in England.
Moreover, while weapons are abundant, there is a lack of the more basic needs: water, food, medical equipment, radios and, importantly, contact with loved ones. It is shocking to learn Evison’s platoon was so under-resourced that the men once patrolled for seven hours without water. Evison writes they are ‘‘ likely to fall unless drastic measures are taken’’.
Recently recovered from a fever, and a mere two weeks into his tour, Evison’s writing ceases when he is fatally wounded by a