Au­thor­i­ties found want­ing af­ter war death

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Sarah Demp­ster

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

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