An Australian soldier was today awarded the first Victoria Cross in 40 years for his "exceptional bravery" in service in Afghanistan by Her Excellency, Governor-General Quentin Bryce, with the approval of Her Majesty The Queen of Australia, Elizabeth II. The soldier, Trooper Donaldson was serving with the SAS in Oruzgan province in Afghanistan in October last year when his unit was hit by an ambush. He deliberately drew enemy fire to allow wounded soldiers to escape and be taken to safety.
Then, "with complete disregard for his own safety ' Trooper Donaldson ran back 80m across exposed ground to rescue a wounded coalition force interpreter and take him back to a vehicle. His citation said he "displayed exceptional courage in circumstances of great peril" and saved the life of the interpreter.
The Victoria Cross is the highest award for acts of bravery in wartime. It was instituted in 1856 by Queen Victoria and made retrospective to 1854 to cover the period of the Crimean War. It is possible for any serviceman to obtain this award.
According to the ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee (Qld) the first presentation of the new decoration was made by Queen Victoria in Hyde Park on 26 June 1857, when 62 sailors and soldiers received the award.
Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, conceived the idea, but The Queen herself was personally responsible for much of the rest. She altered ‘For the Brave’ to ‘For Valour’ and ordered that the Cross should be awarded only ‘to those officers and men who have served us in the presence of the enemy.’ The Committee maintains a list of all Australian recipients.
The Victoria Cross is designed in the form of the Maltese Cross: in the centre of the medal is a lion guardant standing upon the Royal Crown. The words "For valour" are inscribed below. The Victoria Cross is suspended from a bar by a red ribbon. On the reverse of the cross the date of the act of bravery is inscribed, along with the name, rank, and unit of the recipient.
The Australian War Memorial displays 61 Victoria Crosses (59 Australia and 2 British), the largest publicly held collection in the world. The Victoria Crosses are displayed together in the Memorial's Hall of Valour. These VCs have been donated or loaned to the Memorial by individuals, families, or unit associations to be displayed for the nation.
The first Australian to earn the Victoria Cross was Captain (later Sir Neville) Howse for rescuing a wounded man on 24 July 1900 while serving as an officer of the NSW Army Medical Corps during the South African War 1899-1902 (Boer War). The youngest Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross was Private JWA Jackson VC, who was 18 years 9 months.
Prior to 1975, Australian service personnel were awarded gallantry, bravery and distinguished service awards under the Imperial system. From 1991 a separate Victoria Cross for Australia (VC) was established.
Prior to the award to Trooper Mark Donaldson, the last VC was awarded to Warrant Officer Keith Payne for gallantry on 24 May 1969 during the Vietnam War.
…the Australian Army citation…
AWARDED TO THE VICTORIA CROSS FOR AUSTRALIA
8248070 TROOPER MARK GREGOR DONALDSON
For most conspicuous acts of gallantry in action in a circumstance of great peril in Afghanistan as part of the Special Operations Task Group during Operation SLIPPER, Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan.
Trooper Mark Gregor Donaldson enlisted into the Australian Army on 18 June 2002. After completing Recruit and Initial and Employment Training he was posted to the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment. Having successfully completed the Special Air Service Selection Course in April 2004, Trooper Donaldson was posted to Special Air Service Regiment in May 2004.
On 2 September 2008, during the conduct of a fighting patrol, Trooper Donaldson was travelling in a combined Afghan, US and Australian vehicle convoy that was engaged by a numerically superior, entrenched and coordinated enemy ambush. The ambush was initiated by a high volume of sustained machine gun fire coupled with the effective use of rocket propelled grenades. Such was the effect of the initiation that the combined patrol suffered numerous casualties, completely lost the initiative and became immediately suppressed. It was over two hours before the convoy was able to establish a clean break and move to an area free of enemy fire.
In the early stages of the ambush, Trooper Donaldson reacted spontaneously to regain the initiative. He moved rapidly between alternate positions of cover engaging the enemy with 66mm and 84mm anti-armour weapons as well as his M4 rifle. During an early stage of the enemy ambush, he deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire in order to draw attention to himself and thus away from wounded soldiers. This selfless act alone bought enough time for those wounded to be moved to relative safety.
As the enemy had employed the tactic of a rolling ambush, the patrol was forced to conduct numerous vehicle manoeuvres, under intense enemy fire, over a distance of approximately four kilometres to extract the convoy from the engagement area. Compounding the extraction was the fact that casualties had consumed all available space within the vehicles. Those who had not been wounded, including Trooper Donaldson, were left with no option but to run beside the vehicles throughout. During the conduct of this vehicle manoeuvre to extract the convoy from the engagement area, a severely wounded coalition force interpreter was inadvertently left behind. Of his own volition and displaying complete disregard for his own safety, Trooper Donaldson moved alone, on foot, across approximately 80 metres of exposed ground to recover the wounded interpreter. His movement, once identified by the enemy, drew intense and accurate machine gun fire from entrenched positions. Upon reaching the wounded coalition force interpreter, Trooper Donaldson picked him up and carried him back to the relative safety of the vehicles then provided immediate first aid before returning to the fight.
On subsequent occasions during the battle, Trooper Donaldson administered medical care to other wounded soldiers, whilst continually engaging the enemy.
Trooper Donaldson’s acts of exceptional gallantry in the face of accurate and sustained enemy fire ultimately saved the life of a coalition force interpreter and ensured the safety of the other members of the combined Afghan, US and Australian force. Trooper Donaldson’s actions on this day displayed exceptional courage in circumstances of great peril. His actions are of the highest accord and are in keeping with the finest traditions of the Special Operations Command, the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force.
Personal biography of Trooper Mark Gregor Strang Donaldson, VC
Mark Donaldson was born in Waratah, Newcastle, NSW on 2 April 1979. He spent his formative years in northern NSW where he graduated from high school in 1996.
Trooper Donaldson enlisted into the Australian Army on 18 june 2002 and entered recruit training at the Army Recruit Training Centre, Kapooka, NSW. He demonstrated an early aptitude for soldiering and was awarded the prizes for best shot and best at physical training in his platoon. Subsequently he was allocated to the Royal Australian infantry corps and posted to the school of infantry at Singleton, NSW, where he excelled in his initial employment training. At the completion of this training he was again awarded best shot and best at physical training, as well as the award for the most outstanding soldier in his platoon.
He was posted to 1st battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Townsville, QLD in November 2002. It was during this time that Trooper Donaldson decided to pursue his ambition to join the special air service regiment.
In February 2004, he successfully completed the Special Air Service Regiment selection course and was posted to the regiment in may 2004. He was then posted to I Troop, 3 Special Air Service Squadron. Since that time he has been deployed on operations to East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq.
On 12 august 2008, Trooper Donaldson was wounded in action whilst conducting nightime operations in Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan. He recovered from his minor wounds and continued on the deployment.
Trooper Donaldson was involved in an incident on 2 September 2008 in Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan that resulted in him being awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia. He was invested by her Excellency the Governor-General of Australia at Government House, Canberra on 16 January 2009. Trooper Donaldson remains posted to the Special Air Service Regiment in Perth, WA.
Trooper Donaldson is married to Emma and has a daughter Kaylee. His parents are deceased.
The Victoria Cross is the pre-eminent award for acts of bravery in wartime and is Australia's highest military honour.
It is awarded to persons who, in the presence of the enemy, display the most conspicuous gallantry; a daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice; or extreme devotion to duty.
The Victoria Cross was created by Queen Victoria in 1856 and made retrospective to 1854 to cover the period of the Crimea War.
Until the Victoria Cross for Australia was created in 1991, Australians were eligible for the Victoria Cross and other awards under the Imperial system of honours.
The Imperial Victoria Cross has been awarded to ninety six Australians. Ninety one received the Victoria Cross while others serving with Australian forces and five Australians received the award while serving with South African and British units.
Australians were first recognised for their gallantry in the Boer War and more recently during the Vietnam War.
Australians have been awarded the Victoria Cross in the following conflicts:
- 6 in the Boer War 1899-1902
- 64 in World War I 1914-1918
- 2 in North Russia 1919
- 20 in World War II 1939-1945
- 4 in Vietnam 1962-1972
Nine of the crosses awarded in World War I were for Australians at Gallipoli.
Victoria Cross for Australia
The Victoria Cross for Australia was instituted in the Australian honours system by Letters Patent on 15 January 1991.
It replaced the British or Imperial Victoria Cross however; a Victoria Cross for Australia has not yet been awarded.
Ninety six Australians have been awarded the Imperial Victoria Cross. No recipients had been awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia.
The first Australian to be awarded a Victoria Cross was Captain Sir Neville Howse VC KCMG CB KStJ during the Boer War (1900). He also served in World War I and later as Commonwealth Minister for Health, Defence and Repatriation.
The most recent recipient of the Victoria Cross was Warrant Officer Keith Payne VC OAM for gallantry during the Vietnam War (24 May 1969). Under heavy enemy fire Payne instigated a daring rescue of more than forty men, many of them wounded, and led the party back to the battalion base.
How it is awarded
The Governor-General awards the Victoria Cross, with the approval of the Sovereign, on the recommendation of the Minister for Defence.
The Victoria Cross may be awarded posthumously.
The post-nominal entitlement for the Victoria Cross is VC.
A subsequent award of the Victoria Cross to the same person is made as a bar to the Cross. They are also entitled to the post-nominal VC and Bar.
The Victoria Cross is designed in the form of the Maltese Cross: in the centre of the medal is a lion guardant standing upon the Royal Crown.
The words "For valour" are inscribed below. The Victoria Cross is suspended from a bar by a crimson ribbon. On the reverse of the cross the date of the act of bravery is inscribed, along with the name, rank, and unit of the recipient.