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Army November 21, 2013
A personal tale
SASR’s Cpl Mark Donaldson VC bares all in autobiography
Revealing tale: Cpl Mark Donaldson with his book The Crossroad at the Australian War Memorial.
Photo by WO2 Andrew Hetherington
VC artefacts now
on display at AWM
WO2 Andrew Hetherington
“IT’S a strange process, writ-
ing about yourself,” Cpl Mark
Donaldson said before the
Canberra launch of his autobi-
ography The Crossroad, at the
Australian War Memorial on
The SASR soldier and Victoria
Cross recipient decided to write a
book about his life more than two
years ago. He began putting pen to
paper a year ago.
“The person on the pages is
someone not many people have yet
been exposed to,” he said.
“During the writing it was a bit
of a trip down memory lane and
sometimes it was difficult to get
down all the details as honestly and
correctly as I could remember.
“I went through a process of
deciding, out of the respect for the
individuals involved, do I put in a
particular event or not?
“I came to the conclusion that
this was how I felt about that
moment at that time. I put myself
in the position of the reader - as a
reader I’d want to know what an
author felt at that time and during
Finding time to write the book
“It was a lot of late nights and
early mornings, trying to squeeze it
in around work and the family,” he
“My wife was very good. When
knock some words out, she took the
kids away and let me grind into it.”
Since the book was released, Cpl
Donaldson said the biggest reality
was other people now knowing his
“People I’ve worked with in
Afghanistan, in Australia and else-
where, not in the military, now know
about my parents and what I used to
get up to before the Army,” he said.
“The book’s been a bit of an eye
opener for my family and friends,
and for me it comes with some emo-
tion of them now knowing more
Cpl Donaldson describes the
book as an honest account of his life.
“I was as honest as I could’ve
possibly been,” he said.
“It’s a story about Mark
Donaldson from his own point of
view, from where he was standing
and in his shoes.
“It’s also about compassion, a
job that had to be done, it’s about
experience and life.”
He doesn’t have a favourite
section of the book, but says there
is something in it for teenagers and
“There was so much I wanted to
put into the book. I had to cut a lot
out or it would have been too long
and people wouldn’t have read it,”
“I think parents will want to read
about the tragic events that hap-
pened to my parents.
“For the younger readers I’d like
them to read about my adventures
overseas on operations, as it shows
what can be achieved when you put
your mind to anything.
“I’d like the wives and partners
of soldiers to read the book to get
a perspective of what it’s like for
soldiers when they deploy on opera-
tions, to see what they go through.”
So how does a VC recipient and
Young Australian of the Year who
has experienced combat in East
Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan summa-
rise his military career so far?
“It’s been a career which has
given me much more than I thought
I was ever going to get out of it,”
Cpl Donaldson said.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride
and one hell of an adventure I signed
up for and was exactly what I want-
ed when I joined.
“I’ve gotten more out of it than
what I’ve put into it.”
What now for his future career?
“Next year I’m moving into
a training and mentoring role at
the SASR, passing on some of the
knowledge and experience I have
learnt over the years to our new
personnel,” he said.
“Essentially I’ll be working with
other operators to teach the newer
guys how to survive in battle.
“But I might write another book
in about 30 years, I’ve enjoyed the
The Crossroad by Cpl Mark Donaldson is
published by Pan Macmillan Australia and
is available at most bookstores and online
Cpl Nick Wiseman
A NEW display featuring items from
the three Victoria Cross recipients of
the Afghanistan campaign opened at
the Australian War Memorial’s Hall of
Valour on November 5.
The towering uniform of Cpl Ben
Roberts-Smith dominates the display,
which includes a seal pup utility knife
and GPS device belonging to Cpl Daniel
A video entitled Portrait of Mark
Donaldson VC captures him training
after his deployment to Afghanistan.
Memorial director Brendan Nelson
said it was a significant milestone in the
progressive commemoration and under-
standing of the war in Afghanistan.
“These are very important personal
items to us now, but imagine how our
nation will increasingly feel about these
and relate to them in the years and dec-
ades to come,” he said.
“We know the immense reverence
that we now have for those personal
items from our soldiers that were given
to us during and subsequently after the
First World War.
“We will have these items forever
and we will certainly be exhibiting them
for the foreseeable future.”
Memorial staff had to hand-make
a mannequin large enough to display
Cpl Roberts-Smith’s uniform – the only
uniform on display actually worn during
an event for which a Victoria Cross was
The only other artefact of that nature
at the Memorial belonged to Sgt Stanley
McDougall, for his effort in 1918, but it
is too fragile for display.
Memorial textile conservator Sarah
Clayton said the size 13 boots in Cpl
Roberts-Smith’s exhibit were the larg-
est off-the-shelf boots they could get,
though he actually wears size 16.
Memorial head of art Ryan Johnston
said the video of Cpl Mark Donaldson
in a Black Hawk was an important dis-
play for the memorial.
“It’s the first filmic portrait that
we’ve ever commissioned here,” Mr
Army November 21, 2013
Pieces of history: Cpl Ben
is on display at the AWM
with a video of Cpl Mark
Photos by Cpl Nick Wiseman
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