Victoria Cross for Australia: Trooper Mark Gregor Strang Donaldson, Special Air Service Regiment

Place Asia: Afghanistan, Uruzgan Province
Accession Number OL00596.001
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Award
Physical description Bronze
Location Main Bld: Hall of Valour: Main Hall: Afghanistan
Maker Hancocks
Place made United Kingdom: England, Greater London, London
Date made c 2008
Conflict Afghanistan, 2001-2021

Victoria Cross for Australia. Engraved reverse suspender with recipient's details; reverse cross with date of action.

History / Summary

Mark Gregor Strang Donaldson was born in Newcastle, New South Wales on 2 April 1979. He was raised in Dorrigo, in northern NSW from where he enlisted into the Australian Army in 2002. Whilst at the Army Recruit Training Centre he was awarded prizes for best physical training, best shot and most outstanding soldier in his training platoon. After becoming a qualified rifleman with the Royal Australian Infantry the now Private Donaldson was posted to the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in Townsville. In 2004 he successfully completed the rigorous Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) selection course and was posted to the SASR at Swanbourne Barracks in Perth later that year. With his move to the SASR his rank now became trooper.

As a member of the SASR Donaldson deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Slipper in 2008. On 12 August, he was slightly wounded in action whilst conducting nightime operations in Oruzgan Province. On 2 September Donaldson was involved in the action for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia. The citation reads:

'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, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan.

Trooper Mark Gregor Strang Donaldson enlisted into the Australian Army on 18 June 2002. After completing recruit and initial employment training, he was posted to the 1st Battalion, 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 4km 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, while 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 Special Operations Command, the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force.'

This was the first Victoria Cross for Australia to be awarded since its inception on 15 January 1991. The award replaced the British Imperial Victoria Cross, though its eligibility, conferral and manufacture remain unchanged. The last Imperial Victoria Cross was awarded to Warrant Officer II Keith Payne for his actions in Vietnam in 1969.

Donaldson was invested with the Victoria Cross by Her Excellency Quentin Bryce, the Governor-General of Australia at Government House, Canberra on 16 January 2009. The following year he was made Young Australian of the Year.

Donaldson's Victoria Cross is accompanied by the Australian Active Service Medal, the Afghanistan Medal, the Australian Service Medal, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Australian Defence Medal, and the NATO Medal.