Biography

Birth date: 24 May 1961
Birth place: Australia: Queensland, Brisbane
Death date: 21 June 1993
Death place: Morocco: Western Sahara, Awsard
Final rank: Major
Conflict: UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) 1991 - 1994
Unit: Royal Australian Army Medical Corps

Susan Felsche, a major in the Australian Army, was the first Australian woman to die on an overseas military operation since the Second World War.

Felsche, nèe Stones, was born in Brisbane's Royal Women's Hospital on 24 March 1961 to a family with strong military ties. She proved herself to be an excellent student, and by the age of 17 she had received sufficiently high marks to study medicine at the University of Queensland. In 1982 she was promoted to the rank of petty officer in the Naval Reserve and had planned to join the Royal Australian Navy as an undergraduate medical student. But in 1983 she joined the army instead, believing that it offered more challenging employment for medical officers. She had already undertaken wide-ranging medical training through a series of postings in Richmond and Townsville, and at the Princess Alexandra hospital in Brisbane when, in 1987, she began her duties as a Captain Medical Officer at 5 Camp Hospital, Duntroon.

In addition to her military career, Felsche undertook part-time studies and worked after hours at the Woden Valley and Calvary Hospitals in Canberra where she regularly worked with leading orthopaedic surgeons. She married a fellow army officer, Klaus Felsche, in August 1988 and the couple settled in Canberra. In 1991 she was promoted to major and given a posting to the Directorate General of Army Health Services. The following year she was posted to the 1st Military Hospital at Yeronga in Queensland as the Medical Officer in Charge of Clinical Services; not long afterwards she was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

In the early 1990s Felsche was asked to consider a posting as the Australian Medical Officer with the 4th Australian Staff Contingent to the Mission des Nations Unies pour le Rèfèrendum au Sahara Occidental (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, Minurso). She accepted the six-month posting, recognising it to be an ideal opportunity to apply her training in a demanding operational environment.

After pre-deployment training, Felsche, as part of a 45-strong contingent, left for Layounne, capital of Western Sahara in 1993. Her work there began with an attachment to a Swiss medical unit working out of tents in Layounne, she then moved on to deployments at United Nations observation posts under the control of Minurso. These deployments had their own dangers and discomforts: strong desert winds blew relentlessly and land mines in the surrounding countryside were known to move with the shifting sands.

On 21 June 1993 Felsche joined a small team of staff that were travelling to provide medical support from a United Nations tent base at Awsard, in the middle of the Sahara Desert. The small Pilatus Porter aircraft in which she was travelling developed problems on take-off and crashed, killing three of the four crew and most of the passengers, including Felsche. Her funeral was held in Redlands, Brisbane, not far from where she had spent much of her youth.

Rolls and Awards

Roll of Honour

  • Rank: Major
  • Date of Death: 21 June 1993
  • Unit: Royal Australian Army Medical Corps

Collection Items

Photograph

P01763.001

Portrait of Major Susan Felsche, taken at the airport as she was about to depart to serve as a Medical Officer with MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara). She was killed in a plane crash in the Western Sahara 21 June 1993.

P01763.001

P01763.015

Laayoune, Western Sahara. Personnel from the Swiss Medical Unit, a contingent provided to the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) lined up in the Units Compound. The demountable containers behind the personnel were utilised as surgeries and wards for any injured or...

P01763.015

P01763.016

Laayoune, Western Sahara. Personnel from the Swiss Medical Unit, a contingent provided to MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), assembled in front of containers used to house the unit's administrative and communications personnel. A soldier at the far end can be...

P01763.016

P01763.017

Laayoune, Western Sahara. Personnel from the Swiss Medical Unit, a contingent provided to MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), being inspected by a visiting officer. The soldiers are assembled in front of containers utilised as both administrative, dental and...

P01763.017

P01763.018

Laayoune, Western Sahara. Personnel from the Swiss Medical Unit, a contingent provided to MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara),assembled in front of containers utilised to house the unit's administrative and communications personnel. The Camp Commandant is being...

P01763.018

P01763.019

Laayoune, Western Sahara. Personnel from the Swiss Medical Unit, a contingent provided to MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), assembled in front of containers utilised to house the unit's administrative and communications personnel.

P01763.019

P01763.020

Laayoune, Western Sahara. The Swiss Medical Unit's compound, a contingent provided to MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara). On the right hand side are demountable containers equipped as surgeries, emergency rooms and wards, and on the left are containers utilised...

P01763.020

P01763.021

Laayoune, Western Sahara. The Swiss Medical Unit's compound, a contingent provided to MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara). On the right are demountable containers utilised for adminstrative and communications functions. The double stacked containers in the centre...

P01763.021

P01763.022

Laayoune, Western Sahara. View of the Swiss Medical Unit's compound through the lockable side gate of the compound. This unit was a contingent provided to MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara). In the background is accommodation that was originally constructed for...

P01763.022

P01763.023

Laayoune, Western Sahara. An ambulance in the Swiss Medical Unit's compound being operated by the Swiss and five personnel. The Swiss Medical Unit is a contingent provided to MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara). In the backgound can be seen accommodation that was...

P01763.023

P01763.024

Laayoune, Western Sahara. View from the Lakouara Hotel (more commonly known as "The Cockroach") which housed Australian personnel working as part of MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara). It shows a multi storey building which provided accommodation of varying...

P01763.024

P01763.025

Laayoune, Western Sahara. Two ambulances owned and run by the Swiss Medical Unit (SMU), a contingent provided for MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara). The vehicles are parked in the SMU's compound. In the background can be seen accommodation that was originally...

P01763.025

P01763.026

Laayoune, Western Sahara. Distant view of buildings utilised by the headquarters of MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara). On the left are white containers making up the Swiss Medical Unit's (SMU) compound. The brown buildings (a former school) were occupied by both...

P01763.026

P01763.027

Laayoune, Western Sahara. Distant view of buildings utilised by the headquarters of MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara). In the centre are the white containers making up the Swiss Medical Unit's (SMU's) compound. The brown buildings on the right were occupied by...

P01763.027

P01763.028

Laayoune, Western Sahara. One of the two Pilatus Porter aircraft on the runway at Laayoune. The aircraft were operated by Farner Air under contract to the Swiss Medical Unit (SMU) which contributed to MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara). One of these aircraft...

P01763.028

P01763.029

Asward, Western Sahara. Informal portrait of an unidentified man on a hilltop overlooking the Weatherhaven Shelters and containers at the Asward Teamsite in the Southern Sector of the Western Sahara. The teamsite was manned by personnel from MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in...

P01763.029

P01763.030

Asward, Western Sahara. Distant view of the Weatherhaven Shelters and containers at the Asward Teamsite in the Southern Sector of the Western Sahara, surrounded by rocky plains. The teamsite was manned by personnel from MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara).

P01763.030

P01763.031

Dakhla, Western Sahara. Distant view from the "beach" of the UN Southern Sector Headquarters. This headquarters controlled the UN personnel from MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) operating from the teamsites established throughout the sector. The Dakhla teamsite...

P01763.031

P01763.032

Laayoune, Western Sahara. A street scene in Laayoune showing in particular a butcher's shop.

P01763.032

Private Record

Timeline

Date of birth 1961-05-24 Birsbane, QLD.
Other 1982 Promoted to the rank of petty officer in the Naval Reserve.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1983 Joined Australian army under the undergraduate recruitment scheme.
Other 1987 Graduated from the University of Queensland with a degree in medicine. Felsche joined the staff of the 5th Camp Hospital at the Royal Military College Duntroon in Canberra.
Other 1988 She married a fellow army officer, Klaus Felsche.
Date promoted 1991 Appointed major in the Directorate of Army Health Services. Later Felsche returned to Brisbane to be a medical officer at the 1st Military Hospital.
Other 1993-05-17 Felsche was part of a United Nations peacekeeping force that left Australia for the Western Sahara.
Date of death 1993-06-21 Felsche and three other United Nations peacekeepers were killed when their aeroplane crashed during take off at Awsard airfield, Western Sahara. Felsche was the first female Australian soldier to be killed on operations overseas since the Second World War. Felsche's body was flown back to Australia for burial. A military ceremony was held at Wellington Point in Queensland and Felsche was buried at the Cleveland Lawn Cemetery.