"We don't leave anyone behind": Donaldson's courage under fire embodies the ANZAC spirit

HERO: Mark Donaldson VC's courage under fire saved lives in Afghanistan. On ANZAC Day, he will be honoured by the Australian War Memorial when he delivers a first hand account of his bravery.
HERO: Mark Donaldson VC's courage under fire saved lives in Afghanistan. On ANZAC Day, he will be honoured by the Australian War Memorial when he delivers a first hand account of his bravery.

Story sponsored by the Australian War Memorial.

As the sun rises over the Australian War Memorial on April 25, the Anzac Day Dawn Service will again pay tribute to and remember those who have served their country.

And this year's service will include first-hand tales of bravery on the front line, with an address by Mark Donaldson VC, whose extraordinary courage in rescuing a wounded Afghan interpreter during an ambush in eastern Afghanistan saw him awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia.

It was September 2, 2008, when the then Trooper Mark Donaldson made the split-second decision that would change his life.

He was with a patrol in the Ana Kalay Valley, near the village of Khas Uruzgan, a known hotbed of Taliban activity. They were heading back when they were ambushed and attacked from four different directions.

"I was in the last vehicle with our patrol," Donaldson said.

"[There was] machine-gun fire, heavier calibre machine-gun fire ... [and] rocket-propelled grenades, I remember them flying through the air."

"Some more rockets came in, and two guys got blown out of the back of it, one was an Afghan... interpreter, the other was an Aussie engineer. From what I saw the Aussie got up and started to move, but the Afghan was getting left behind," he continued.

Donaldson sprinted 80 metres over exposed ground while under intense fire to recover the wounded interpreter, who was lying face down in a pool of his own blood, and successfully dragged him back to the vehicle amidst a heavy spray of bullets.

By the time the patrol made it back to the forward operating base, the relatively small force of 37 coalition troops had spent almost four hours extracting itself from an ambush involving an estimated 100-150 insurgents.

The citation for Donaldson's Victoria Cross for Australia said his actions that day displayed "exceptional courage in circumstances of great peril", but for Donaldson it was a case of simply doing the right thing.

"We don't leave anyone behind. It doesn't matter that we only knew him for five days," he said.

"He was an Afghan guy that was one of us. He was with us, and he was out there fighting with us, and I respect that. I would hate to be lying face down in a pool of my own blood getting left behind on a battlefield."

Donaldson admits there were times he didn't think they would make it out alive.

"When I was lying in that ditch watching the Apaches fly away, [and] when I ran back and got him, I was seriously questioning whether I was going to make it out of there with him," he said.

"I guess it's one of those things: any day that you go out there, you might not come back, but I very rarely thought about it like that."

For his actions, Donaldson became the first Australian since the Vietnam War to be awarded the Victoria Cross, as well as being named the Young Australian of the Year in 2010.

The Australian War Memorial will open to the public on Anzac Day from 1pm, and visitors can see Donaldson's Victoria Cross for Australia on display in the Hall of Valour.

This year's Anzac Day commemorations at the Memorial also include a ticketed breakfast following the Dawn Service, followed by the National Ceremony and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commemorative Ceremony. For more information, visit https://www.awm.gov.au/commemoration/anzac-day

Story sponsored by the Australian War Memorial.