THIS is a book I was very eager to get from the time I heard it was being published. I pre-ordered a copy months ahead of publication, and then had to wait longer, because Gloria insisted on paying for it to add to my Christmas presents
Sharon Bown was a vital part in my growing interest in military medical work, after I came across a quote from a speech she gave, providing a moving and poetic, but graphic description of her work as an RAAF nurse in Afghanistan.
“I have worn their blood
So many of us have worn their blood”
Bown enlisted in the RAAF three years after her graduation as a nurse. Her autobiography takes us through each stage of her military career, from officer training, through service in Australia, overseas deployments and her role as Aide-de-Camp to the Australian Defence Minister.
A defining moment came in East Timor, during a flight to an isolated village where a woman was going through a difficult child birth. The helicopter crashed and Bown was severely hurt, receiving spinal fractures and a broken jaw among other injuries.
It seemed like her career could be cut short, but with determination she pushed through to a remarkable recovery and was eventually able to be deployed overseas again: in Afghanistan.
During her time in Afghanistan, Australian troops were involved in significant confrontations with the Taliban, one of which resulted in SAS Trooper Mark Donaldson being the first Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross since 1969.
While she mentions Donaldson by name in relation to his award, she earlier tells the story of a tall red haired soldier who had been blown metres into the air from an armoured vehicle after it had triggered an explosive device. He fell almost uninjured still holding tightly to his gun. While she doesn’t name this soldier, a comparison with VC winner Mark Donaldson’s biography makes it clear that he was the tall red-haired soldier in her story.
Like so many who serve in war zones, Bown wasn’t untouched by PTSD. She continued to be haunted by memories of her helicopter crash, with recurring nightmares and flashbacks related to the crash.
Bown is now retired from the RAAF and serves as a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial.