John Frewen - A cycle of excitement and disappointment

Running time
3 min 21 sec
Department of Veterans' Affairs


So, interestingly on the brigade headquarters, there was an exercise in Canada, a Five Eyes exercise, Northern Lights. So we were over in Canada doing this brigade. Our brigade headquarters was set up as one of the three or four brigades, I think under a divisional headquarters doing a command post exercise. And the genocide was starting to unfold in Rwanda. And we, of course, in those days, you used to listen to the news all the time about where the opportunity might come for the next sort of mission. And the Canadians announced that they were going, and we were at that stage, very sort of envious of them. And of course we were a higher readiness, rapid deployment sort of organisation too.

So I remember saying to the Canadians, as we finished up the exercise and headed back to Australia, that we might just see them in Rwanda at some stage. I got back to Australia and back onto the brigade headquarters. And then a couple of weeks later, it did start to unfurl that Australia was considering sending a contingent. There's always rumours, there's always changes of plan. And so there was a swirl of things going on, but slowly but surely, it looked like we were definitely going to send a contribution. The contribution would be built around a medical contribution that would have a security element and those sorts of things.

And then as that started to take shape, I was an ops captain on the brigade headquarters at that stage, there was word that there'd be representation of the brigade headquarters. Then I was warned that I would be going from the brigade headquarters to join the force. And then I was told that was no longer the case. And then I was told that I was going again, and then I was told it, wasn't going again. That's also a feature of many of these operations as well. So some of us who were in that game for a long-time joke that if you hadn't been sort of put on the manifest and taken off the manifest, a couple of times, the operation didn't really count because that cycle of great excitement and disappoint was always very much a part of the rapid deployment units. And sometimes you were warned and got quite close to going on things, and then they were cancelled altogether.

So that certainly happened to me in later years when I was the online ready company commander. We were worn to go to Cambodia, and we're in the final stages of preparation to go and help evacuate people out of Cambodia, and then suddenly we weren't going. And there's been other operations like that along the way. But yeah, so, and then ultimately I was on the manifest and I was going, and then I went and joined the force that was being assembled and brought together in Townsville that comprised the headquarter elements of the second and fourth battalion at that time, the rifle company, parts of the administrative company, the disparate medical elements that were brought together as part of the field hospital, the cavalry element with armoured personnel carriers. And then we had a very intense sort of short preparation, and then we were gone. And I was also wanting to be on the advanced party, which is what ultimately I ended up on.

Was this page helpful?
We can't respond to comments or queries via this form. Please contact us with your query instead.