John Frewen - An extraordinary mission

Running time
3 min 1 sec
Department of Veterans' Affairs


Look, it was an extraordinary mission. And for reasons around the way the mission was formed at a point in time, it was when we hadn't done a lot of these joint sort of missions where troops had been munged together. The Australian honours and awards system was just going through a complete revision. The mission lived in a weird space between chapter six and chapter seven of the UN charter. So it didn't sort of fit the war-like or non-war like definitions. And because the unit didn't have a natural parent unit, because there was a full field hospital and a much smaller infantry sort of grouping, the unit was never sort of recognised in the way that it might've been at the time. And 25 years later, both rotations have been recognised through a meritorious unit citation.

And I think there were certainly things that happened through all of this mission at a medical level, at a responding to crisis level, at a showing extreme sort of bravery in the harrowing circumstances at Kibeho that warrant that. So in amongst all of that, there are many, many amazing characters. I think for me, there's a person who is still a great friend of mine. Michelle Barrett was a young female doctor who had been in the army for I think... Seventeen weeks sticks in my mind or something like that. And I think within either 24 hours or on the sort of second day we're in Rwanda, was helping cut someone's leg off in rudimentary conditions.

The surgeons that came through that were operating at rates that hadn't been seen since Vietnam conducting all manner of surgeries on adults, on young children. I witnessed surgeries on young children, who had been on women's backs who'd stepped on landmines and these sorts of things. Also doing surgery on clearly very unpleasant people who probably had been perpetrators of all manner of crimes and things as well, so that adds another dimension to surgery.

I saw infantry corporals and their sections show enormous restraints in sort of Mexican style standoffs. There were many, many people on this thing that did sort of great things all the way through it, but that's why the ADF such a fabulous organisation to be a part of. And you see versions of that on all of these missions in some way. But this one for me was just... There was just such a unique set of circumstances that... It wasn't only my first mission, but it was the most intense in terms of the personal feelings that it invoked, and the sense of team that we got from going through that together.

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