Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Felsche, Susan Lee (1961–1993)

by David Horner

This article was published online in 2017

Susan Lee Felsche (1961–1993), army medical officer, was born on 24 March 1961 in Brisbane, daughter of Queensland-born Bryan Laurence Stones, mechanic, and his Victorian-born wife Elaine Marie, née Randall. Susan was educated at Cleveland District State High School and the University of Queensland (MB, BS, 1984). Having joined the Australian Army undergraduate medical scheme in 1983, she undertook medical training at Townsville, Brisbane, and Richmond, New South Wales.  She was then posted in January 1987 to the 5th Camp Hospital at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Australian Capital Territory, as a captain, Royal Australian Army Medical Corps (RAAMC). While in Canberra she studied part time and worked after hours at Woden Valley (Canberra) and Calvary hospitals. On 6 August 1988 at Trinity Uniting Church, Wellington Point, Brisbane, she married Major Klaus Dieter Harald Felsche, an officer in the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps. They were to have no children.

Promoted to major in January 1991, Felsche was posted to the Directorate of Army Health Services, Canberra. That year she was admitted as a fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and in 1992 joined the 1st Military Hospital, Yeronga, Brisbane, as medical officer-in-charge of clinical services. In 1993 she was appointed medical officer of the 4th Australian Contingent that was deploying to provide communications for the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. The mission had its headquarters at Laayoune and deployed observers to remote team-sites in the desert.

The Australian contingent, numbering forty-five, arrived on 18 May. On 17 June Felsche began a series of visits to southern team-sites, and on 21 June boarded an aircraft at Awsard bound for Dougaj.  Soon after taking off, the plane developed problems and crashed. The Swiss pilot and a Norwegian technician were killed, and Felsche died a little later; a Swiss nurse was seriously injured but survived. Major Felsche was the first Australian female soldier to die on overseas duty since World War II.

Her remains were returned to Australia and a military funeral was held on 28 June at the Trinity Uniting Church where she had taught Sunday school for fifteen years and had been married five years earlier. A committed Christian, she had been a popular officer, and a respected and dedicated doctor. The Australian contingent renamed its ‘Kangaroo Club’ canteen the ‘Major Susan Felsche Bar.’ On 6 May 1994, shortly before it withdrew from Western Sahara, a remembrance ceremony took place at a memorial dedicated to her and the other crew who had died in the accident. Each year the Royal Military College awards the Major Susan Lee Felsche Memorial Trust prize to the best RAAMC graduate. Felsche received the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld medal posthumously.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Australian War Memorial. ‘Who’s Who in Australian Military History.’ Accessed 11 June 2009. http://www.awm.gov.au/people/1078604.asp. Copy held on ADB file
  • Breen, Neil, and Glenn Schloss. ‘Sahara Victim Devoted Life to Others: Mum.’ Courier Mail (Brisbane), 23 June 1993, 7
  • Department of Defence. A6721, 96/1344 pt 1, Commander’s Diary, 17 June 1993
  • Felsche, Klaus. Personal communication
  • Horner, David, and John Connor. The Good International Citizen. Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2014
  • Stewart, Cameron, and Shirley Twist. ‘Female Digger Dies in Western Sahara Plane Crash.’ Australian, 23 June 1993, 1

Additional Resources

Citation details

David Horner, 'Felsche, Susan Lee (1961–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/felsche-susan-lee-18362/text30001, published online 2017, accessed online 25 May 2019.

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