This year’s 150th anniversary of Australian artillery has given one master gunner an opportunity to reflect on his two decades of service and the changes he has witnessed.
CAPTION: Master Gunner of the 1st Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, Warrant Officer Class One Matthew Dawson. Story by Captain Jesse Robilliard. Photo by Private Hamid Farahani.
Warrant Officer Class One (WO1) Matthew Dawson joined the Army in 1995, straight out of high school.
“The reason I wanted to join was out of service for the country and for the sense of adventure that the Army offered,” WO1 Dawson said.
A keen beach-goer in his home town of Altona North in Melbourne, WO1 Dawson said he was attracted to artillery because of the training location.
“I went to artillery because the School of Artillery at the time was at North Head in Sydney, and I liked the sound of going to the beaches at Manly,” he said.
While the School of Artillery has since moved, WO1 Dawson has lived the life of adventure he wanted.
“I have had quite a few good experiences,” he said.
“I have had the opportunity to fly in FA-18 Hornet fast jets, I have spent a couple of weeks on US aircraft carrier USS George Washington, and I have deployed to Afghanistan and the Middle East.
“I was a joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) in Afghanistan.
“I deployed on two tours, and then I deployed to the Gulf Region with the Air Task Group as a ground liaison officer.
“Deploying as a JTAC was fantastic – intense at times – but a fantastic experience.”
WO1 Dawson has served all around Australia with the Army and is currently the Master Gunner at the 1st Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, based at Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane.
“I look after all the technical aspects of gunnery within the regiment, and I also look after training and training compliance,” he said.
WO1 Dawson is posted to the 1st Regiment during a special occasion as the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery commemorates the 150th anniversary of Australian artillery this year.
“I am fortunate to be serving in a regiment that has the sub-unit A Battery,” he said.
“A Battery is the longest continuously serving sub-unit in the Australian Army, and traces its origins to the first permanent Battery of NSW Artillery, raised on the 1st of August 1871.
“I have had the privilege of being the Battery Sergeant Major of [A Battery], and to be here in 2021 means I am now part of that history.”
One thing that hasn’t stopped in 150 years is technological change.
“We’ve digitised artillery a lot, gone from what we used to call steam gunnery, particularly in the safety world,” WO1 Dawson said.
“Using plotting boards to predict where the rounds were going to impact the target – it’s now all computer-based..
“For the forward observers as well on the hill, we’ve gone from map and compass to phone-like devices to calculate the target location and ensure the rounds land on the target first time, every time.”
1st Regiment currently operates towed artillery pieces, the M777 155mm Howitzer with an average range of 24km.
The Army is in the process of introducing new capabilities, including self-propelled Howitzers and an over-the-horizon rocket-and-missile system.
“I am really looking forward to protected mobile fires and the long-range fire capabilities that we are looking at in Army,” WO1 Dawson said.
“It’s going to really enhance what we do and how we’re able to support combined arms into the future.”
WO1 Dawson has this advice for anyone thinking of joining the Army: “It is an adventure”.
“It doesn’t all happen at once – it takes time, but you’ll get what you want out of the Army,” he said.
“It’s exciting and it’s fun, and the people are amazing.”