Like father, like son

When Warrant Officer Class Two Robert Parsons was four, his dad took him on base and showed him a Centurion and Leopard tank, setting him on a path to follow in his father’s tracks.

CAPTIONWarrant Officer Class Two William Parsons, right, with his son Warrant Officer Class Two Robert Parsons, outside the Royal Australian Armoured Corps Sergeants’ Mess at the Puckapunyal Military Area. Story by Corporal Luke Bellman.

“Just seeing that raw power, it’s the biggest and baddest thing on the battlefield. I just wanted to be in it,” he said.

“Dad advised me to consider joining RAEME [Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers], get a trade, but I was so influenced by tanks and I think he knew it.”

Thirty-five years later, in 2023, they were the only father and son with the same rank serving in an armoured corps.

Robert’s father, WO2 William Parsons, joined at 17 and learnt how to drive a tank before he could legally drive a car.

“I was driving around 52 tons of main battle tank and I still had to wait three months before I could even apply for a learner permit to drive my dad’s Morris 1000 on Victorian roads,” William said.

“What other organisation places the trust in all its members, of all ranks, to do the job it trains them in to the extent we do?

“Serving in the Army means we all get the opportunities to see and do all nature of work in different contexts and environments and operate equipment that is not available to the general population.”

Robert said the best part about having his dad the same rank as him was having someone with experience to lean on.

“He’s seen it all from a different perspective and from a different time as well,” he said.

“The Army is in his veins and in his advice as well, which I think really helped me throughout my career, looking after my soldiers and doing right by them.”

Robert enjoys the tight-knit armoured community, having been in the corps for 20 years, and values the intimacy formed with his crew when in confined spaces.

“I love the fact that I’ve got soldiers that I know personally and I can help them with anything,” he said.

William recently retired after serving 50 years in the corps. It’s believed he was the last serving Centurion-qualified soldier.

He also trained on Leopard, Chieftain and Challenger tanks, and witnessed evolution in design and technology.

“In Centurion we had active infrared spotlights for night vision, now we have thermal imagery. There is no comparison,” William said.

“Trading the Centurion for Leopard was like trading a truck for a sports car.”

One of his favourite memories was testing the limits of the new Leopard by driving full throttle over Spectators Hill at Puckapunyal.

“I proved that 42 tons of tank could fly as she lifted completely off the ground,” William said.

“Landing cost me three broken ribs, but it was worth it. We have always felt encouraged to explore and push the limits of our equipment in order to fully understand the capabilities. I hope that ethos continues.

“The photos of that are still in the tank museum.”


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