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Don Donkin MBE: Gentleman Officer

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At one time stationed at North Fort in Manly, Don Donkin MBE (1929 to 2016) belonged to a very special era of gentlemen warrant officers who led by example, writes Harbour Trust volunteer and presenter Ron Ray. 

The Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery has been blessed by a number of gentlemen, such as Don, but sadly they are a dying breed.

Growing up, he had always wanted to join the Army and as soon as he turned 18 years of age, he applied. By August 1947, he was an enlistee in the Army, had completed recruit training at Greta NSW, and was posted to the guard platoon at Headquarters Eastern Command, Sydney. However, six months later, Private Donkin was on his way to Japan to join the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan.  On arrival he was posted to A Field Battery RAA

A Field Battery returned to Australia in 1949, amalgamated with 53rd Battery and became the fledgling 1st Field Regiment at North Head. 

By 1953, Australia’s commitment to the Korean War – as well as the 18-year-olds’ compulsory National Service Scheme – were in full swing.  Corps conversion to Infantry began and Don found himself as a platoon sergeant in Dog (Delta) Company, 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment for service in Korea.

Don returned to Australia in 1954 after 12 month’s operational service. He was promoted and became the troop sergeant major of Baker Troop in A Field Battery, then battery sergeant major (BSM) of the battery.  When 1st Field Regiment moved to Holsworthy in 1955, Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) Donkin became its first battery Sergeant Major (BSM).

In early 1963, WO2 Donkin was posted to Vietnam as a member of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV). He took command of the Khe Sanh Special Forces and led them gallantly till he returned to Australia in July. For this service, WO1 Donkin was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and awarded the American Bronze Star.

Back in Australia in 1964, Don was posted to the School of Artillery as BSM Recruit Training Wing.  National Service for Vietnam. In 1968, Don was appointed Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) of 4th Field Regiment in Townsville.  His arrival date was delayed by some weeks as he was selected as Ensign to the Colour for the Australian Contingent attending the 50th Anniversary of Armistice Day in Paris, France.

Under Lieutenant Colonel Brien Forward, 4th Field Regiment undertook its second tour of duty in Vietnam during 1970 to 1971 with WO1 Donkin as the RSM.

After Vietnam, WO1 Donkin returned to Sydney as the RSM of Victoria Barracks in 1971. His final regimental posting was RSM School of Artillery from 1973−1978 and he finally retired in 1989, after 42 years of dedicated service to his country.

Article was originally published on 23 July 2020.


Growing up, Don had always wanted to join the Army and as soon as he turned 18 years of age, he applied. 

– Ron Ray

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