Updated: Dec 14, 2021
A Naval Pioneer
During the Second World War the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) had a policy that restricted enlistment to white men and women only. The policy was approved by the government. When the policy was removed in 1943 there were no large number of Black enlistments in the navy. Four Black-Canadians served in the RCN.
Starting in 1951 the RCN began to enlist increasing numbers of Black men into an environment that just a few years before did not welcome or want them.
It was in this environment Orval Clifford Browning enlisted in the RCN. His story is of being a pioneer in an environment that had originally rejected the idea of Black sailors. Born in Kentville Hospital in 1932 but raised in Windsor, Nova Scotia, he was one of 15 children (nine girls and six boys) of James and Lillian Browning. He was always an ambitious child. In a high school sports competition for the secondary schools in the Windsor area, Master Browning came third in the 75 yard dash for boys 12 and under. In 1948 he and a friend won the first Windsor soap box derby.
Mr. Browning enlisted in the RCN in 1949 at the age of 17. He became an aviation technician, working on the naval aircraft. As a result he served aboard the aircraft carrier HMCS Magnificent during her Mediterranean cruise in 1952. He would later serve aboard HMCS Bonaventure, Canada's last carrier. In between stints on the ships he would serve at HMCS Shearwater, the navy's land base at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Mr. Browning was skilled and his promotions reflected this. In early 1953 he was promoted to leading seaman (today's corporal). In early 1957 he became a petty officer class 2 (today's sergeant). The promotions showed that he had leadership skills and that his supervisors recognized this. These also reflected the fact that he also advanced in his trade knowledge and qualifications.
With the integration of the three services of the Canadian military in 1968 Petty Officer Browning became a member of Maritime Command. He would serve at Canadian Forces Base Greenwood where in February 1972 he was promoted to warrant officer. CFB Greenwood was the East Coast home of the military's Canadair Argus anti-submarine patrol aircraft. This was a large aircraft that required considerable knowledge of its many systems to be able to be properly maintained. Warrant Officer Browning had been trained in an environment that required this. The RCN had limited space aboard its ships. As a result its personnel had to have a broader degree of knowledge that their Royal Canadian Air Force counterparts.
When Air Command was created in 1975 to control and coordinate air assets, Warrant Officer Browning now became a member of the Air Force. This meant that he could be posted anywhere that there was an air force squadron. This never happened to him and he remained in the Halifax area and at Canadian Forces Base Greenwood in Nova Scotia for his career.
In June 1975 to Warrant Officer Browning was posted from CFB Greenwood to 449 Maritime Patrol Squadron, renumbered to 404 Maritime Training Squadron on 29 August. As a warrant officer he was supervising dozens of junior technicians in their work, teaching them and coordinating their activities. In effect, he was a mentor. During the latter part of his service Warrant Officer Browning served on the United Nations Emergency Force II peacekeeping mission. He retired as a master warrant officer.
Before retiring MWO Browning had a big influence in a sphere of maritime aviation. After Canada purchased the Lockheed CP-140 aircraft, a name was sought for the soon-to-be in service aircraft. It was Orval Browning who suggested the name “Aurora.”
Having grown up in a large family, it seemed that Master Warrant Officer Browning had a love of kids. He met and married Geraldine in 1955. Together they were blessed with nine children. This love of children extended to the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. The last 13 years of his military service were spent serving as a role model and trainer to the youth of this organization.
2020 MWO Browning Senior
Non-Commissioned Member Leadership Award at 14 Wing Greenwood
Orval Browning served his country in the military for 43 years. He was a pioneer for Black Canadians in the navy and in the maritime aviation community. His abilities and personality likely helped in paving the way for future Black sailors. He passed away in Windsor, Nova Scotia on 23 January 2009.