Updated: Feb 17, 2022
Raymond Lawrence- Chief Petty Officer Class 1
After the Second World War the Royal Canadian Navy began to accept increasing numbers of Black sailors. Many of these pioneers rose to higher ranks and distinguished service in the navy. Chief Petty Officer Class 1 Raymond Cecil Lawrence, MMM, CD, was one of these.
Born in October 1930 in Fredericton, New Brunswick to Woodford Smith and August Emma Lawrence, Raymond Lawrence enlisted at HMCS Brunswicker, the navy's reserve unit in Saint John. After doing his basic training at Cornwallis and his gunnery training at HMCS Stadacona in Halifax, he served in a variety of ships. He soon became an expert in naval guns and in 1961 was promoted to Petty Officer Class 2, a very rapid rise through the ranks.
In 1963 he was serving in HMCS Restigouche when the ship won the gunnery efficiency award - he was the captain of the “A” gun. When the Navy introduced the 3-inch, 70 caliber gun into its new warships in the early 1960s, there were teething problems. Petty Officer Lawrence was part of the team that did the trouble shooting. He even designed new parts to rectify the problem. The gun served effectively into the late 1990s.
At the Naval Fleet School Petty Officer Lawrence trained the next generation of new naval gunners while at HMCS Cape Scott, the maintenance ship in Halifax he was in charge of maintenance of naval guns. While there he was promoted to master warrant officer. His expertise was again recognized in April 1970 when he was posted to Sea Training (Atlantic) as the gunnery specialist. This unit was responsible for running ships through exercises and tests to ensure that they were combat ready. A posting to Maritime Command Headquarters (Atlantic) followed.
On 1 August 1974 Lawrence was promoted to Chief Warrant Officer, the highest rank among non-commissioned members. In May 1976 Government House announced that Chief Lawrence was appointed as a Member of the Order of Military Merit (MMM) for his “outstanding dedication to duty and excellent work on armament.” He was the first Black-Canadian to receive this honour.
In August 1976 Chief Lawrence was posted to the position of coxswain of HMCS Annapolis. This was another first for a Black-Canadian. Coxswain is the position as the highest-ranking non-commissioned member on a ship and a trusted advisor to the captain. Chief Warrant Officer Raymond was then posted to Maritime Command Headquarters. In 1980 he organized the navy's first “Gun Run” for the Nova Scotia Tattoo. The gun run had not been held since 1967. It was an outstanding success and has continued since.
Shortly before he retired the Navy was again allowed to use naval ranks. Thus, it was as a Chief Petty Officer Class 1 that Lawrence retired in 1986 after 32 ½ years of dedicated service. He was not yet finished with his public service, becoming a deputy sheriff for several more years before retiring for the last time. He passed away peacefully at the Oakwood Terrace Nursing Home, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, on 6 March 2021. He was a pioneer in the navy, an expert in gunnery and a highly respected serviceman and citizen.