Captain James Rawe (1925-2023) photographed in 2016 after receiving the Legion d'honneur.
The passing of Captain James Rawe at the age of 97 will be felt in the USA, France and Nigeria as well as his native UK.
As a teenage midshipman James Rawe safely navigated a Landing Craft Tank, delivering the HQ Battalion of the US 12th Infantry Regiment onto Utah Beach in the first wave on D-Day.
Unlike the landings at nearby Omaha Beach, the invasion of Utah ran remarkably smoothly.
A qualified commando, he also served with Combined Operations before being sent to the Far East as a specialist hydrographer to conduct extensive survey work around the coasts of Malaya, Borneo, and Hong Kong, as well as the South China and Java Seas.
That led to an invitation to help “start a Royal Navy type survey service and possibly a Nigerian Navy.”
The result was that then Lieutenant James Rawe became the first person, Nigerian or British, to sign up for the Nigerian Naval Force established in 1956 (it became the Royal Nigerian Navy in 1958, and upon becoming a republic in 1963, simply the Nigerian Navy).
The early part of his new career was spent surveying Nigeria’s coastline in command first of HMNNS Pathfinder and later HMNNS Penelope.
As a founding father of the country’s navy, he was involved in recruitment drives, sat on several courts martial and boards of inquiry and supported VIP visits such as Queen Elizabeth II, and Lord Mountbatten, the Chief of the Defence Staff.
In the mid-1960s, while serving as the Commanding Officer of Apapa Naval Base, Capt Rawe was caught up in coups and unrest which engulfed the country and the military especially.
A man filled with a strong sense of duty, he dismissed suggestions to leave the country, arguing that he was in Nigeria at the request of the Queen and did not wish to besmirch Britain’s good name, nor leave the fledgling navy without a senior staff officer.
The turmoil eventually boiled over into the eastern region of Biafra breaking away.
James Rawe’s survey work and his wartime experience with Combined Operations led to his involvement with amphibious landings in 1967 and 1968, landings which paved the way for the eventual capitulation of Biafra.
Captain Rawe retired from the Nigerian Navy the following year and became a senior probation officer in Oxfordshire.
Captain Rawe was decorated widely during his naval service - at least half a dozen medals from the Nigerians alone - and he received the Legion d’honneur from the French government in 2016 for his role on D-Day and the liberation from Nazi tyranny.
He is survived by his widow Irene, three sons, nine grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
With thanks to Adeyinka Makinde.
Published in Navy News, June 2023 (Issue 827).