Charity Number: 279652

Lawry driving the Krug hyperbaric chamber from the desk

26 November 2018

Soon to retire, Anthony ‘Lawry’ Lawrence MBE has had a truly remarkable career. He served in the Royal Navy for 35 years and then worked for 15 years at Plymouth based medical charity DDRC Healthcare.

He is one of those people who can be completely depended upon to ensure that every job gets done and gets done effectively, reliably and professionally. Before he leaves his position with us as Chamber Superintendent, we thought we should share his remarkable story.

A patient being looked after in a mono place hyperbaric chamber

Lawry’s Career In The Royal Navy

In 1969, as a young lad aged just fifteen and a half, Lawry left his home in Maidstone to join the Royal Navy. After a thirty-five year career he had worked his way up to the rank of Warrant Officer.

Initially he was based at the boys training establishment HMS Ganges , where he did his basic naval training and finished his schooling. Even then he showed an early aptitude and aspiration for becoming a diver. After many years of working through the ranks he progressed his career from gunner to diver, eventually qualifying as a Clearance Diver First Class and Warrant Officer Diver (there were only 10 of them in the Navy then).

His duties were primarily carrying out bomb and mine disposal work, as well as underwater damage assessment and repair work on ships and submarines. He served on six mine-hunters, the Polaris submarine fleet and as part of numerous joint initiatives and operations with other armed forces. He was posted as Warrant Officer Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) during the Gulf War. In a varied career, he has undertaken many roles associated with improvements to standards, systems and techniques of diving, decompression and EOD work.

Lawry recalls that one of the toughest times he experienced was getting through the Clearance Diver Second Class (CD2) course. 26 men started the CD2 course but only 8 finished it.

Throughout a long and illustrious career with the Royal Navy Lawry has traveled the world. His first foreign posting was to Hong Kong, where he celebrated his seventeenth birthday. Other places he has served include the Falkland Islands, the Gulf (Iraq) and Australia.

In 1992 he served as an unarmed military observer for the United Nations in Cambodia, working to ensure free and fair elections could be held by monitoring the reach of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge  . Based from a floating houseboat on a bamboo raft, their mission was to encourage various groups to surrender their weapons and participate in the democratic process, so that a new government could be formed. They had numerous encounters with the Khmer Rouge, which were less than friendly.

Lawry Lawrence in camouflage uniform in Cambodia

Over the years Lawry has worked, led and taught many major diving teams in the Royal Navy, pioneering numerous repair and maintenance methods. In the Falklands his team facilitated the repair of HMS Endurance when she received three vertical splits in the hull from ice flow damage. She couldn’t be moved to the nearest major port for repairs as that was in Argentina, so she was towed to Mare harbour in the Falklands. Lawry led his team to build a cofferdam and support the civil engineer divers to complete the essential repairs.

His naval career culminated with work of a global remit for the Inspectorate of Diving at the Fleet Diving headquarters, as Area Group Controller of the Southern Diving Group.

Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)

In 2001 his dedication and extensive contributions were recognised when he was awarded an MBE by Her Majesty the Queen, at Buckingham Palace, for services to Diving and Explosive Ordinance Disposal.

According to the UK government’s own website the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) is “awarded for an outstanding achievement or service to the community. This will have had a long-term, significant impact and stand out as an example to others.”

Anthony 'Lawry' Lawrence receiving his MBE at Buckingham Palace

Anthony ‘Lawry’ Lawrence receiving his MBE

A Second Career of Service at DDRC

In 2003 Lawry faced his first job interview in 35 years with some trepidation. He applied for the new role of Chamber Superintendent at the Diving Diseases Research Centre, now called ‘DDRC Healthcare’. This not-for-profit, charitable organisation, provides hyperbaric oxygen therapy for divers with ‘the bends’ (decompression sickness) and for other medical purposes.

Pete Atkey, DDRC Healthcare Operations Director, recalls meeting Lawry at that initial job interview. According to Pete;

“One of my lasting memories of that day was Lawry’s handshake which was very firm indeed. He wasn’t to know, but the previous day I had damaged my finger and it was extremely sore. As we shook hands on arrival I must have cringed, because Lawry spent the next few minutes apologising. As he left the interview we shook hands once more and he must have seen my pained expression again, as he left still apologising profusely and thinking he had blown his opportunity.

However, he was head and shoulders above all the other candidates. I had no reservations in offering him the new position of Chamber Superintendent and since then he has really been my right hand man. 

I know that if I give Lawry something to do, it will always be done in a timely and efficient manner. He has been incredibly supportive of me and the charity and has always exhibited a can do attitude. In particular, Lawry has been instrumental in strengthening our links with the Royal Navy, ensuring that we receive updates in the same way that a diving unit in the Navy would and supporting alignment of our decompression protocols for treating decompression illness and other medical indications.”

Lawry operating the Krug multi place hyperbaric chamber

Lawry Operating the Krug Hyperbaric Chamber

Life In Well Earned Retirement

Lawry says life with the Polaris submarine team in Faslane, Scotland, was extremely busy, but they worked hard and played hard. It was there that he met his wife Lynne, who was working as a Navy Nurse.  In 1977 they settled in Plymouth when Lawry transferred to the Devonport based diving team. They now have three children, five grand-children and a dog, which will certainly keep him busy throughout his well earned retirement.

When asked about his DDRC career highlights, Lawry (in typical under-stated fashion) said that he was most pleased with his achievements in establishing effective systems, recruiting and training great staff, and supporting work as a member of a multi-disciplinary team.  He says that at times he has been daunted by the task of working with such poorly people, but he was always confident that; “Whatever comes through the door, we can deal with it. We have a system for it”.

He is also particularly well known for his commitment to tea drinking!

What he is most looking forward to in his retirement is not being on call. Heading up a 24/7 emergency medical on-call rota has meant Lawry has frequently put his own personal life on hold, ready to respond to the needs of others. Now his time will be his own.

Pete Atkey concludes; “We will all miss Lawry and I will certainly miss his input. He has been an incredibly loyal, trustworthy and dedicated employee. On behalf of DDRC Healthcare, our patients and clients, we wish him a very long, healthy and happy retirement.”

Lawry shows off his leaving card flanked by CEO Dr Gary Smerdon and Operations Director Pete Atkey.

Lawry showing off his leaving card flanked by CEO Dr Gary Smerdon and Operations Director Pete Atkey.