Monday, 27 September 2021

In my father’s footsteps

A MAN will march 16 miles in a First World War uniform to commemorate his father’s participation in the conflict.

John Green, 79, from Maidensgrove, will set off from Newark in Nottinghamshire on Sunday and follow the River Trent downstream to Radcliffe.

He will be following in the footsteps of his father William, who marched the same route exactly 100 years earlier before heading off to fight.

Mr Green, who is chairman of the Henley and Peppard branch of the Royal British Legion, will be raising money for the Poppy Appeal.

He will wear the same olive-green woollen tunic, trousers and peaked cap that his father would have worn on the battlefield and carry a Lee-Enfield Mark II rifle and two satchels.

He will be among about 200 people who are expected to take part in the walk, including some current and former servicemen.

Mr Green said: “I saw it advertised online and it struck a chord with me, especially as I have my father’s original letters describing the march 100 years ago.

“I’m hoping it will be a bit less sunny than it has been recently as it’s quite a long route.

“I’ve done a lot of trekking around Nepal and Tibet in the past but my only training for this has been walking around the Warburg nature reserve with a rucksack carrying 15kg of weights.

“It has a lot of personal significance for me and will be quite emotional to honour all those who volunteered — and those among them who didn’t return.”

His father joined the Territorial Army in 1913 at the age of 18 and was a lance corporal when war was declared on August 4 the following year.

On August 10, his 700-strong battalion the Sherwood Foresters assembled in Newark market place and marched to Radcliffe. They stayed overnight and then marched to Derby before catching a train to Harpenden, where L Cpl Green spent a year training.

He wrote to his parents William and Edith, saying: “When the others have been resting I have had to run about after rations. By the way, we are only allowed a three-quarter ration on this job. We arrived at Derby safe and not many sound. I had no trouble with my feet; I had filled my socks with brassic powder.”

L Cpl Green went over to France early in 1915 and had been promoted to sergeant by October 13, when he fought in the British assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt.

He was awarded the Military Medal for almost single-handedly holding back a German counter attack for 24 hours.

He mentioned the incident in a letter home and official censors added a comment praising his heroism.

Over the following years he was gassed in a chlorine attack, which left him with lifelong breathing problems, and wounded three times.

He returned to England in 1917 to be commissioned as a second lieutenant at Bristol.

Later that year he rose to the rank of captain and was awarded the Military Cross for his actions at Saint-Christ on the River Somme.

In the final year of the conflict Capt Green was stationed at Roucy when the Germans launched the Ludendorff Offensive, a last-ditch bid to overwhelm the Allied forces.

A shell exploded near him and his legs were badly wounded by shrapnel and machine-gun fire. He managed to crawl to the safety of Gernicourt Wood, where he flagged down a despatch rider who was unaware of the unfolding chaos.

The rider jettisoned a box of carrier pigeons from the back of his motorbike. Capt Green climbed aboard and was driven to safety. This marked the end of his involvement in the war and he would spend the next four years in hospital being treated for his wounds.

He needed check-ups and follow-up treatment for the rest of his life and suffered from a permanent stiffness in his legs.

During the Second World War he trained a Home Guard company in Sheffield and was shot again in an accident on the rifle range. He was hit in the stomach after a trainee left a round in his chamber and it discharged, ricocheting off a wall.

In his spare time Capt Green was a fund-raiser for the Royal British Legion and a patron of the Old Contemptibles Association.

He died in 1951, aged 56, of heart failure exacerbated by his injuries. He met his wife Dorothy in 1921 and John was born in 1935. The couple also had three daughters.

Mr Green said: “My mother told me he had the most terrible nightmares but as children we never knew about it — to us, he was just Dad.

“He was also a very devoted Christian and I know his faith helped him overcome these things. When I think about it I just can’t imagine how he coped.

“It was announced at his funeral that he’d been considered for a Victoria Cross but we never found out any more about that as many records were lost during the Blitz.

“It just shows the calibre of chap he was, although he was the most gentle man you could ever hope to meet. We weren’t a well-off family by any means but he always insisted our clothes were handed to people in need.”

Mr Green began his National Service aged 17 in 1953 and also joined the Sherwood Foresters. He served three years and became a lieutenant.

After leaving he spent most of his career as a general manager for Gillette and moved to Henley to be near the company’s Isleworth offices.

He has supported the Royal British Legion for more than 30 years. Last month he laid on a bed in the window of Duke Street homeware store Lots of Living for two hours to raise awareness of the appeal. He was wearing the same uniform, which he rents from a specialist supplier in Basingstoke.

Mr Green said: “This isn’t just about commemorating the dead of the First World War but helping people who fought in recent conflicts.

“There are physical injuries and also mental health problems that can affect people much further down the line. Some ex-servicemen even end up in prison because they have struggled to readjust to everyday life.

“I want to raise as much as possible. No contribution is too little or too large.”

To make a donation, call Mr Green on (01491) 638720, Stan Ainsley on (01491) 638422 or Shirley Lees on 07775 893148.

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