- Payne, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1977 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The late Commander Arnold Holbrook Green, O.B.E., D.S.C. and Bar, R.A.N. became a legend in the Royal Australian Navy in his own lifetime. During the war a British Admiral informed his Australian officers that the Australian Navy was too small for a man of Arnold’s talents, but in the Royal Navy he would have eventually reached flag rank. Arnold Green was in that great company of exceptional characters in the service who appeared to have no fear of the enemy or higher authority. He could be both ruthless and autocratic and also very kind, but in all circumstances he remained the one and only Arnold Green.
THERE ARE MANY STORIES to his legend and many concern his battles with higher authority. The story that follows gives an idea of his kindness and sense of humour.
A senior officer still serving remembers writing to Arnold Green for assistance in a matter of accommodation at the port at which he was the Naval Officer in Charge. ‘Accommodation‘, wrote Green in reply, ‘is as scarce as hen’s teeth, and even when available is at exorbitant rates for even the most lowly hovels. I have searched and investigated (leaving no stones unexplored or avenue unturned) and am afraid that what you ask is impossible‘. The writer then continued with odd bits of news and then after finishing his letter to his friend added a postscript.
In the postscript Arnold Green wrote that he would like to ask a favour. One of the Naval married quarters, he wrote, was becoming vacant and therefore open to intrusion by the locals. Could his friend possibly find his way clear to providing someone to live in it as a caretaker. Green could not of course pay any reimbursement for this arduous duty, but he hoped that as the dates of vacancy coincided with the visit of this friend’s ship, he might be able to help.
While serving in Captain Waller’s flotilla leader Stuart, Arnold Green was lent to HMS Nile as liaison officer with the Western Desert Force in September 1940. He enjoyed life in besieged Tobruk and in the day to day struggle for the amenities of life soon became known as ‘Hydraulic Jack‘, because he could lift anything. As a scrounger he had no equal. He also loved to play soldiers and wangled himself a place in many a patrol into the enemy’s lines. So it was with hardly a moment’s hesitation that the Colonel allowed him to take command of one such patrol whose designated commander, a Major, went sick at the last moment.
Foraging for prisoners and loot far into the enemy’s lines, Arnold Green’s patrol came to a cave in the hillside. He marched up to the entrance hoping to find hidden stores, and peered into the darkness. In his best quarterdeck voice he demanded to know whether there was anyone inside. Very much to Green’s surprise there was an immediate response to his demands. In the grey light of dawn came a shuffling line of Italian soldiers, each with one arm raised and the other waiting only to drop a rifle at Green’s feet. The line of men grew into a stream and then into a torrent as the rifles piled up higher and higher.
The total number of prisoners Arnold Green led back into the Fortress of Tobruk has been variously estimated at anything between fifty and five hundred. In any case the patrol had been most successful and the immediate award of the Military Cross was made to the patrol commander. There was however one problem that worried the General. Clearly the MC could not be awarded to a naval officer, nor once awarded could it be retracted. In the end the War office consulted the Admiralty and the Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to Arnold Green and the Military Cross to the sick Major, who must have felt a trifle embarrassed at receiving it. The Army had no intention of allowing such a highly irregular occurrence to be repeated, so back Green went to sea.
Towards the end of the war Arnold Green found himself an acting Commander and once again playing soldiers, this time in Borneo, where he won a second DSC. But this time the announcement of the award took considerably longer and he was back in command of a destroyer when it came through. The signal about the DSC arrived just before Green returned from a trip ashore and as he stepped onto the quarterdeck the First Lieutenant moved forward to greet him.
‘Let me, Sir, be the first to congratulate you.‘
‘Congratulate me, what on earth for?’
‘Your decoration Sir. A signal has just come in.‘
‘Oh, what did I get?‘
‘A bar to your DSC, Sir.‘
‘The baskets! They promised me a DSO.’‘
Commander Green then stomped below in disgust. He was probably pleased when he read the citation for his DSC – ‘For courage and devotion to duty whilst serving as Liaison Officer with the Allied Forces in the Far East. On ten occasions Acting Commander Green landed with the first wave of infantry assault troops and thus secured information which proved of great value in subsequent assaults.‘
He did not always emerge the winner of all his escapades and in some cases he must have known that retribution was inevitable. But on the whole he generally won his battles with higher authority, but was not always quite so successful with the Lower Deck.
As a Division Officer in a destroyer before the war he paused while making his rounds to watch an Able Seaman leisurely chipping the rust off the steel deck.
‘What are you doing?‘ Green demanded.
‘Chipping the deck! Can’t you see?‘, responded the seaman without pausing in his work.
‘Stand up‘ ordered Green. ‘Don’t you know how to act when an officer speaks to you? Here, give the hammer to me, and you come up and ask me what I’m doing. I’ll show you what you should have done.’‘
The exchange of jobs was made and Green squatted down to chip. The seaman walked off a few paces and then came back again.
‘What are you doing?‘ the seaman demanded.
‘Chipping the deck Sir‘, answered Green, at the same time rising smartly to attention and saluting.
‘All right‘, replied the seaman. ‘Just carry on. I’m going aft for a gin.‘
Arnold Green had no fear of Admirals and many stories refer to his clashes with higher naval authority. One Sunday during the war the destroyer he was commanding spent a few days in harbour in company with the ship flying the flag of the Rear Admiral, Destroyers. RAD noted with annoyance that whereas the rest of his ships were mustered for Divine Service, the men of Arnold Green’s destroyer were busy washing the ship’s side. A signal was promptly despatched by the Admiral: ‘Please explain why I do not observe your ship’s company at prayers.‘
The reply was quick. ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness. We prayed last week.‘
Possibly the most outrageous and autocratic story concerning Arnold Green occurred at the time of the Olympic Games in 1956 when Melbourne was inundated with visitors from overseas. At the time Arnold Green was Resident Naval Officer, Tasmania and it was his last appointment before retiring. Four American destroyers were in Hobart on their way to Melbourne for the Games. Parties, excursions and hospitality had been lavished on the Americans who could be seen all over the city.
Green was driving past a group of American sailors and noticed they looked rather lost. He stopped and enquired if he could help, only to learn that they were off on a trip to visit some beauty spot, but their bus had not turned up. This was enough for Commander Green.
At this moment a municipal bus was passing, filled with passengers on their way to the city. Green stepped imperiously into its path and raised his hand in a stop signal no driver could ignore. He then stepped into the bus and ordered ‘Everybody disembark‘. His Quarterdeck tone brooked no refusal and the bewildered passengers promptly obeyed the order.
Turning to the startled American sailors Green gave another order, ‘Now, Gentlemen, would you please embus‘. The sailors then filed aboard in amazement. When the driver had time to recover from his shock he could only say, ‘ ‘ere, wait a minute, mate. What’s all this about?‘ ‘My man, these men are due at the top of Mount Lookout in half an hour. Drive there, wait while they are shown the sights, and return them to their ships on completion‘, instructed Green.
The poor driver was shocked to the core. ‘But I’m on me regular run. The Transport Commissioner’ll be onto me over this. I’m due at the depot in ten minutes and anyway, who’s going to pay for all this?‘
‘The account is to be sent to the Premier by direction of the Resident Naval Officer‘, announced Green, who then turned to the new passengers. ‘Well gentlemen, I hope you enjoy your trip. The Commonwealth of Australia and the citizens of this city are proud to have you with us.‘
Green watched the bus draw away and then strode to his car through the bewildered group of evicted passengers. What the American sailors thought of the whole business is not known. But a few weeks later Green received a summons to visit the Premier. This gentleman waved under his visitor’s nose the large bill for the unauthorised bus ride, and demanded an explanation, ‘Mr. Premier‘, replied Green, ‘I saw these esteemed maritime visitors-guests, Sir, of you and your State – standing forsaken on the footpath. I felt, Sir, that the good name of the State was at stake, so I asked myself, Sir, what you would do in similar circumstances. Knowing you to be a man of direct action, the answer, Sir, was obvious, so I acted accordingly.
‘Well done Green. Have a gin‘, replied the Premier.