Surprising Snippets 10
William Green, G.M.
Wilbur Dartnell is well known to all as the man who won the Victoria Cross as a Frontiersman, but the man who won another of the highest gallantry awards The George Medal, also as a Frontiersman, is often unjustly overlooked.
William Green was born in 1894, joined the 7th Queens Own Hussars at the age of 17 and was sent to India, seeing service in Mesopotamia in the First War. He wanted to follow a family tradition and join the Police force, but was not tall enough, so he returned to India where height regulations were not so strict and he enlisted in the mounted branch of the Bombay Police.
In 1936 he also joined the thriving Bombay Squadron of the Legion of Frontiersmen, which had three troops in Bombay and district. He gained a reputation within the Police for outspokenness. He was also determined to treat the indigenous population and his native colleagues with full and proper respect. This did not find favour with some senior officers and so he eventually found himself landed with a desk job in spite of the fact that his record carried a number of commendations for outstanding service.
During WW2 William Green decided on positive action to get himself an active role in the military and made contact with the local barracks where he negotiated, even at the age of 50, the promise of a commission in the Military Police. On the morning of April 14th, 1944, he then persuaded a doctor to provide him with a certificate that he was no longer fit for police duties.
Bombay was a vital supply harbour for the war against Japan and it was crammed with ships of all the allied flags. One of these was the Fort Stikine which had left England seven weeks earlier loaded with aeroplanes, stores, ammunition, explosives – and two million pounds in gold bars. The ship was not flying a suitable warning flag, as she should have been, to inform that she was carrying explosives and give her the priority for unloading. This was possibly an attempt to prevent sabotage, but in the event it was probably unsuccessful.
At 1.30 p.m. smoke was reported coming from the port side, and the Bombay Fire Brigade, unaware of the amount of munitions on the ship, rushed on board. The Fort Stikine was a floating bomb which exploded with catastrophic results creating a tidal wave.
William Green, still wearing his uniform as Police sub-inspector was in the area and started to co-ordinate the efforts of random groups of men, until a second explosion occurred which blew him off his feet, blinding his left eye, deafening his left ear and shattering the fingers of his left hand. When he eventually recovered consciousness he continued organising men until the pain from his crushed fingers forced him to seek aid and have them bandaged. Accompanied by a young seaman, Waugh, he swum through the water in the dock around many bales of burning cotton and persuaded some terrified seaman aboard another blazing ship to jump into the water as that was the only way to save them. Green and Waugh rescued two who could not swim and helped them to the quay. All this time ammunition was exploding all around them. The smoke and oil in the water made Green’s already damaged eyes worse, but he continued, next helping an Indian who had been trapped under a sheet of metal.
William Green then collapsed around 5.30 a.m. on the 15th, and went to hospital for brief treatment and rest and a change of clothes. He returned to assist with rescue throughout the rest of the 15th and the 16th April. All the ships around the Fort Stikine were seriously damaged and the disaster flattened a square mile of the dock area of Bombay.
The citation of 6th February, 1945 awarded to:-
Frontiersman William Green of the Bombay Squadron, Legion of Frontiersmen, the GEORGE MEDAL
and finished by saying:
Frontiersman Green, who is 50 years of age, acted with the utmost promptitude and initiative on hearing the first explosion.
Throughout his rescue work he showed a complete disregard of his own safety, and an unsurpassable perseverance and devotion to duty in circumstances of extreme danger.
The injuries he received prevented William Green receiving the promised commission in the Military Police. He worked in a Government department until 1948 when he returned to England to live in Norwich, always active with the St. John Ambulance Brigade, Civil Defence and re-forming the Legion of Frontiersmen in Norwich, becoming enthusiastically involved also with the Canadian Division. He would regularly quote the Persian “Khuda Hafiz e Shuman bashad” which he translated as “may God be your Guardian”, a form of “God Guard Thee” the motto of the Legion of Frontiersmen taken from General Gordon’s ring. William Green always signed off his letters “Khuda Hafiz”.
William Green, G.M., died at the age of 99, still a keen Frontiersman to the end of his days.
Information: Correspondence from William Green, G.M.
“The Fort Stikine Disaster”, Coin and Medal News, February 1985
“Disaster in Bombay Harbour” Melbourne (Australia) Herald, November 1957
Citation awarding the George Medal to William Green, February 1945.
© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.
Grandad was not truthful to the book’s author about ‘returning to his bachelor quarters’. He actually had a wife and three children at the time of the incident. He also instructed his 15 year old son (my father) to put on the son’s scouts uniform and assist him.
Having later remarried, the existence of the earlier family was hidden.
The reason for the lack of promotion (as known to our family) is simply that the Bombay Police force was massively corrupt, with all the higher-ups taking bribes. He would not play-along with the bribery, and so could not be ‘trusted’.
Thank you for your comment and additional information. We have on files some very pleasant and helpful correspondence with your grandfather. Unfortunately, as he died before computers and scanners became widely available his file remains, among many from the 1980s and 90s, still to be digitized. As spare time volunteers we only have limited time. He made us aware of his problems with the Bombay Police. We have found it not unusual that some Frontiersmen had complicated private lives. He only wrote about his current wife Ouida. She requested a private funeral so no Frontiersmen from HQ were able to attend.