At the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, there is a bust of a Newfoundland Royal Naval Reservist. It was sculpted by Christen Corbet and unveiled during the annual Battle of the Atlantic Gala in April 2016. In
September of that year, a second unveiling ceremony of Able Seaman Leander Green’s bust was held in Sunnyside, NL. He is the hometown hero whose visage is memorialized in these sculptures. How this came to be is an interesting story.
Leander Green was serving aboard HMS Hilary when a request came in to help a sinking Norwegian freighter, SS Maryetta, on January 1, 1915. The ship was taking on water after being torpedoed by a German U-boat. The crew was preparing to abandon the vessel.
When HMS Hilary arrived on the scene, it gave chase to the U-boat, then returned to the Maryetta. The naval captain asked for a volunteer to jump into the frigid waters and swim to the crippled boat carrying a lifeline. Two sailors volunteered and both perished in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. The captain requested a third volunteer.
Able Seaman Leander Green, when recounting the events of that night to his family in later years, would say, “I looked over the side and thought, ‘What the hell am I doing out here?’”
He stood on the railing and peered down into the cold Atlantic on that dark night. Then he plunged into the frigid waters with the end of a lifeline around his waist and swam towards the distressed vessel. He secured the rope and Norwegian lives were saved. Royal Naval logs for HMS Hilary confirm the loss of two sailors and the rescue of six individuals.
AS Green was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Medal from King George V, becoming the first decorated Newfoundlander of the First World War.
Green’s children describe their father as a kind, mild and humble man. His own words in a letter written to his sister, Rachael Jane, seem to reflect this. “I had a good trip this time. The King gave me a medal...”
When the war ended, Green returned to St. Jones Without, NL, on November 27, 1919. He and his new wife, Blanche, had 11 children together, whom Green supported as a fisherman. When St. Jones Without was abandoned in 1952, the Greens moved to nearby Sunnyside. He continued fishing and, along with his son Bertram, sailed a schooner up to the Southern Shore in the late ’40s.
Green purchased a car in the late ’50s, although he did not have a driver’s licence. His sons would drive him wherever he needed or wanted to go. His son, Pearce, was driving on August 26, 1966, when Green was invited as a WWI veteran to attend the official opening of the Come By Chance oil refinery. Tragically, his vehicle was involved in an accident on the TCH just before the turnoff to the refinery road. Green’s son Pearce, and two grandchildren, died. Our hero, Able Seaman Leander Green, also succumbed to his injuries.
Sculpting a Hero
Christen Corbet is the sculptor-in-residence for the Royal Canadian Navy. He was hired to document visually, using the art of sculpture, notable members of the Royal Can-adian Navy and Reserves. To his credit, Corbet had already sculpted Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace before he started his work with the Royal Canadian Navy.
When Corbet was asked to design a bust of a sailor that would represent all the men from the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve, he was given several files of sailors. In his opinion, Green’s actions that night were the most heroic and unselfish act by an individual sailor to happen during the Great War and would do well to honour the heroism of all Newfoundland and Labrador sailors.
Able Seaman Leander Green’s portrait bust, of which only two editions were made to date, will form part of a collection titled “Honouring Our Great Sailors,” which is presently on display at the Maritime Command Museum in Halifax, NS.
The edition of the bust that was unveiled at Sunnyside is now on permanent display in the conference room at the town hall.
-by Lester Green