Veteran Leonard Green remembers his service as a ‘store basher’
Some years ago, I had the opportunity to act as an interpreter for a living history exhibit about the lesser-known stories of those who served behind the front lines of the First World War. It was a tremendously educational experience for all of us involved, not least because it expanded and enriched our definition of “veteran.” When remembering those who served, we often think first of those who marched across battlefields. Yet some of the most crucial people in times of war were those who served in support and supply roles.
Leonard Green was one of those veterans.
Born on Feb. 25, 1928, in London, England, Green came of age during the Second World War. He begins our chat by regaling me with stories about German V-1 flying bombs that regularly soared over the countryside around London, England, when he was a teen. “One day, the sirens had gone, and I knew what was going to happen. So, I went on down to the chicken shed. It was about six foot high, and I was standing on the chicken shed watching these things go by,” Green says. All of a sudden, a V-1 appeared directly over the house and began to malfunction. “It sounded like a motorcycle,” Green explains. “It was going pretty fast, and it quit.”
Without waiting for the flying bomb to fall from the sky, 15-year-old Green got off the chicken shed roof and ran. The V-1 dropped in the next street over, causing damage to neighbouring buildings. “I didn’t feel anything, (no) blast or anything like that,” Green recalls, lucky to have escaped from disaster. Air raids were frequent occurrences. “We had a piano, and whenever that happened — whenever the sirens went — our cat would jump up on the piano, face the wall, and look up, and he’d stay like that all the time the raid was on,” Green remembers.
As a teenager, Green “did his bit” for the war effort at the Royal Arsenal munitions factory in Woolwich, England, before joining the Air Training Corps, where he learned to identify enemy aircraft. At 17, Green signed up with the Royal Air Force, in which his older brother had served as an airman, and was sent up to Padgate in Lancashire for a few months’ worth of basic training. He volunteered to serve overseas in 1946, when he was just 18.
However, his adventure began in tragedy.
Green’s brother had volunteered to stay on with the RAF after the war to train radio operators and was the victim of an aircraft crash on the same day Green left for service in Egypt. Upon arriving at the base near Cairo, Green learned that his brother had died and immediately wanted to return home but wasn’t permitted to do so. “I cried,” says Green, “because I had not seen him through the war.”
When Green showed up in Egypt, RAF personnel were living in tents. “The first day there, it was 126 (degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade,” he recalls. Green was what the RAF colloquially called a “store basher.” Officially, he was an equipment assistant, responsible for the base store. Personnel looking for new boots, uniforms, tools and other supplies dealt with Green, who had to keep track of inventory. He was also responsible for overseeing local citizens and occasionally German prisoners of war who were assigned to help out at the base store. “I learned two languages there, Arabic and German,” Green tells me.
What was going on in the Middle East that required Royal Air Force personnel and other branches of the British armed forces on the ground? Tension had been brewing in Egypt, which the British had occupied since 1882. Not far away, a full-scale civil war broke out between Jewish and Arab communities after the United Nations recommended the Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947.
The British, who had occupied the region since 1920, were responsible for keeping order and would withdraw from the region by spring of 1948. During this period, Green was moved to a camp near the Suez Canal and eventually found himself stationed at warehouses just east of Tel Aviv. Green and his fellow RAF men were also regularly assigned to escort Jewish civilians to their jobs in the kibbutz (communities traditionally centred on agriculture) and Arabs to their villages. “We were among the first peacekeepers,” Green explains.
Later, Green was moved yet again — this time to Cyprus, where he carried on his responsibilities as a store basher. “My store this time was on the north side of the base, and it was a mess when I started work, but I soon got everything in ship shape,” he remembers. By the time he was transferred back to Egypt in 1948, Green had become a non-commissioned officer, attaining the rank of corporal.
From Egypt, Green returned to the U.K. via Malta. He was demobilized, and after leaving the RAF took a job with the London Fire Brigade as a firefighter. He spent seven years with what he describes as “the best fire brigade in the world” before the air force came calling again.
This time, however, it wasn’t the Royal Air Force, but rather the Royal Canadian Air Force. The RCAF was looking for trained firefighters to work at its bases in Canada, and Green signed up. He came to Canada in 1955 and spent the next 10 years on bases in Toronto, in Manitoba and eventually in Trenton, where he oversaw fire prevention programs. After leaving the RCAF in 1965, Green worked for a time as a prison guard in Millbrook and eventually found his way to Lindsay, where he worked as a corrections officer at the Ontario Training School for Girls on Kent Street West.
Asked what remembrance means to him, Green reminds me that “for every man in the front lines there are 50 people behind him.”
Whether these people be cooks, drivers, mechanics, nurses, or “the lowly store basher,” their contributions must never be forgotten.
Leonard Green was honoured by son Steve Green and family with a banner that will be mounted in downtown Lindsay in the weeks before Remembrance Day. Since 2015, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 67 has collaborated with the Lindsay Downtown Business Improvement Association to honour local veterans with banners that make remembrance tangible for visitors and local residents alike. Lest we forget.