Remembering an act of heroism

Reprinted from The Packet, September 11, 2016
by Barbara Dean Simmons


Able Seaman Leander Green honoured at Sunnyside ceremony

First World War navy veteran Leander Green would likely have been very humbled by the ceremony held in his honour at Sunnyside today.

At the event, his son Everett recounted how, in a letter to his sister in 1915, Able Seaman Green wrote simply, “I had a good trip this time. The King gave me a medal.”

That medal was the Distinguished Service Medal, and Green was the first Newfoundlander to receive it for an act of bravery during the First World War.

He earned the medal for a decision he made at two minutes past midnight on Jan. 1, 1915.
Green was a fisherman from St. Jones Without who had joined the naval reserve in 1914 and was one of the first group of naval reservists to be assigned to active duty.

On New Year’s Eve, 1914, his ship HMS Hilary, had gone to the assistance of the SS Maryetta, which had been torpedoed by a German submarine and was sinking in the North Atlantic.

The crew of the stricken vessel had no way off the sinking ship, since they had also lost their lifeboat.

The only way to save any of the crew of the sinking ship was to get a line from the Hilary to the Maryetta.

And the only way to do that was to have someone go over the side with a rope, and swim to the sinking vessel.

When the captain of the Hilary asked for volunteers, Able Seaman Green stepped forward.

In later years, when recounting the events of that night to his family, he would say, “I looked over the side and thought, ‘What the Hell am I doing out here?’

Then he jumped, into the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, with a rope tied around his chest, and the end of the rescue rope in his teeth.

He swam to the sinking ship and, with the rescue rope secure between the two ships, crewmembers of the Maryetta began climbing along the rope to the Hilary.

Green stayed with the rope, helping men across. As a result of his heroism that night, six men from the Maryetta were saved.

Today’s event at Sunnyside featured a wreath laying ceremony at the local cenotaph, to remember those who were lost at sea during, and the unveiling of a bust of Able Seaman Green, created by sculptor Christian Corbet.


About Able Seaman Green

Able Seaman Green joined the Royal Naval Reserve Newfoundland Division in 1912 at the age 22.

In December, 1914, he was posted to HMS Hilary, an Armed Merchant Cruiser, that actively patrolled the North Sea.

On New Year’s Eve, HMS Hilary took a Norwegian barque, SS Maryetta, in tow because it had become dismasted. On New Year’s Day, the SS Maryetta sprung a leak and was sinking. The crew abandoned ship but their lifeboat capsized.

The captain asked for volunteers from HMS Hilary to jump into the water and bring a lifeline to the stricken merchant seamen.

Able Seaman Green volunteered and swam to the capsized lifeboat, enabling six members of the crew to reach safety.

During the incident, nine men from SS Maryetta and two men from HMS Hilarywere lost to the sea.

According to Commander Anthony MacDermott in The Book of Newfoundland, the SS Maryetta was torpedoed by a German submarine.

The sub was chased by HMS Hilary and then she returned to render assistance

On Aug. 5, 1915, Able Seaman Leander Green received a Distinguished Service Medal from King George. He was also honoured by the King of Norway with that country’s Medal for Heroism.