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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Revd Samuel Leighton Green

Revd Samuel Leighton Green

The Revd Samuel Frederick Leighton Green MC was a curate at St Barnabas' church, Heigham, Norwich and later rector of All Saints, Mundesley. He served as an Army Chaplain in Flanders in the First World War and was twice decorated for gallantry, helping the wounded under fire on the battlefield. The monthly letters he wrote to his parishioners provide a fascinating picture of the difficult and varied work of a chaplain on the Western Front.

Samuel Green was born in Greenwich in 1882, the elder son of Frederick Green, a civil servant at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Woolwich. He was educated at Kings College School, London and after a brief period working as a commercial clerk in London's docks, studied divinity at St Paul's Theological College in the University of London. In 1904 he was appointed curate at St Bartholomew's church in Heigham and in 1905 he was ordained a priest of the Church of England by the bishop of Norwich, the Right Revd John Sheepshanks. In 1912 he moved to the parish's other church, St Barnabas, which had only been consecrated in 1906. Here he served as curate to the Revd Charles Compton Lanchester, who was to serve here as vicar for over 60 years. The parish was a large, sprawling, semi-industrialised suburb of Norwich. A large part of the local clergy's vocation here was what might now be termed social work. Lanchester and Green ran adult education and youth groups and organised outings and music concerts for their largely poor and disadvantaged parishioners. During the serious flooding of Norwich in August 1912, they rowed around the parish's inundated street delivering food and fresh water to families stranded in their upstairs rooms.

At the outbreak of war in August 1914, in common with many other clergymen, Lanchester and Green supported what they saw not only as everyone's patriotic duty but also their moral one too to defeat what they saw as the ungodly and unprovoked aggression of the German Empire and its allies. Both Green and Lanchester were officers in the 1st Norwich Church Lad's Brigade. Several youths from their parish, who received rifle training in the Church Lads' Brigade, were recruited underage straight into one of the Army's elite rifle brigades. In August 1915 Lanchester went over to France to serve as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross and wrote a monthly report of his experiences for St Barnabas's parish magazine, an example Green would follow in his turn. After Lanchester returned to the parish at the end of 1915 Green volunteered to join the Army Chaplains' Department. He was accepted and given a commission with the rank of Temporary Chaplain to the Forces 4th Class (equivalent to an Army captain) in February 1916 and sent over to France almost immediately.

His first post was to a British Army casualty clearing station in the medieval town of Aire-sur-Lys and later in the coal mining town of Bruay, where he also acted as padre to a Royal Flying Corps squadron which had been stationed at Mousehold Health aerodrome in 1915 while training. His work at the casualty clearing station was varied, difficult and often very stressful. In addition to conducting religious services and pastoral care for the patients and staff, he also had to run the canteen, organise entertainment, censor letters, comfort the sick and dying, bury the dead and write letters of condolence to the next-of-kin.

In December 1916 Green was transferred to frontline service with the 4th Battalion, London Regiment, a Territorial battalion mainly recruited from Tower Hamlets in London's East End. He remained padre of this unit through to its decommission in 1919. During this period he was wounded by shrapnel at Arras on Easter Sunday, April 1917, while conducting divine service, gassed near Bullecourt in the Hindenburg line in August 1918 and contracted trench fever. He was held in high regard by the troops of the 4th Londons for his cheerfulness, bravery and willingness to suffer the same hardships and danger as them. After the war the official historian of the battalion wrote of him:

'His constant selfless devotion to duty and his kindly personality had made him a true friend to one and all, and the example of his simple life and magnificent courage in action had been a real inspiration to all - and that included the whole Battalion - who had been brought into contact with him.'

Green was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry on two occasions. His second MC was given a full citation in the London Gazette in 1919:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Sebourquiaux on 4th November 1918. During the advance he attended to the wounded, frequently under fire. He went forward and stayed for over an hour with a badly wounded signaller lying out in the open under shell fire, until the stretcher-bearers could fetch him away.

Between March 1916 and February 1919 Green wrote one letter per month for publication in St Barnabas's parish magazine, detailing his experiences. These provide a vivid picture of the work of an Army Chaplain on the Western Front, in hospitals, in rest camps behind the lines and in the thick of the carnage in the trenches and on the battlefield. He used these parish letters to promote what he called a 'Fag-Mag' fund to buy cigarettes, magazines and other comforts for the troops. This earned him the nickname among his parishioners of 'the Heigham Woodbine Willie'.

On leaving the Army in 1919 Green was appointed an Honorary Chaplain to the Forces. He now returned to his work as a chaplain at St Barnabas in 1919 where he suffered some sort of breakdown brought about by the physical and mental stress and overwork of the past three years. In 1921 he was appointed rector of All Saints, Mundesley, on the Norfolk coast, where he remained until his death, after a short illness, in 1929, aged only 47. He was buried in Mundesley churchyard with full military honours provided by the British Legion and comrades from the London Regiment. In 2005 a commemorative plaque recording Green's life and service was placed on the north wall of St Barnabas's Church, Heigham, Norfolk, alongside the parish's Great War Roll of Honour.


The War History of the 4th Battalion The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) 1914-1919 by Captain F. C. Grimwade (1922)
Somewhere in Flanders. The War Letters of the Revd Samuel Frederick Leighton Green MC, Army Chaplain, 1916-1919, edited by S. J. McLaren (Lark's Press, 2005)
The Church of England and the First World War by Alan Wilkinson (1978)

Stuart John McLaren