Veteran Stories:
Robert Stuart Harvey “Father” Greene

Army

  • Sam, a local boy with a lamb. Italy.

    Robert Greene
  • Infant's funeral procession, Italy.

    Robert Greene
  • "Salute to the Soldier". Italy.

    Robert Greene
  • "Washerwomen". Italy.

    Robert Greene
  • Street market, Naples, Italy.

    Robert Greene
  • Italian children on Christmas Day, 1943.

    Robert Greene
  • German POWs in a field kitchen, Zuidlaren, Holland.

    Robert Greene
  • Young German POWs captioned as "The Super Kids" by Father Greene. Zuidlaren, Holland.

    Robert Greene
  • The people of Ermelo (Holland) liberated by "B" Squadron of the Strathcona's on April 17th 1945.

    Robert Greene
  • The liberation of Holland.

    Robert Greene
  • Schrapnel from the nose of a 500 pound bomb dropped in Italy close to Father Greene the day after the breakthrough of the River Melfa in Italy, May 1944.

    Robert Stuart Harvey Greene
  • Father Robert Greene in December 2009.

    Robert Stuart Harvey Greene
  • B. Squadron 2nd Canadian Armoured Regiment in Zuidlaren, the Netherlands, June 1945.

    Robert Stuart Harvey Greene
  • 14 POW Camp in Zuildlaren, Holland in Father Greene's wartime scrapbook.

    Robert Stuart Harvey Greene
  • Daily life in Matera, Italy, from Father Greene's wartime scrapbook.

    Robert Stuart Harvey Greene
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"I went home every day and had to lie about my boring job as a typing clerk, and always changed the subject if anyone got too nosy."

Transcript

Yes, this shrapnel is the nose of a 500 pound bomb that was dropped on us the day after probably the major battle of Italy in the Second World War for Canadians which was the breakthrough of the Melfa River [Bridgehead], when in one day we lost a third of our tanks and a third of our officers. A VC [Victoria Cross], and a DSO [Distinguished Service Order] and DCMs [Distinguished Conduct Medal] and several medals were given for that operation because we really broke through the German lines, which they didn’t expect to. And so the Germans were such disarray that the next night they sent bombers over, and this is the nose of a bomb that dropped from probably 14,000 feet and landed 10 yards from our tank and the ground was hard that spring, very hard, like concrete and despite that, the bomb drop dug a crater six feet deep and probably 20 feet across, and missing our tank by probably 15, 20 yards, something like that.

As soon as the Rhine was crossed and the pontoon bridge built, we pushed our tanks across at Emmerich [am Rhein, Germany] and went back into Holland. Probably the most exciting battle, certainly in Holland, was Operation Dutch Cleanser [part of the Liberation of Arnhem, April 12-16, 1945], which was from Arnhem on the side of Nederrijn [river] to Zuiderzee [inlet of the North Sea], probably, oh, a 60, 70 kilometers maybe. And with the orders we were given, within 5th Division, was to get through at all possible costs. There was probably half a million German troops in western Holland, and also V-bomb [V-1 Rockets] bases which were bombing London. So as soon as we got across there, that would finish all that.

So we went so fast, we didn’t take any infantry and that’s very rare for tanks to go without infantry because you’re very vulnerable. A man could be sitting in a ditch with a bazooka and knock a tank out. We went so fast, we outran our food echelons. And the Dutch people, who were eating tulip bulbs that winter, fed us with putting eggs and milk into our tanks as we came down the road. And that really got to us. Dutch people were just fabulous. And when we got to Emmelo, which is a little town short of Harderwijk [Netherlands], and the heavy fighting before that, a lot of tanks knocked out, and all of a sudden, Jerry took off. And in the town square, we moved our tanks in and within minutes, there were probably a couple of thousand people. And I have pictures of girls climbing all over our tanks, you could hardly see the tank. And I got up in the turret and started the people singing, “Wilhelmus van Nassouwe

ben ik, van Duitsen bloed,” which is the Dutch national anthem. And there wasn’t a dry eye to the place, 2,000 people. They hadn’t been able to sing for five years.

So that was the most exciting thing there. And then as soon as Harderwijk was captured, three days later, we moved up to Groningen, in the northeastern part of Holland, and we were guarding the Frisian Islands, where a lot of German naval guns were located. And so our tanks were patrolling that northern coast and V-E Day [Victory in Europe Day] came along. I was in London at the time, and I had a two day, three day pass and happened to be in London V-E Day and I was in front of Buckingham Palace with 100,000 other people, seeing the king and the queen, and two princesses and [British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill come out on the balcony several times. So it’s a, it was a great experience and I got back to Holland the next day and they were all dancing in the streets. And the Dutch girls were very hardy with their wooden klompas, that’s their wooden shoes and so they tired the Canadians out.

And so almost of our squadron volunteered for Japan and I was in Camp Borden on VJ Day [Victory over Japan Day] and, of course, things folded then and we were supposed to go down to train in Fort Knox in Kentucky in an American division and that sort of fell by the wayside because of the end of the war. So the fastest way to get out of the army in those days was to go to school. So I went to complete my matric [matriculation] in Toronto and do my Arts degree and my Theology degree and that was all paid for by [Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon] Mackenzie King. So if the war hadn’t come along, I probably never would have had this education because the area I was living in, in Toronto in the 1930s, most of the people are on welfare. I was the only kid on our block who owned a bicycle, which I earned by selling Liberty magazines. So it was really, as I say, the 1930s were really a devastating time economically. Not just for people in the prairies but for the Canadian cities.

The education that many of us received that we never would have, had there not been a war, because we couldn’t afford it. Two, the tremendous bond of affection between Holland and Canada because of the liberation and the kindness of Dutch people who were eating tulip bulbs in the winter, and then feeding us with milk and eggs that spring when we came through. And thirdly, I am anti-gun. So we raised four children in our family, and I said to my wife, I said, “There will be no guns in this house.” And she said, “Well, you’re crazy, they’ll play with their guns with their friends at school.” I said, “That may be, but there will be no guns in this house.” So this is the line I have taken with going to different schools, that guns I don’t think accomplish anything. And so yeah, I was so highly trained, I could take a Bren gun apart with my blindfold, and we had to do that, and put it together again and all the other weapons too. But so I know where weapons are, I’ve been there, but I don’t think this is an answer, so I’m very anti-gun.

I suppose this probably had some influence on my later decision, somewhat later, to enter, to study for holy orders to be a priest. To see many men who were much better than I would be if I lived to be 100 killed, so it caused me to ask, you know, what is the purpose of my life. And not that you couldn’t have a purpose in life as a ditch digger or as an engineer or as a fireman or whatever, but I felt that my particular vocation here was to be a priest, m’hmm.

Follow us