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Charles Hercules Green (1919–1950)

by Margaret Barter

This article was published:

Charles Hercules Green (1919-1950), by Claude R. Holzheimer

Charles Hercules Green (1919-1950), by Claude R. Holzheimer

Australian War Memorial, 146722

Charles Hercules Green (1919-1950), army officer, was born on 26 December 1919 at Grafton, New South Wales, second of three children of Hercules John Green, dairy farmer, and his wife Bertha, née Deville, both native-born. Educated at Swan Creek Public and Grafton High schools, he began working for his father in 1933. Young Charlie showed initiative and enterprise by acquiring two draught-horses to undertake ploughing and road-building contracts. On 28 October 1936 he enlisted in the 41st Battalion, Militia; he rose to sergeant in 1938 and lieutenant in March 1939. A keen horseman and cricketer, he was 6 ft (183 cm) tall, with brown hair, a dark complexion and brown eyes.

Seconded to the Australian Imperial Force on 13 October 1939, Green was posted to the 2nd/2nd Battalion. He was based in the Middle East from February 1940, but missed the operations in North Africa (December 1940-January 1941) due to an accidental injury. His initiation into battle occurred on 18 April at the Piniós Gorge, Greece. In the subsequent retreat he evaded capture, made a hazardous journey through the Aegean Islands and Turkey, and reached Palestine by 23 May. These experiences proved formative, and he was to contribute a sensitive account of the campaign in Greece to Nulli Secundus Log (Sydney, 1946). A fellow officer recalled that the 'Troops would follow Charlie anywhere because he understood them and they understood he was fair dinkum'; another soldier remembered how Green had carefully explained tactics to his men, his cool demeanour and husky voice conveying reassurance.

The 2nd/2nd spent periods of garrison duty in Syria and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), then returned to Australia in August 1942. Because Green had injured his foot and contracted typhoid in Ceylon he did not take part in the Papuan campaign. He was promoted substantive major in September and posted in December as an instructor to the First Army's Junior Tactical School, Southport, Queensland. At St Paul's Anglican Church, Ulmarra, New South Wales, on 30 January 1943 he married Edna Olwyn Warner; Colonel (Sir) Frederick Chilton, his commander in Greece, was best man.

Resuming regimental duties in July 1943, Green was seen as the 'natural successor' to Lieutenant Colonel C. R. V. Edgar in command of the 2nd/2nd, but the appointment went to an outsider, Lieutenant Colonel A. G. Cameron. Green's selection as second-in-command helped to ease tensions. In December 1944 the unit embarked for New Guinea. Promoted temporary lieutenant colonel on 9 March 1945 (substantive in September), Green was given command of the 2nd/11th Battalion; at the age of 25 he was probably the youngest officer to command an Australian battalion in World War II. Between May and July the 2nd/11th participated in the attack on Wewak and in operations around Boram. Green was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1947).

He was demobilized on 23 November 1945, but found that the transition to civilian life was not easy. Returning to Grafton, he worked as a clerk with the Producers' Co-operative Distributing Society Ltd, studied accountancy part time and from April 1948 commanded his old Militia battalion. On 6 January 1949 he joined the Permanent Military Forces. When the government committed the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, to the conflict in Korea, Army Headquarters decided that it should be led by an officer with a distinguished record in World War II. Green was plucked from the course at the Staff College, Queenscliff, Victoria, and sent to Japan on 8 September 1950 to take command.

Moving to the Republic of (South) Korea that month, the Australian unit formed part of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade. 3RAR advanced northwards, defeating enemy forces at Yongju on 22 October, at Pakch'on, Democratic People's Republic of (North) Korea, on the 25th-26th, and at Chongju on the 28th. Next day the battalion repulsed a North Korean counter-attack and occupied positions on a ridge overlooking the Talch'on River. During the evening of the 30th an enemy shell exploded near Green's tent, severely wounding him in the abdomen. His death on 1 November 1950 'cast a pall of gloom over his battalion'. He was buried in the United Nations memorial cemetery, Pusan, South Korea. His wife and daughter survived him. The United States of America awarded him the Silver Star (1951).

Green's career as a commander had been exemplary, and serving soldiers are still inspired by it. A cairn at the 41st Battalion's barracks, Lismore, commemorates him, as does a United Nations emblem on the gates to the Swan Creek farm where he spent his youth.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Long, Greece, Crete and Syria (Canb, 1953)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (Canb, 1963)
  • S. Wick, Purple Over Green (Syd, 1977)
  • R. O'Neill, Australia in the Korean War 1950-53, vol 2 (Canb, 1985)
  • O. Green, The Name's Still Charlie (Brisb, 1993)
  • M. Barter, Far Above Battle (Syd, 1994)
  • J. Galloway, The Last Call of the Bugle (Brisb, 1994)
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Barter, 'Green, Charles Hercules (1919–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 25 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Charles Hercules Green (1919-1950), by Claude R. Holzheimer

Charles Hercules Green (1919-1950), by Claude R. Holzheimer

Australian War Memorial, 146722