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Remember When?


October 25, 2018

40 YEARS AGO • OCTOBER 19, 1978


“When I was a little brat I played with King Edward VIII and Lord “Louie” Mountbatten,” reminisced local ornithologist, Jack Green. “We didn’t belong to royalty but my father owned a yacht and raced with them.”

Jack recalls that King Edward was a sissy as a boy.

These were the great races at the Isle of Wite in England. Every crown head of Europe came with his magnificent yacht. The Czar of Russia, King Alphonso of Spain and the Kaiser of Germany all came to the Cowles Regatta with their families. It was a time of genteel extravaganzas and fox hunts but the children were together whether they were royalty or commoners. “All the kids played together,” said Green. “We went skinny dipping and fought as all kids do.” Today many of those youngsters are heads of state.

The czar brought all five of his children but Green doesn’t remember the girls as boys and girls didn’t associate with each other. Green was 10 when he first met the czar, later as a young man he was to fight in the czar’s army as a mercenary soldier.

The Russian yachts were the most magnificent with teak, mahogany, Persian rugs, beautiful mirrors and silver decorations. “They were more beautiful than castles,” said Green. “Dad bought yachts for salvage. The greatest treasure on the ship was the lead ballast.” Green noted that the Russian ships had turbine engines while the British had much slower ones.

Green’s father had also been a slaver, buying slaves from tribal kings in Africa and bringing them to the United States.

Green was in Baden Powell’s original Boy Scout troop in 1908. The scout’s motto, “Be Prepared” was taken from Powell’s initials, he recalls.

Jack was named after an uncle who was a monk. He was supposed to be a priest, but at 15 he had other ideas and went to France to fight in World War I. He spent many of the following years traveling around the world as a mercenary soldier.

Green joined the cavalry in France and fought in many battles throughout Europe. “In one battle there were only eight of us left out of 38,” he recalls. “We went through German gas attacks in Flanders and were part of many of the bloody battles in France.”

“We were in the last cavalry action of any consequence during the whole war,” he remembers, “for four days after the battle of Loos in northern France, we went into no man’s land with a white flag on a cane and exchanged wounded with the Germans.”

Green was decorated with Mons Star, the Second Order of Leopold (Belgium) and the Second Order of St. George (Russian) for action he saw in World War I. He is one of only two men in the entire new British army to hold the Mons Star medal.

As a soldier of fortune, Green went to Russia in 1919 and fought with the White Army. He spent most of his time around the Black Sea and in Georgia near the Caspian Sea. “This was a picnic after World War I,” says Jack. “We would ride into an area and clear it of Bolsheviks. Eventually we were run out. Many people left there fantastically rich.” Hoover sent food for the starving Russians but Green remembers much of it being captured by the army and sold for profit.

Green fought with the famed Bengal Lancers in India. “They weren’t fighters,” said Green. “We fought for them.”

In Italy the mercenaries were fed cats and sometimes even rats. “It was always served with strong spices to disguise it,” he said.

Jack also served with General Franco in Spanish Morocco where Franco was fighting the Arab Riffs. “Franco was five years older than me. He was left handed and nothing out of the ordinary,” Green remembers.

“He was a pretty good guy but not very strict. We were used to discipline. In the British army men aren’t molly coddled like they are in the American army.” Conditions were harsh in the Spanish Foreign Legion and the men were starving.

“We were eating mostly goat meat and dates, so we left,” he said.

“We heard they were recruiting mercenaries for South America, so we went to Peru,” said Green. “We were there two weeks then left for Chili as they gave us a better deal.” The South Americans were fighting over who owned the Andes. “The American companies such as the Anaconda Co. wanted us out, so they could operate the mines. So, the U.S. government gave us a $500 gratuity and sent us to San Pedro,” he said.

Their services not in demand, many of the mercenaries drifted to Hollywood where they worked as extras in the old silent films. Green worked with Tom Mix and Will Rogers. “Most of the stars were none too bright,” he laughs. “To be a success in Hollywood you have to be a ‘yes’ man.” Green worked in the films, “Iron Horse,” “The Three Bad Men,” and “The Covered Wagon.”

With the advent of the “talkies,” the British, German and Russian calvary men with their heavy accents weren’t needed in films and Green bought a ranch in northern California. He learned the names of most of the local flowers and birds and was soon giving lectures on the area to tourists. He also worked for the California Youth Authority for six years. He has tried to resign the position but instead was put on extended leave.

“I retired in 1927 and have been working ever since,” he laughs.


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