Interment Address - Mrs Olwyn Green

21 September 2023

Today is a very special day in the history of the Australian Army.

Today, we gather to inter the remains of Olwyn Green.

It is fitting that we do so. It is not a hollow claim that our Army is a family, and this extraordinary woman was a matriarch of our family.

Had Olwyn lived, today would have been her 100th birthday.

Her death, in 2019, was deeply felt among our soldiers, our veterans, and the wider community of scholars on the Korean War.

Olwyn was a wife, a mother, and a grandmother.

To her loved ones I wish to extend the condolences of the entire Army family.

But today is also an occasion to commemorate an epic life and love story that transcended war, separation, and death itself.

In a world so afflicted by crisis and conflict, our opportunities to celebrate life and love are too rare. But then again, people like Charlie and Olwyn Green were the rarest of people.

Cursory examination of their lives reveals each of them as a veritable force of nature. Charlie was an exceptional soldier whose professional mastery is commemorated at our War College.

He had the rare distinction of being the Commanding Officer of infantry battalions in the CMF, the AIF, and the nascent Australian Regular Army.

He died in the service of his country and was laid to rest here, far from his loved ones and home. He died young.

Such is the risk that every soldier takes on when accepting the obligations of service to the nation.

Olwyn lost the love of her life. She was devastated. Indeed, such was the depth of soul connection she felt that she later said she had a vivid premonition of Charlie’s death.

She felt an abiding sense of loss for the rest of her life.

Their life together was too brief; yet their love story has never truly ended.

I used the term “epic” advisedly when referring to the lives of Charlie and Olwyn.

Their love story could have flowed from the pen of Hollywood screenwriters, if not Shakespeare himself. Indeed, it was a pen that introduced the young couple.

And that pen was never stilled by tragedy, nor the ravages of time.

It is a singular honour to add some remarks to that long story of the Greens today.

Let me quote Olwyn’s recollection of her first encounter with Charlie:

“I met Charlie when I was just 17. I was working in my father’s newsagency in Ulmarra. I had left school early, before I was 14.

It was the end of 1939, and the boys who had joined up for the AIF were on final leave.

I was working in the shop and this very tall handsome man in officer’s uniform walked in.

This was quite a sight for me because I’d never seen anyone in officer’s uniform before.

The whole aura of him just took my breath away and I was a nervous little thing who sold him a fountain pen.

He walked out of the shop.

But two years later I got a letter from him after he’d escaped from Greece, and he said that he wrote the letter because he remembered me because the fountain pen came out of Greece with him.

So, he wrote to me because he still had the fountain pen. He remembered the little girl who sold him the fountain pen”.

The little girl who sold the pen went on to write her own indelible chapters in the history of our Army.

Finding herself widowed, young Olwyn was bereft.

But she took up her own pen. Sharing a small house with her Mum and her daughter Anthea, Olwyn worked to support her family.

This she did as a single Mum in a society where tertiary education for women was rare.

She embarked on a journey of lifelong learning and writing that was animated by the same courage and determination that Charlie Green displayed on the battlefields of the Second World War and Korea.

Initially she studied philosophy and psychology, overcoming some dispiriting feedback with the self-deprecation that endeared her to so many along the way.

Early disappointments strengthened her resolve rather than deterring her.

She embarked on Research Studies toward a master’s degree in History at Macquarie University.

Her body of work was formidable, assiduously compiled and referenced. Sadly, serious illness precluded Olwyn from completing her thesis.

However, her work – which included a book entitled “The Name’s Still Charlie” – was substantial and insightful, and remains an enduring contribution to our national memory of war.

So pioneering and important was Olwyn’s work that the Royal Australian Regiment Association and the Australian War Memorial both issued statements upon her passing.

The latter observed:

“Her work was not only a tribute to her husband, but to the men and women who served during the Korean War. It forms a fitting legacy to her contribution to Australia’s military history.

While Australian veterans of the Korean War have lost one of their champions, Olwyn Green can take much credit for inspiring a generation of historians, researchers and curators, who will continue carrying the torch”.

Olwyn’s work was not only a chronicle of conflict: it provided therapeutic validation for some our Korean Veterans who had never spoken of their service to anyone.

They trusted Olwyn as they had trusted Charlie. The little girl who sold a pen became a warrior queen wielding her own pen in the service of others.

As we pause to reflect on the life of this remarkable woman, there is a paradox that there are no words fully capable of honouring her large and generous life.

She sustained the deepest wound that life can deliver: premature loss of the love of her life.

But suffering enlarged rather than diminished Olwyn Green. She survived. She persevered. She flourished again. Within her beat the heart of a soldier.

Today the epic love story that began in a newsagency in country New South Wales begins a new chapter here in Korea.

Note I did not say “ends”. With spirits as large as those of the Greens, who would dare suggest that death is the final word?

Today we reunite these star-crossed lovers. We lay their remains to rest. I believe their indomitable spirits will continue to march beside us.

Salute you Olwyn. Vale Olwyn.

Lest We Forget.