Eric W 'Jan' Greenleaf 1920-2018
William Greenleaf was born on Tuesday 31st August 1920 in Plymouth’s
historic Barbican, he was the second son of Frederick and Annie Greenleaf
(nee Hubbard). His mother suggested he should go and be a painter and
decorator, but young Eric only had an interest in joining up after being
encouraged by a friend. In April 1935, he arrived at the Royal Naval
School of Music at Deal aged fourteen, unable to play an instrument
or even sing a note, telling his superiors he could just about manage
the harmonica. He was taught how to play the clarinet and viola, later
on he taught himself the guitar and saxophone.
served throughout the Second World War. He was posted to the band onboard
the cruiser HMS Cumberland where, like all Royal Marines Bandsmen, he
worked in the Gunnery Transmitting Station in the depths of the ships,
close to the vessels fuel tanks. There, the musicians controlled the
eight-inch guns and all the targeting for the ship's gunfire.
Eric diced death himself when an Australian ship he was on.. HMAS Vampire was sunk on 9th April 1942 after leaving Ceylon, Vampire Commander Moran and eight ratings were killed or died of wounds. Some 600 men were rescued by the hospital ship Vita, others were picked up by local fishing vessels and a few men were even able to swim ashore. Eric spent nine hours in the water clinging to a piece of decking with a fellow musician who was covered in oil and couldn’t swim. After being rescued he re-joined HMS Cumberland in Buenos Aires. HMS Cumberland joined the 1st Cruiser Squadron Home Fleet escorting the Arctic Convoys until January 1944, ultimately being awarded the battle honour Arctic 1942-1943. Eric went on to complete fifteen treacherous Arctic Convoys from Scotland to Murmansk and back, delivering vital supplies to the Soviet Union, with the constant threat of German U-Boats, aircraft and the extreme cold. His most catastrophic convoy started with fifty-eight ships.. returning with only four. Due to the dangerous position of the transmitting station, the Royal Marines Band Service lost a larger percentage of personnel during the Second World War than any other individual branch of the Navy. Eric carried all their names with him on a sheet of paper, as many of them were friends.
the war against Germany was ending, Eric joined the light cruiser HMS
Newfoundland in the war against Japan. Repairs delayed her arrival in
the Far East for service with the British Pacific Fleet (BPF). Newfoundland
sailed to New Guinea to support the Australian 6th Division in the Aitape-Wewak
Soon after his return, Eric, aged 26 and his 21 year old Plymouth maid Joan Williams were married on 14th December 1946 in St Gabriel, Plymouth. The couple had a son, Raymond, who was born in 1948 and lives in Cornwall. Following the war, Eric assumed the role he joined for.. to play music with the Band. He played at the 1948 Olympics which were held in London and cup finals at Wembley. He played to heads of state and members of the Royal Family and travelled all over the world.
five years after the Second World War ended, he saw active service again
during the Korean War with HMS Newcastle. Eric went on to complete twenty-six
years as a Royal Marines musician, serving onboard seven ships, he also
paraded on many engagements as a Drum Major, including a pass-out parade
before a young Princess Elizabeth at BRNC in 1950. Eric finally retired
from the Royal Marines Band Service in 1960 and returned to his hometown.
As a civilian, Mr Greenleaf worked for two years in the wardroom at
HMS Thunderer, which was the Royal Naval Engineering College at Manadon..
He was a great friend and help to the band, in particular the Bandmaster
Michael Hutton. It was the first time there had ever been a Royal Marines
Band at HMS Thunderer, so having Eric there was a great help in sorting
out all the necessary difficulties that were apparent on their arrival.
Jan became a regular in the Band Mess.
2013, Eric Greenleaf was presented with his newly commissioned Arctic
Star Medal at HMS Raleigh, after campaigners fought for long-awaited
recognition for the part the heroes played in the Russian Convoys during
the war after more than seventy years.
an interview with a newspaper in 2015, Eric credited his health and
sunny outlook to one thing.. being a member of the Band of Her Majesty’s
Royal Marines.. “I make no bones about it,” said Eric. “I’d
be dead if it wasn’t for the band. They have kept me going all
these years. It means everything in the world to me, the friendships
I’ve got with them. When you’re sitting there, playing along
with them, well, there’s nothing like it. Music controls the savage
mind and it’s certainly helped me. I’ll keep going until
the rigor mortis sets in !”
Eric, a legend, a character and a true inspiration to many, sadly passed away on 26th April 2018 aged 97 in his beloved Plymouth. His funeral service was held on 15th May at Efford Crematorium in Plymouth.