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One of Norwich's truly great characters

PUBLISHED: 13:58 14 April 2011

Walter Green who is celebrating his 90th birthday

Walter Green who is celebrating his 90th birthday

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Derek James wishes Norwich's "Mr Salvation Army" Walter Green a happy 90th birthday

Today I would like to pay a special surprise tribute to a man who has devoted his life to helping others. He is Walter Green MBE and he is – “Mr Salvation Army” in Norwich.

Tomorrow Walter, one of the city’s truly great characters, will be celebrating his 90th birthday so I would like you all to join me in wishing this remarkable man many happy returns of the day.

You may know him from the world famous Norwich Citadel Band or from his days setting up and helping to run the Salvation Army charity shops in the city.

Over the years he has helped so many different people in so many different ways,...going about it in his own, quiet and efficient manner.

Walter was born in Norwich on April 15, 1921. Both his parents were members of the Salvation Army and his grandfather, also Walter, one of the early converts when it came to Norwich in 1882, was the first bandmaster of the band.

He started playing the tenor horn in the Young People’s Band at an early age, but soon took up playing the euphonium.

When he was called up to join the RAF at the start of the Second World War in 1939 he was enrolled in the senior band and was told: “We can’t have you going into the military as a junior bandsman.”

Walter, who had been an apprentice coppersmith and sheet metal worker in Norwich was despatched to repair aircraft but then drafted into one of the RAF bands when his ability as a musician was discovered.

Serving in Egypt he worked alongside local workers, taught himself Arabic and was told he would have made “a very good Muslim” which was a huge compliment.

He also got locked up after climbing over the fence following a late night out but was quickly released, much to the disgust of the staff sergeant, because the bandmaster needed a euphonium player at the double.

During the war Walter was a member of The Cairo Red Shield Band, established for Salvationists serving in the military.

Just before travelling to Egypt in 1942, Walter had married Rita Watson who became one of the Salvation Army’s leading soprano soloists, travelling the length and breath of the country, as well as undertaking singing tours of Canada.

One of the highlights of her career was an invitation to sing solos at Sandringham House in the presence of Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.

After being demobbed, Walter returned to Norwich and in the late 1940s became secretary of the Norwich Citadel band, a position he held for more than 40 years.

An outstanding euphonium soloist he has played across the world, from America and Canada to South Africa, and has made many CDs. He still plays today.

When he was 61 he took early retirement from Eastern Electricity and devoted himself to be a full-time fundraiser for the Salvation Army for the next 20 years.

He opened the first Salvation Army charity shop in Norwich, in an almost derelict building, and eventually raised enough money to buy the Copper Kettle cafe in Lower Goat Lane. He later opened a second shop in Magdalen Street.

During those 20 years he raised tens of thousands of pounds for the Salvation Army through these and other projects, and in 1995 was awarded the MBE for services to the Salvation Army.

The extended Norwich Citadel buildings, with their facilities for the elderly and the needy, are evidence of his vision and dedication over so many years,

Today Walter and Rita are still in fairly good health and enjoying their retirement in their Tudor house in the city. Built in 1611, it is even older than Walter!

Their musical heritage continues. Their son Alywn has had a career as a trombonist with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and his son Stephen is a professional percussionist.

“My dad has always been a wonderful role-model for me. He always leaves things better than he finds them with his energy and high ethical standards and he’s always my friend as well as my father. His humour continues to lift my spirits,” said Alwyn.

When Walter was congratulated on the work he’d done for many years, culminating in the MBE, he replied: “I simply enjoyed doing what needed doing.”

Happy birthday Walter.

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