Today we have a brand new video of our own Neil White, Forces War Records Web Manager, talking about his grandfather Major P H White who served in Burma in World War Two. If you have ever commented on or messaged our Forces War Records Facebook page, or followed our Twitter feed, his name may ring a bell!
Like many of our experts, Neil came to us with a pre-formed passion for military genealogy, as he had spent years listening to his grandfather’s war stories, visiting museums at his side, meeting Veterans he had served with and poring over his medals and insignia. Neil still retains and treasures his granddad’s collection of military memorabilia, including a very fine original Japanese Officer’s sword, which he has been known to bring into the office for colleagues to admire. Neil’s own collection has expanded over time, and he visits lots of auctions and military shows or fairs in an effort to add to it, and to research documents and books for the Forces War Records Archive. He runs the ‘Tank Lovers’ community in his spare time, and feels lucky to be able to make a living out of his favourite hobby.
Neil’s grandfather, Mr Percival ‘Hugh’ White, was born in India but sailed for Britain on the 30th of May 1932 at the tender age of 19. He married Neil’s grandmother in June 1939, just before the Second World War broke out. Although Mr White wanted to join up straight away, since he was a Chartered Surveyor (a ‘Reserved Occupation’) he was not permitted to do so for the first few years; instead, he joined the Home Guard.
Finally, in 1944, his persistent pleas paid off and he was allowed to enter an Officer Cadet Training Unit. He first enlisted later that year, with the Cheshire Regiment, and had he stayed where he was it is possible that he wouldn’t have survived the war. Most of the men in his original platoon were killed in the D-Day landings at Normandy. Instead, because of his excellent grasp of languages, Neil’s grandfather was transferred to the Middlesex Regiment and sent to Burma with the 12th Army.
There he ended up as a Custodian of Enemy Property in the Paymaster’s Office, based in Rangoon and possibly Mandalay later on. He received the wartime substantive rank of Major, and many an official notice from that office bears his signature. At the end of the war Major White was awarded three medals, the War Medal 1939-1945, the Defence Medal and of course the Burmese Star, all of which Neil retains.
An interesting anecdote uncovered by Neil’s research concerns Major White’s journey back to the UK in 1946. A telegram was sent on the 9th of May that year, from an ‘AGG’ of Navy Charge Rangoon to Major H White of the Middlesex Regiment, saying, “Where is your Station Wagon number 8290, vouchered over to Marshall 07-1012”. Family legend has it that Major White was driven to the port by his Burmese Batman, who was supposed to then take the car back to base. The Batman never did return!