Surprising Snippets 9
Major H.H.R. White, D.S.O., O.B.E.
Henry Herbert Ronald White was born in February 1879 into a wealthy military family. He was a man of great bravery and a highly efficient soldier, who could probably have risen to be a General like his father, had he concentrated his considerable energies solely on a military career. He was highly respected and admired by the men of the 25th Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) but he was from a different mould than the toughs of the 25th. He was their first adjutant, and for much of the time their 2 i/c. The contrast in type is best illustrated in a quotation from “Kenya Chronicles” by Lord Cranworth:
The battalion was essentially a tough one and not altogether easy to handle, excepting always in action. I remember the Adjutant at this time occasionally found this trait somewhat trying. He was an admirable, conscientious and painstaking soldier but not of quite such rough fibre as most of his command. Some of his problems he brought to me. One of them was, what was the most appropriate action to take with an officer to whom he had issued an order, and who responded by telling him to go to hell and commit a peculiar and indecent offence with spiders! ‘As if I could,’ he pathetically added. I only trust that I advised him aright.
White was commissioned into the 60th Rifles in 1898 and served in South Africa 1901-2. On 10th January 1904 he was seriously wounded by a bullet through the right chest at Jidball, Somaliland. In April of that year he was promoted Capt, an unusually fast rise. He became adjutant of 5th Btn , 60th Rifles from 1906-8. He was due to be posted to Bermuda that year, but he decided to resign his commission as his father had died suddenly, and to run the family estate at Lough Eske Castle, Co. Donegal, Ireland. He modernised the castle and proved to be a wise employer. He employed a dozen workers and made sure that half were Republicans and half Unionists. When he returned after the First War, he found both political factions coming to him asking for the advice of an experienced soldier. His advice was always the same: “War is the worst of events, and killing a waste which does no person any good whatsoever.” Eventually, the Irish Troubles forced him to sell the estate.
He was a keen and skilled polo player, winning many trophies, and a dedicated fly fisherman, often spending summers after the War in Norway. Many influential men were guests at Lough Eske Castle and in 1914 many discussions were held there. We cannot be certain how this model soldier came to join the most irregular 25th Fusiliers. Driscoll was also Irish so there could be a link there, but Major White’s grandson has suggested that they may have been brought together by Col. Kitchener, the brother of the more famous Kitchener, who was sent to East Africa on a fact-finding mission. Driscoll had no vacancies for a Major, but White was happy to be listed and paid as a Captain. He still retained his Major’s insignia on his uniform and was always referred to by the Frontiersmen as “The Major”.
According to his son Henry (who died aged 99 more than fifteen years ago) “Father was a great story-teller – entertaining – and told of a prank they played on the German Commander (Von Lettow-Vorbeck, perhaps). Having at that time the higher ground, he told his gunner to put a couple of shells left and right of the commander’s tent – but not to hurt him. This done on a hot afternoon, out comes the commander in his underpants. Siesta interrupted. Father used to say that wars were a little more friendly in those days, in their peculiar ways.” We have no confirmation of this tale, but it tells us that the Major was not always the stiff and straight regimental officer. Major White’s actions on June 24th 1916 at Kwa Direma on the Lukigura were probably instrumental in his being recommended for the D.S.O. According to Charles Miller in his “Battle for the Bundu”, the Fusiliers stormed the German positions “in one of the wildest bayonet charges yet seen in the campaign.” Before the action, the men had been marching twenty-four and a half hours, fully laden and without proper food. Angus Buchanan in his “Three Years of War in East Africa” said, “ I have never seen men more utterly tired and woebegone.” There is a superb account of the action in C.T. Stoneham’s “From Hobo to Hunter.” It is a pity that Charles Stoneham never wrote a full account of his time with the 25th Fusiliers, but merely chapters and paragraphs throughout his many books. The Frontiersmen’s tiredness was soon forgotten as they got involved in the action. Stoneham wrote, “The Colonel said in his loud hearty voice, ‘All right, go forward then, and as soon as you see them get into them with the bayonet and drive them off this hill.’. My heart took a dive into my boots. The Major answered ‘Very good, sir,’ and came striding past us…..We got up and followed the Major.” Finally the enemy fled and the Major superintended the operation to sort out the wounded, a big pistol in one hand and a sandwich in the other. After an incident of this kind, Stoneham wrote, everyone felt the need for a lunch break. The natives had been told by the Germans to stay in their huts. Suddenly an old woman, apparently driven demented by her experiences, rushed forward and seized the Major’s sandwich which she proceeded to devour at his feet. “Well I’m damned”, said the Major.
The citation for Major White’s D.S.O. of February 13th, 1917 said “He displayed great courage and initiative in handling two companies under heavy fire. He has performed consistent good work throughout, and has at all times set a splendid example.” Suffering badly from malaria, Major White moved to South African Military Command in 1917 and in 1918 he became acting Lt. Col. with the Nyasaland Field Force. He was then awarded the O.B.E. After the War, the Major, as he was still always known, returned to the life of a gentleman, travelling the world, fishing and sailing motor boats. His Frontiersmen experience did tell once around 1927 in Mexico City, when a taxi driver drove the Major and his wife out into the country rather than returning them to their hotel. The Major hooked his walking stick around the driver’s throat and pulled hard, making himself understood in true Frontiersman terms. The shaken taxi driver promptly returned them to their hotel. The Major died at only 60, the wound to his chest, malaria contracted in East Africa and heavy smoking from an early age shortened his life. His advice to his son was “Here are the cigarettes and here is the whisky and any boy who takes them is a fool.” His son took notice and lived to a ripe old age.
Many thanks are due to the Major’s son, the late Mr. Henry White, and his grandson Mr. Ron White, who lives in America, for their information, permission to use the photographs and help in producing this tribute to the very brave Major H.H.R. White.
© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.