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The seven lives of George White

by epsomandewelllhc

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Archive List > British Army

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People in story: 
George White
Location of story: 
Middle East, N Africa, France, Germany
Background to story: 
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Contributed on: 
10 November 2005


This story is that of my grandfather, George White. I agree that it can be entered on this BBC website.


Today, my call up papers arrived. I feel as though I have been waiting forever! So much for father saying “Join the Black Watch Regiment,” just because HE was in it. They’ve put me in the Royal Scots Greys cavalry based in Edinburgh where we’ll do six months intensive training in horsemanship, sword fighting, etc. We also do guard duty on the haunted tower at Edinburgh Castle where the “Headless Piper” drops in for a chat around midnight.

We sailed to Palestine out of Liverpool on the “Empress of Britain.” Apparently our task will be to keep the peace between the Arabs and the Jews. On the way, the ship called at Cape Town where six of us were lent a car to see the sights. A terrible thing happened. The driver swerved to miss a boy who ran onto the road, and crashed into a fruit shop killing two passers-by. I broke my jaw and collar bone and was unconscious for two days. When I awoke, I was shocked to hear that three of my mates had died and another had lost an arm.

MAY 1940
I rejoined the regiment in Palestine a week ago and this has been a day I will never forget. All the grey horses of “A” Squadron were shot as we have been converted to Infantry. I wept for my poor old horse. We couldn’t let the Arabs have them as they would have been ill-used and they couldn’t be sent home because of the blasted quarantine restrictions. I received a minor battle wound whilst stopping a riot when a woman dropped a large plant pot on my head from her balcony. I was on my horse and was saved from serious injury by my pith helmet.

JUNE, 1941
After training as infantry, we have been sent to the Palestine-Syrian border where the Regiment has suffered heavy losses during the invasion of Syria. My platoon was overrun after running out of ammunition and some of our men were bayoneted by Senegalese troops after surrendering. I was slightly wounded by shrapnel and was taken prisoner by the French Foreign Legion. To add insult to injury, by a Scotsman! We were marched to Idlib on the Turkish border where I am a guest of the Legion for sixteen weeks. I have already contracted malaria, like most of my mates and look like a walking skeleton.

We have been engaged in the battle of El Alamein after having stopped Rommel’s advance at Runiers Ridge. After my release by the Legion, I rejoined our Regiment and was immediately sent to Cairo for training in tanks and then posted here to the desert.
The food is shocking, tins of bully beef and Marchonchies stew washed down with hot, sweet tea. (What I wouldn’t give for a roast beef dinner!). If the supply team can catch up with us in a quiet moment, we’ll get better grub!

JUNE, 1943
What excitement! After having chased the enemy all the way to Tripoli, we were inspected by old Winston Churchill himself in March, and today by His Majesty King George V1. Guess what? We also got some American rations - boy did they taste good, a big improvement!

After a five day horror sea voyage “A” Squadron spearheaded the invasion of Italy at Salerno. After heavy fighting on the first day, my tank was the only one left out of the twenty sent ashore. Luckily the next day reserve tanks were brought up with reserve crews to replace the dead and wounded. At the battle of Capua our tank was hit, with the driver killed and the commander badly wounded. I have been promoted to tank commander to lead the troops to Naples.

We are sailing home!! I’m on the “s.s. Tegelberg” which docks at Worthing on the south coast. A lovely spot I’m told. I just can’t wait to see the old country again! They tell me the “Empress of Britain” was sunk on its return voyage from Palestine (somebody up there must be looking after me!).

FOLLOW-UP. My grandfather went on to take part in the D-Day landings alongside the Canadians at Normandy on 6th June, 1944. He fought in major battles across France and received shrapnel wounds in Belgium when he stuck his head out of his tank!
Whilst at breakfast one morning, 17 men were killed when Germans shelled their camp. Grandad had just climbed into his tank to pack his kit to go on leave, and narrowly escaped death yet again.
Fighting their way into Germany, they crossed the Rhine and after major battles, began the final push to Wismark on the Baltic Sea. They beat the Russians by 20 minutes and stopped them taking Denmark.
For granddad, the war had finally ended. However, he will never forget his fallen mates, nor the terrible scenes at the Dachau concentration camp.

Footnote. Grandad developed a fondness for Austalians after fighting with the Queenslanders in the desert (the Desert Rats). So in 1954, he emigrated to Australia with grandma and their four children.

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