Memoriam Brigadier John White, OBE

Brigadier John White, OBE

Brigadier John Francis White, OBE was born in Melbourne, Victoria, on May 22, 1919, the only son of Padre White (regarded as the architect of the first ANZAC dawn service). John White was educated at St Peter’s College, Adelaide, South Australia. He graduated from the Royal Military College Duntroon on June 19, 1941 and enlisted in the Australia Army (service number #2180) on August 24, 1942 to serve in the Second World War.

Australian Military ForcesHis significant military postings included that of Captain and Chief Instructor of the Parachute School at Upper Heyford in 1943 to 1944; Major of the 28th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade in Korea in January 26, 1952 to January 26, 1953; Commanding Officer 3rd Battalion the Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR aka ‘Old Faithful‘) in Penang, Malaya from 1957 to 1959; the Australian Army Representative and Military Attaché at the Australian Embassy in Washington DC, USA; and Military Adviser to the Australian High Commissioner of Canada from 1960 until 1962; he was Colonel and Deputy Commander 1st Australian Task Force in Vietnam in April 19, 1967 to 1968; and was the Military Secretary at Army Headquarters in 1969 until July 18, 1971. He retired from the Australian Army in 1974.

Australian RegimentLongtime Simkin family friends, on June 14, 1945, John White married his lifetime love, an Australian Military Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse named June Gibson (born on June 11, 1921). In 1957 in Penang, Malaya, John White was my fathers battalion commander (my dad was his 2IC), and both families shared accommodation in Minden Barracks.

In the 1970’s I spent every possible moment I could during the separation and divorce of my parents with John and June at their home in River Park Towers on Watson Esplanade in Surfers Paradise. At the time, they lived about 1½ hours away from us, so I often used this as an excuse to stay for longer periods of time, and sometimes, for many weeks. It was my own personal great escape from growing conflict at my own home. June & John embraced my doing this, for whatever reason, perhaps because by now their own children, Jeremy, Victoria (‘Tory’) and Amanda (‘Mandy’), had fled the nest and were being missed greatly. Brigadier White became a great supporter of me and helped me through a lot of the issues of my father at the time.

Brigadier White was my dream dad.

Brigadier White listened to me, I mean he actually listened, and appeared to take interest in what I was saying. This was new to me. By this point in my life, I was used to my own father avoiding any conversation, and if required, it would be brief and to his point, and my mum listening only to my headlines and jumping to her own conclusions.

But Brigadier White was unique to me, he and I would sit on his balcony and talk, walk to the beach and talk, lay by his apartment pool and talk, drink coffee and talk, have breakfast and talk.

I never told him explicitly I was gay, upon reflection, I don’t think I needed to, I think he had worked that out himself from our conversations, and since he was a forward thinking visionary, it was clearly not important to him, despite it being a capital criminal crime at the time.

john white books and comicsWe regularly visited a used bookshop nearby his apartment in a shopping mall basement on Cavill Avenue (the main street in Surfers Paradise) and spend a lot of time sifting through comics and books. He bought me books to spend time in my own imagination. The entire ‘Hardy Boys’ series, ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (my favorite) along with Brigadier White’s favorite cartoon ‘Beetle Bailey’ magazines that poked fun at the army life. All were great for reading at the beach and pool, or nestled in my favorite spot, a window bench in their apartment. Typically dressed in either pants suit or fabulous caftan, often adorned with large necklaces, June would supply me with bottomless iced coffees and juices.  John would quietly slip me a coca-cola now and then.

Years later, when I was given very strong parental pressure to join the Australian Army, which I absolutely detested after 6 months in ‘Army Intelligence’ — it was Brigadier White that built my self confidence and gave me a path to escape it by cleverly using the law of the time, recognizing that the army was no place for me, and instead, encouraging me to pursue my passion for theatre.  At this stage, he was the only adult in my sphere of influence encouraging me to follow my actual dreams. Decades later, he was proven right, and I will be eternally grateful for his nurturing of my passion, and for his dealing with my parents in sheltering me from their blowback.

June & John WhiteI also respected and admired him since he exuded self-confidence and didn’t take lightly to fools. He always carried a clutch man bag, indeed, the first man in my life to do this. He always not only loved, but more importantly, deeply respected his wife June, not only listening to and talking with her, but opening doors, fetching her drinks, taking her out for dinners. This devoted adoration for a spouse and the obvious love between them was entirely new for me to witness.

I remember once we were walking down Cavill Avenue heading to our special happy place of the used bookshop, and some young surfer lads were ‘wolf whistling’ and calling out unkind things to a young girl walking nearby. Without missing a beat, he handed me his man bag, walked up very close to them delivering a verbal tearing down as you would imagine an angry drill sergeant would do, which caused them to run away scared.

This was the Brigadier White I loved and unconditionally respected.

John passed away on August 22, 2007 in Surfers Paradise and is at rest in Benowa, Gold Coast, Queensland, alongside June who passed away on June 27, 1999.

Australian Military OBE See his Military Honours

In His Own Words…

Listen to Brigadier John White OBE (Rtd) as Lieutenant Colonel and the Commanding Officer of 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, in Malaya from 1957 to 1959, interviewed by Colonel David Chinn MBE (Rtd)

      1. Brigadier White - Malaya (2003 Interview) - Brigadier John White

White June John White John Irene Simkin Bag White June Irene Simkin White John Irene Simkin White Family White Children White June and John White June White John and Max Simkin Vietnam 2 White John and Max Simkin Vietnam White Vietnamese Ambassador to Australia Tran Kim Phuong with David Colquhoun and Colonel John White in Vietnam White Upper Heyford Parachute SchoolJohn White OBE Forbes Advocate White John Service WW2 White John Service Korea White John Service Vietnam

Australian Army Chaplain

Padre Arthur White

A fiery priest renowned for his bravery on the battlefields of WWI was father of Australia’s most renowned and enduring commemorative ceremony.

ANZAC silhouette 1
ANZAC silhouette 4

Brigadier John White’s father was an Anglican (Church of England) minister, The Reverend Arthur Earnest White (or Padre White as he was known), born in London on August 27, 1883, baptised in the church of St. Martin’s in the Field. He read for an Arts degree at Leeds University, and was made a deacon in 1908, ordained a priest at Wakefield Cathedral, Yorkshire in 1909.

In 1912, Reverend Arthur White came to Australia, joining the Bush Brotherhood of St. Boniface in the Diocese of Bunbury, Western Australia. There he acted at the same time as examining chaplain to the Bishop of Bunbury. Padre White was one of the padres of the earliest ANZAC’s to leave Australia with the A.I.F. in November 1914. Before embarkation, at 4:00am, Padre White conducted a service for all the men of the battalion assembled in convoy at the Princess Royal harbour of King George Sound at Albany in Western Australia. Several ships went straight to Egypt for training before being dropped at Gallipoli on the morning of April 25th, 1915.

Padre White joined the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) 44th Battalion in 1916 Australian Imperial Forceand was shipped out to England for training, then onto the Western Front. As army chaplain he spent 2 years serving in the trenches and performing last rights for his slain countrymen on the Western Front in World War I. He largely served in Armentieres in the north of France and ended up in a military hospital, being treated for a long-term worsening ear condition. He suffered in various war hospitals, and was eventually sent back to Australia.

Records show he was discharged from hospital in Fremantle, Western Australia on February 12, 1918.

White Padre Mount ClarenceOn February 24, 1918 at 11:00am, according to St John’s The Evangelist church records, Padre White led a service where it is believed that after that service he held a private requiem mass for the battle dead. There is no detailed record of the event, but it is generally accepted that the group walked from St John’s to the rocky summit of Mount Clarence, at a site now known as “Padre White’s Lookout”, where many had gathered 4 years earlier to watch the ships leave in 1914.

Padre White left for the Australian east coast, where he stayed for the next 10 years. He initially worked at a military hospital in Caufield but moved on become Curate at St John’s in Melbourne in 1919 where his wife gave birth to his son, aptly named ‘John’. In 1923, he became Archdeacon and Rector of Broken Hill and in 1929 he returned to Western Australia, to be Rector of the St John’s The Evangelist Church in Albany.

Padre White circa 1930Wanting to honour the men he hadn’t been able to save on the World War I battlefields, on April 25, 1930 as Rector, in front of a congregation of just 30, he introduced a dawn Anzac Day service, which ended with a wreath being laid on the war memorial next to the church. This would grow to become Australia’s most renowned and enduring commemorative ceremony.

White church registar from the first Anzac Day dawn serviceHis original note in St John’s register in Albany reads: “Procession to memorial, wreaths laid. Collection for the Distressed Soldier Fund. First Dawn Service held in Australia.”

The following year on April 25, 1931, again from the summit of Mount Clarence over-looking the King George’s Sound anchorage, again to pay tribute to the troops, and as a key part of his ANZAC dawn service, Padre White arranged for a boatman to cast a wreath, “the flower of Australian manhood”, into its waters, thus establishing a tradition which has endured ever since.

Padre White was made an honorary Canon of Bunbury Cathedral in 1934. Eventually, Padre White was transferred to serve other congregations. He moved to the diocese of Bathurst, to be Rector of Forbes in 1938.

On May 19, 1938 the Albany Advertiser, under the heading “Cannon White Farewelled“, reported that before he left Albany, Padre White left 3 wishes with his congregation, one of which included: “guard closely that wonderful Dawn Service and the other ceremony that had developed from it, particularly the laying of the wreath in the waters of the Sound“.

In 1951 Padre White was made a Canon of All Saints’ Cathedral, Bathurst. he resigned from this parish in May 1954 and retired to the quieter life in the small town of Herberton, North Queensland, to be priest in charge and chaplain to St. Mary’s Girls’ School.Padre White grave in Herberton

Padre White died, aged 71 in Herberton on September 26, 1954, and was buried in Herberton’s cemetery according to his own strict instructions in a simple grave inscribed with “PRIEST“.

If Padre White’s aim was to be forgotten, then he failed.

poppy     lest we forget    poppy

Padre White circa 1930 Padre WhitePadre White church registar from the first Anzac Day dawn service Padre White Flagstone in the ground at the St Johns The Evangelist Albany Padre White PlaquePadre White Farewell Prayer Forbes Advocate Padre White Farewell Lunch Forbes Advocate Padre White Farewell Announcement Forbes Advocate Padre White Death Announcement Forbes AdvocatePadre White grave in Herberton Padre White SignPadre White on Mount Clarence

Given the various myths, legends and truths distributed over time, I researched and compiled from various sources including the National Archives, The Australian War Memorial, The ABC, The National Library of Australia, family records, newspaper clippings and church records, accepting what appears to be the majority position from official sources.