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.
His 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.
Longtime 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.
We 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.
I 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.