Frederick Athol White Private, 51208, 4th Battalion, The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) Born: Raunds, 8 August 1898, Died: 15 February 1919 Buried in Ste Marie Cemetery, Le Havre, France
Like many thousands of other servicemen, Fred White survived the horrors of the Great War only to become a victim of the Spanish Flu pandemic that swept around the globe in the months following the armistice.
By some good fortune, a selection of letters survive from the period just prior to his death through to the following April, and we present them here as a glimpse into a very tragic time for his relatives, and as a tribute to Fred himself. This correspondence is part of a collection of documents and artefacts most generously donated to our project by Fred’s nephew, Howard White.
Fred White (on the right) and two Army pals
* We begin with the only known surviving final page from a letter from Fred White. It was sent to “Kitty”, whose identity is not known, and is undated, but as he states that censorship has now ceased, it was probably written in early 1919:
On Active Service – YMCA – With The British Expeditionary Force
… you know they don’t interest me, not in the least. I have just come from the pictures but it’s not like sitting at the Palace, Rushden and you miss the bus and have to walk home, but I think it beats Raunds.
Well Kitty Dear, I am enclosing a card, we don’t have our letters censored now.
So Good Night, With Best Love, FW, xxxxxx
* The next letter was sent by the Matron at the Stationary Hospital to Fred’s mother (who had re-married) advising her of her son’s grave condition:
No.40 StationaryHospital, B.E.F., France February 9, 1919
Dear Mrs Hales,
I am sorry to say your son (Pte F White, 51208) is no better at all, and at the present time his condition is extremely grave. Everything possible is being done, but he has now developed “Bronchial Pneumonia”. I do trust to have better news for you shortly.
(Miss) M Preston, Matron, ?.G.I.M.N.S.R.
* Six days later, the Matron had the unenviable task of conveying the news of Fred’s death:
No.40 StationaryHospital, B.E.F., France February 15, 1919
Dear Mrs Hales,
I am so truly sorry to tell you that your son (51208 Pte F White – 4 Kings Liverpool Regt) died early this morning at five past three. He was quite unconscious and had been much too ill for some days past to realise anything much – for his breathing and cough were dreadful. He had been a patient with us since the 7th of the month.
He will be buried with full military honours in the cemetery at Le Havre – and whatever little personal belongings he may have will be forwarded to you through the usual channels.
You have my deep sympathy in your sorrow.
(Miss) M Preston, Matron, ?.G.I.M.N.S.R.
* Within days, letters of condolence began arriving in Raunds, some from local friends and others from Fred’s pals:
Private F Inglefield, 92020 No.5 Platoon, B Company 4th Battalion, K.L.R. B.E.F. France
Dear Mr & Mrs White,
I am writing on behalf of the Boy’s of No.5 Platoon, 4th Battalion, K.L.R., to express their deepest sympathy in your sad bereavement.
Fred is sadly missed by all of his comrades, being one of the most popular lads in the Battalion.
His funeral took place today, he being buried with Military Honours, the bearers and Firing Party consisting of all his comrades (No.5 Platoon).
Hoping you will excuse me taking the liberty of sending you this short letter of condolence.
I remain, Yours sincerely,
* The first page of a letter from his Platoon Corporal:
No.51216 Cpl G F Lambkin 5 Platoon B Coy. 4th K.L.R.
Dear Mrs White,
I am writing this letter to you to express my sincere regrets and sympathy to you in the death of your son, Frederick. He was my best chum, and I miss him very much. He was practically the best soldier in our platoon, and certainly the most popular.
We were chums when I was a private, and continued to be so until his death.
He was buried this afternoon with full military honours at a cemetery just outside Le Havre. I really expected him to be out of hospital after a few days as he was usually so healthy ……………
* A letter from a family friend:
20 Wood Street Wellingborough
Dear Mrs Hales,
I am writing these few lines to you to let you know how grieved we was to hear about Fred as it must be a bitter blow to you but I hope that God will give you strength to bear your trouble and that you will soon have your other son home with you.
Now I am writing to our Fred to let him know and am sure he will be cut up about him as they was such good pals.
With our deepest sympathy,
* A single page survives of a letter from Fred’s brother Roland to their mother:
………very rotten luck after going through the fighting, and I can assure you he went through some, he was in some very hot places. I was counting on us getting home together and I know he was by his letters, the last letter I got from him he said he was having a good time and could stick another 6 months.
Well Mother, don’t upset yourself anymore than you can help, don’t make yourself bad. Yes I bet Edna is upset just getting old enough to realise, different from Walter and Hilda. Look after them and see that they don’t get that damn rotten complaint.
I have spoken to the Adjutant about getting home on Special Leave, and he is going to do his best for me. If you have his photograph in the paper don’t have anything in about me, beyond what I am, and where I am serving, don’t have a page full giving all particulars like some of them do.
There is one consolation Mother, he would have a good funeral and maybe a good gravestone which his battalion may provide, if not we will see what we can do. One of our Sgts died a week ago and all the Sgts put so much each, and bought two wreaths and we are getting him a stone with the money we have left, ……………
* A week after the letter from the Matron at the Stationary Hospital arrived, Fred’s commanding officer sent the formal “Dear Madame, I much regret …” letter:
I much regret to have to inform you that your son, No.51208 Pte White F, died from Pneumonia at 3.50am on the 15/2/19 at No.40 Stationary Hospital.
He was buried with Military Honours on the 18th inst in Saint Marie Cimetiere at SANVIC near HAVRE, his platoon officers and myself attended the funeral.
Your son had been in my company for several months and was one of the best men in his platoon, as a Lewis Gunner he had done some remarkably fine work during the last stages of the war.
His death after coming through so many dangers is deplorable. Everything that was possible was done for your son when he was in hospital, but without avail and he passed peacefully away at 3.50am on the morning of the 15th inst. His death is keenly felt by the N.C.O.s and men of his platoon.
Please accept from us all our deepest sympathy in this your great loss.
F C Agar, Capt, 4th Bn, The Kings
* On 1 March 1919, the matron from the No.40 Stationary Hospital wrote to Fred’s mother for the third and final time:
No.40 StationaryHospital, B.E.F., France March 1st, 1919
Dear Mrs Hales,
I am sorry I have nothing further to tell you than what I wrote to you on the 15th Feb. Your boy was committed as a patient on the 7th and he died on the 15th and he was very very ill all the time suffering from this deadly “Bronchio Pneumonia” following “Influenza”.
His personal effects were sent to whose ever name was on his papers as next-of-kin. If your name was given on these papers you will receive his little personal belongings in due course of time. They are sent officially and have to go through the usual channels before they would reach you.
I am sorry for your great loss,
(Miss) M Preston, Matron, ?.G.I.M.N.S.R.
* The last letter in the collection is from another Army pal who Fred had first met during his military training:
27/4/19 Sig W Wain, 269600 1/8 K.L.R., 233 P.O.W. Coy B.E.F., France
Dear Mrs Hails,
I have just been informed of Fred being dead and I am very sorry to hear it as he was an old pal of mine in Pembroke Dock and in Cork, but we were separated owing to me being a territorial and hope that you will accept my sympathies and if you have a photograph of him I will be very much obliged if you would send me one for old times sake.
Well I hope you will excuse me for taking the privilege of writing, I must close now.
Yours, Will Wain
* The final item we include is not a personal letter but a “Special Order of the Day” also found amongst Fred’s personal belongings:
55th (West Lancashire) Division
SPECIAL ORDER OF THE DAY
In the Field, 3rd January, 1919.
Soldiers of the 55th Division,
Today is the third anniversary of the formation of your Division in France. With the exception of short periods of rest amounting to about four months in all, the Division has been in active daily touch with the enemy throughout these last three years, until the conclusion of the Armistice. During the whole of that time it has been my great privilege to command it. So today I want to give a message to every soldier, of all ranks, now with the Division, and through them to everyone of the sixty thousand who have served in it, and are still living.
Many, I am glad to say, who saw the formation of the Division are with us now, but very many more, who were serving then in the Division or who have served since, are not. There are some still suffering from wounds, and some whose graves we have left on hard-fought fields and behind grim trench-lines where they faced the enemy with such splendid courage and determination. They are not forgotten.
The Battles of the SOMME, YPRES, CAMBRAI and GIVENCHY-FESTUBERT took heavy toll of the Division, and the long wearisome trench warfare was not less costly. But every battle, and all the days of trench fighting, showed more and more clearly as time went on the stuff of which the Division was made, and enabled it to establish and maintain the proud reputation which now belongs to it.
We have gone through hard and anxious times together. Yet, however dim and far-off ultimate victory seemed, you never faltered or lost heart; you showed the same stubbornness in defence as you have shown boldness in attack. There was a time when things seemed almost desperate; when we were forced by weight of numbers to await day after day fierce attack by a confident and relentless enemy. You knew how things were; knew that, as the Field Marshall Commanding-in-Chief said in his Order of the Day, you stood with your backs to the wall; but this knowledge only added to your dogged determination, - and you won through. The glorious victory you gained in the fighting from the 9th to the 16th April 1918, when, outnumbered and with your flank turned, you withstood for days, without yielding ground, a series of violent attacks by an enemy already flushed with success, and, taking advantage of every opportunity for the offensive, inflicted on him the severest losses, was the first bright spot after many dark days. You may fairly claim to have left on him a mark that he carried to the end, and to have done your full share towards his ultimate destruction. It is believed that the front held by the Division was the only piece of the Allied Front, which, being attacked in force during the German offensive of 1918, was held to the end inviolate.
All commanders and staffs, all arms and services, and all ranks, have played their part equally loyally. I want to thank you all for what you have done, to tell you how highly I value the support and trust you have always given me, and how intensely proud I am to have commanded such a Division in such a war.
What has stood us in the greatest stead throughout has been the magnificent spirit of comradeship that has run all through the Division, so that everyone has played up, not for himself, but with complete unselfishness for the good of the side, and with complete trust in his comrades. Such comradeship is the foundation and essence of true discipline.
Another great asset has been the unfailing cheerfulness with which dangers and hardships have been faced. I have never found a man of this Division who had not a smile ready, even in the blackest times.
Courage, determination, endurance, cheerfulness, unselfishness, these are the virtues that have pulled you through, and brought us victory at last.
Peace, we believe, will now soon be firmly established, and then we shall all be scattered. But wherever we go I hope we shall all still feel that we belong to the 55th Division, and shall retain the spirit that has made it what it is. You all know of the 55th Division Comrades Association which has been formed. Its object is to keep up in peace the spirit of comradeship which has bound us together in face of the enemy, and to enable us to stand by each other in the future as we have in the past. I hope you will all join it.
As, owing to the manner in which demobilization is to be carried out, I may not have another opportunity, I wish everyone now in the Division, or who has been in it, success and happiness in whatever he may undertake.
H. S. JEUDWINE Major General COMMANDING 55TH (WEST LANCASHIRE) DIVISION