John White pictured on the left.John Joseph White
John White pictured in the centre.John Joseph White
John White (second from right) with comrades.John Joseph White
John White pictured on the right, 1943.John Joseph White
My Big Brother, poem by Mr. John White.John Joseph White
"And as soon as I saw him, I knew he was a friend of my brother’s. And he told me that my brother was dead and a lot of the other guys were dead. We were hit by American aircraft. They’d made a mistake."
The first place that I saw action was in France. I couldn’t tell you the exact spot; that’s where the sergeant major was killed that morning. And they took me out to, there was a grove of trees and in that grove of trees was a Jeep. And I had never driven a Jeep or anything like that, had anything to do with it. But anyway, I built a commando course and everything else when I was over there in Quebec, and I was training people all the time. But I didn’t know when I moved in there. So anyway, I had no experience with the Jeeps or anything, vehicles.
And they told me, “Now, you put your foot on this and you pull on that and this happens. You put your other foot on this and pull on this and this happens. So when it turns dark tonight, when it turns dark, you come out and you get in that Jeep and you bring it out of there and you go down that road a couple of miles.” And it’s all bush, it was all forest like. “And in there, there are men cooking food for the gun crews that are out there firing.”
And so I had to go down that night, I didn’t know any place, didn’t know where I was or anything else. And I had this chap, he had a flashlight with a hood on it and he was just flashing so it touched the ground and I was following it out. And I almost backed over him, and then I backed over a row of ammunition of 100 pounds shells, high explosive, I backed right over the whole pile of them. And nothing happened.
And I got down that road and I finally, I must have found them, and I got the food and everything, and I went and found the gun crews, but I don’t think there was too much food left in the containers by the time I got there. Everything was so rough and stuff like that. I know one day [August 8, 1944] I was taking a survey sergeant and a survey officer, 4:00 in the morning, we were going to reconnoiter a new position for the guns. And I was going down this road and it was 4:00 in the morning. Pitch black anyway. Mud, just mud and mud and mud. And all of a sudden, I run up on something and we couldn’t move. And as soon as we were up on that thing and couldn’t move, all we could hear was tanks, big engines on the tanks, armoured division. And we figured right away that’s a German Armoured Division coming.
But I don’t know how we get it, whoever it was that was coming, we made a noise or a flash of light or something. But anyway, it was a Polish Army tank regiment. And it just shows you how small the world is. Now, these guys had been Prisoners of War [many had been interned in Siberian labour camps following the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland] and they escaped over to England and they set up an armoured division for them. [The 1st Polish Armoured Division was established in Duns, Scotland in 1942].
And one day, I had a bypass at the hospital and the surgeon did my operation and everything, him and I were just talking. And I told him about this and he said, “You know, my dad, he was a Prisoner of War and he escaped over to England and he got into this armoured division.” But he said, “He never did nothing that I know of.” Well, I said, “He might have been the guy that pulled us out of there.” Because what happened was, there were all hydro poles along there in France, and they were all cement, great big high cement poles. And this one had knocked, been blown down and it was laying right across the road and the mud was piled up. And of course, at 4:00 in the morning, and you can’t go down there with a lot of lights on, and I run right up on it. So I said, “You know, that might have been your dad.”
A couple of weeks before D-Day [the Allied Normandy landings of June 6, 1944], my older brother, Jim, who had come to me, and he had papers all made out for me to sign so that I could be in the 7th Medium [Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery] with him. And I refused because I didn’t want him having the responsibility of me on him. So when I joined the regiment in France, the first morning, the sergeant major was killed, and I had to take his place to deliver the food and everything at night in the dark, to the gun crews that were firing on the enemy. And so a short while later, we were going down this road out of the city of Caen, C-a-e-n, and I looked down and I could see about a mile down the road, I would say it was that long, these planes coming in and I knew we were going to be hit. And I was watching them go down and then I saw this dispatch rider, a motorcycle rider, coming down the road, flying. And I run out and stop him. And as soon as I saw him, I knew he was a friend of my brother’s. And he told me that my brother was dead and a lot of the other guys were dead. We were hit by American aircraft. They’d made a mistake.
And I went back down the road the next morning and I found him buried along the road. And I took a picture and sent it home. And I was then let go for two weeks out of the action, and I went to Ireland for two weeks. And that was, I hadn’t been there since I was four and a half years old. So I didn’t know where I was. But I was walking down the street and I heard a noise, so I said, I’ll follow the noise. When I got to the noise, it was a big giant of a man with a big white handlebar moustache hanging down over his chin and he was putting a steel rim on a wagon wheel. And I said, “Pardon me, sir.” And he straightened up like this and he looked down and he said, “Oh my God, you’re Jim White’s boy.” He was a buddy of my dad’s before we left Ireland and he points a big hammer across the street, he said, “You see that door? That’s where you’re going, that’s your aunt’s house.” And I stayed with them for two weeks and I had to go back to France.
And the day we went back, we were crossing the Seine [River], on barges and when we landed on the shore, there was dead Germans all over. And we had to move them, we had to bury them, because it was hot in August . And so I was given the job for that. And what they did, they just gave us a, what we called a local map I guess. And we took their dog tag numbers down and we marked them on there. And then we dug holes and buried them.
And I don’t know, I doubt whether they ever found a lot of them because of the way things were. And so that went on, and then after that, it was just, we kept moving and moving to France, Belgium and Holland. And one day in Holland, I was sitting and I saw a piece of paper. And I picked it up and I started to write. And I wrote this poem and I was thinking about a little girl by the name of Jeanette Gadfield. And we went to school together and everything too, you see. And I said this:
It seemed so long ago since first I met you there,
With the laughter dancing in your eyes and sunlight in your hair.
It was springtime in the month of May,
The songs of birds heard bright and gay,
As hand in hand we strolled along,
The world all ours, our hearts a’song.
Oh, those happy days of childhood ways had vanished like sunset’s golden rays,
Had filtered away to timeless days.
When young and happy with sunburn red,
We’d swim and pick shells from the river’s bed.
Oh, those were the days in the happy sunshine,
When your lovely dark eyes would look into mine.
On the banks we would sit each day of the week,
My heart full of words that my tongue could not speak.
It was love at first sight, the day that we met,
And to all that’s since happened, how can we forget,
The days that are gone, our hearts full of joy,
When you were a girl and I was a boy.