Eric White: 1921 to 2012

TRIBUTE TO ERIC WHITE

12th September 1921 - 22nd May 2012

Written and delivered by Roger Mitty at Eric White's Funeral & Thanksgiving Service

held in St Laurence Church, Appleton on Wednesday 6th June, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew Motion the poet laureate said “Eulogies are for everyone. They are a reminder that each of us leads a life of special interest and value and that each of us is unique”

 

For me, this eulogy is an opportunity to remember and celebrate Eric’s life. I hope to bring him to life in your minds as we say farewell. Eric was a very special person. As I have remembered him and spoken to family and friends in the days since he left, it has become clear that he was deeply loved and respected by everyone who knew him.

 

The Beginning

 

Eric was born in Appleton in what we now know as the church cottages, on 12th September 1921. He was the youngest of the crew with three older brothers and a sister.

 

Eric went to Appleton School and would have been the first to admit that he did not distinguish himself academically. But Eric was by no means daft. In those days corporal punishment for naughty boys was common. The headmaster would send the boy due for a whacking to the woods to cut a stick for use in his punishment. When Eric was inevitably sent on this errand he had the quick wit to cut a notch in the stick so that when the first blow was delivered the stick broke rendering it useless.

 

As the son of a well known bell hanger you might have thought that he would follow in his father’s footsteps but his mother had other ideas! She said “there are enough Whites bell hanging – you will have a different trade!” So in 1936 when Eric was 15 she personally arranged a bricklayer’s apprenticeship for him at Kingerlee. Apart from a short time as a subcontractor he was to work at Kingerlee until his retirement in 1986.

 

Sport

 

Sport always played a very important part in the whole of Eric’s life. He was an accomplished cricketer and played in Kingerlee’s team and for Appleton where in those days cricket matches against Cumnor were akin to war.

 

On the football field, he played for both Appleton and Longworth. He has been described to me as one of the finest players in the North Berks league at the time. The view was that he could have turned professional given the right opportunity. He also had a reputation as a, shall we say, very robust centre half who was so difficult to get round that they nicknamed him ‘The Tank’

He was an avid supporter of Oxford United, a season ticket holder and Steward on coaches to away games. He was never happier than swapping football and cricket stories with Colin and regaling me with his ‘on field’ experiences whenever he had the opportunity.

 

Nickames

 

Appleton is well known for its use of nicknames. They didn’t believe in calling people by their given names. Eric was no exception. Topper and Tank were two of his nicknames but the most precious nickname of all was to come later when his grandchildren were born.

 

The War

 

Eric was 18 when war broke out. His experiences of war left a profound impression on him for the rest of his life.

 

He was called up in 1941, at the age of 20. Young men like Eric who were called up were then subjected to intensive arms and battle drill training in preparation for possible action

Just after Christmas 1942 he was attached to the 11th Army division. Their orders were to join the first Army in North Africa. Eric’s real war was about to begin!

 

Eric saw his first action in the Tunisia campaign against Rommel’s 91st armoured division at the Kasserine Pass where the British lost 400 men in the first night of battle. They eventually achieved victory in spite of horrendous losses.

 

In May 1943 when the Germans surrendered, Eric was chosen to march in the victory parade in Tunis.

 

In all this time, since he left the UK, Eric had no leave or rest. Eric and his comrades were taken back to Algiers to train for the Salerno landings as part of the invasion of Italy.

 

He went down with malaria and spent some time in hospital before returning with his unit to Biserta for the assault on the Salerno beaches on 9th September 1943 just before his 22nd birthday.

 

There was very fierce fighting. Eric told me about Mountbatten urging the troops forward on the beaches saying “Not one more yard back lads – fight and die here” – and remember he was only 22 years old.

 

The German’s retreated over the river Volturno where there was what Eric described to me with tears in his eyes as a “bad battle where we lost so many” Also at this time a friend of Eric’s called Moseley was shot by a German sniper – an experience he never got over.

 

They crossed the Volturno clinging to a rope while being attacked by the Germans. It was, Eric said to me “a hell of a do!” - and you can hear him saying it just like that can’t you!

The next morning they met up with allied tanks that guided them through minefields on the advance. It later turned out that one of the tank commanders was Bernard Rose, who many years later moved to Appleton Manor with his family.

 

On Christmas night 1943, a comrade of Eric’s who was married was detailed to take ammunition to the front line machine guns. Eric, then a single man, immediately stepped forward and insisted on taking his place.

 

Eric saw action again at Monte Casino. Then, battle weary he was given a three day leave in Cairo where he met a man from his brother Frank’s regiment who told him that Frank was missing presumed dead.

 

It was a whole year later that he received a letter telling him that his brother Frank was a prisoner of war. For a whole year he had not known if Frank was dead or alive.

 

Romance in the Air.

 

When the war eventually ended and he returned home, his mate Les Herridge introduced Eric to his sister Betty at a dance in Appleton Village Hall in 1946. Betty loved dancing and the Brett's School of Dancing trained Eric soon swept her off her feet.

 

Much more dancing followed - at the Village Hall, Carfax Assembly Rooms and Oxford Town Hall.

A year on from that first meeting, Eric proposed to Betty on a bench in South Parks Road - she was 19, he was 25 - she said yes.

 

Eric & Betty's marriage was celebrated in Appleton on 12 April 1947, a marriage that was to last for 56 years.

 

After the wedding Betty who was still in the ATS returned to London leaving Eric in rented rooms in Kingston Bagpuize. He missed her so much that he wrote to her CO asking if she could come home. The CO promptly de-mobbed her and they moved to Southmoor.

 

Family Life

 

Soon it was time to start a family: Ian was born in 1948 and Hilary in 1951 The family moved to Dean Court in 1953 and their third child Richard was born. Sadly, Richard died at 16 months.

In 1956 the family moved to Drayton to a bungalow that Eric had built in his spare time.

 

Eric loved his work at Kingerlee. He was a good craftsman and setting out brickwork was his particular expertise. At Kingerlee, as a general foreman, he was involved in the building of much of the Pressed Steel works, parts of St Edward’s school, Botley School the officer’s mess and hangers at RAF Abingdon.

 

Eric was very well liked by the men he worked with because he was always “one of the boys”. Also, because he loved to talk about his war experiences, tea breaks sometimes lasted quite a bit longer than they should have!

 

One of the highest accolades that could be given to an Appleton chap of that era is how Eric was described to me recently by two of his contemporaries in those immortal words “He was a good old boy”. And believe me; it doesn’t get any better than that! Even in the senior ranks at Kingerlee, Eric was once described as “a very honourable man”.

 

As we all know, Eric was a great family man. As time passed Eric and Betty collected six grandchildren (Matthew, Daniel, Alan, Lizzy, Mark and Paul).

 

Allan couldn’t say Grampy and called Eric – ‘Bandin’ instead. Guess what? It stuck! So all the grandchildren plus the 8 Great Grandchildren (Nicola, Andrew, Jay-Lee, James, Bear, Amber-Sian, Louise and (to Eric’s delight Lizzy named her last son Eric after him) all called him ‘Bandin’

Finally in December last year Eric became a Great Great grandfather to Jonathan.

 

In 1981 Betty and Eric had moved back to her childhood home in Milway Lane.

 

Retirement

 

As Eric and Betty enjoyed retirement together there were two trips to Australia. According to Eric, it was not just to indulge his passion for cricket (even though by some incredible coincidence England were playing the Aussies there).

 

They traveled to Singapore, Hong Kong and Italy where Eric showed Betty the places where he had served during the war.

 

They also went on a special and favourite trip to the Canadian Rockies, which was their last holiday together. When Betty died I sat with Eric one evening and he said to me - ‘I couldn't have had a better partner - she was perfect'

 

And regrets? He had none - except that Betty suffered so much in the last years

Eric could sometimes do and say unpredictable things.

 

Neighbour Christine who was very kind and supportive, was somewhat startled when Eric came to share tea and cake and without a word took his teeth out and put them on the table before starting his tea.

 

Remembering

 

What does his close family especially remember about Eric?

 

I quote “He was a great Dad: He meant the world to us”

“He was always there, especially when we needed help. He was totally honest, utterly reliable, gentle and caring. He would do anything for anybody”

Eric was thoughtful and kind, gentle natured, uncomplicated and utterly dependable with a very strong faith.

 

He was a wonderful brother and brother-in-law. He spent many happy hours with sister Phyllis and brother-in-law Fred (often in the pub) and was very kind to them. He was constantly visiting brother Frank when he was ailing and took him to the Plough for as long as he was able.

 

He spent a lot of time with brother Ralph when he was poorly and then Ralph’s Kath after Ralph died.

 

It was an interesting experience to call at Frank’s for a cuppa when Eric was visiting him in later years. They had both become quite deaf and so couldn’t really hear one another very well. I would sit in the middle hearing separate versions of the same piece of news while each of them kept repeating what they hadn’t heard the other one say! It was a bit like a combination of a tennis match and the mad hatter’s tea party!

 

Eric’s family was, of course very supportive of him as his health failed. Hilary and Ian have especially mentioned Lizzy, Marie and also Colin and Angie who helped so much when Eric was ill and who have been their rock since Eric died. When Frank died last year it was a bitter blow for Eric to lose his last remaining brother and I believe that event marked the beginning of his final decline.

 

Many of Eric’s grandchildren and great grandchildren are here today. Perhaps a good way to think about Bandin as you miss him and say goodbye is this.

 

Since Bandin went earth has one gentle soul less and Heaven one angel more.

So we say farewell to this sweet natured thoughtful man.

We give back to you O Lord, Eric who bought so much to the lives of his family and friends.

Thank you Eric, from all of us who knew and loved you for wonderful memories. Those memories will echo in our hearts forever.

The peace is yours – the memories ours and we shall meet again.

 

Roger Mitty June 2012