Frank White Obituary
FRANCIS ALBERT WHITE (FRANK)
1919 – 2011
Thanksgiving and Celebration of the life of Frank White Link here to Order of Service Frank White.
Frank White, who apart from his war service, lived in Appleton for all of his life, has died in Abingdon hospital aged 92.
Frank was the fourth generation head of Whites of Appleton, the oldest continuously trading Bell Hanging Company in the United Kingdom. The firm was founded in 1824 by Alfred White, Frank’s great grandfather. Alfred was innkeeper at ‘The Greyhound’, Besselsleigh, where he also ran a bakery, the village shop and a forge. It was here that he carried out his first work on bells and many oak bell frames were constructed in the yard at the rear of the Inn. He moved from the Greyhound to the Three Horseshoes at Appleton circa 1880 and to a newly built forge and workshop in the centre of the village (now Advanced Electrical Systems).
Frank was born in June 1919 and quickly acquired the nickname ‘Dickie Frank’ to distinguish him from the many other ‘Franks’ around in the huge White family at that time. He was born in the cottage next to Pond Farm. From there the family moved to the Church Cottages on Eaton Road where he was brought up with brothers Billy, Ralph and Eric and sister Phyllis. The family moved to a new house at 68 Eaton Road in the 1930’s.
Frank went to Appleton School and left aged 14 to join his father Richard in the business. He worked there for the whole of his working life except for a short time in his teens, when work was short and he had a spell at Hill’s Nurseries.
During the course of his career as a bell hanger Frank worked on bells in towers from Yorkshire to Cornwall. He also looked after all the college and cathedral bells in Oxford.
Older members of Appleton’s community will remember the days when Frank worked at the forge and anvil, beating white hot metal into shape as bell frame accessories and fittings were made or repaired. As well as a blacksmith he was an expert wheelwright, an essential attribute of the bell hanger’s trade.
Frank retired in 1989 and the business was taken over by his business partner and nephew Brian. Although retired he continued to visit the workshop opposite his home as afternoon tea boy and cake taster for as long as he was able to make the journey.
Bells were his life’s passion. He was a regular ringer at the cathedral in Oxford. He would cycle there to ring on a Sunday morning with Brian, then to Cumnor to ring and finally to Appleton for ringing and church.
Frank was called up to army service on September 9th 1940 when he was 21. After initial training he was assigned to the East Surrey regiment in Kingston on Thames in London where the London lads called him ‘swede basher’ because of his thick Berkshire accent (Appleton was part of Berkshire then).
In October 1942, Frank and his regiment left Scotland bound for North Africa and they landed in Algiers in November. Twenty five miles from Tunis they were strafed by German fighters. Frank was in a slit trench on a Bren gun being mortared and bombed. His two comrades and friends were killed and he was captured. His family thought that he also had been killed.
For the next two and a half years Frank was a prisoner of war and experienced unspeakable suffering and hardship at the hands of first the Italians and then the Germans. He was eventually liberated by the Americans in 1945 and demobbed in July 1946.
He arrived home for six weeks leave on the Sunday before VE day. That evening he went to ring his beloved bells. Frank’s war was over.
He was a member of the White family hand bell band for many years and rang church bells from the age of 12 into his eighties, until severe arthritis in his hands and legs made ringing impossible. He was a lifetime member of The Ancient Society of College Youths, The Oxford Society and The Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell ringers.
He was the centre of attraction at the annual Appleton Society March 4th dinner where his speeches and tales were legendary.
He loved the church and his faith was simple but very strong. As a servant of the church at Appleton he was a church warden for many years, mowed the churchyard and stoked the fires in the days before modern heating.
There are many stories about Frank which would fill any website. This is one of my favourites!
Frank and Brian had to regularly oil the bells in Oxford in the days when bells were hung on plain bearings. On one particular occasion, because Frank has mislaid his oil can, he filled an empty quarter bottle of whiskey with veterinary castor oil – which was used to oil the plain bearings. He and Brian went their separate ways. Frank’s first oiling job was at St Ebbe’s church where he arrived carrying his whiskey bottle of oil. An elderly lady in the church, seeing the whiskey bottle, assumed that he was a vagrant and called the police. Frank was arrested!
Later, Brian could not understand why Frank had not turned up at their agreed meeting place. He eventually arrived, hot and flustered and told his tale. Brian asked him how he managed to get released from arrest. Frank said ‘I made the copper taste the whiskey!!’
Frank White was the most loved and cherished man I have ever had the privilege to know. His death marks the end of an era. As well as his family; ringers and many, many friends all over the country will mourn his passing.