Henry Stewartson White (Service No. 22028)
(1896 - 1968)
Henry Stewartson White was born in Laverton in January 1896 to parents Henry Stewartson White Snr and Ursula Catherine White nee Tulloch. As was sometimes tradition Henry named after his father and in fact so to was Henry Jnr’s son. The White’s had been earlier residents of Laverton living and working in the area between the early 1890’s and 1900’s as a wood merchant/carrier. Following a short period in Newport the family then moved to the eastern suburbs of Cheltenham and then Brighton where Henry established his wood merchant business.
Henry’s name does not appear on the Laverton honor board nor does it appear in the Werribee Shire Banner Roll of Honor but as he was born in Laverton then like others he deserves to be included here.
Henry Jnr was 19 years and 11 months old when he enlisted into the AIF in early January 1916 which would have been very close to his birthday by the time he actual commenced his training. He had also some previous military training having spent 2 years in the Citizens Military Force. At the time he enlisted Henry was single and employed as a carpenter and living with his parents in Brighton. Henry was two years older than his brother Arthur who enlisted 9 months later in 1916.
The 8th Field Artillery Brigade, 3rd Division Artillery in action in the open near Vaux-sur-Somme, on the morning of 29 March 1918. (Courtesy: awm.gov.au/collection/C1181)
At the completion of his training Henry was assigned to the 107 Battery 23rd Howitzer Brigade as a gunner. The unit embarked from Melbourne on 20 May 1916 aboard HMAT A7 Medic bound for England. They arrived in England in July 1916 undertaking further training prior to transferring to the Western Front in France in December 1916 which would have been their first taste of action. The bitter winter temperature and conditions would have been for some unlike anything they would have experienced in Australia.
Henry and his unit first saw action in the Battle of Messines which was launched on 7 June 1917. The Messine offensive was designed to force the German enemy to withdraw from the main battlefront of Vimy – Arras. The battle demonstrated tactical success through careful planning and overwhelming firepower. The primary objective was the strategically important Wyschaete-Messines Ridge the high ground south of Ypres. The Germans used this ridge as a salient into the British lines building their defence along its 10-mile length. Winning this ground was essential for the Allies to launch a larger campaign planned for east of Ypres. During the fighting Henry was wounded suffering burns to his face and hands and was evacuated back to England to receive treatment. Like so many others during WWI within two months was back with his unit at the front and in the thick of action.
When he transferred back to France Henry was assigned to the 8th Field Artillery Brigade just prior to the unit being involved in its second major action being the Battle of Polygon Wood and then Broodseinde and followed by the third battle of Passchendaele. The Battle of Polygon Wood took place from 26 September to 3 October 1917 in the area from the Menin Road to Polygon Wood and thence north to the area beyond St Julien. Much of the woodland had been destroyed by the huge quantity of shellfire from both sides since July of that year and the area had changed hands several times. The aim was to push the Germans further back and gain the advantage of higher ground. While the fighting was only over a period of less than three weeks heavy casualties were experienced on both sides.
The 8th was next involved in fighting around Avre and Villers-Bretonneux and was the start of the German ‘Spring Offensive’ in April 1918. Again, Henry and his unit were in the thick of it in an action by the Germans to take back what they had lost the previous year however the British and Australian troops held strong in what was two days of relentless and fierce fighting. It was during this time that Henry took ill with trench fever and was evacuated back to England. He rejoined the unit in June 1918 in time to see further action at Amiens Mont St Quentin and the Hindenburg Line.
Following the signing of the armistice in November 1918 Henry and the 8th Field Artillery Brigade were transferred back to England and given leave. The embarked from England on 8 September 1919 aboard HT Raranga arriving in Melbourne 27 October 1919. Like his brother Arthur, Henry returned home to the family and to his trade as a carpenter. In 1921 Henry married Vera May Dawborn and the couple settled near family within the Brighton area. They later moved to Caulfield and then settled in Seaford where the couple eventually retired. In 1968 Henry Stewartson White passed away at the age of 73 and his cremated remains were scattered.