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White, Alexander Henry (1882–1915)

by Peter Burness

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Alexander Henry White (1882-1915), army officer and maltster, was born on 9 May 1882 at Ballarat, Victoria, fifth child of Alexander White, a maltster from Scotland, and his English wife Eliza, née Collison. Educated by a private tutor and at Grenville College, Ballarat, Alexander followed his father and brother into the malting business, joining Wendouree Malt House. He became a citizen-soldier in 1899: his 'whole heart and soul was in his military work from the time he joined the old (Victorian) Mounted Rifles in Ballarat after leaving school'. Commissioned in March 1904, he gained steady promotion and by 1914 was brigade major in the 5th Light Horse Brigade. On 22 October 1913 he had married Myrtle Louise Glasson at St Peter's Anglican Church, Ballarat.

Transferring to the Australian Imperial Force on 21 September 1914, White was given command of the 8th Light Horse Regiment. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 1 January 1915, eight weeks before the regiment embarked for Egypt as part of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. The unit landed at Gallipoli on 21 May to be employed as infantry. White was wounded in action on 27 June, but resumed command on 4 July.

At 4.30 a.m. on 7 August 1915 the 3rd Light Horse Brigade mounted a bayonet assault on the Turkish trenches at The Nek. Seven minutes earlier, due to an error, the preliminary bombardment had ceased, allowing the enemy to prepare for the attack. White led the first of his regiment's two waves, but was shot down a short distance from his trench. Of the 300 officers and soldiers under his command, 153 died with him and 80 were wounded within minutes. The charge has endured as one of the best-known episodes of the Gallipoli Peninsula campaign: it was the subject of a painting by George Lambert and the setting for the finale in the 1981 Australian film, Gallipoli.

Charles Bean criticized White for leading the charge instead of remaining to supervise the operation; had he stayed behind he might have lent support to Lieutenant-Colonel N. M. Brazier, the commanding officer of the accompanying 10th Light Horse Regiment, in his appeals to Lieutenant-Colonel John Antill, brigade major of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, to halt the third and fourth waves of the assault. A sensitive man and a conscientious, brave and respected officer, White was mentioned in dispatches for his bold action. His wife survived him, as did their only son, Alexander John Middleton, who joined the Australian Army Medical Corps during World War II and was made a prisoner of war by the Japanese in 1942.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vol 2 (Syd, 1924)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1918 (Syd, 1942)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8 Oct 1915
  • records (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter Burness, 'White, Alexander Henry (1882–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/white-alexander-henry-9068/text15981, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 19 January 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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