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White, Harold Fletcher (Bill) (1883–1971)

by Bruce Mitchell

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

Harold Fletcher White (1883-1971), grazier and soldier, was born on 13 June 1883 at Saumarez, near Armidale, New South Wales, son of Francis John White, grazier, and his wife Margaret, née Fletcher, both native-born. Francis John (1855-1935) was a son of Francis White, and a nephew of James White and of Frederick Robert White (1835-1903) of Booloominbah.

In 1894 Harold belonged to the first group of pupils at the New England Proprietary School (later The Armidale School); he proceeded to the University of Sydney where he studied arts and engineering for two years, and worked with Pitt, Son & Badgery Ltd. In 1906 he returned to manage some of his family's New England properties at Guyra and lived on his selection at Ward's Mistake. On 19 October 1911 at St Peter's Anglican Cathedral, Armidale, he married Evelyn Augusta Bigg Curtis; they made their home on Bald Blair station, near Guyra.

Known by his friends as 'Bill', in 1906 he had joined the 6th Light Horse, Australian Military Forces, and in April 1914 was promoted captain in the 5th Light Horse. In March 1916 he was appointed to the Australian Imperial Force as a captain in the 33rd Battalion; he was promoted major on 1 May and embarked three days later as officer commanding 'D' Company. The 33rd Battalion reached France in November and went into the line at Armentières. White was wounded on 8 February 1917 and was out of the unit until 11 April. Within days of learning of the death of his infant son whom he had never seen, White was engaged in action at Messines, Belgium, on 6-10 June and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The citation spoke of 'his utter disregard of personal danger, his indomitable will and his tireless energy' during his ninety-six hours in the front line.

Having attended the officers' school at Aldershot, England, from January to March 1918, White was promoted lieutenant-colonel in April; he commanded the 36th Battalion until June and then the 35th for the rest of the war. He led the 35th in action south of the Somme in August at Mont St Quentin and in September in operations against the Hindenburg line. Between 1917 and 1919 he was thrice mentioned in dispatches, received the French Croix de Guerre and was appointed C.M.G. White's reputation with his men was that of a hard but fair man. He was intense, serious and lacked a sense of humour. After embarking in April 1919 to return to Australia, he received further promotions in the A.M.F. in 1920 and 1921, and in 1926 was placed on the reserve of officers as a lieutenant-colonel.

White returned to Bald Blair and continued the pasture and stock improvements which he had commenced before the war; he also concentrated on improving his family's Aberdeen Angus stock and from 1924 began to exhibit and win prizes at the Royal Easter Show, Sydney. In 1926 34,000 acres (13,759 ha) of the F. J. White Bald Blair estate was sold to promote closer settlement and White concentrated on improving his property of 5200 acres (2104 ha). By the 1950s he had changed a swampy and useless place into a prosperous farm.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s White had been prominent in local and regional affairs. He was a councillor for the Guyra shire in 1911-29, vice-president of the Northern New State Movement in 1922 and a supporter of the Country Party. Like many ex-officers, he showed alarm at post-war political trends and took part in the Old Guard movement. He had no time for the New Guard. In September 1932 he was nominated to the Legislative Council: he did not like politicians, did not speak in the House and retired in April 1934 when the council was reconstituted.

White backed the regional economic and educational innovations of the 1930s and 1940s: he was a director of the New England and North-West Producers Co. Ltd and was active in the movement to obtain wool-selling facilities at Newcastle; he was also a director of Armidale Newspapers Ltd. He sat on the council of The Armidale School and supported the campaign for a university college at Armidale; a member of the Advisory Council of New England University College in 1938-53, he was a council-member of the university in 1954. Survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, he died on 20 February 1971 at Armidale and was buried at Guyra with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • Armidale Express, 18 Oct 1961
  • Northern Daily Leader, 23 Feb 1971
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Feb 1971
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Bruce Mitchell, 'White, Harold Fletcher (Bill) (1883–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/white-harold-fletcher-bill-9073/text15993, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 21 November 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 12

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