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John George Glyn White (1909–1987)

by David F. Elder

This article was published:

John George Glyn White (1909-1987), physician and army officer, was born on 9 April 1909 at Drummond North, near Kyneton, Victoria, second of three children of Victorian-born parents John White, schoolteacher, and his wife Salome, née Williams. Glyn attended Melbourne High School and Scotch College, and in 1929 entered the faculty of medicine, University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1935). In 1929 he also enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces and joined the 3rd Cavalry Field Ambulance. To help pay his way through university he worked on the wharves. Small, slim and wiry, and with boundless energy, in the army he was known as ‘Splinter’ White. He was shrewd, uncompromising and often quick-tempered, and at the same time generous, considerate and soft-hearted. Becoming sergeant major of the unit, on graduation he was commissioned as a captain. He was appointed medical officer at St Vincent’s Hospital in 1936. On 20 April 1938 at the Camberwell Methodist Church he married Amy Hester Betheras. They travelled to Britain so that White could undertake postgraduate study, but returned when war appeared imminent.

In June 1940 White transferred to the Australian Imperial Force with the rank of major, and was appointed deputy assistant director of medical services, 8th Division, under Colonel Alfred Derham. He was sent to Malaya in January 1941 to prepare medical services for the first AIF troops who were to arrive in Singapore soon after. Derham followed in April and he and White formed an impressive team. In September 1941 White was promoted to lieutenant colonel. At the capitulation of Singapore on 15 February 1942 he was stationed with the 2/9th and 2/10th Field ambulances, running a makeshift hospital in St Andrew’s Church of England Cathedral.

White reported the next day to Malaya Command Headquarters and was appointed by the commander of the British medical services to carry out the Japanese orders to evacuate the British and Australian wounded from the various Singapore hospitals to Changi prison and the Indians to Bidadari Island. The chief Japanese medical officer, Colonel Sekiguchi, gave him a week in which to do so and said he could use five ambulances. White told him that it would be impossible to move 12,000 patients in that time and asked for more vehicles. Sekiguchi agreed that if he could assemble them he would consider the matter. Next morning White had lined up twenty 3-ton trucks, fifty-five ambulances and a car for himself. To his surprise he was given passes for all of them. Despite firm orders that only 250 hospital beds could be taken, and no medical equipment or supplies at all, some 4500 beds and 7000 mattresses were transported with stores of medical necessities concealed underneath. Sekiguchi having moved on, White successfully bluffed his replacement into accepting that he had been given a week to move each of the British, Australian and Indian contingents.

With the removal in August 1942 to Manchuria of the higher ranks, including Derham, White was appointed assistant director of medical services. He fearlessly stood up to the Japanese captors, and sometimes persuaded them to compromise. In the tense days leading up to the Japanese surrender in August 1945, he again showed courage and tact. He was appointed OBE in 1941 and was mentioned in despatches in May 1947.

Back in Melbourne, White specialised in neonatal paediatrics and in 1948 became a medical officer at the new cerebral palsy clinic at the (Royal) Children’s Hospital. In 1951 he was appointed to the paediatric staff of the (Royal) Women’s Hospital, where he was an honorary paediatric physician (1960-69). He also conducted a busy private practice; he was ‘Uncle Glyn’ to a vast number of young children (and their mothers). In 1960 he was appointed CBE. Retaining his connections with the army, he was appointed a lieutenant colonel in the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps, CMF, in 1948, promoted to colonel in April 1950 and became deputy director of medical services, Southern Command. He was placed on the Retired List in 1967 with the rank of brigadier. He was chairman of the National Blood Transfusion Committee, Australian Red Cross Society (1969-76). White was named a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (1973) and of the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (1987). Survived by his wife and their daughter and son, he died on 2 November 1987 at East Melbourne and was buried in Springvale cemetery.


Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Walker, Middle East and Far East (1953)
  • L. Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust (1957)
  • Royal A’asian College of Physicians, The Long Days of Slavery (1966) and Roll of the RACP, vol 2 (1994)
  • R. Likeman, Men of the Ninth (2003)
  • M. Tyquin, Little by Little (2003)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 21 Sept 1946, p 401, 3 Oct 1988, p 380
  • Chiron, vol 2 no 1, 1988, p 58
  • address by White, Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne, 9 Nov 1982 (copy held on ADB file)
  • personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David F. Elder, 'White, John George Glyn (1909–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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