Jim White: Second World War veteran who took the Germans’ message of surrender
Monday 21 June 2010
Jim White was one of the last Second World War veterans living to have witnessed the German surrender on Lüneburg Heath.
Admiral von Friedeburg signed the surrender document on the orders of Admiral Dönitz, the Reich President after the death of Hitler. White was on duty when he received a message from Dönitz's staff that the Germans were prepared to surrender, with certain conditions. White was, however, instructed to send a message back that only an unconditional surrender would be acceptable. He then received the message from the Germans agreeing to an unconditional surrender, and was therefore one of the first members of the Allied Army to know that the war with Germany was over.
At an earlier point during the War, during the Battle of Arnhem, Montgomery's headquarters were positioned south of the Rhine, and White was instructed to contact the paratroopers north of the river. He moved up nearer the action and spent three nights in a ditch just south of the river to try to contact the troops to the north of it.
Unfortunately, unbeknown to White, the Arnhem paratroopers were using a different radio wavelength. The battle resulted in many casualties because the troops were cut off behind enemy lines, without communications, and the Allied troops could not get through to relieve them.
Jim White was born Francis James Frederick in March 1921. After his schooling at Edmonton County School he initially worked on the Stock Exchange; he joined the Stock Exchange Cadets and then progressed to the Territorial Army. He was at TA camp in August/September 1939 just as the War broke out, so as a reservist he was immediately called up.
With his interest in electronics he transferred to the Royal Corps of Signals and was subsequently promoted to the rank of sergeant. He was on the staff at General Montgomery's 21st Army Group headquarters from the Normandy landings right up to the surrender of the Germans on Lüne-burg Heath.
White used to go to reunion dinners, initially with Montgomery, and then later with Montgomery's son, David. After the signing of the surrender an inscribed oak door panel was erected on a concrete plinth to temporarily record the position of the event. There was a 60th anniversary celebration of the signing of the surrender in 2005, which White attended.
When it was announced in the speeches that the surrender was signed on a particular spot, White corrected them and pointed out where the real site was, in the woods. The gathering moved into the woods and they discovered the concrete base that marked the real spot. The permanent plaque had therefore been positioned in the wrong place. Later that day, White attended a civic reception in the town of Lüneburg where he was joint guest-of-honour with David Montgomery and Admiral von Friedeburg's son.
On returning to England White built up a successful electrical contracting business in north London. His delight in travel led him to become a member of the Caravan Club, and he was later chairman of the North London Branch.
James White, Second World War veteran and businessman: born London 21 March 1921; married Freda (deceased; two sons, one daughter); died London 14 March 2010.
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