Obituary: Professor H. P. White

Henry Patrick White, transport economist and railway historian: born Fort William, Inverness-shire 18 January 1920; Lecturer in Geography, Edinburgh University 1949-52; Senior Lecturer, University of West Africa 1952-63; Reader in Geography 1963-72, Salford College of Advanced Technology (later Salford University), Professor of Geography 1972-82; Editor, Railway & Canal Historical Society Journal 1990-93; Editor, Railways South East 1991-93; author of South Eastern Scotland 1951, Southern England (Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain) 1961, Greater London Regional History of Railways of Great Britain 1963, Forgotten Railways: South-East England 1971, Terrain Technology and Transport History 1971, Forgotten Railways 1986; married 1948 Jean Cooke (one son, two daughters); died Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire 21 February 1994.

WHEN he was a prisoner of war of the Japanese, H. P. White devised complicated railway journeys across the United Kingdom in his mind as he planted the paddy-fields with rice. Others recited Hamlet or hummed concertos to escape the grim reality around them, but for White nothing cheered the spirits like a railway journey. The precise routes of his mental trips we shall never now know, but in his diaries Pat White has left meticulously detailed logs of the thousands of trips he survived to enjoy.

White's interest in railways was with him from first to last. From pre-war employment on the Southern Railway to the eccentric and brilliant lecturer he later became; inspiring generations of students who went on to hold significant posts in public transport management.

White was the son of a diamond merchant from Northern Ireland and a schoolteacher from Kent. His father, who had been badly gassed during the First World War, died from pneumonia while Pat was very young, and his mother returned with him to Kent. After schooling in Sidcup, he took up a position as a booking clerk at Charlton Station, where he sold tickets to supporters of a football team for whom he would always hold a bizarre affection.

During the Second World War, he served with the Royal Artillery in the Far East until captured at the fall of Singapore. White seldom talked of his four-year incarceration, but when he did it was without self-pity: he once said that compared to those building the Burma railway, he and his fellow prisoners in Formosa were 'living in a holiday camp'.

Liberated by the Americans, he returned to England with two motivations, neither of them evident before - an urge to learn, and a growing religious belief. The vicar of his local church asked him to relate his wartime experiences, and he vowed he would do it only once. He never spoke of them publicly again. His interest in religious matters continued to grow; he later became a lay reader in the Church of England, a biblical scholar renowned in his parish for his inability to resist the temptation of making a joke from the pulpit.

Under the government education scheme for demobbed servicemen he enrolled at Queen Mary's College, London, to read Geography, where he gained the top First of his year. He followed this with an MA, and took a lecturing post at Edinburgh University.

By now married with a young family, he moved on, in 1952, to the University of West Africa, working in the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and teaching many of the men who later emerged as their country's leaders. Leaves were spent at the house in Hawkhurst, Kent, where he formed a great affection for a railway line later to emerge regularly in his writings: the branch between Paddock Wood and Hawkhurst.

In 1963 White took a post as a tutor attached to the Arts Department at the College of Advanced Technology in Salford, soon to become one of the new generation of universities. Over the next 20 years he established a geography department of some 20 staff, a leader in transport economics. In 1972 he was appointed Professor.

In 1982, tired of battling the education cuts which have now obliterated the department he created, White took early retirement. Liberated from bureaucracy he took on ever more work: writing, lecturing throughout the world, editing esoteric railway journals. The wheel turned full circle, too, when he returned to the booking office, as a volunteer on the preserved Nene Valley Railway, near Peterborough, where he revelled in creaking technology.

He leaves us six books on transport subjects, including Forgotten Railways (1986), in which he visited all the branch lines closed by Dr Richard Beeching in the Sixties, discovered their ignominious fate and mourned them with a passion.

My own enduring memory of Pat White is his boundless enthusiasm. He had, it seemed, an unquenchable affection for knowledge on any subject - from compost heaps through solar heating to Northamptonshire Cricket Club - and more than one of my own literary offerings came back with some comment like 'Is it possible we could know a little more about so and so, please?' Most of all, he had, I remember, a sense of humour, which he seemed unable to contain.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future