Date of birth: 25th April 1916
Parents: Robert John and Anges Finlay White
Wife: Frances White nee Collins
Address: 17 Market Street, Warwick
Occupation: General labourer until enlisting, then army chef
Thomas was born in Belfast in April 1916 to parents Robert and Agnes. The family home was on Lindsey Street, Belfast. Thomas had 4 sisters, Irean, Hilda, Dorothy and Maureen and 2 brothers, Bobby and Walter..
Thomas married Frances Collins, who was from Warwick, at St Mary’s Church on October 1st 1938. Their son, also named Thomas, was born on 30th April 1939 and was christened in St Mary’s. The 1939 Register shows the couple living at 17 Market Street with Frances’ parents. According to Thomas’s army record, 17 Market Street was also the address of his mother, Agnes. Thomas was granted 10 days home leave in March 1940, which may have been when this photo was taken.
Thomas junior didn’t find out where his father was buried until he himself was 72 years old. He says “Over the years I became curious about what had happened to him. I wrote to various government departments for details to try to find out what happened. I never could discover the truth. Then one day I went to St John’s Museum. I was speaking to a chap about it and he suggested I took a look at a book titled The Forgotten Massacre by Guy Rommelaere, all about the fate of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940. Imagine my surprise when I found my dad’s name in the back.”
Tom’s partner Kathy tells us that, coincidentally, the book was translated into English by Shirley Wallis who lived on High Street, Warwick. Guy Rommelaere was Deputy Mayor of Esquelbecq in 2000 and wrote the book to raise funds to create a memorial.
Tom went to visit his father’s grave in November 2011, travelling with the British Legion, and was able to see the site of the massacre. He was interviewed for a feature that appeared in the November 2011 issue of Warwickshire Life.
Tom’s mother Frances remarried in November 1949, becoming Mrs Scattergood.
Rank & Number: Private, 5108131
Regiment/Service: 2nd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
Brigade/Division: 144th Infantry Brigade, 48th (South Midland) Division
Date of death: 26th May 1940
Cause of death/Battle: Killed in the massacre in the barn on the Esquelbecq Road (Wormhout)
Commemorated/Buried: Buried in Wormhoudt Communal Cemetery, Nord, France. Row A. Grave 27.
Awards: War Medal 1939/45, Campaign Star 1939/45
Commemorated locally at: St Mary's book of memory
Thomas enlisted into the RWR in Belfast on 12th December 1934, aged 18. At that time he had been working as a General Labourer but in the army he chose to train as a chef. He attended a training course at Aldershot from 28th September 1936 to 6th November 1936 and achieved an 80% mark.
Thomas was posted to France on 23rd September 1939. His army record gives him as going missing between 10th May and 3rd June 1940 and the army only seems to have ascertained his death on 9th September 1941, although not the details of the circumstances, resulting in this telegram being sent to his wife:
Thomas was one of the soldiers massacred in a barn near Esquelbecq. The 2nd Warwickshires were holding off the Germans and enabled the evacuation of over 338,000 men. The survivors were captured by the SS, led by Captain Mohnke, who took them to a barn where they were beaten and murdered. This news did not reach the soldiers’ families for some time. In fact Thomas’s son, Tom, tells us that “My mother Frances never knew the full story of what happened. She remembered being told that she could not marry for 7 years. However she did remarry eventually and went on to have 2 more children. She died in 1989 and never knew the truth about my father’s fate.”
Read more about the massacre:
Thomas is buried in Nord, France:
- We are very grateful to Tom White and Kathy Ferguson for sharing with us their photos and story.
- Unlocking Warwick Research Group