White, Graham

1884 - 1945

Graham White was born 12 June 1884, the fourth son of Henry and Alice White, of ‘Oakbark’, Shawford Close, Winchester. 

He followed his three elder brothers to Winchester College in September 1898. All four brothers were in E House, Morshead's. Graham left Winchester in the summer of 1903 for University College, Oxford, where he took his degree with Second Class Honours in Theology in 1907. In the same year he was ordained by the Bishop of Durham. His first post was as Curate of St. Jude’s, South Shields (1907 to 1911), followed by three years (1911 to 1914) as Curate of Staindrop with Cockfield. Moving on to the curacy of St. Paul’s, West Hartlepool, in 1914, he also became a Chaplain to the Forces, serving in this capacity until 1920.

On 17 June 1919 he married Georgina, daughter of George and Agnes Anne Miller of Holmfield Road, Leicester. From 1920 to 1925 he served as Vicar of St. Hilda and St. Helen, at the Dawson Colliery.

Graham then went to the Malay States, first as Chaplain of Ipoh in Perak, and in 1931 became Archdeacon of Singapore, in charge of St. Andrew’s Cathedral.  He was active in education and local church work and in 1934 he bought a plot of land (with his own money) in Ceylon Road, Katong, on which stood the Bethel English School, and began a church there, St. Hilda’s.  He also founded St. Hilda’s School. White was awarded the OBE in 1938 for his services to education in Singapore. He was also Vice-President of the Malayan Orchid Society.

During the Japanese invasion in 1942 his home, Cathedral House, Cavanagh Road, was damaged by bombing and shell-fire, but he and his wife decided to remain. They might have left Malaya during the period before the fall of Singapore, but elected to stay and were therefore interned, at first in the infamous Changi Jail.

In March 1943 White and the other internees were joined by the Bishop of Singapore, the Right Reverend John Wilson, one of 57 civilian internees later tortured by the Japanese.

On 10 October 1943 the Japanese started looking for evidence that the internees had assisted Allied commando canoeists in sinking Japanese vessels in Singapore harbour on 26 September. The atmosphere in Singapore had soured since the Japanese conquest, and the Japanese began to suspect that the Changi inmates were somehow co-ordinating resistance to the occupying forces. Of the fifty-seven internees taken for questioning, one committed suicide, one was executed, and twelve more died as the result of the treatment which they had received and conditions in which they had been kept. Those who returned from their interrogation were suffering from malnutrition, scabies, dysentery, ulcers, beri-beri and joint injuries sustained during beatings.  After the war, Bishop Wilson gave evidence into the enquiry into this episode. Of twenty Japanese personnel brought to trial for their roles in this, eight were sentenced to be hanged and six to various custodial sentences.

In May 1944 the civilian internees were moved from Changi to a camp on the Sime Road, as the Jail was required for prisoners of war. It was there that both White and his wife were to die. The Archdeacon and his wife had led the spiritual life of the internees until the arrival of the Bishop and then again in the months during which he had been held by the Kempei Tai (the notorious Japanese equivalent of the Gestapo).

His wife died first, having been ill at intervals throughout their internment.   White’s obituary in the Wykehamist War Service Record and Roll of Honour added that 'his wife, ‘Nobbs’, as she was universally known, was the first to pass away. It was to her that all automatically confided their troubles. She grew terribly thin, but never lost her glorious smile;.  A school-teacher called ‘Tiny’ Lewis recorded Georgina White’s illness in his diary: 'September 11th 1944:  Both Mrs Shelton-Palmer and Mrs. Graham-White (wife of the Archdeacon) are very ill in the Women’s Camp'. 

‘Nobbs’ White died on 21 January 1945, aged sixty. Archdeacon White died of dysentery on 8 May 1945, also at the age of sixty.

The tombstone of the late Archdeacon Graham and Mrs White was relocated from the former Bidadari Cemetery to the Cathedral grounds in October 2002.

This photograph was kindly supplied by the White family. 

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