View Full Version : WWII Scottish Borderers officer's memoria go up for auction

Saturday, May 19th, 2007, 04:52 PM
A unique archive is up for sale, with an amazing story behind it

HIS evocative and harrowing wartime reminiscences have become one of the must-read accounts of the horrors of the Second World War.

But even more extraordinary tales from former King's Own Scottish Borderer Peter White have emerged with the forthcoming sale of his archive at Christie's in London next month.

Mr White, whose diaries as a commander of Scottish soldiers in the 52nd Lowland Division were posthumously published in the book With The Jocks, was also an artist whose sketches, watercolours and wartime observations give a rare insight into life on the front line during the conflict.

His archive, expected to fetch up to 50,000, is described by Christie's as "the most comprehensive illustrated, first-hand record of the war ever to come to auction".

Among the tales to emerge from the collection is that of a camera Mr White confiscated from a German prisoner-of- war he captured in Holland in 1944. He had forgotten about the episode, but memories of the camera, and the smudged snaps that were later developed from the film, came flooding back when the prisoner recognised him as his captor in a chance encounter 37 years later.

The two former foes met as Mr White walked through the Suffolk village of Aldeburgh with his wife, Elizabeth, in 1981. Suddenly, from the top of a ladder, came a heavily accented voice: "Where is my camera?"

Baffled, the former infantry officer looked up to see the smiling face of Alfred Schroeter, the prisoner who had later settled in England and become a window cleaner.

Mr Schroeter introduced himself as the mounted officer in one of the photographs developed from the roll of film in the camera, and handed over his business card. The card is among the items in the archive on sale. Mr White had written on it: "Met by chance 37 years later, one of the prisoners of war who had passed through our hands in the PoW cage-orchard used in Flushing prior to their being shipped back over the Schelt... was a PoW later in England, then settled in England. 'If I had seen you first I would have shot you', he joked."

Equally fascinating is the story of how the 440-page archive, bound in paper and tape, came up for sale. It is currently owned by Harry Prince, 78, of Poole, Dorset, who acquired it while researching the death of his brother, Teddy, who was a "Jock" in the same regiment as Mr White, who died in 1985.

After a 20-year search which took him all over Scotland, he tracked down Mr White's widow in Suffolk and she handed him everything - including the camera and photos.

Mr Prince said: "The story Mrs White told me about the camera is truly amazing. They were just walking up the High Street when suddenly they heard this voice: 'Where is my camera?'

"How he recognised Mr White after all these years, heaven knows. He obviously never got the camera or film back though because they were among Mr White's possessions when he died."

Mr White's detailed writings came to the notice of the military authorities and some pieces were censored before being sent back to England - but he kept up his journal on odd scraps of paper he hid in his kit.

"It is an amazing collection, and rare - not just because of what it is but because there aren't many diaries from soldiers," explained Susannah Morris, a specialist at Christie's. "There was obviously a risk that the information contained in diaries would get into the wrong hands and so they were not supposed to keep written records.

"The archive begins in 1938 so it also documents the build-up to war. The beautifully-drawn sketches give a very vivid first-hand account. Mr White was a man with considerable faith, so his observations about fighting in the war have an extra dimension."

Of the 49 "Jocks" under Mr White's command, 20 were killed and 22 wounded after an advance in the Low Countries. He writes movingly of a "friendly-fire" incident by the River Aller: "Some loud whiplash cracks of rifle bullets dashed the silence. Parry fell like a log, shot through the head. Byles pitched forward grasping his stomach and lay perfectly still in a grotesque posture."

Later, he finds "two pale-faced, blue-lipped young gunners" lying dead in the snow and retrieves them for burial, making "a mournful return ... in this eerie snow-filmed half light ... as we shovelled back the earth with anaesthetised thoughts, I paused to wonder anew at the detailed beauty of form of a hand still showing; now so expressive in death of stilled perfection, wasted."

After the war, Mr White graduated from the Royal Academy and set up as a professional artist in East Anglia.

The war correspondent Max Hastings described With The Jocks as "one of the most striking personal records of the period."

Source (http://heritage.scotsman.com/people.cfm?id=749372007)