Arthur forgave his captors

MANY who cruelly suffered disease and starvation as a Japanese prisoner of war have struggled their whole lives trying to come to terms with it and forgive their tormentors.

MANY who cruelly suffered disease and starvation as a Japanese prisoner of war have struggled their whole lives trying to come to terms with it and forgive their tormentors.

But Littleham old soldier Arthur White, of Jarvis Close, who has died at the age of 85, was a man of special character, writes David Beasley.

He was one of those who not only forgave - despite the inhumane treatment that even a saint would struggle to reconcile themselves with - but, in his later years, spoke openly of his respect for the Japanese people.

This was despite, at just 18, suffering forced labour, life-threatening illnesses - including beri-beri, diphtheria, malaria, dysentery, typhoid, and a septic foot - and starvation where, his body weight plummeted to six stone, half of what it had been, during his 1,335 days of captivity.

His journey of forgiveness culminated in a pilgrimage, organised by the Royal British Legion and the reconciliation service AGAPE in 2006, when he and 19 others travelled to the Sai Wan Military Cemetery in Hong Kong, where the bodies of 1,505 Commonwealth soldiers lie.

There he laid wreaths and met local dignitaries and told the Journal in 2006: "I do now like the Japanese. I am being honest and genuine when I say that.

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"When I was there, I had quite a few apologies from people about what I had been through.

"There were some Japanese kids who came past and they were so interested that all they wanted was to have their photos taken with me.

"I would like to go back because everyone was so nice."

Arthur, who visited several more times before his death, was born in Hong Hong when the colony was still part of the British Empire, to parents Hermon and Dorothy White.

His mum Dorothy was from Exmouth but left for Hong Kong after the end of the Great War in 1919 to look for work - the four-year conflict had all but crippled the British Empire and its economy - and she began working in a department store.

His dad, also from Devon, was the manager of the famous Repulse Bay Hotel - they met at a social function and Arthur was born four years later, in September 1923, at the French Hospital in Causeway Bay.

"I think we had a better standard of living there than we had in England," he had said.

He was christened at St John's Hostel and was educated at St Joseph's College for ex-pat children.

"We could go swimming six or seven months of the year at Repulse Bay and there was loads of sport," he told the South China Morning Post.

"It was a very happy childhood - until the bloody war came."

Sadly, his father died and his mother married his father's brother George White, a well-known figure in Exmouth.

In 1940, to some people, the writing was on the wall for a Japanese invasion and the women and children were evacuated by the British authorities, but Arthur, then 16, stayed.

"We really didn't think it was coming," he said. Arthur promptly signed up and joined the 2nd Machinegun Company of the Volunteers.

The Japanese invaded on December 8 1941 and, by the week before Christmas, had pushed on to Hong Kong Island forcing the ill-prepared Commonwealth forces back.

Arthur's platoon was routed to Stanley Fort, the British fortified position in the hills behind the Repulse Bay Hotel, when they surrendered on Christmas Day 1941.

He was then taken to Sham Shui Po camp, where he remained until 1943, when the increasingly desperate Japanese shipped prisoners to work in a forced labour camp, a railway factory.

Unknown to Arthur, on August 6 1945, the world's first atomic bomb was dropped - on Hiroshima and, two days later, a second on Nagasaki.

On August 15, Arthur and his fellow prisoners were marched as usual to the factory and en-route the air raid siren sounded - then bizarrely the all-clear sounded.

He learnt subsequently how near he was to becoming a victim of 'friendly fire' as the factory he was working in was a designated target of US B52s: "The bombers were only 30 miles away when the raid was aborted.

"Japan had surrendered."

After his release in 1945, he went on to spend the next 36 years in the Merchant Navy as an engineering officer.

In 1949 he returned to Exmouth where his grandmother lived - he later said it was the only family he knew - and lodged in a flat in Chapel Street above Harris's Toys in the days before the Magnolia Centre.

There he met Pamela, his wife-to-be of 52 years, who was working in the shop and they married in 1950 at the Holy Trinity Church.

They spent the rest of their lives in Exmouth, moving to Jarvis Close, Littleham, and had two sons - but sadly Pamela died in 2002.

His son Ron said: "He was a great talker, very sociable and he had a lot of friends and was a great story teller.

"He used to captivate people with his stories wherever he was. People always used to gather around and listen to them.

"Even the nurses in hospital in his last days said they would miss his stories."

Arthur White leaves two sons Ron, and Eric.