Birthday Celebrations For Oldest RCT Veteran
Written by Gavin on 5th April 2023
One of the oldest Armed Forces veterans in Wales, the oldest in Rhondda Cynon Taf, is celebrating his 100th birthday this week surrounded by family, friends and former Servicemen and women at a special event held in Pontypridd.
Gordon White, known all his life as Pop, was born on April 2, 1923, one of eight children born to Alfred and Alice White. He attended Pwllgwaun Infants School and Maesycoed Boys School before starting work underground at Pwllgwaun Colliery, Pontypridd, at just 14 years of age.
Councillor Maureen Webber, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council Deputy Leader and Armed Forces Champion, said:
“On behalf of all of our Armed Forces veterans across Rhondda Cynon Taf, I send my best wishes to Gordon White on his 100th birthday.
“Pop is loved by his family and his many friends. A survivor of a missile attack during the Battle of Anzio during the Second World War which killed so many of his comrades, he has gone on to live a full and healthy life and still lives in the same area where he was born and grew up.”
After leaving Pwllgwaun Colliery, he later moved on to the famous Albion Colliery, which in 1894 tragically claimed the lives of 290 men and boys following an underground explosion. Mr White left the coal industry in the early 1940s and joined the Royal Navy on November 4, 1942, eventually becoming a Prisoner-of-War guard, working on Landing Crafts during the Second World War.
Travelling along the Red Sea from Naples, he was involved in 1944 The Battle of Anzio, which claimed the lives of thousands of Servicemen. The Landing Craft on which he was travelling also came under an overhead missile attack at night and was sunk.
When the missile struck, his vessel turned onto its side and was only partially above water, but Mr White became trapped when he fell from his top bunk,
fracturing his leg and wrist and unable to move as the Landing Craft slowly filled with water.
He was eventually rescued by an American Serviceman through the missile hole in the side of the vessel and was taken aboard a military hospital ship located in the Gulf of Naples, where just days earlier – on March 17, 1944, the famous volcano Mount Vesuvius had erupted.
Recalling that time in his life, Gordon White said:
“I was in a terrible state following the missile attack, but I can still remember the smell from that volcano. There was ash everywhere.
“I was one of the lucky ones who managed to come home – many didn’t. I have gone on to live a wonderful life. I got married, had a family of my own and carried on working until my retirement.
“I am still healthy and active – I don’t take any medication and love meeting up with other Servicemen and women at the weekly Armed Forces Veterans Groups, organised by the Council.
“We all have so much in common and great stories to recall as we also remember the friends we lost along the way. The only difference being that my life story goes back the furthest.”
Mr White, who was awarded the Italian Star, left the Royal Navy in June 1946, and returned to civilian life. He married Mildred in 1947 and the couple had three children Robert, Wendy and Carol. He has one grandchild and his first great-grandchild due in a few weeks.
He returned to the coal mining industry in 1947, working the night shift underground at the Maritime Colliery, Pontypridd, for a further 11 years before taking up factory work.
He later moved on to South Wales Forgemasters and was made redundant at the age of 64, but still he continued working, taking up a post as a cleaner at Tesco Upper Boat until officially retiring at the age of 65.
Mr White continues to live independently and attends the Armed Forces Veterans Group meetings at Rhydyfelin Community Centre every Wednesday. He also enjoys socialising with friends at Broadway Social Club.
He returned to Anzio on the 75th anniversary of the Italian Campaign and the Battle of Anzio, scattering poppy petals on the water in the area where he lost so many of his comrades. He has also returned to visit the graves of his fallen comrades.
Gordon White celebrated his 100th birthday at the Armed Forces Veterans Group, held at Rhydyfelin Community Centre, where members presented him with special gifts as everyone enjoyed a singalong of wartime songs, accompanied by a pianist.