Commemorating a brave life
ABOVE: TONY PALMER ABOARD HIS YACHT IN A LOCK ON THE DOBBS RIVER/CANAL, FRANCE.
A man who has sailed far and wide as a solo yachtsman has donated a very generous sum of money to the Scotch College Foundation Scholarship Fund, to establish a scholarship in memory of his great-uncle, Colonel Alexander Henry White (1882-1915).
Tony ‘Fizz’ Palmer (‘54) is a true adventurer. ‘I love the freedom to be able to backpack and sail to every corner of the world, and I have a love for all forms of positivity in life,’ he says. In keeping with this positive outlook and in memory of a brave relative, Tony has donated $600,000 from the sale of his now seldom used seaside holiday home, to create a perpetual scholarship which will enable deserving boys, in particular those with a love of saltwater pursuits, to attend Scotch. Tony said it saddened him that some privileged Old Boys ‘don’t have time to “give back” a Scotch education to a worthy deserving kid, as it is simple to do so’.
Tony’s great-uncle, Alexander White, joined the AIF on 21 September 1914 as a major, after about 15 years with the Victorian Mounted Rifles and the 5th Light Horse Brigade. Promoted to lieutenant-colonel, he embarked for Egypt in command of the 8th Light Horse Regiment (part of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade) on 25 February 1915. On 16 May, he boarded the Menominee at Alexandria, bound for Gallipoli. He received a shrapnel wound to the scalp there on 27 June, but returned to duty a week later.
White’s regiment was ordered to lead an assault by the 3rd Light Horse Brigade to capture Turkish trenches at the Nek in a feint attack on 7 August. This attack is depicted in the final scenes of the film Gallipoli (1981). He decided to lead the first line personally, even though his chances of survival were negligible. Ten minutes before the assault he visited the brigade-major, Lieutenant Colonel Antill (depicted in the film as the ruthless Colonel Robinson), held out his hand, and said simply ‘Good-bye’.
Through an error, shelling of the Turkish positions ceased at 4.23am instead of the planned time of 4.30am, allowing the enemy time to regain their machine-gun positions before the anticipated Australian attack. During the intervening silence, White first said ‘Three minutes to go’ and then simply ‘Go!’ He was shot dead shortly after leaving his trench. Within minutes, of 300 officers and men under White’s command, 153 were dead and 80 were wounded..
Before the attack was called off, 372 Australians had been killed or wounded in what the Turks later renamed the ‘Valley of Courage’, in their honour. The charge was immortalised in a painting by George Lambert, now in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
White’s men tried to recover his body, but the task was too dangerous. He earned a posthumous ‘Mention in Despatches’, is commemorated on the Lone Pine Memorial, and is described in the Australian Dictionary of Biography as ‘a sensitive man, and a conscientious, brave and respected officer’. Andrew Alexander McPherson (Scotch 1981-1986), is a great-grandson of Alexander Henry White. Other relatives at Scotch include Christopher Berret Brinkley (SC 1956-60), Christopher’s brother, Bevan Meredith Brinkley (SC 1956-61) and Damien Lawless Duigan (SC 1981-88).
Inspired by his great-uncle’s bravery, Tony Palmer fulfilled a pledge he had previously made at Gallipoli: with the help of his old school, to establish a scholarship at Scotch during the commemoration of the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, and to dedicate that scholarship to the memory of his gallant great-uncle. As the years unfold, deserving students will benefit from Tony Palmer’s generosity, inspired by his brave, noble and much loved great-uncle.