“The Hero of Ladysmith”

July 6, 1835 to June 24, 1912

General Sir George White
Sir George White circa 1899 in the full dress uniform of a Colonel of the Gordon Highlanders.

Field Marshal Sir George Stuart White VC, GCB, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO was born at Low Rock Castle, Portstewart, County Londonderry, Ireland; son of James White of Whitehall, Co. Antrim and Frances Ann Stewart.

He was educated at Bromsgrove School, Worcestershire and later at King William’s College on the Isle of Man. From 1850 White attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst where he achieved the rank of Under Officer. After graduating, White was commissioned into the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot in 1853, transferred to India in 1854 and saw service as a Lieutenant in Peshawar during the 1857 Indian Mutiny. He was promoted to Captain in 1863 and transferred to the 92nd (Gordon Highlanders) Regiment of Foot. He returned to England before being further promoted to Major on 24 December 1863.  After five years in England he went back to India with his regiment in 1868.

In 1874 he married Amelia Baly – daughter of Joseph Baly, Archdeacon of Calcutta.  George and Amelia had 5 children.

White was awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery in two separate actions during the Second Anglo Afghan War of 1879/80. After briefly serving as Military Secretary to the Viceroy and Governor General of India in 1881, he was given command of the 2nd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. In 1885, he was assigned to special service in Egypt as Assistant Adjutant and Quarter-Master General, with subsequent promotion to Colonel.  The same year, White was given command of a brigade of the Madras Army  and led it as the 2nd Brigade of the British Burma Division during the Third Anglo-Burmese War in November 1885. Promoted to local Major General in 1886, he led the subsequent occupation of Burma as Commander of the Upper Burma Field Force and was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of Bath. Promoted to the substantive rank of Major General in 1887, he was given command of Quetta District in 1889 and led operations in the Zhob Valley and in Balochistan.

In the 1890 New Years’ Honours List, White was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire. Upgraded to a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1893, he became Commander-in-Chief, India with the local rank of Lieutenant General in April, which was made substantive on 1 April 1895. Made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1897 and a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India the following January, White became Quartermaster General to the Forces in 1898.

In September 1899 at the opening of the Second Boer War, White commanded the Natal Forces in South Africa. After the battle of Elandslaagte, the result of which was a clear tactical British victory, fearing a Boer attack on Ladysmith White ordered his forces to fall back to the town.   He took command of the garrison during its subsequent siege by the Boers. When his position there became untenable due to lack of supplies, White was instructed by General Sir Redvers Buller (who was commanding the force the British sent to relieve the siege)  to destroy the guns and surrender the garrison on the best terms he could. White responded “I hold Ladysmith for the Queen” and held out for another four months under extremely difficult conditions before the town was relieved on February 28th 1900.

Later that year, in frail health, White returned to England. He was made a Knight Grand Cross  of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO). For his service in the Boer War, he was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG).

In May 1900 White was appointed Governor of Gibraltar and in that role was promoted to full General. He was elevated to Field Marshal in 1903 and made a Member of the Order of Merit in 1905. He was Governor of the Royal Hospital Chelsea from June 1905 until his death there on 24 June 1912 a few weeks short of his 77th birthday.

Field Marshall Sir George White, “the Hero of Ladysmith,” was buried at Broughshane, a village in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.  A bronze equestrian statue of him by John Tweed, dated 1922, stands in Portland Place, London.

Statue of Field Marshal Sir George White in Portland Place, London.

Principal sources: Wikipedia,, UK National Portrait Gallery, Flickr, British The Boer War

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