She had seen John Lee White go to war in April 1916. Six months later, Rose Webber was told that he had died in hospital from severe injuries. Here, I look at the moving, poignant tributes she paid to John – who was connected to my mum’s family – in a local newspaper between 1917 and 1919.
Rose was devastated. The man she loved had died in hospital in France just a few months after she had seen him go to war. Her life would never be the same again. Her hopes of marrying and building a life with the young soldier she had known nearly all her life were shattered.
Rose Webber’s sweetheart, John Lee White, was 24 and a private in the 4th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment when he died of wounds sustained in action on the Somme on October 5, 1916.
The Western Times reported nine days later that John’s death – after he had suffered head wounds and had his left arm amputated in hospital in Rouen – had come as a great shock to his family and many friends.
He had been on active service in France for just a month and had visited his home in Drewsteignton eight weeks before he died. He was the third of the village’s war heroes to have made the ‘great sacrifice’, said the newspaper.
Rose was among those who attended a memorial service for John at Drewsteignton Parish Church on November 5, 1916. The music of God thou art Great welcomed the mourners, and the haunting Dead March from Handel’s Saul was played at the end of the service.
John – who was a keen member of Drewsteignton’s Reading Room Club and widely respected in the village – was buried at St Sever Cemetery in Rouen, the last resting place for more than 3,000 Commonwealth soldiers.
Rose published a series of heartfelt messages in his memory in The Western Times between 1917 and 1919 – on the anniversary of his death.
On October 26, 1917, she wrote: ‘Softly at night the stars are shining over a silent grave, where there sleepeth without dreaming one I loved but could not save. His memory is as dear today as in the hour he passed away. With deepest sympathy from his loving cousin Rose.’
On October 25, 1918, two years after John’s death, Rose wrote: ‘Could I have raised his dying head, and heard his last farewell, it would not have been so hard to part with one I loved so well. But the hardest part has yet to come, when the heroes all reach home. And I miss among the cheering throng the face of my dear one. From his loving cousin, Rose.’
And on October 24, 1919, she wrote: ‘He has left this world of sorrow, ending trouble, grief and pain. But those who truly loved him in their memory shall remain. From his loving cousin, Rose (Webber).’
Rose, who attended the dedication and unveiling of the war memorial in the parish church in 1921 – on which John is remembered – was born in Drewsteignton in 1900.
She was the daughter of carpenter George Webber and Emma White and lived with her family in the village, at 2, Church Gate Cottages, for most of her life.
Rose and John were first cousins. Her mother and John Lee White’s father, William George, were brother and sister.
Rose never married. She died on February 10, 1976, aged 76.
John was the son of William George White (1856-1931) and Mary Ann Lee. William was the son of Eliza Tancock (1828-1896) and Samuel White (1829-1891). Eliza was the sister of Sarah Tancock (1851-1900), who married Daniel Arscott (1857-1922) on October 17, 1877 at Tristram Chapel, Puddington. Daniel and Sarah were my great-grandparents.
John was born in 1893 in Drewsteignton. In 1901, he lived with his widowed father in Preston Cottages, Drewsteignton. In 1911, aged 18, he was still living with his father in the village and working as a farm labourer.
John’s sister, Amanda White (1879-1934), lost her husband in the Great War. George Robins Saffin (1886- 1915) was killed on the Western Front on March 27, 1915.
John Lee White’s grave at St Sever Cemetery in Rouen. Picture from Find a Grave has been kindly supplied by Lesueur Dominique.