Eric Vincent Ewart White - the Barrister-at-Law who defended a German Spy

Eric Vincent Ewart White at Oxford ca. 1937 Copyright 2020 - Rowan Ewart-White Used with permission
Eric Vincent Ewart White at Oxford ca. 1937
Copyright 2020 - Rowan Ewart-White
Used with permission

A few months ago, I wrote a follow-up post about Eric Vincent Ewart White, the defence attorney for Josef Jakobs at his 1941 court martial. I had tracked down the names of three of Eric's grandchildren and reached out to one of them. And... success! Rowan Ewart-White kindly sent me a photograph of his grandfather and a post from the Epsom & Ewell History Explorer site. This post draws heavily upon my 2015 blog on Eric which can be read here, but also includes some extra information.

After so many years, it's exciting to be able to see the face of the man who met my grandfather and who did his best to defend him against the charges of espionage and treachery. The following is a blend of some new information from the Epsom & Ewell site, as well as my own supplemental research.

Early Life
Eric was born in the third quarter of 1909 in Lewisham, Greater London. Eric's parents Bertram Ewart White and Avera Emily née Vincent had married in the second quarter of 1909 in the Wandsworth District. Bertram was a solicitor and, at one point, was part of the firm Reid, Sharman and White. The firm later became known as Reid, Sharman & Co and the partnership was dissolved in the early 1930s but Bertram continued working on his own account as a solicitor. No surprise then that Eric, and some of his siblings followed in their father's footsteps.

Bertram and Avera set up their first home at 166a Adelaide Road, Brockley and had at least five more children after Eric. The Epsom & Ewell site states that the last three children (Cecil E. White, birth registered in the first quarter of 1918 and twins Eveline P. and Florence E.P. White, births registered in the second quarter 1920) were born in the Epsom District, and it is therefore likely that the family had moved to Ranworth, 1 Kingsdown Road, Epsom, by at least 1918.

I did a bit of digging and I tracked down most of Eric's siblings:

  • Avera Phyllis White was born 28 December 1911 in Lewisham. By the 1930s, Avera was a registered physiotherapist or masseuse. In 1937, she married Ralph Porter, a farmer, and by 1939, the couple was living in Bedfordshire at Boughton End Farm, just east of Milton Keynes. Avera passed away in 1974 in Bedfordshire.
  • Marjorie Mavis White was born 27 March 1914 in Lewisham. In 1939, Marjorie was still living at home and gave her occupation as Solicitor, possibly working with her father. She was also an Ambulance Driver for the ARP service (Air Raid Precautions service). In 1950, Marjorie married Stanley J. Bates. Marjorie passed away in 1995 in Ryde on the Isle of Wight.
  • Cecil Bertram White (not Cecil E.) was born 15 November 1917 in Epsom. In 1939, Cecil was living at home and gave his occupation as solicitor's articled clerk, which makes one wonder if he was working for his sister and/or his father. He was also a sapper with the Royal Engineers. After the war, on 21 May 1951, Cecil received a commission with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He passed away in Oxford on 20 September 1999.
  • Evelyln Patricia White was born 16 April 1920 in Epsom. Because her birth year is 100 years ago, or less, her record in the 1939 National Register is still closed. Evelyn does, however, appear in the probate notice for her mother as Evelyn Patricia White (not married) and passed away in 1976 in Portsmouth, Hampshire with the same name.
  • Florence E.P. White was likely born on the same day as her twin sister, 16 April 1920, in Epsom. I have been unable to find any trace of her. She does not appear on her mother's probate notice, so it is possible that she was deceased by 1957. Mind you... we just have to wait until next year (2021) when both Evelyn and Florence's records should be unlocked in the 1939 National Register records.

Legal Career
As for Eric, he attended secondary school at Epsom College. On 23 November, 1929, Eric was admitted to Lincoln's Inn and would eventually became a Barrister-at-Law.

During this same period (early to mid 1930s), Eric was also studying at Pembroke College (Oxford). I found the most intriguing reference to Eric on the J.R.R. Tolkien fan site by Hammond and Scull. On their site, they have a list of Addenda and Corrigenda to The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (2006) Vol. 1. According to the this list, on 6 March, 1931, Tolkien attended the 60th anniversary dinner of the Johnson Society of Pembroke College. Tolkien and the Society's Secretary, E.V.E. White gave the toast to "The College". Fascinating, that Eric and Tolkien rubbed shoulders.

The Practice relating to Debentures by Thomas Froude & Eric V.E. White
The Practice relating to Debentures
by Thomas Froude & Eric V.E. White

During his time at Oxford, Eric apparently coached the Eights rowing team, as listed in the Pembroke College Register for 1934/1935 and attended the annual London Dinner of the College at least three times.While at Pembroke, Eric was friends with Alan Dudley Worton (an Epsom College schoolmate) and E. Geoffrey Langford. Both Alan and Eric read Classical Mods and Greats and all three young men would deepen their bond by marrying each other's relations. Alan and Geoffrey would marry each other's sisters while Eric would eventually marry Alan's cousin. One reference notes that Eric was president of the JCR which may be the Junior Common Room. As an aside, at the outbreak of the war, Alan joined the army as a member of the Field Security Police liaising with MI5. He would finished the war as a captain in the Intelligence Corps. One does wonder if it was this connection which tapped Eric to be the defense attorney for a Germany spy in 1941.

On 26 January 1934, the Pembroke College Record noted that Eric had been called to the Bar, although this did not mean that he had graduated.

While studying Pembroke College and attending Lincoln's Inn, Eric apparently still called Epsom home. The London electoral register for 1935 has Eric listed as residing at 7 Stone Buildings, Temple but his "abode" was given as 1 Kingsdown Road, Epsom.

In 1935, Eric co-wrote a book with Thomas Froude entitled, “The Practice Relating to Debentures: a Handbook of Legal and Practical Knowledge for Directors, Receivers, Secretaries, Accountants and Debenture Holders, with Full Appendix of Forms”. This seems like a rather dry and dusty legal tome.

Eric graduated from Pembroke College (Oxford) with an MA in 1936/1937. A year earlier, Eric's younger brother, Cecil Bertram White had matriculated at Pembroke as well. The brothers overlapped for a year and Cecil was even a rower for one of the Eights teams.

Pembroke College Register 1936-1937 E.V.E. White graduated with an MA
Pembroke College Register 1936-1937
E.V.E. White graduated with an MA
I did find one post-graduated reference to Eric in the All England Law Reports, volume 1939. In 1938, Eric represented the claimants (a pottery company named Mayer & Sherratt) in seeking an insurance payout in a Worker's Compensation claim involving an employee who had died of lead poisoning.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Eric joined the Leicestershire Yeomanry as an officer cadet. Having learned the skills needed for field artillery at one of the Officer Cadet Training Units, he was commissioned on 19 October 1940 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 154th (Leicestershire Yeomanry) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.

At the same time, Eric was still listed in the Post Office London Directory under Barristers-at-Law section. According to these listings (1940 and 1941), Eric was an "equity draughtsman" and a "conveyancer". I have done a bit of digging and these legal terms seem to be used for solictors who are still in training. Equity, in this case, does not mean financial equity, but rather judicial equity or fairness. There is no mention in these directories of his military rank.

1941 Post Office London Directory, Barristers-at-Law section
1941 Post Office London Directory, Barristers-at-Law section

Marriage
The following year (1941), was a particularly significant year for Eric. On 9 April, his 60 year old father, Bertram, passed away at the Homeopathic Hospital in Great Ormond Street, London. Eric likely attended the funeral and burial on 15 April in Epsom Cemetery (grave F378A).

A few weeks later, Eric married married 28 year old Nona Lesley Davidson (born 14 May 1912). The marriage was registered in the Honiton District of Devon in the second quarter of 1941.

The 1939 Register had recorded Nona as living with her parents, John Davidson (born circa 1877) and Edith Sarah (née Worton and previously married to a Govan) Davidson (born 1876), at The Shieling in the upmarket Boughmore Road of Sidmouth. Nona's father is listed in the Register as “Chairman & Managing Director of Financial Trustee & Banking Companies” while both she and her mother are annotated with the conventional “Unpaid Domestic Duties”.

Nona appears to have lived quite a well-traveled life. From 1928 to 1938, she and her parents (and in at least one instance, her older sister Iris Noreen Davidson) made several long-distance voyages to Capetown, Buenos Aires, New York and Quebec. The 1911 census noted that Nona's father, John Davidson was the Manager of a Public Company, in this case the British Empire Trust Company. From what I can gather, the company had significant investments around the world, including lumber and railways in Canada. No wonder there was so much traveling. I even found reference to John Davidson appearing in Chilliwack, BC (near Vancouver) in 1907!

Nona Lesley Davidson - 1938 (From the 13 July 1938 edition of The Bystander)
Nona Lesley Davidson - 1938
(From the 13 July 1938 edition
of The Bystander)

I also found an intriguing notice of marriage for Nona in The Bystander from 13 July 1938. Apparently, on one of her trips to Canada with her parents, Nona had met one James Stewart of Toronto and the two announced their engagement on 19 June 1938. Whatever became of this engagement is unknown but presumably it did not go through as Nona married Eric in 1941. The Bystander had a rather nice photograph of Nona.

I noticed that, upon crossing the Canada-US border, Nona had stated that her ethnicity was "Scotch" and a bit of digging has revealed that both her father and mother were born in Glasgow. In fact, Nona's mother, Edith Sarah Worton, had, in 1900, married one Alexander Govan in Scotland. The couple had had one child, David Victor Govan (born 1901 in Scotland) but Alexander had passed away in 1907. Little David Victor would have been a half sibling to Iris and Nona. I had wondered if both Iris and David had appeared at the 1941 marriage of Eric and Nona but... David Victor Govan passed away in Cardross, Scotland in 1902, just shy of his second birthday. Nona's sister, Iris, had married Kenneth Forbes Steven in 1931, and in 1941, the couple had a seven year old son who may have attended Eric and Nona's nuptials with his parents.

Finally, on 4 and 5 August 1941, Captain Eric V.E. White was, because of his legal background, called upon to defend German spy Josef Jakobs at his court martial held at the Duke of York’s Headquarters in Chelsea. Josef was found guilty and, on 15 August, was the last person to be executed in the Tower of London.

Military Career
Eric’s career in the Royal Artillery prospered and, by 1942, he was a Temporary Major. In the autumn of 1942, his regiment was posted to North Africa and he bade farewell to the pregnant Nona. Their only child, David – who it seems Eric never saw in person – was born in the first quarter of 1943, registered in the Exeter District.)

Eric’s first taste of action was possibly with the 154th Brigade of the Highland Division in the 23 October to 11 November 1942 Second Battle of El Alamein. This was a turning point in the fighting in North Africa – and the Second World War as a whole. The stalemate First Battle (1 to 27 July 1942) had managed to halt the Axis forces’ apparently inexorable advance towards the prizes of the Suez Canal and the Middle East oilfields. It was in this decisive Second Battle that Allied forces at last gained the upper hand.

In January 1943, the 154th Brigade were (with Eric) transferred to Persia (modern-day Iran) for several months before returning to North Africa in April. At some point during those early months of 1943, it is known that a letter from his wife caught up with Eric announcing the birth of their son, David.

Over the next few months, Eric served in North Africa, Syria, Palestine and then Italy. For “gallant and distinguished service” during the Italian Campaign, Eric was one of many “Mentioned in Dispatches”, as recorded in the 11 January 1945 supplement to the London Gazette.

In Eric’s case, this announcement was posthumous for he had been killed in an Egyptian road accident on 20 August 1944. He, along with almost 1800 other Commonwealth soldiers from the Second World War, is buried in the Heliopolis War Cemetery in a Cairo suburb. Nona took the option of adding a personal inscription to his headstone: "Of Epsom, England: beloved husband of Nona. 'With Christ which is far better' ".

As I had suspected in my July 2020 blog, Nona did indeed remarry, to one George Brian Parkes (born 1907) in 1952. From what I can gather, Parkes was a stockbroker who, at the outset of the war (1939), was also listed as working for the Cypher Department of the Foreign Office, a rather tantalizing tidbit. Parkes served with the Royal Regiment of Artillery and ended the war as a Lieutenant Colonel (115055). After the war, Parkes was listed a member of the London Stock Exchange and was one of the executors of the estate of Nona's mother, Edith Sarah Davidson in 1963. Edith left a sizable inheritance for her two daughters (Nona and Iris), just shy of £115,000. 

Many thanks to Rowan Ewart-White for sharing the photograph of his father.

Sources

Epsom & Ewell History Explorer - article on Eric Vincent Ewart White - by Roger Morgan.
Ancestry - genealogical records
My 2015 blog on Eric Vincent Ewart White
My July 2020 blog on Eric Vincent Ewart White
British Newspaper Archives
Pembroke College Record - various years

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