Obituary: Frank White, author and playwright

Frank White
Frank White
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Frank White, who has died at 92, was a Yorkshire-based author and playwright who produced perhaps the last novel about the Second World War to have been written by someone who served in it.

There Was A Time, published in 2017 – 53 years after his previous book – was set in a fictional village on the Lincolnshire coast during the second half of 1940, when Britain readied itself for the grim prospect of invasion.

Frank White in his Navy days

Frank White in his Navy days

Then aged 90, he worried that his generation was fading away and its stories becoming lost. “I wanted to remember those great days because I think in many ways they were great,” he said.

“Those years made my generation what it is, or what it was. That period left its mark in the way we behave, the way we talk and our politics.“

He had sent his manuscript to the publisher Hodder and Stoughton in a brown paper parcel tied with string. “I am a Hodder author,” he said in a note, referring to his work of half a century earlier. “I am hoping you will consider my new novel.”

He had wanted to capture the spirit of a particular moment in history. “The British Army had been driven out of France, the nation was surrounded on three sides by the enemy and was totally alone and into the bargain people were expecting an invasion any day. So it’s an important chapter in this country’s history,” was his reasoning.

His father had broken down in tears when he heard that war had been declared, he remembered. He had been one of the Old Contemptibles, survivors of the British Expeditionary Force during the First World War, and was on his allotment on the morning war broke out. “He’d not heard the news and when I told him,” Mr White said.

But while the older generation recoiled at the prospect of another war, his son and his friends saw it as an adventure. “To us youngsters it was all rather exciting. You got used to the tension,” he said.

Born in Manchester in 1927, Frank had already lost his older brother, William, at the battle of Mareth in Tunisia in 1943, when he volunteered for Navy service “at the earliest possible opportunity”. He was sent out to the British Pacific Fleet, and was on board a ship in the Indian Ocean when the war ended.

He remained in the Far East for another 18 months before being demobbed, by which time he had seen his first short story published in the Sydney Sun. “Many in my generation went away for a long time and we got used to the idea of writing letters to friends and family and I found myself enjoying scribbling and that’s how I get into it,” he recalled.

When he returned to England, he married and started a family. He lived and worked in Yorkshire, spending a dozen years as publicity manager for a firm in Bradford.

He also started writing again, turning out short stories for the radio, plays for the stage and two novels, published by Hodder in the 1960s.

After suffering two heart attacks, he decided on a career change and took over the tenancy of the Waggon and Horses in Oxspring, near Penistone. He continued to write, producing a documentary on the First World War for BBC television and becoming writer in residence at Lincoln Theatre Royal.

He followed There Was A Time with a novella set in rural Yorkshire in the 1960s, and Hodder was planning to publish it next year in a single volume with A Morse Code Set, a story he had written years ago, about a young boy growing up in Manchester at the start of the war. The book will now be published posthumously, under the title Innocence.

Mr White is survived by his wife, June, and five children.