The Duckett White Brothers

Many individuals and families have contributed to the development of Cranbrook; the Duckett White family has been with the school since its foundation. Harold (19072002) and William (1908–1942) Duckett White were amongst the first cohort of sixty-four boys to walk through our doors on 22 July 1918.1 Their younger brother Geoffrey (1911–2004) joined the school the following year.2 Today, we are lucky enough to enjoy the company of the fourth generation of Duckett Whites to attend Cranbrook; Timothy (1999–), Darcy (2001–) and Alexander (2003–).3

The long relationship the Duckett White family would form with Cranbrook during Harold and William’s brief stay with the school could not have been anticipated. The brothers were only able to attend Cranbrook for one year, before they were forced to leave due to the global outbreak of Spanish Influenza. Harold contracted the disease, but fortunately was not one of the 10,000 Australians who lost their lives in 1919.4 “I was so damned ill”, he reflected in an interview while trying to recall his early days with us, “I didn’t know my backside from my elbow”.5 Following his recovery, Harold and William attended Geelong College, while their youngest brother Geoffrey remained at Cranbrook from 1919-1928.6  

In their future careers, Harold, William and Geoffrey exemplified the school's values of the pursuit of excellence, global responsibility and service to others. Following his pioneer father’s footsteps, in 1927 Harold moved to Kenya.7 He served on the Kenyan Co-operative Creameries Board for twenty-five years, amongst other government bodies, and was awarded an Order of the British Empire for services to primary industry in 1964.8 In the 1960s Harold’s property was appropriated for subdivision amongst African farmers, so he shifted to the roles of company director and financial adviser of commercial agriculture.9

William joined his brother in Kenya from 1930 to 1939. Serving in the defence forces during his time there, he returned to Australia in 1940 to enlist as an air cadet in the Royal Australian Air Force.10 In December 1941 William was posted to Ambon, Indonesia, to help prevent the Japanese from occupying land in the Southern Pacific.11 For the “courage, determination, skill and devotion to duty” he demonstrated in preventing this occupation, William was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 20 April 1942.12 These qualities are clearly seen in the description of William’s service that accompanies the award:

... despite frequent attacks, Flying Officer White courageously, persistently and with outstanding skill continued his reconnaissance until the enemy were within ten miles of their objective. As a result of repeated attacks his aircraft was so seriously damaged that it could no longer be flown but his successful reconnaissance enabled the land forces to occupy the most favorable positions prior to the attack.13

Tragically, William never received his Flying Cross. Reported “missing overseas” in February 1942, he is presumed dead, a prisoner of war.14

The youngest Duckett White brother, Geoffrey, was a member of the Australian Imperial Force, but spent most of his career as a solicitor, practising in Perth.15 He bore three children with his wife, Feo Clinton Sparowe.16 His eldest son, Alexander Geoffrey, is the grandfather of current students, Timothy, Alexander and Darcy.17   

  • 1. The first School List, July, 1918.
  • 2. Cranbrook Foundation, "The Duckett White Family".
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. "New South Wales Cases: Total Now 33", Sydney Morning Herald, 1 February 1919; NSW Ambulance, "Fighting the Spanish Influenza Pandemic", From the Vault, July 2013.
  • 5. Harold White, interview by David Thomas, 28 March, 1997, interview S244/39.
  • 6. Foundation.
  • 7. Alexander Geoffrey Duckett White, Harold Duckett White: An Australian Settler in Kenya (Red Hill, ACT: A.G.D. White, 1998); "In Her Majesty's Supreme Court of Kenya at Nairobi Probate and Administration", The Official Gazette 1952.
  • 8. Foundation.
  • 9. Ibid. See "The Kenya Tea Development Authority Order, 1964", The Kenya Gazette, 2 November 1965; "In the Matter of the Companies Act and in the Matter of Lesirko Limited", The Kenya Gazette, 19 May 1967.
  • 10. "W. V. D. White War Service Record", ed. Australian Government (Canberra: National Archives of Australia).
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Ibid
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Ibid.
  • 15. Cranbrook Foundation; "Geoffrey Duckett White War Service Record", ed. Australian Government (Canberra: National Archives of Australia).
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. "Receiving Congratulations", Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January 1938.