"I stood, not alone, but with the boys, our boys, my boys, who had fallen by the wayside. With the lads who had given their all for freedom."

This is the poignant closing statement sent to the Guardian in May 1945 by Harold White, a funeral director from Walthamstow who sacrificed his life during the Second World War.

By the time these words made it back home, Mr White had endured almost six years of conflict serving on the front line in Crete, north Africa, Sicily and Germany.

Born in St Mary’s Road, Mr White volunteered for service in 1939 as a corporal and was later promoted to a sergeant in the Eighth Army.

While stationed in Crete, he was involved in intense fighting and survived only with a stroke of luck as he was one of the last soldiers to board the final ship out of the area as the enemy advanced.

He then went on to fight in the famous Battle of El Alamein as part of the ‘Desert Rats’ in the Sahara under the command of Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery who personally shook his hand for his heroic efforts.

Suffering from malaria and amnesia brought on by shell shock, Mr White spent three months in hospital in Sicily in 1943 where he completely lost his memory, according to his daughter Melynda Quinn.   

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Harold White (left) and two comrades perch on a minibus while stationed in north Africa  

Besides trauma and serious illness, that same year Mr White and eight of his comrades were taken prisoner of war (PoW) by enemy forces but managed to escape under the floorboards of a carriage in a moving train and hid in the bushes until reaching safe territory.

He often wrote home to his parents who lived at the family business George White & Sons in Hoe Street, Walthamstow, established in 1888.

Mrs Quinn, said: "Harold had written home to his parents telling them they must build an air raid shelter at the bottom of the garden as he was worried the area would get heavily bombed.

"Soon after a bomb fell in Greenleaf Road and the entire glass shop front smashed."

He was later stationed in Germany from where he wrote the letter on May 8, 1945 – the day the Second World War ended in Europe.

From the front garden of a German house, Mr White wrote: "Yes, victory at last. It was a fact, we knew it was true, but it was just taken as part of another job, finished as so many had been finished before. When the news was flashed to us I looked around at the boys near me. Some a little flushed and some with just a little more of a smile. No shouting, no going wild. No, just the attitude of – well, that’s that, what’s next? We had all been at it too long."

After a brief stint back home, he returned to Europe to help the Red Cross with their repatriation effort.

He married Rosina in 1947 and took over the family business, inheriting a branch in Wood Street and opening Harold White funeral directors in Old Church Road, Chingford.

Mr White died in 1980 following a heart attack and Rosina, now aged 97, lives in a care home in Devon.

Mrs Quinn, said: "I’m very proud and often think of the stories, although he would only tell us the funny ones.

"He was very lucky to survive the Battle of El Alamein. What he achieved and overcame was truly amazing and I’m thankful to be living in a time of peace."

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Harold (bottom) on service during the Second World War