Henry James Nicholas’ Victoria Cross is one of only 11 awarded to soldiers of the New Zealand Army during the First World War and the first to be awarded to a person from Canterbury.
Born in Lincoln in 1891, Nicolas volunteered for service in the First World War on 8 February 1916 (having already been turned down once for service due to poor teeth). After training at Sling Camp on the Salisbury Plains in England, like many other Canterbury soldiers, he went on to fight in France, including in well-known battles such as those at the Somme and Messines.
On 11 January 1918, Nicholas was presented the British and Commonwealth’s highest military award, the Victoria Cross, ‘for most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in attack’ during a charge against German forces at Polderhoek Chateau in Belgium. In this charge he overcame 16 German soldiers, took four prisoners and captured the enemy machine-gun.
Tragically, Nicholas was killed only 19 days before the armistice, on the evening of 23 October 1918, when on guard duty near Le Quesnoy. He was just 26 years old when he died. When you next visit the Museum, see if you can find Nicholas’ Victoria Cross, Military Medal, Victory Medal and British War Medal after you climb the stairs to our Costume Gallery. Several other items, including a letter sent from Nicholas’ sweetheart Ethel Martin, are also held behind the scenes at the Museum.