The horror of William Nicholas’ World War One service is brought home in the matter of fact way he spoke of the injuries he had to deal with.
William served through the war with 6th Field Ambulance of the Royal Army Medical Corps. His son Keith recalls: “He wouldn’t say anything bad about it, he just spoke about it in such a normal way — what wounds they found — it was ‘normal’ to him.”
In fact, Keith, from Higham, recalls seeing training posters his father had showing graphic pictures of nightmare trauma wounds.
“Some of the wounds he saw must have been horrendous,” Keith said.
They could not have had a better teacher. William joined the army in about 1910 as a 19-year-old. The 6th Field Ambulance was sent to Belgium with the 2nd Division soon after war broke out.
By joining the regular Army, William was following in the footsteps of his father, who was the last survivor of the Zulu Wars.
His brother Francis also joined the army and was killed at Nieuport, Belgium, on September 28, 1917 as a Second Lieutenant with the Manchester Regiment, during an aircraft or artillery barrage.
William’s other brother Ernest joined the Royal Navy and served in the 1916 naval battle of Jutland before, it is thought, transferring to submarines and surviving the war.
According to a diary William kept in the early part of the war, the move to Belgium was immediate. His unit was certainly involved in the retreat from Mons, commemorated with a bar on his 1914 medal. The 6th Field Ambulance evacuated and treated the wounded of some of the most ferocious battles on the Western Front.
In the heart of all this carnage, William’s unit adopted a small dog they found in a burnt out farmhouse. The unit cared for Tiny through the war and shipped him home, but soon after getting out of quarantine, he was killed when he was hit by a car.
Tiny was stuffed and, along with William’s tin hat, is now on display at the History on Wheels military and classic vehicle museum at Eton Wick near Windsor.
William left the army as a corporal in 1922 and went on to join the Middlesex Ambulance Service, who he worked for until he retired. He also volunteered with the Red Cross, while Keith’s mother was a nurse who volunteered with St John Ambulance. William died in 1975.
Do you have a relative who served in World War One as a service person, nurse or on the home front? Contact John Henderson on 01284 757821 or firstname.lastname@example.org with the details.