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Donald Cameron NICOLSON


Rank Reg/Ser No DOB Enlisted Discharge/Death Board
Sgt 1732A 27y 4 Jan 1916 14 Apr 1917 KA 2 & 7

Sergeant Donald Cameron Nicolson (1888 - 1917)

Nicolson Brothers Booklet

The Nicolson Family

The names of three Nicolson brothers appear on the honour boards at Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church.  They were members of a family from Bowen in North Queensland.  The father, John Nicolson who worked on various stations around Bowen was an old identity in North Queensland.  He married Annie Clark Macdonald at Bowen in 1881 and they had seven children, one of whom died in infancy.

Angus, the eldest son did not join the military forces and remained in Bowen.  The two daughters married brothers whose surname was Pott.  The other three were the soldiers who are honoured on the walls of the Merrington Anzac Memorial Peace Chapel.

Two of the three brothers named were killed in action in different battles on the Continent of Europe in 1917.  Both enlisted in January 1916 – one in Rockhampton, the other in Townsville.  They belonged to different battalions.  Neither has a known grave.  Both were killed in terrible conflicts resulting in the slaughter of thousands of young men – Donald at Bullecourt in France and Lachlan at Passchendaele in Belgium.

Their youngest brother, Charles Neil Nicolson1,2 enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1918 but did not arrive in France till 1919 when the First World War had ended. 

Their mother, Mrs Annie Nicolson died at Bowen in 1911 when the youngest boy was only 10. Mr John Nicolson lived till the age of 81 years but because of the itinerant nature of his work, a good deal of responsibility fell to Mrs Nicolson while she was alive and to the older members of the Nicolson family especially during and after the First World War.

Donald's early life

Donald Cameron Nicolson, the second son of John and Annie Clark Nicolson was born on 29 December 1888 at Blackall3, Western Queensland.  He attended Bowen State School and trained voluntarily in North Queensland’s 5th Australian Light Horse Regiment.  

Enlistment

He was working as a clerk when he enlisted on 4 January 1916 at Rockhampton to serve in the Australian Imperial Force.  A single man aged 27 years, Donald stood 5 feet 7¾ inches (172 cm) tall and weighed 147 lbs (66.7 kg).  He named his older brother, Angus Desalis Nicolson of Bowen, as next-of-kin.  His father was an itinerant worker on properties and roads in Northern and Western Queensland and his mother had died at Bowen in 1911.

Service

Private Don Nicolson was attached to reinforcements for the 47th Infantry Battalion and sailed on HMNZT4 Hawkes Bay from Sydney on 20 April for Alexandria, Egypt.  Soon afterwards he with his battalion embarked on Troopship Franconia5 from Alexandria on 6 June 1916, arriving ten days later at Plymouth, England.  Private Nicholson attended a rifle course at Tidworth School of Musketry and proceeded overseas to Étaples, France in September.

The 47th was engaged at that time in the trenches of the Western Front, participating in its first major battle at Pozières. Initially, the battalion provided working parties during the 2nd Division's attack on 4 August, and then, with its own division, defended the ground that had been captured. The 47th endured two stints in the heavily-contested trenches of Pozières, as well as a period in reserve.

Donald Nicolson received promotion “in the field” to Lance Corporal, then Corporal, and on 24 February 1917 to Sergeant.  He spent ten days in the Australian Field Ambulance Hospital for treatment for a sprained ankle during March and returned to his unit and the trenches.

Killed at Bullecourt 
On 11 April the 47th took part in the attack mounted against the heavily defended village of Bullecourt - part of the formidable Hindenburg Line to which the Germans had retreated during February and March.  Devoid of surprise, and dependent upon the support of unreliable tanks, the attack failed and Sergeant Donald Nicholson was killed.  A note on Sergeant Nicolson’s record of service reads, “buried 500 yards E (east) of Bullecourt” but his grave evidently could not be found or identified afterwards, for his name is inscribed on the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux along with thousands of other names of Australian soldiers with no known grave6.

News reaches those at home

As mentioned previously, the eldest brother, Angus Desalis Nicolson who lived in Bowen was next-of-kin but it was the younger of the two sisters, Flora Clementina (Flo) who composed the first letter in a chain of correspondence between members of the Nicolson family and the Officer-in-charge, Base Records, AIF, Melbourne that extended over a period of six years. Mention of some of these letters illustrates the sadness and confusion that followed.

Miss Flo Nicolson had moved to Banksia, Victoria Street, Spring Hill by May 1917 when she wrote:

“I have had news through my brother (Angus Nicolson of Bowen) stating that Donald Cameron Nicolson had been killed in action in France. As I am next-of-kin and my brother left me everything before he left Brisbane, I would like very much to know particulars if possible. If you would be so good as to let me have such at your earliest convenience I would be for ever grateful. Also if you have anything belonging to him personally or could let me know anything about his will etc etc I would be very glad. I have been drawing my brother’s pay ever since he left. He did leave me 8/- a day but I have only been getting 4/-. He was Sergeant when he left Brisbane but when he was in Egypt to use his own expression he downed his stripes and went back to the ranks so as to go into the trenches. He was promoted to Corporal from there. I suppose you know all this though so I won’t worry you further. Do please send me all particulars as far as you are able as soon as possible. This has been a great blow to me and I had a letter from the Dear Boy only last week and he said he was expecting to spend Xmas with me.

Thanking you in anticipation,

 I am,

Yours sincerely,

Miss Flo C Nicolson”

In his reply to Miss Nicolson the Officer-in-charge, Base Records pointed out that next-of-kin as shown on the records as brother, Angus D. Nicolson had already been notified of his brother’s death and that any personal effects coming to hand would be “forwarded either to next-of-kin or in accordance with other testamentary instructions”.

As time went on and news of the death of younger brother, Private L. A. R. Nicolson was made known, letters referred to both brothers.

When it was time to hand over to the family the medals of the deceased soldiers, it was necessary for Major McLean7 to inform Mr A. D. Nicolson (eldest brother and next-of-kin) that “in order that the instructions under ‘Deceased Soldiers Estates Act 1918’ may be properly complied with when disposing of war medals” he would be glad to know if any closer blood relatives than himself, for instance his father or his mother, are still alive, and if so, how they might be contacted.

On receipt of this letter, Angus decided he would not have anything more to do with the Base Records Office. Under the official letterhead of “A.D. NICOLSON, GENERAL AUCTIONEER, PO Box 10, BOWEN” he wrote to the Officer-in-charge:

“Your letter of the 16th ultimo duly to hand and contents noted.  Please understand that I have had quite enough of this giving particulars re my two brothers. As your records show I have been left next of kin in both cases and have not even been recognised by your Department in the list since the information was received. Seeing that it was my two late brothers’ requests to leave me next of kin I think it only fair that I should have had more consideration regarding their affairs.

As you already know my father is alive and I am the oldest brother of the family, therefore you can understand that I have had enough of this sort of treatment and do not feel inclined to have any more bother.

Yours faithfully

(signed) A D Nicolson”

Despite further explanations and requests from Base Records, Angus Nicolson sent no replies.

The rightful recipient of the deceased soldiers’ medals was of course their father Mr John Nicolson but contacting him proved to be a lengthy frustration.  Eventually an undated note from him reached the Base Records Office in Melbourne:

“Sir,

I have received your letter of 1st June to my daughter Miss F C Nicolson now Mrs E Pott ‘Burnsfoot’ Bowen. I am the Father of No 1732 D C Nicolson of the 47 Bat also 1206 L A R Nicolson private 42 Bat. Both were killed in action.

I am very sorry for the delay caused by your letter to me being returned without my knowledge. I had been on the (Mintainina?) Branch on the railway and travelling about a lot. I have been put off as I am over the old age limit.

I am Sir yours faithfully

John Nicolson, Post Office, George Street, Brisbane.”

A date stamp shows the note was received on 31 August 1923.  Mr Nicolson later received the Victory Medal and the British War Medal awarded to his sons who had paid the supreme sacrifice.

Their Name Liveth for Evermore

In addition to the memorials already mentioned, the short but courageous lives of Donald Cameron Nicolson and Lachlan Alexander Robert Nicolson are remembered with honour on the War Memorial in Herbert Street, Bowen and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

The words carved on every Stone of Remembrance, “Their Name Liveth For Evermore”, were suggested by Rudyard Kipling.  The phrase is taken from Ecclesiasticus, Chapter 44, verse 14: “Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation”8.


Footnotes
1. Charles Neil Nicolson’s surname is incorrectly spelt on the honour board.
2. See Charles Neil Nicolson’s story 
3. D. C. Nicolson gave Blackall as his place of birth when he enlisted in the AIF. (Information on the memorial was supplied by relatives)
4.  His Majesty’s New Zealand Transport
5.  Franconia was a Cunard liner from Liverpool to New York. In February 1915 she was turned into a troopship for Gallipoli where she took casualties to the safety of Egyptian ports. On 4 
October 1916, bound for Salonika, she was torpedoed and sank. There were no troops on board but 12 of the crew were killed.
6. There are now 10,738 Australian officers and men still officially recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial as missing on the 1914-1918 battlefields of France.
7. Major McLean was Officer-in-charge, Base Records, Victoria Barracks, Melbourne
8. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with The Apocrypha, page 148 AP

Select Bibliography
• Bean, C. E. W., Anzac to Amiens, Penguin Books, Melbourne, 2014
• Carlyon, L., The Great War, Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 2014
• Metzger B. M. & Murphy R. E. (Eds), The New Oxford Annotated Bible with 
The Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version, Oxford University press, New York, 1994
• National Archives of Australia, World War 1 military records
• Australian War Memorial - Roll of Honour, Embarkation Rolls, Unit Histories
Townsville Daily Bulletin, 24 April 1931, page 10
The Brisbane Courier, 25 April 1931, page 10
• Queensland Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths
• New South Wales Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths
• State Library of Queensland

Prepared by Noel Adsett, Brisbane.  December, 2015.

 

 

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