From Lancashire mill worker to war hero

Edward Nicholson was one of the few soldiers to be awarded both the Military Cross and Distinguished Conduct Medal. Barbara Dyer tells her great uncle's story

By The Newsroom
Friday, 26th January 2018, 4:00 pm
Updated Friday, 26th January 2018, 5:05 pm
RSM Edward Nicholson, of the South Lancashire Regiment
RSM Edward Nicholson, of the South Lancashire Regiment

Edward Nicholson was born on May 2, 1891 at 1 Ormside Street, Preston.

He later moved to Great George Street, Preston and attended St Ignatius School.

He worked as a weaver at Moor Brook Mill until joining the army at Fulwood Barracks in 1909, at the age of 18, where he was attached to the 2nd Battalion, Prince of Wales Volunteers (South Lancashire Regiment).

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Edward Nicholsons medals

Nicholson acquired several education certificates during 1909/1910 and served in various places in England and Ireland.

He was among the first soldiers to head to the battlefield with the British Expeditionary Force in August 1914 and received a number of promotions, rising through the ranks.

Records suggest his last visit home was in the autumn of 1915 before sailing to France from Southampton on November 25.

He was involved in heavy fighting in Flanders and France, and in June 1916 was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for “Constant gallantry and good work throughout”.

Officers of the 2nd South Lancashire Regiment in summer 1916

A newspaper report at the time stated: “He went out to France at the beginning of the war and has been through most of the big battles without receiving a scratch.”

Shortly after this, Nicholson was promoted to the rank of Acting Regimental Sergeant Major.

On September 3, 1916 the battalion suffered many losses, including its commanding officer, and Acting RSM Nicholson was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for bravery. His citation noted he had “displayed exceptional gallantry and initiative in rallying the men when the Company Officers had been put out of action.

“He made three attempts to enter the enemy’s trenches although he had been badly shaken by a shell burst early in the attack.”

Edward Nicholsons medals

The battalion was involved in further heavy fighting during 1917, and they were involved in an offensive at Railway Wood, Ypres, which began on July 31.

The night after the battle commenced was particularly tough for them, as they were in full view of the enemy.

During that time, Acting RSM Nicholson was hit in the neck by a piece of shell and was killed instantly. He was 26 years old and close to the front line in a trench just captured from the Germans.

Edward’s body was never recovered, but his death on August 1, 1917 was reported in the Lancashire Daily Post on August 8, 1917 and is recorded on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial Panel 37.

Officers of the 2nd South Lancashire Regiment in summer 1916

In his obituary, the Post’s tribute noted Nicholson was probably the only non-commissioned officer from Preston with both the DCM and the MC at that time.

The report went on to quote the regimental chaplain, who had spoken to Nicholson on the afternoon before his death, and noted he was in good health and high spirits.

The chaplain said: “He was very valued in the regiment and I, as chaplain, had a great regard for him; he was such a thorough soldier and exercised such a good influence over the men.

“On very many occasions he helped me with my work among the men.”