Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

The family of Arthur Robert has been traced back to 1841, at Maker in Cornwall, where his grandfather, Pearce Nichols, was an agricultural labourer with higher aspirations. In 1843 he married Mary Hutchings and by 1851 was describing himself as a lawyer. The couple's first child was born in 1844 to be followed two years later by John Hutchings Nichols who would go on to become Arthur Roberts' father.
John Hutchings learnt the carpenter's trade and had become a boat builder's apprentice by 1861. He joined the Royal Navy in the 1860s and was listed as a Chief Carpenter's Mate at sea in the 1871 census. John married Emily Elliott at Weymouth in 1874 and settled in Devonport where they had four children, John, Thomas, Emily and Florence by the 1881 census. Another son, Frederick followed before the family moved to Portsmouth where they found a residence at 7 Abbotsford Terrace, Church Road, Landport. There they had three more sons, Herbert, Arthur Robert and Edgar. by the 1890s John Hutchings had reached the rank of Chief Carpenter before he retired, though the 1911 census gives him a ranking of Lieutenant. The family remained at the same address until after that census.

In 1904 Arthur Robert began attending the Secondary School on Victoria Road North and stayed there until 1908. Before leaving school he passed London Matriculation, and was then for a time a Pupil Teacher at St. Mary's Road School, preparatory to becoming a member of the University College, Reading, where in 1913 he took the degree of B.A., London University, graduating in 1st Class Honours in Philosophy.
When the Great War broke out he was gazetted 2nd Lieut. in the King's Liverpool Regiment, having previously belonged to the O.T.C. at Reading, and the next year he was in France, where he was wounded, and until he had completely recovered was engaged for some time in transport duties. In the neighbourhood of Le Cateau, in October, 1918, raged one of the fiercest battles of the war. The Germans had taken up a strong position on the steep and wooded slopes beyond the River La Selle, the ground bristling with wire entanglements and machine guns, and intersected with trenches; the British had to advance over an almost level swampy ground, cross a bridgeless river in the face of a merciless fire, and turn their flank. Day after day this battle raged, but the British objective was accomplished. It was here that Captain Nichols gained the Military Cross and shortly afterwards was killed.
The following extracts are from the War Office and his Colonel; the former gives particulars of how he gained the Military Cross:- "On the l0th October, 1918, north of Le Cateau, this Company Commander succeeded in getting his entire Company across the flooded River La Selle, although the only means of crossing at that time was a fallen tree. Several men swam and waded breast high, led by Captain Nichols, and the remainder were got across by the temporary bridge, the operation taking over an hour. The work was done under machine gun fire; its successful accomplishment was due to his conspicuous gallantry and skill in leadership." " Captain Nichols was instantly killed by a shell as he was advancing to the attack with his Company on the 23rd October. I feel the loss myself most acutely, as he was a splendid leader and extremely capable." A brother officer wrote:- "The Company was advancing under a terrific German barrage which caused us many casualties and we had only gone a few hundred yards when your brother was killed ... was a brilliant soldier and a perfect gentleman."
The photograph above is taken from a memorial booklet published by Southern Grammar School from which extracts also appear above.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website lists Captain Arthur Robert Nichols, MC, The King's (Liverpool Regiment), date of death, 23/10/1918, age 26, buried at the Montay Communal Cemetery (Grave Ref: 3.). Son of the late Lt. John Hutchings Nichols, R.N., and Emily Nichols. Native of Portsmouth. B.A. (London), and Associate of Reading University College..
Arthur Nichols is remembered on the Southern Grammar School WW1 Memorial, the Buckland United Reformed Church WW1 Memorial and on the Cenotaph. He is not listed in the 'National Roll of the Great War'.
Tim Backhouse
November 2013