He was a carpenter, a sportsman – a boxer – went to Christchurch Normal School (local boy), his photos show a nice face, and he wasn’t married. Just an ordinary kiwi bloke, maybe. But he did extraordinary things.
Henry Nicholas enlisted in February 1916 with the 1st Canterbury Battalion, and landed in France in September 1916. With his Regiment was involved in fighting at The Somme, Messines and Polderhoek, (Belgium).
It was from the action at Polderhoek on 3 December 1917 that he was awarded the Victoria Cross for “conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty… exceptional valour and coolness”. He destroyed an enemy strongpoint that was inflicting heavy casualties and overpowered a sixteen-man enemy garrison, capturing four wounded prisoners and an enemy machine-gun.
While on leave in England in mid-1918 he was invested by the King, the first solder in his regiment to be awarded the V.C., and he returned to France in September 1918, promoted to sergeant.
The Regiment had the duty of holding the town of Beaudignies, near Le Quesnoy. A skirmish on 23rd October with a German patrol cost Nicholas his life, and earned him the Military Medal.
A hundred years ago, on 9 February 1917, two very different Antarctic stories were being celebrated in New Zealand.
In Christchurch on 9 February 1917 a statue to honour the Antarctic explorer Robert Scott was unveiled.
The Scott Memorial Statue stood on the corner of Worcester Street and Oxford Terrace and had been commissioned by the Council in 1913. Sculpted by Scott’s widow Kathleen, the 3-tonne, 2.6 metre high white marble statue of Scott in polar dress stood on a plinth inscribed with words from Scott’s farewell message ‘I do not regret this journey which shows that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another and meet death with as great fortitude as ever in the past.’ A bronze plaque records his name and those of his companions who died on the expedition to be the first to reach the South Pole.
Scott’s statue remained in place until it was thrown off its plinth and damaged during the 22nd February 2011 earthquake. The broken statue was removed and in January 2016 it was put on display again at Canterbury Museum’s special exhibition, Quake City. Today, on the centenary of its unveiling, restoration plans for the repair of the statue were announced.
Meanwhile in another part of New Zealand a group from a very different Antarctic expedition were being welcomed to Wellington. On 9 February 1917 the Aurora arrived in New Zealand after returning from a rescue mission of the Ross Sea party from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
This group had been tasked with laying a series of supply depots for the final part of Shackleton’s proposed route across Antarctica, with the Aurora used for transport and carrying supplies. While anchored at Cape Evans in May 1915 the Aurora became frozen into the shore ice and after a severe gale it broke its moorings and was carried out to sea attached to an ice-floe. This left a ten-man sledding team marooned ashore where they would remain for nearly two years. The Aurora eventually broke free from the ice but then had to sail to New Zealand for repairs.
In December 1916, after repairs, and under the command of Captain J.K. Davis, the Aurora returned to rescue those left behind, leaving Port Chalmers bound for McMurdo Sound. The Aurora arrived at Cape Evans on 10th January 1917, and found seven surviving members of the Ross Sea party. You can read news reports of the ship’s arrival on Papers Past.
It’s all go portside at the moment, as we at Lyttelton Library watch the repairs proceeding apace from our temporary perch up the hill in the Recreation Centre’s Trinity Hall on Winchester Street. The in-progress library now has a dashing white coat of paint (goodbye pink!), lovely new double-glazed windows, and a smart new resident outside…
This gorgeous bronze sled dog, nicknamed Hector, was sculpted by Mark Whyte and stands guard by what will be our new customer entrance. He’s looking towards Quail Island, where his real-life predecessors were housed and trained. Hector is there to recognise and celebrate Lyttelton’s contribution to exploration in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and he symbolises the courage, commitment and comradeship of all those involved. (He’s also a hit with local kids and tourists – it seems the thing to do is have your selfie taken with Hector wearing your sunglasses!)
Meanwhile, inside the library, the new spaces are starting to take shape. Here are a few shots of the work in progress:
We’re enjoying our current sojourn in sunny Trinity Hall (particularly with Jenny the giraffe watching over everything) and looking forward to next year, when we’ll be back in the heart of things (and the Saturday market) again!
In Victoria Square is a statue of Captain James Cook, executed by William Trethewey, a Christchurch sculptor. Gifted to the City by the late M. F. Barnett, the statue was unveiled on 10 August 1932 by the Governor General, Lord Bledisloe. On the granite base of the marble figure is the inscription
James Cook, Captain, Royal Navy, circumnavigator who first hoisted the British flag in New Zealand and explored her seas and coasts, 1769–70, 1773–4, 1777
The figures on the Citizens’ War Memorial were first modelled in clay by the Christchurch sculptor William Trethewey, and afterwards reproduced in plaster, and the moulds were forwarded to England where they were cast in bronze by A B Burton. The memorial comprises six figures, the symbolism of which is as follows:
The figure seated in the centre with outstretched arms, in an attitude of resignation and sacrifice, is symbolic of the mothers of the Empire grieving for their sons.
On the right, facing the Cathedral, is St George in armour, representing valour or protection; on the other side, holding a torch, is Youth.
Next to St George is Peace, holding an olive branch and a dove, and alongside is Justice, blindfolded and holding scales.
The figure at the top showing the sword being broken was at first to be called “Victory”, but the War Memorial Committee decided against this and it has no name.