During the action, Henry’s machine gun team was under intense fire. Leaving on his own, Henry angled his way to a position behind the German strongpoint. He shot the German platoon commander and then, dropping into the German trench, killed another 11 men, bayoneting those near him and throwing bombs at those further away.
After his comrades reached the position, Henry ferried ammunition to them during a German counter-attack, frequently exposing himself to enemy fire.
A fragment from Polderhoek Chateau was gifted to Canterbury Museum by the Memorial Museum Passanchandaele (Belgium) as a symbol of a shared link with Henry Nicholas and the many other New Zealanders who fought in Belgium during World War One.
A Victoria Cross was awarded to Private Henry James Nicholas for his “exceptional valour and coolness” during the battle of Polderhoek Chateau. This was one of 11 Victoria Crosses awarded to members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force during World War One and the only one of Henry’s four medals that he physically received during his lifetime.
Nicholas was presented with the Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 10 July 1918. He had it in his possession for nearly a month before leaving it at the New Zealand Record Office in London for safekeeping when he returned to France in September 1918.
Sergeant Nicholas was awarded this Military Medal for “fearless leadership and contempt of danger” during a battle on Welsh Ridge between 28 September and 1 October 1918. The award was announced on 14 October 1918, 9 days before Nicholas was killed in a minor skirmish at Beaudignies, France.
Henry Nicholas was good at sports and was known in New Zealand as an amateur boxer. Henry participated in boxing matches on the transport ship on the way to Europe and won the middleweight boxing championship for his regiment at Sling Camp in England. In France, Henry competed in a New Zealand Division boxing tournament and was runner-up in the middleweight bout. At the time of the fight, Henry weighed 68 kg, 8 kg less than he had weighed on the troopship.