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A Canterbury Hero

One of the heroes of the War was Private Henry James Nicholas (known as Harry) whose decisive and effective actions at the Battle of Polderhoek Chateau, Belgium, on 3 December 1917 saved many lives.

Canterbury Museum 2007.101.5

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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 pre-war view of Polderhoek Chateau, Ypres, Belgium

Image courtesy of Lemuel Lyes, historygeek.co.nz

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Polderhoek Chateau in 1915 after the First Battle of Ypres in 1914. The Chateau remained under German control until after the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. By this time, the whole area was a wasteland. The Chateau was not rebuilt and the site is now part of an industrial zone.

Courtesy of Paul Reed, www.greatwarphotos.com

A fragment of Polderhoek Chateau

Canterbury Museum 2008.213.1

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A Shared Fragment

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.

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The Victoria Cross (left) awarded to Private Henry James Nicholas for his actions at the Battle of Polderhoek Chateau on 3 December 1917. The Victoria Cross is the highest award in the United Kingdom’s honours system and is awarded for gallantry “in the face of the enemy”. New Zealand established its own Victoria Cross award in 1999. On the right is his Military Medal.

Canterbury Museum 1932.79.1, 1932.79.2

The Victory and British War Medals awarded posthumously to Henry Nicholas.

Canterbury Museum 2002.106.13, 2002.106.14

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Gallantry in the Face of the Enemy

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.

A Creditable Boxer

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.