The O'Leary Collection—Medals of The Royal Canadian Regiment

478662 Pte John Lockwood Nicholl

69th "Annapolis" Battalion of Infantry
The Royal Canadian Regiment

By: Capt (ret'd) Michael M. O'Leary, CD, The RCR

John Lockwood Nicholl was born in Hillsburgh, Digby Co., Nova Scotia, on 8 Aug 1859. The family appears in the 1871 Canadian census which shows John as the fourth of six children, and one of two sons, of James D. (42), a farmer, and Louisa Jane (40) Lockwood. The children, listed in 1871, are Maria (17), Mary Jane (15), Arthur (13), John (11), Maggie (9), and Bessie (4). Although their community is referred to as Hillburgh in some early records, it is now known as Bear River, N.S.

Nicholl appears in the paylists of the 69th Annapolis Regiment of the Canadian Militia in 1880. His name and signature are on the paylist for "D" Company of the regiment for Drill Pay for 10 to 24 Sep 1880. The officer commanding the company is his father, Captain James D. Nicholl. John's older brother Arthur is a Corporal in the company. For his 12 days of annual drill, John received $6.00.

The 69th Annapolis Regiment originated in Paradise, Nova Scotia on 8 Oct 1869 as The First Regiment of Annapolis County Volunteers. The regiment was redesignated the 69th The 1st Regiment of Annapolis County in November 1869 and was it was amalgamated in 1898 with 'The 72nd or Second Annapolis Battalion of Volunteer Militia' to become the '69th "Annapolis" Battalion of Infantry'. Redesignated again in 1900 as the 69th Annapolis Regiment, the regiment today survives in the lineage of The West Nova Scotia Regiment.

Nicholl's family appears in the 1881 Canadian census for Hillsburgh Station. Four of the children, including 21-year-old John are still living at home. Mary Jane and Arthur have moved out. John is recorded in the census data as a farmer.

The 1882-83 paylist for No. 7 Company of the 69th Battalion, in attendance at the Brigade Camp in Aldershot, N.S., from 11 to 22 Sep 1882, shows Corporal John L. Nicholl. Father James is still commanding the company and brother Arthur holds the rank of Sergeant. For his twelve days at Camp in the rank of Corporal, John received $9.00.

John Nicholl also appears on the paylist of No. 7 Company for the Brigade Camp conducted at Aldershot from 7 to 18 Sep 1886. John J. Nicholl is listed that year at the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. Brother Arthur ranks above him as Lieutenant in the company, but father James no longer commands the company. As a 2nd Lieutenant earning $1.28 per diem, John was paid a total of $15.36 for that year's training camp. John and Arthur held the same appointments for the 1888 annual Camp which was conducted from 4 to 15 Sep 1888.

Following James Nicholl's death in 1883, the 1891 Canadian census of the Nicholl's family shows John L. (32) as the head of the household. His mother, Louisa (60), is still living with him as well as sisters Mary J. (37) and Bessie (23). There are also three children in the household with the family name Walsh; Edna (13), Lena (12), and Morris (9).

On 29 Dec 1897, 38-year-old bachelor John L. Nicholl married Harriet G. "Hattie" Rice, a 29-year-old spinster from Bear River, N.S. In the registration of their marriage, Nicholl is recorded as a factory manager living in Jersey City. Hattie, the daughter of merchant William Rice and his wife Mary, was living in Bear River at the time of the marriage. Three years later, Nicholl is identified in the 1900 United States Federal Census. At the age of 40, he is then living in Hudson, New Jersey.

The Nicholls appear in the 1901 Canadian census of Hillsburgh, N.S. John L. (51) and Hattie C. (42) have a family with three sons: Paul D. (12), Harold L. (5), and Maurice E. (1). John's occupation is listed as labourer. He doesn't have a steady employer and is noted as "jobbing."

John L. Nicholl attested for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) with The Royal Canadian Regiment at Halifax, N.S., on 23 Oct 1915. At the time of his enlistment, he claimed a birth date of 8 Aug 1871 (knocking 12 years off his actual age). Nicholl was described on his attestation paper as apparently 44 years of age, 5 feet 10 1/4-inches tall, weighing 175 pounds, with good physical development, a 40-inch chest, a dark complexion, blue eyes, and black hair. His religious denomination was Methodist. Nicholl identified his wife, Mrs. John L. Nicholl, as his next of kin. When asked about prior service, he stated that he had served in the 69th Regiment from 1885 until 1890. On attesting with The RCR, Nicholl was given the regimental number 478662. (A note on Nicholl's attestation paper states that his "Service reckons from 11 Oct 1915" indicating that he had been serving at the Regimental Depot for nearly two weeks before officially attesting for C.E.F. service.)

Five months after joining The RCR, on 31 Mar 1916, Nicholl was transferred from the Regimental Depot to H.Q., The RCR. This change of strength marked his joining the Regiment's 3rd Reinforcement Draft to be sent overseas for the Regiment.

Commencing 1 Apr, 1916, Nicholl established a monthly Pay Assignment of $15 to be sent to his wife. As a Private in the C.E.F., Nicholl was paid $1.00 per day plus an additional ten cents daily field allowance. His pay assignment represented about one-half of his monthly pay. Hattie Nicholl also received $20 monthly Separation Allowance, which began in November, 1915. The amount of separation allowance would increase to $25 per month in December, 1917, and to $30 in September, 1918.

On 1 Apr 1916, Nicholl and his Reinforcement Draft embarked at Halifax, N.S. aboard the S.S. Olympic. The White Star line troopship, sister ship to the Titanic, would disembark the troops at Liverpool, England, on 11 Apr 1916.

On arriving in England, Nicholl was taken on strength of the 11th Battalion at West Sandling. A little more than two weeks later, on 27 Apr 1916, he was struck off the strength of the 11th Bn. to the R.C.R. &# P.P.C.L.I. Depot. The R.C.R. &# P.P.C.L.I. Depot at Caesar's Camp, East Sandling, was a short-lived depot unit that supported those two named regiments with drafts of reinforcements. It was created on 13 Feb 1916 by separating it from the 11th Reserve Battalion, and it was disbanded on 20 Jan 1917 when it was absorbed into the 7th and 26th Reserve Battalions.

On 27 Aug 1916, after five months in England, Nicholl was struck off the strength of the R.C.R. &# P.P.C.L.I. Depot and proceeded overseas (i.e., across the Channel) to The RCR. The following day he landed in France and arrived at the Canadian Base Depot (C.B.D.). On arriving in France as a designated reinforcement for the Regiment, he was taken on the strength of The RCR.

Although Nicholl's service record fails to include the dates of his movements between the C.B.D. and the Regiment, a comparison to records of others who joined the Regiment in the field the same date helps to fill in these blanks. On 9 Sep 1916, these men left the C.B.D. and joined the 3rd Entrenching Battalion. This Divisional troops unit was employed as a ready labour force and by design its troops were a forward reserve of reinforcements for the division's fighting battalions. They were used as labour forces to maintain and build trenches or other work as needed. The 3rd Canadian Entr. Bn. was organized at the Canadian Base Depot, Le Havre, in July 1916 and was disbanded in September 1917 on formation of Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp (C.C.R.C.).

Two weeks later, the Regiment's War Diary notes on 23 Sep 1916 the arrival of a draft of 145 soldiers as the Regiment moved into billets at Warloy. In Corps Reserve, over the next five days, the Regiment marched through Warloy, La Vicogne, Canaples, and Vadencourt, and then to Albert on 28 Sep 1916, a route of about 65 kilometres.

The RCR returned to the front lines on 2 Oct 1916. After a tour in the forward trenches from 2 to 5 Oct 1916, the Regiment moved to jumping off tranches for an assault early on the morning of 8 Oct 1916. The names "Somme," "Ancre Heights," and "Regina Trench" are all applicable names for the actions of early October, 1916. The Regiment's "Battle Bar Document" (prepared after the war by the Militia Department in anticipation of the possibility of clasps for the British War Medal) provides the following details for 8 Oct 1916:

"8 Oct 1916

"4.30 a.m. – Bn in "jumping off" position.
"4.50 a.m. – Bn advanced to the attack on REGINA TRENCH taking objective and many prisoners. The objective was held for four hours, during which time 3 counter-attacks were repulsed. Owing to Bn on Left having failed to reach their objective Bn was compelled to withdraw in order to avoid being outflanked.
"10.00 p.m. – Moved to SUGAR TRENCH."

The War Diary of The RCR describes a day of severe fighting as the battle raged for Regina Trench. The narrative of the battle states only 140 effective members of the battalion marched from that battlefield, the remainder having been evacuated wounded, were missing, or buried. The following day, after the Regiment moved to Tara Hill, the War Diary entry summarized the cost:

"9-10-16. – TRENCHES.

"Cloudy, not quite so cool. See Appendix No. 4. Total casualties reported to date are Captain SAPTE, Lieuts. SIMPSON, WALSH, SUTTON and PENNIMAN, Missing 8-10-16. Major HODSON, Major WOOD, Lieuts. DICKSON, DWYER, BELL and MURRAY, WOUNDED 8-10-16. Killed 7 other ranks. Missing 207 other ranks. Wounded 68 other ranks. It is expected that most of those reported missing will be located through slips from Casualty Clearing Stations as having passed through dressing stations of other regiments on our flanks."

Among the wounded was Private John Nicholl. There are sparse details in Nicholl's service record for the weeks immediately following the attack on Regina Trench. While C.E.F. service records commonly include details medical notes, it is perhaps a result of an overwhelmed evacuation and treatment system that resulted in fewer notes being kept for the less severely wounded.

Nicholl was evacuated from the battlefield wounded and, on 9 Oct 1916 he was admitted to No. 5 General Hospital at Rouen suffering from a G.S.W. face (left cheek). G.S.W. was a broadly used term that could refer to wounds cause by bullets, shrapnel balls, or shell splinters. Just over a week later, on, 17 Oct 1916, Nicholl was transferred to No. 2 Convalescent Depot, Rouen, where he would remain four more days before discharge on 21 Oct 1916. he did not return to The RCR at this time but was taken on the strength of the Canadian Base Depot on 23 Oct 1916.

By 6 Nov 1916, Nicholl was classified Permanent Base (P.B.), for "overage," and transferred to the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre (C.C.A.C.) at Shoreham, where he was taken on strength two days later. A Medical Board conducted at Shoreham on 11 Nov 1916 agreed that Nicholl's disability was "overage." It noted that he had two months service in France and was "otherwise in good condition." The Board also considered Nicholl was "Fit for Permanent Base Duty." Four days later, on 15 Nov 1916, he was attached to the Canadian Pioneer Training Depot (C.P.T.D.) at Crowborough.

Nichol was transferred to the Garrison Duty Company (G.D. Co.) on 22 Dec 1916 and attached to the C.P.T.D. for Q.R.D.C.P. (i.e., quarters, rations, discipline, clothing, and pay) and to the Camp H.Q. for Duty (the latter from 18 Dec 1916, later amended to 22 Dec 1916).

On 8 Jan 1917, Nicholl ceased to be attached to the C.P.T.D. and was sent On Command, i.e., a temporary duty assignment without changing parent unit, to the 25th Reserve Battalion at Hastings. Organized at Crowborough on 2 Jan 1917 as the 25th Reserve Pioneer Battalion by absorbing Canadian Pioneer Training Depot, this unit was designated the 25th Canadian Reserve Battalion (Western Ontario) on 22 Jan 1917. Moved to Bramshott in January 1917, over the next few months it absorbed the 118th, 213th, 149th, and 153rd Battalions. The unit reinforced the 2nd Pioneers, 160th and 161st Battalions. It was itself absorbed by 4th Cdn. Res. Bn. on 15 Feb 1918.

After only a few days under the control of the 25th Res. Bn. Nicholl was taken on the strength of Headquarters, Canadians, at Crowborough, on 13 Jan 1917. Five weeks later, on 21 Feb 1917, he was examined by a Medical Board at Purfleet. Noted as suffering from arteriosclerosis and V.D.H. (valvular disease of the heart), the Medical Board gave him a category of Bii, which was given to "men who were fit for base units of the medical service, garrison, or regimental outdoor duty."

On 10 Mar 1917, Nicholl was taken on the strength of the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot (N.S.R.D.) from C.C.A.C., and was sent On Command to the Canadian Convalescent Depot (C.C.D.), Bramshott. The N.S.R.D. was part of a new regionally based reinforcement system, with named Depots taking in troops from battalions raised in those areas in Canada and providing reinforcement drafts to similarly designated fighting units. The RCR, having been headquartered in Halifax in the decade before the War, was associated with the N.S.R.D. These Depots also became the parent unit for any soldiers returned to England from their affiliated battalions in France and Flanders.

Nicholl continued to be shuffled around, perhaps being employed at minor tasks before being moved to another unit and task. On 16 Mar 1917, he was attached to the Canadian Machine Gun Training Depot (C.M.G.T.D.) for duty. Less than a week later, on 22 Mar 1917, he was sent on command back to the 25th Res. Bn. Soon after, on 27 Mar 1917, Nichol ceased his attachment to H.Q. Canadians and was attached to the C.M.G.D. from 27 Mar 1917.

Re-assignments continued through 1917 for Nicholl. He returned to the NSRD in April and went back to the M.G. Depot later the same month. From May to August he was attached to the Longmoor military railroad. In mid-September, Nicholl was sent to the Canadian Railway Troops (C.R.T.) Depot at Purfleet. He remained at Purfleeet until Mar, 1918, and while there, on 23 Oct 1917, he was awarded one Good Conduct Badge.

On 5 Mar 1918, Nicholl was struck off the strength of the C.R.T. Depot CRT and transferred to the Canadian Forestry Corps (C.F.C.). He was taken on the strength of the C.F.C. Depot at Sunningdale. From here, on 13 Mar 1918, he was posted to 52 District, 131 Company, of the C.F.C. Organized in October 1917, 131 Company was employed at Whinfell Forest, Cliburn, Westmorland until October 1918 when it was transferred to How Mill, Cumberland.

Nicholl remained with 131 Co. until 10 Dec 1918 when he was struck off strength to the Base Depot (B.D.) of the C.F.C. at Smith's Lawn, Sunningdale, Berkshire. He was medically examined at Sunningdale on 16 Dec 1918. Notes from the report of that examination include:

Disability: (1) Otitis media Chronic (i.e., persistent middle ear infection). Cause(s): Exposure, accidental fall, 1916, France. (2) Arterio Sclerosis. Cause: "Age, Canada, before enlistment."

Medical History: "Documents. No entries M.H.S. Medical Boards. 16-11-16. B-1 overage. Otherwise fit. Purfleet. 21-2-18. B-2. Arterio-Sclerosis. V.P.R. Mans Statement. Born in Canada, usual diseases of childhood. Has a Farm before enlistment. Enlisted Oct 1915 with infantry stood drill well. To England Apr. 1916. Not sick in England. To France Aug 1916. In France 4 months, was buried, caused bleeding from ears and nose. Did not come out of lips. Later was wounded in face. Never gave him any disability, was sent back on account of age. Did garrison duty for a while. Then with A.S.C.

Later with musketry school. To Can. For. Cps, Mar 1918, worked in bush and was able to carry on duty at any hard work. Says he twisted his right knee Mar 1918 and that it swells at times."

Present Condition: "SUBJECTIVE. Complains of slight deafness in both ears. Also of pain right knee on much walking. Says is 59 years old. OBJECTIVE. Ears, see. Spec. report R. ear 8 ft, L. ear. 12 ft. Condition is one of retracted drum no perforation or discharge. Slight deafness and ringing noise in ears. O.M.C.C. Right knee, not swollen or tender now. No limitation of movements. Heart, apex beat in nipple line. 1st sound roughened and accentuated, Otherwise normal. Stands exercise well. Pulse rate 73. After-exercise 88 regular. Lungs clear. Other systems normal. Has scar left cheek (GSW). No disability. Urinalysis, 14-12-18 negative. He is physically fit for hard work."

Fit for duty (Category): B2.

Nicholl was assessed as having a 25% disability, six-tenths of which was attributable to service. The closing remarks entered of the report read:

"Man looks about 60 years of age and had general changes appropriate to that age. He has very little thickening of arteries. He worked hard, and has no complaints. Ear report states condition due to service. He tired much easier that formerly and gets short of breath sometimes on exertions now." (Besides the generic assessment of "overage." this was the first direct reference to Nicholl's actual age in his service record.)

The foregoing medical assessment was considered by a Medical Board at Halifax, N.S., on 5 Feb 1919. The note added was simply "Condition unchanged."

On 21 Dec 1918, Nicholl was sent from the Base Depot, C.F.C., on command to Rhyl. Less than three weeks later, on 9 Jan 1919, he was struck off the strength of the B.D. to the C.E.F. in Canada. The following day he sailed from England aboard the same ship that had brought him the, the R.M.S. Olympic. On leaving English shores, Nicholl was taken on the strength of No. 6 District Depot, Halifax, N.S. On arrival in Canada, he was posted to the Depot's Casualty Company on 17 Jan 1919.

Nicholl was discharged from the C.E.F. at Halifax, N.S., on 11 Feb 1919. The reason for his discharge was recorded as "being medically unfit." His discharge certificate noted his age as 47 years, 6 months, and under descriptive marks noted the wound scar on his left cheek.

On discharge, Nicholl was eligible to receive a War Service Gratuity of $420. There was an additional $180 spousal amount for Hattie Nicholl. Cheques were issued to the couple for the outstanding Gratuity between April and August, 1919.

The Nicholl family appears in the 1921 Canadian census. John (61) and Hattie (53) still have two sons living at home, Harold (16) and Maurice (11). John's occupation is listed as fisherman.

For his service in the C.E.F., Nicholl was entitled to receive the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. These were despatched to him at Bear River, Digby Co., N.S., on 14 Oct 1921.

From a few appearances in his local newspaper, it is shown that Nicholl's wartime service left him with some lingering medical problems. The Weekly Monitor, of Bridgewater, N.S., in its edition of 23 May 1923, listed under personal notices for Bear River, noted that: "Mr. John Nicholl left for Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax, last week, where he will receive medical treatment." Again, on 16 Jan 1924, The Weekly Monitor shared: "John L. Nicholl left Wednesday for Halifax, where he will enter Camp Hill Hospital for treatment."

John Lockwood Nicholl died at Bear River, N.S., on 2 May 1937. The cause of his death was chronic heart disease and it was considered to be related to his military service. Nicholl is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Bear River, N.S. Although his death was service-related, no Memorial Cross was issued. Nicholl's service record notes that both his wife and mother predeceased him.

Pro Patria

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