Heroic Canterbury Soldier Honoured
28 February 2007
Heroic Canterbury Soldier Honoured
The gallantry of Canterbury's sole World War I Victoria Cross holder will be honoured during a special exhibition at Our City O-Tautahi in March.
The exhibition honouring Sgt Henry J Nicholas VC MM will open on 7 March, same day as a memorial to him is unveiled at the Park of Remembrance, on the banks of the Avon River near the Bridge of Remembrance.
The exhibition gives an account of Nicholas's short life of 27 years. It covers his war years, his Victoria Cross and Military Medal exploits, and his ultimate death in 1918 when he was killed in a patrol clash near Beaudignies in France.
There is also a short film on the making of the Mark Whyte memorial and memorabilia from the trenches of World War I will also be on display.
Anna Crighton, curator of the exhibition at Our City O-Tautahi, says it is fitting that Nicholas is, at last, being accorded the public recognition he deserved.
Sgt Nicholas was awarded the Victoria Cross for "most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in attack", according to a report in the London Gazette of 11 January 1918.
The attack took place at Polderhoek Chateau in Belgium. When his section was being held up by machine gun and rifle fire from an enemy strongpoint "Private Nicholas rushed forward alone, shot the officer in command of the strong point, and overcame the remainder of the garrison of sixteen by means of bombs and bayonet, capturing four wounded prisoners and a machine gun...His exceptional valour and coolness throughout the operations afforded an inspiring example to all".
The memorial to Sgt Nicholas is the second made by Christchurch sculptor Mark Whyte. The other is of Charles Upham VC which stands in Amberley. Whereas Upham is in action mode, Nicholas is portrayed in uniform standing unarmed, having returned home in spirit. He faces the Bridge of Remembrance, a civic symbol of the sacrifices made by Cantabrians in times of war.
This memorial statue is thought to be the first in the inner city since that of explorer Robert Scott was unveiled in 1917. It was commissioned by the Canterbury Returned Services Association, who is gifting it to the city.
PRESS RELEASE 28 FEBRUARY 2007
Unveiling of Sergeant Henry James Nicholas VC MM Memorial at the Park of Remembrance 4pm Wednesday 7 March 2007.
A memorial to honour Christchurch’s sole Victoria Cross winner of World War 1 Henry J Nicholas will be unveiled on 7 March 2007, at the Park of Remembrance in Christchurch.
Henry J Nicholas was the first Canterbury man to win the VC when, in 1917, he led a charge against a German stronghold at Polderhoek Chateau in Belgium. He silenced the German guns overcoming 16 German soldiers, taking four prisoners and capturing the enemy machine-gun. The London Gazette of 11 January 1918 states that Nicholas was awarded the Victoria Cross for “most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in attack”. Henry J Nicholas won the Military Medal in separate action the following year. He was killed in action on October 23, 1918 near the Northern Bridge over the River Ecaillon at the French town of Beaudignies. The Victoria Cross with which Henry J Nicholas was invested in July 1918 at Buckingham Palace by H.M King George V is now held in the Canterbury Museum.
Born in Lincoln 11 June 1891, he was apprenticed to a builder, and his occupation on enlistment was given that of carpenter. Nicholas had a reputation as a good sportsman, and was well known in New Zealand as an amateur boxer. Nicholas was unmarried.
Christchurch Sculptor Mark Whyte has been awarded the commission for his free standing portrait of Sergeant Henry Nicholas, VC MM cast in bronze one third larger than life size. The Figure will stand on top a two metre high base and is portrayed facing the Bridge of Remembrance in Christchurch’s park of Remembrance. A stone has been gifted from Le Quesnoy near the town of Beaudignies and will be pieced into the base of the statue.
Mark Whyte describes the figure as “not posed yet not animated, no contraposto stance but both feet firmly on the ground with both legs weight bearing with the upper half of the body twisting as if the Bridge has just been noticed. The sculpture portrays Nicholas as a young man of 27 years returning home in spirit at the moment of realizing the huge sacrifice New Zealand soldiers have made by seeing the Bridge of Remembrance for the first time (something which of course he never saw)."
The memorial is commissioned by the Canterbury District RSA’s and the Christchurch City Council and will be gifted to the City of Christchurch once unveiled.
President of the Canterbury District RSA BJ Clark says “the completion of this significant memorial will remind us of the bravery of Nicholas and the ultimate sacrifice that he, and many others have paid, to ensure that we have the opportunity to live in peace. The Park of Remembrance is not designed to glorify war, hence Nicholas is not carrying any weapons, rather to ensure that we consider the loss and effect that war has on those that serve and those left waiting at home."
Lest We Forget
Made possible with the generous support of the following Major Sponsors: The Canterbury Community Trust; Eureka Trust; Christchurch City Council; Canterbury Foundation; Weft Industries Ltd; New Zealand/France Friendship Fund; Lund C & Son Ltd and Year of the Veteran Fund.
Mark Whyte is a New Zealand born sculptor currently residing in Lyttelton. He holds a Batchelor of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. His art includes public statues and sculptures, and a wide variety of contemporary works. He keeps busy with the important task of architectural conservation and presentation. His works have been celebrated by numerous gallery exhibitions, a number of sculpture shows, and several privately owned pieces. In 1997 Whyte was commissioned to sculpt The Charles Upham VC and Bar Memorial Statue, State Highway 1, Amberly. His first public artwork Caryatid was commissioned by the Justice Department in 1987-88 and stands on the lawn between the Law Courts and Avon River in Victoria Square. This work is a contemporary take on the acceptance of weight.
The unveiling and gifting to the City of Christchurch of the memorial will take place at 4pm on the 7th of March 2007 at the Park of Remembrance on the Avon river bank near the Bridge of Remembrance. Following this a special exhibition Nicholas Memorabilia will be opened at Our City O-Tautahi running from 7 March – 12 May 2007.