George William Nicholls’ story is a tragic one. He was born in Southwold, Suffolk, in around 1880. At the time of the 1911 Census he was living at 20 Elsa Road, Welling, with his wife Rosa (nee Ayers) – a lady four years his senior. His occupation was given as a cooper in the shipping trade. The couple had been married for 8 years but had no children.
George enlisted on 10th December 1915 as a private in the Seaforth Highlanders. Training for the Seaforth Highlanders was at Bedford, and soldiers were recruited from all over London. By then the couple had moved to 4 Lambeth Cottages, The Green, Welling, Kent.
In his military pension documents his date of birth as given as 1877 and also contradictorily as 11th September 1876. He was 5 foot 5 1/2 inches, had blue eyes and dark hair. However George saw no overseas service. He fell ill and was sent to the Murthly War Hospital in Scotland – this was formerly the Perth Lunatic Asylum: apparently a grim and gloomy place, it was used as a specialist military mental hospital from early 1917 onwards.
George Nicholls’ pension records document his illness and his discharge on 20th June 1917: “No longer fit for war service: June 1917… Report of medical board: Total incapacity – Permanent”Pensions record: Perth, May/June 1917 General paralysis – physically unfit
Permanent total handicap “Not the result of war service”
Eligible for gratuity £60 Age on commencement of pension 40; 11/12?
Height: 5ft 5ins 3/4
“ordered his removal to MurthlyWarHospital” – the patient showed signs of general paralysis” Major ?
Caused by syphilis (not military service) “He is able only to give a most meagre account of his life and actions. He is in a feeble…condition” “pupils are uneven and unresponsive…Speech and gait are appropriately impaired”… “is only able to give the most meagre account of his life” He was given a Silver War Badge, a circular badge with the legend ‘For King and Empire-Services Rendered’ surrounding the George V cypher. This badge was awarded to all military personnel discharged as a result of sickness or wounds contracted or received during the war, either at home or overseas. George died on 26th January 1919 in a lunatic asylum of ‘general paralysis of the insane’, caused by his illness. His wife was still living in 4 Lambeth Cottages and registered his death. Despite the award of the Silver War Badge, he does not appear to have been awarded any war medals, neither was he commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
George Nicholls was not included on the original East Wickham War Memorial after the war. The Committee minute book of of 1920 considered adding his name, but crossed it out noting “Huts [i.e. living in the Hutments]: people joined district recently”. His name was however added to the tablet placed in the Memorial Hall and will be added to the East Wickham and Welling War Memorial over the Centenary period.
This story has been researched by volunteers. We have taken every effort to ensure its accuracy. If you are related to this soldier, or if you have any further information, please do get in touch.