Sally Nicholson’s great great grandfather Ernest fought at the Somme alongside her great great uncle, Sidney Nicholson, a Lance-Corporal in the King’s Royal Rifles. On the 7th October 1916 Sidney was just about to lead his men over the top when he was shot in the head by a sniper. Ernest was then faced with the difficult task of writing to tell their mother that Sidney had been killed in action and that his body could not be recovered from the mud of the battlefields:
“My dear Mother and All
I suppose by now you will have heard from the Sergeant Major & also from the Wesleyan Chaplain that our Sid was shot through the head on Saturday last. I wasn’t there as I was kept back at the transport line with the Reserve men but from what I can get to know from the men of his section he was killed instantaneously. He was a section commander and was leading his men on when he was killed.
Mummy dear, I hardly know what to write. It’s terribly hard on you and all of us but we must try to think of him as just having gone to join Dad, and that we shall all meet again in the days to come. Everybody has been most kind and Lieutenant Brooksbank particularly so. He took me into his tent and was nearly heartbroken. Poor old Rufus was killed just before Sid, so we are gradually losing all our own men. I’ll know you’ll try to be brave won’t you mum? I know it isn’t very much satisfaction to any of us to say he died for his country, but there is one thing, he was doing his duty as he saw it and I am sure you wouldn’t want any of us to go back on our friends would you?
I have got a few things of his from his valise, which I am trying to send home. He left his wallet with me to give to Hilda if anything happened to him so I’ll send them all together and you can give it her. I can’t write any more and you’ll understand why won’t you? I’ll write to the others after a few days.
God bless you all and help you to bear this severe blow. We always pray for you at night and ask God to bless you.
With fondest love to you all
Always your ever loving son Ernest”
Ernest (pictured left, with Sidney) lived to be 98 years old.
Speaking about Sidney, Sally explained why the shrouds resonated with her:
“We are not really a military family, but we’ve always made an effort to remember him…the shrouds are a fitting tribute to seventy two and a half thousand men like Sid.”
After meeting Rob and telling him the moving story of the two brothers, Rob asked Sally – a teacher from Northampton – to come and lay the final shroud in London.
Meanwhile Sally’s cousin Deb contacted us separately to buy a named shroud in memory of Sidney.
Deb had never met Sally but the two finally came face to face at our remembrance service on Sunday when Deb had this to say:
“I hope Rob realises what an amazing thing he has achieved – the number of people we heard as we walked round saying how it brought the scale of the losses home with far more impact than seeing names on a list. It was also good to see the number of children and young people there – by engaging them with a very visual message Rob has done his part to ensure this huge waste of life will never be forgotten.
It was the most amazing event – so a huge thank you to you all for putting it together. The song by Steve Knightley was so moving – and the poem was such a strong message, delivered in a very poignant way. Marvellous!
Sally and I literally chatted for hours and could have gone on far longer, so we’re meeting up again before too long. We both have a lot to thank Sidney for!”
It has been amazing to see how so many people have been touched by Rob’s work and an honour to help relatives like Sally and Deb who feel that the shrouds are a symbolic way of bringing their loved ones home after their bodies could not be recovered from the battlefields.
If you have a story or photo of someone who is commemorated at Thiepval then you can share it on the CWGC archive: blog.cwgc.org/thiepval-stories.