Photo of the Western Scots 67th regiment, Capt. George Willis Nicholson is marked with an X on the upper left. (Courtesy Nicholson family)

Photo of the Western Scots 67th regiment, Capt. George Willis Nicholson is marked with an X on the upper left. (Courtesy Nicholson family)

War stories keep memory of grandfather alive for Saanich man

Career military man George Nicholson served his countries on three continents, in both world wars

With no veterans of the war remaining stories about the First World War are tougher to come by.

Saanich resident Colin Nicholson and his wife Joan have interesting life stories themselves, growing up on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island in Zeballos and Tofino.

But Colin, 84, feels fortunate to have spent time with his paternal grandfather, George Salier Willis Nicholson, hearing war snippets along the way. While George, like most veterans, avoided revisiting battle stories, Colin learned little things such as how his grandpa never missed a day of shaving in his life, even in the muddy trenches of France and Belgium during the First World War.

“I tried a couple times to get some war stories out of him, but he was like most veterans, he didn’t seem to want to talk about it. I don’t blame him, when you see what went on there,” Colin says.

Periodically something would remind him and he would mention things about France or Belgium, Colin says, “but he never mentioned the savagery and bloodthirstiness that went on, which is too bad in a way, because people don’t realize what really went on over there.”

George, who died in 1980 at age 92, was a colourful character who began his military career in his native New Zealand around 1904. He served in both world wars for Canada, achieving the rank of major, and was awarded the Military Cross for “exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land,” in 1917 in France.

READ MORE: Courage Remembered

Author of the history book, Vancouver Island’s West Coast – 1762-1962, he attempted three times later in life to write his memoirs. The results of those efforts, including a detailed chronology of his military activities and achievements, now reside in a pair of monogrammed suitcases that came into Colin and Joan’s possession after George died.

As Colin sifts through the materials, his knowledge of early points in George’s chronology mixes with childhood memories.

“It was quite the thing to see him all dressed up in his uniform. He always had a driver with him and a swagger stick he had tucked under his arm,” Colin says. “He was a real soldier, an old-world soldier. I’m positive he loved war, he must have because he certainly organized things to do with war and was right in the middle of it.”

George’s documentation places him at many battle points through the First World War, including Ypres (Passchendaele), the Somme, Vimy Ridge and Lens in France. Two of the more fascinating pieces of memorabilia in the cases come from that era: First World War trench maps from Lens and Belgium. They’re a tiny glimpse into what daily life must have been like in those terrifying days dodging mortars and enemy bullets.

Wounded with a gunshot to the hip during the battle of the Hindenburg Line in 1918, George recuperated in England for a month then returned to mainland Europe in time to be in France on Nov. 11 when the armistice was signed.

He returned to the Island, getting into the pub and hotel business in Sooke and even, Colin says with a grin, engaged in some rumrunning missions to the U.S. during Prohibition. An experienced leader who often took on new challenges, George later spent time in Clayoquot (Stubbs Island) and the gold-mining town of Zeballos doing everything from running supplies to the mine, to serving as justice of the peace, mine recorder and postmaster.

His passion for military life led to a recommissioning as a captain in 1940, in his 50s, as a member of the Canadian Scottish Regiment. He was in charge of a company guarding the Tofino airport during construction and operations.

Colin tells a related story about how George one day visited the waterside cookhouse of the company building the airport. When he arrived, he noticed meat laying in the dirt. When he asked, he was told “the crew will eat nothing but prime rib,” and the rest was discarded for the bears to pack away.

The resourceful military man organized a truck to pick up the meat. “For his troops, this was prime rib as far as they were concerned,” Colin says. “They were living on army rations and stuff. He was an instant hero, I guess, he probably had the best fed battalion in all of B.C.”

Colin’s late father also served in the Second World War, with 103 Company Tofino of the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, a group that patrolled B.C.’s coast watching for signs of a Japanese invasion. The eventual internment of Japanese residents living in the area, a wartime reaction, saddened his father, Colin says.

“My dad worshipped the Japanese; he fished with them and he packed fish from Clayoquot to Seattle with them,” he says.

Colin recalls as a teenager being introduced by his father after the war to a Japanese fisherman who was the son of a man he worked for.

“I can still remember that to this day, he was so excited that this fellow with his fishing boat had come into Tofino. He wanted to make sure that I met him.”

While the stories of his father and grandfather form part of his family’s history, Colin says it’s important that younger generations hear and read them to know a little more of what it was like during wartime.


 

Do you have a story tip? Email:don.descoteau@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.  
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Courage RememberedRemembrance Day

 

Wartime and other memorabilia fill the late George Nicholson’s old suitcases. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)

Wartime and other memorabilia fill the late George Nicholson’s old suitcases. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)

These linen-style maps were used by George Nicholson in Europe during the First World War. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)

These linen-style maps were used by George Nicholson in Europe during the First World War. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)

Just Posted

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
University of Victoria researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada

Emergency health services treated a person after they were blocking traffic at the intersection of Fort and Douglas Streets on June 17. (Evert Lindquist/ News Staff)
Victoria intersection traffic returns to normal after protester blocked roadway

A person in a motorized wheelchair was blocking the intersection at Fort and Douglas Streets

New COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island by local health area for the week of June 6-12. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control image)
New COVID-19 cases up on Island, but health officials say trends going right way

There were 22 new COVID-19 cases in Greater Victoria last week after just four the week before

With local high schoolers unable to have a traditional graduation ceremony due to COVID-19 restrictions, Amica Douglas House celebrated the momentous occasion of eight of their dining room servers. (Courtesy Amica Douglas House)
8 Greater Victoria teens don fancy dresses, celebrate grad with seniors

With celebrations nixed, Amica Douglas House hosts event for its serving staff

Eric White’s roadside farm stand in Metchosin sits stocked with produce. (Photo courtesy of Eric White)
Fledgling Metchosin farmer frustrated by thefts from stand

Eric White said every dollar made at the roadside helps sustain his farm

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: When was the last time you visited the mainland?

The films are again lighting the screens at local theatres, the wine… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of June 15

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

Most Read