Remembering William Charles Nicholls of Devoran, Merchant Navy, who died aged 32, 75 years ago on 23 February 1943.
There are two Merchant Navy or Royal Navy casualties in WW2 listed as W.C. Nicholls and both have local connections. Only longer research will reveal who is remembered on the Devoran War Memorial but both men deserve to be remembered.
World War 2 section, Devoran War Memorial Photo: Mark Norris
Today we are remembering William Charles Nicholls, Second Engineering Officer, Merchant Navy, serving on MV Athelprincess of Liverpool, who died on 23 February 1943, aged 32.
Brief news of his death made it into The Western Morning News on December 16 1943, nine months after his death.
Western Morning News, December 16, 1943
He is commemorated on Panel 11 of the Tower Hill Memorial, London, for thos having “no grave but the sea”
On 23 February 1943 the tanker Athelprincess was caught straggling behind its convoy UC-1 from UK Liverpool (departed 15 February 1943) to Curacao and New York.
Athelprincess was torpedoed twice and sunk by a German submarine (U-boat U522) west of Madeira.
It appears from David Syrett’s research in Northern Mariner journal (1996 volume) on the convoy UC-1 that Athel Princess was struggling to keep up with the convoy.
Only one person was killed out of 51 crew – William Nicholls. The rest of the 42 crew, 7 gunners and Captain or Master E.G.B. Martin OBE survived and were thankfully picked up by HMS Weston (U72).
Transferred to another escort ship, the USS Hilary P. Jones DD247, the Athelprincess crew minus Nicholls (the only casualty) were landed safely at San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Four other ships in Convoy UC-1 were torpedoed by U-boats of the 16 strong Dolphin Patrol.
Two of these ships survived being torpedoed, a British Tanker called British Fortitude and Dutch motor tanker Murena.
Two others, the US tanker Esso Baton Rouge and British tanker Empire Norseman were sunk.
There are pictures of each ship lost on the Wrecksite website. The names of Merchant Navy men sunk on these ships are also on the Tower Hill memorial.
There were 35 ships in this UC-1 convoy, protected by 9 British and American navy ships. The survivors of the Esso Baton Rouge were picked up by convoy escort HMS Totland. HMS Totland went on to sink the offending U-boat U522 with all crew / hands lost including its Captain Schneider.
A mass of wreaths and poppies at The Tower Hill Merchant Navy memorial, Oct 2014 (Mark Norris, Devoran War memorial Project)
These Merchant Navy ships, their crews and the life of William Nicholls were all part of the high cost of keeping Britain fed and supplied with war materials during WW2.
Merchant Navy Day is celebrated on 3rd September each year https://www.merchantnavyfund.org/merchant-navy-day/
The high price of freedom – Tower Hill memorial in London to the 24,000 men and women of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets, lost at sea with “no grave but the sea”. Many from Cornwall. Sobering.
There is more about the Athel Princess and how the Athel shipping line fared during the war at http://www.theshipslist.com/ships/lines/athel.shtml
W.C. Nicholls, Athel Princess, Convoy UC-1, 23 February 1943 – Remembered in Devoran and at Tower Hill Memorial London and in his home village 75 years on.
William Charles Nicholls’ Merchant Navy Service records
21 year old William Charles Nicholls’ Merchant Navy Records in 1932; his death in 1943 is recorded in the top left hand corner.
William Charles Nicholls signed on with the Athel Line in peacetime 1932 bulk tanker MV Athelfoam so appears to have worked with this shipping company until his death in 1943.
Details of William’s next of kin and also his catastrophic head injuries in the Torpedo explosion on the MV Athelprincess.
What are William Charles Nicholls’ family connections to the area?
Like many people in the Devoran, Helford and Falmouth area, the Nicholls family have long established maritime connections. This is reflected on the manywar memorials and Rools of Honour in the area. Small wonder that William Charles Nicholls joined the Merchant Navy as an Engineer.
His father Edward John King Nicholls (1847-1930) was born in St John’s point Antrim Northern Ireland, the son of James Nicholls.
Edward rose from being a Trinity Pilot (1881 /1891 census) to Dockmaster in Falmouth by 1901 to 1911. In 1901 he was living at 2 Wodehouse Terrace, Falmouth with his sister Elizabeth M Nicholls as his housekeeper and his nephew Matthew S. Nicholls Mining Engineer and niece Alesa (both British subjects born in Chile).
He married (or remarried?) shortly after this, quite late in life, aged 58 in 1905.
His wife Eliza Dunstan Datson was twenty years his junior, the Kea-born daughter of a tin dresser. The middle name is interesting; There are Dunstans as neighbours to the Datsons in Kea and possible relatives, as well as featuring on the Roll of Honour and as casualties on the Devoran War Memorial.
Eliza first shows up in Edward’s houshold in 1901 as a General Servant (Domestic)!
Ten years later in 1911, after marriage in 1905, she has borne him three children in Falmouth including the 10 month old William Charles Nicholls.
Mining, tin, the sea, Chile, Cornwall – this is very much a typical Cornish extended family of the 19th Century.
William’s grandfather James Nicholls was born in Penryn in 1814. By 1861 he was a Commissioned Coast Guard, living at St Mawes and then the King Harry in Feock area, presumably near the Ferry. This maritime or coast guard career could explain why Edward was born in Ireland. Other brothers and sisters were born in Stonehouse, Plymouth, Devon and later King Harry ferry area.
1911 Census for the Nicholls Family living near his work but in some style at 8 Bar Terrace, Falmouth. William Charles Nicholls has just been born.
William had an older sister, Elizabeth Maud Nicholls (b. 1906) and older brother James Edward Nicholls (b.1908). James is recorded as his next of kin on his Merchant Navy records.
I will add more to this fascinating local family as I uncover it.
Blogposted by Mark Norris, Devoran War Memorial Project, 2018