Dr John Nichols 
image: Godalming Museum, ref: 2818

 

Dr John Francis Nichols became a distinguished scholar and archaeologist. He was born in 1890 in Camberwell, the son of Frank and Emma Nichols. His father was a traveller selling sewing cottons in the 1911 census, and by then Nichols, aged 20, was an art student.

On the 9th March 1916 he went to France to serve in the First World War in the Middlesex Regiment, Machine Gun Corps (M.G.C.). The London Gazette of 30 July 1919 reported his award of the Military Cross; T./Lt. (A./Maj.) John Francis Nichols, 11th Battalion M.G.Corps ‘During an advance on Epinoy on September 27th, 1918, he led his company into action with marked gallantry and skill. Throughout the day he was well ahead of his company, and by bold reconnaissance and a thorough grasp of the changing situation was able to bring his guns into action promptly to close a gap left between advancing battalions. He was personally responsible for the capture of thirty-three prisoners and for the conspicuous success with which the guns of the company were used throughout the day.’ He was promoted to Major, and according to his Medal Roll Index returned on the 29 June 1922.

In January 1935 he was appointed Honorary Secretary of the The Historical Association an appointment he held until March 1943, and in recognition he was elected an honorary Vice-President. He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians, and former president of the British Archaeological Society.

Dr Nichols’ connection with Godalming began when was teaching at Sir Walter St John’s School, Battersea, which was evacuated here at the beginning of WW2 on 1st September 1939, and stayed in Godalming until 18/19th July 1945. About 320 boys were evacuated and shared classrooms with the Godalming County School and Charterhouse School. In the BBC People’s War a memory records that in June 1940 the boys set off daily to Peperharow Park. There under the guidance and inspirational vocal encouragement of Dr Nichols, the history master, they dug trenches, to be the second line of defence of a German invasion. Dr Nichols was described as ‘possessed of a sharp wit and enduring twinkle in his eye, and totally lacking in hubris and pomposity. Otherwise he might easily have been doubled for Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army.’ He taught at Sir Walter St John’s School from 1924-1954, and was head of History when he retired after over 30 years (Ref A History of Sir Walter St. John’s School, Battersea 1700-1986 by Frank T. Smallwood).

He became a distinguished scholar and archaeologist, and worked with Sir Mortimer Wheeler on the excavation of Verulamium (1930-5), the Roman theatre with a stage at St Albans.

He was curator of Godalming Museum (1942-1952), and added finds he had excavated to the museum collection which included Mesolithic flint from Witley, and finds from the Roman Villa a Binscombe. He is listed from 1946 in directories living at 15, Minster Road, Godalming. He died at Godalming on the 8th March 1965 leaving a wife, Clara, and son John de Lisle, and his funeral service was at Busbridge Parish Church

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