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Lancelot Douglas Nicol, June 1916. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Lancelot Douglas Nicol was born in Temora in 1892, a first son to John Coventry Nicol and his wife Florence Emma (nee Stark). Lance grew up in Millthorpe, where his father ran a butchery. He was educated at Spring Hill Public School and Bathurst Superior Public School and later trained as bookkeeper.

Lance also helped out in his father’s butchery, and in 1912 opened his own business at Forest Reefs. In April 1912 Lance was unfortunate enough to trip over in Pym Street in Millthorpe, where he lived. He badly dislocated his knee and required surgery to repair the injury.

In September 1915 Lance and his best friend Thomas Vaughan enlisted together and went into training with the 6th Light Horse Regiment, 14th Reinforcement. In December 1915 the Leader reported that both Lance and Thomas had been promoted to corporal. Later that month Lance again injured his knee, this time while attempting to break up a disturbance in the camp. The injury delayed his embarkation for overseas service.

Lance embarked HMAT Wandilla A62 in February 1916. In March he joined the 25th Field Artillery Brigade at Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt. He undertook further training in England during June, before being sent to the Western Front.

Just six weeks into his service in France Corporal Nicol was hospitalised with a hernia and transferred to England for surgery. His recovery took almost a year; he did not rejoin his unit in France until August 1917.

On 29 September 1917 Lance was promoted to sergeant. On 24 October Sergeant Nicol’s battery was under heavy enemy attack at Westhoek Ridge in Belgium. Lance and several others sought shelter in a nearby dugout, but were soon killed by a direct hit from a German artillery shell. Lance was 25 years old; he had served in the Australian Imperial Force for just over two years.

The Leader of 19 November 1917 reported:

Deepest gloom was spread over the town [of Millthorpe] on Friday evening when the sad news became known that Cpl Lance Nicol had been killed in action

In November 1917 Thomas Vaughan wrote the following letter of condolence to Lance’s parents:

Dear Mr and Mrs Nicol

You will no doubt have been notified of Lance’s death ere this letter reaches you. It is useless for me to try and express in writing my feelings for you, and for myself — you for the loss of a son and myself or the loss of a pal, having known him so long — 14 years — and being pals for that time without once having a disagreement. It is hard to realise we are parted. We were like brothers.

His death was felt very keenly among the men of his battery, who are never tired of eulogising the excellent qualities and principle of their Sergeant. He was without doubt a universal favorite of the battery — both officers and men — and I can assure you if sympathy will tend to cheer you in your bereavement, you have it most sincerely from them. The battery Lance belonged to has for some time past been having a very severe time, and has lost quite a number of excellent fellows, with whom I was personally acquainted.

One becomes very callous seeing men in the prime of life falling before your eyes every day, but the death of Lance seems to have made a gap in my life which it is impossible to repair. We were brothers, not in blood, but in friendship.

The only consolation I can offer you is that he died fighting for his country — very small consolation in your bereavement — but kindly accept from me the sympathy I feel at your loss of a son, a soldier and a man.

Your sympathetic friend, T Vaughan.

On Sunday 9 June 1918 a large congregation gathered at the Methodist Church in Millthorpe to view Mrs Florence Nicol unveil a new honour roll that she had donated in memory of her late son. Sadly, the original honour roll was completely filled by the names of the town’s men and boys who had volunteered their services.

In July 1918 Florence wrote to Base Records Office to enquire if any of her son’s personal effects had been retrieved. The office replied:

No personal effects … have been returned to the office to date…Anything coming to hand will be promptly transmitted to you… It is pointed out that owing to the lack of shipping accommodation considerable delay is being caused in the transmission of personal effects of deceased members of the Australian Imperial Force. However, as soon as parcels reach here they are expeditiously dealt with.

The office was true to their word; in September 1918 they forwarded Lance’s possessions: one identity disc, a wallet and purse, a religious book, a note book and case, a whistle and lanyard, a small key, some photographs and letters, eight coins and one charm. Florence received the parcel on 3 October 1918.

Lancelot Douglas Nicol is commemorated on the following honour rolls: Spring Hill Public School, Methodist Church Orange, Methodist Church Millthorpe, Manchester Unity Oddfellows Millthorpe. He is also commemorated on panel number 18 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

On 4 January 2014 Lancelot Nicol was commemorated in the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial.