Sergeant Henry James Nicholas V.C. memorial unveiled
28 February 2007
A memorial to honourChristchurch’s sole World War 1 Victoria Cross recipient, Henry J Nicholas, will be unveiled at 4pm, Wednesday, 7 March 2007, at the Park of Remembrance - northwest of the Bridge of Remembrance on Cambridge Terrace.
Henry J Nicholas was the first Canterbury man to win the VC when, in 1917, he led a charge against a German stronghold at Polderhoek Chateau in Belgium . He silenced the German guns by overcoming 16 German soldiers, taking four prisoners and capturing the enemy machine-gun.
The London Gazette of 11 January 1918 says Nicholas was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for “most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in attack”.
Nicholas also won the Military Medal (MM) in more action the following year. He was killed in action on October 23, 1918 near the Northern Bridge over the River Ecaillon at the French town of Beaudignies.
The Victoria Cross, with which Henry J Nicholas was invested in July 1918 at Buckingham Palace by H.M. King George V, is held in the Canterbury Museum.
Born in Lincoln on 11 June 1891, he was apprenticed to a builder, and his occupation on enlistment was as a carpenter. Nicholas had a reputation as a good sportsman, and was well known in New Zealand as an amateur boxer. He was unmarried.
Christchurch sculptor Mark Whyte was awarded the commission for his free-standing portrait of Sergeant Nicholas cast in bronze, one third larger than life size. The figure will stand on a two-metre-high base facing the Bridge of Remembrance in Christchurch’s Park of Remembrance. A stone has been gifted from Le Quesnoy near the town of Beaudignies and will be pieced into the base of the statue.
Mark Whyte describes the figure as “not posed yet not animated, no contraposto stance but both feet firmly on the ground with both legs weight bearing with the upper half of the body twisting as if the Bridge has just been noticed. The sculpture portrays Nicholas as a young man of 27 years returning home in spirit at the moment of realizing the huge sacrifice New Zealand soldiers have made by seeing the Bridge of Remembrance for the first time (something which of course he never saw).”
The memorial was commissioned by the Canterbury District RSA and the Christchurch City Council and will be gifted to the City of Christchurch once unveiled.
President of the Canterbury District RSA BJ Clark says “the completion of this significant memorial will remind us of the bravery of Nicholas and the ultimate sacrifice that he, and many others have paid, to ensure that we have the opportunity to live in peace. The Park of Remembrance is not designed to glorify war, hence Nicholas is not carrying any weapons, rather to ensure that we consider the loss and effect that war has on those that serve and those left waiting at home.”
Following the unveiling, a special exhibition “Nicholas Memorabilia” will be opened at Our City O-Tautahi, corner of Oxford Terrace and Worcester Boulevard, from 7 March to 12 May, 2007.
Lest We Forget
Notes on the sculptor: Mark Whyte
Mark Whyte is a New Zealand-born sculptor residing in Lyttelton. He holds a Batchelor of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Canterbury . His art includes public statues and sculptures, and a wide variety of contemporary works. He keeps busy with the important task of architectural conservation and presentation.
His works have been celebrated by numerous gallery exhibitions, a number of sculpture shows, and several privately owned pieces. In 1997 Whyte was commissioned to sculpt The Charles Upham VC and Bar Memorial Statue, State Highway 1, Amberly. His first public artwork Caryatid was commissioned by the Justice Department in 1987-88 and stands on the lawn between the Law Courts and Avon River in Victoria Square. This work is a contemporary take on the acceptance of weight.
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