b. 06/02/1911 Hampstead, London. d. 11/02/1944 Tirana, Albania.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 10/1943 – 01/1944 Albania.
Arthur Frederick Crane Nicholls (1911-1944) was born on 6th February 1911 in Hampstead, London, the son of Joseph Crane and Josephine Orchiston Nicholls (nee Campbell). His father was a stockbroker in the City of London. Arthur had a sister Elizabeth and a brother who tragically died at birth. Arthur attended Shardlow Hall School, Derby from 1917-1924, then Marlborough College, Wiltshire from 1924-1929.
After leaving school, he spent a 7 months at the Sorbonne in Paris, and a year in Germany. He learnt both French and German fluently. He then enrolled at Pembroke College, Cambridge where he read law from 1931-1933. He graduated and became a member of the Inner Temple, and a stockbroker with Sheppards & Co for whom he worked until 1939.
He was commissioned into the 86th (East Anglian) (Hertfordshire Yeomanry) Field Brigade, Royal Artillery, Territorial Army as a second lieutenant in August 1933, promoted lieutenant on 3rd August 1936 and transferred to the Coldstream Guards (Supplementary Reserve) in May 1937. He was mobilised in 1939, went to France with the 2nd Battalion and was then posted to the Headquarters of the First Division as an Intelligence Officer to make best use of his knowledge of foreign languages.
On 19th January 1940 he married Dorothy Ann Violet Schuster and they went on to have a daughter, Jennifer (known as Jennie). In May 1940, Arthur was evacuated off the beaches of Dunkirk where he had been Aide de Camp to General Alexander and was promoted to Major. After a period at the Staff College at Camberley, Surrey, he joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) HQ in March 1942. He volunteered for service in the Balkans shortly afterwards, and after training was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in October 1943. He was parachuted into Albania as Chief of Staff of Brigadier Davies’ Mission. The mission was attacked and on 8th January 1944 Davies was wounded and Arthur assumed command. He was promoted to Acting Brigadier.
From then until the end of January Nicholls was a fugitive in the mountains in bitter weather and conditions of extreme hardship. He suffered so severely from frostbite that he ordered an inexperienced man to amputate both his legs without anaesthetic, and he wss then towed along over the mountains on his greatcoat by two men. He was determined to make contact with the nearest British Mission and eventually succeeded in making his report. However, the pressure on his body was too great and he died of gangrene and heart failure on 11th February 1944.
He was initially buried in a barn but was later moved to the British War Cemetery in Tirana in a collective grave. A headstone was eventually placed there. He was posthumously awarded the George Cross on 26th February 1946, and it was presented to his widow and mother by King George VI on 29th October 1946.
His medals including his GC were presented by his daughter to the Coldstream Guards Museum, in Birdcage Walk, London. However, in 1991, after research into his career by Lance Corporal Ian Tindall, it was discovered that he was entitled to the Emergency Reserve Decoration. His daughter applied for the medal and received it 48 years after his death. His daughter then presented the ERD to join his other medals at the Guards Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: GUARDS RHQ MUSEUM, WELLINGTON BARRACKS, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: TIRANA PARK MEMORIAL CEMETERY, ALBANIA.
Thomas Stewart – Image of the Nicholls GC Medal Group at the Guards Museum.