Jubilee 1897, silver, unnamed as issued;
Coronation 1902, silver, unnamed as issued;
Coronation 1911, silver, unnamed as issued;
Afgha (3) Charasia, Kabul, Kandahar (Captain W. G. Nicholson. R.E.);
Kabul to Kandahar Star 1880 (Captain W. G. Nicholson. R.E.);
Egypt (1) Tel-El-Kebir (Major W. G. Nicholson. R.E.);
IGS 1854 (1) Burma 1885-7 (Major. G. Nicholson. R.E.);
IGS 1895 (2) Punjab Frontier 1897-98, Tirah 1897-98 (Colonel W. G. Nicholson. R.E.);
QSA (5) Cape Colony, Paardeberg, Driefontein, Johannesburg, Diamond Hill (Sir W. G. Nicholson. K.C.B.);
Ottoman Empire, Order of Osmanieh, Fourth Class breast badge, silver, silver-gilt, and enamel, with rosette on riband;
Khedive’s Star 1882, unnamed as issued;
Japan, Empire, Russo-Jpanese War Medal 1904-05, bronze, with clasp,
An official replacement group, the campaign medals all identically impressed in small caps
Provenance: Sotheby’s, 1978 (when sold alongside his Orders of Knighthood and Field Marshal’s Baton)
G.C.B. London Gazette 26 June 1908.
K.C.B. London Gazette 20 May 1898.
C.B. London Gazette 30 May 1891.
Order of St. John, Knight of Grace London Gazette 6 March 1903.
William Gustavus Nicholson, 1st Baron Nicholson, was born in Roundhay Park, Leeds, on 2 March 1845, and was educated at Leeds Grammar School and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, where he was awarded the Pollock Medal. He was commissioned Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers on 21 March 1865, and from 1868 to 1871 was employed on coastal fortification work in Barbados. He was then posted to India, where he was employed with the Public Works Department at Hyderabad, the Punjab Irrigation Branch, and involved in barracks and waterworks construction at Rawalpindi and Peshawar.
Nicholson was promoted Captain on 16 March 1878, and served during the Second Afghan War, serving first as Field Engineer with the Kandahar Field Force from 10 October 1878 to 5 March 1879, and as Royal Engineers Commander for the Thal-Chotiali Field Force from 6 March to 30 April 1879. He subsequently served as Field Engineer, 1st Division, Kabul Field Force, from 23 September 1879 to 7 August 1880, being present at the action near Surkai Kotal on 14 October 1879, the defence of the Shutargarden in October 1879, and at the defence of Ladaband in December 1879. He then served as Field Engineer with the Kabul-Kandahar Field Force, taking part in the advanced that led to the relief of Kandahar, and was present at the Battle of Kandahar. For his services during the Second Afghan War he was three times Mentioned in Despatches.
Nicholson was appointed Secretary of the Defence Committee at Simla in 1880, and was promoted Brevet Major on 1 March 1881. The following year he served with the Indian contingent in the Egyptian Campaign; his force made a successful flanking movement at the battle of Tel-El-Kefir and opened up the way to Cairo by cutting he enemy’s railway system near Zagazig, where Nicholson himself, as part of the cavalry, captured four trains, which were later used to transport British infantry. For his services in Egypt he was awarded the Ottoman Order of Osmanieh, 4th Class, and was confirmed in the rank of Major on 21 March 1885.
Returning to India, Nicholson served as Assistant Adjutant General of the Royal Engineers in Bengal, and safe further service during the Third Anglo-Burmese War, for which he was again Mentioned in Despatches and was promoted to the Brevet of Lieutenant-Colonel on 25 November 1887.
In 1890 Nicholson was appointed Military Secretary to Lord Roberts, Commander-in-Chief in India, and was promoted to the substantive rank of Colonel on 1 January 1891, being appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath in that year’s Birthday Honours’ List. He was later employed with the Military Works Department, India, as Chief Engineer from 1893, and was appointed Adjutant General for the Punjab, with the rank of Brigadier, in 1895.
Nicholson saw further active service on the North West Frontier of India as Chief of Staff for the Tirah Campaign 1897-98, and was Mentioned in General Sir William Lockhart’s Despatch of 29 March 1898 for his ‘brilliant abilities’. For his services with the Tirah Field Force he was advanced to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, and the following year was appointed Adjutant-General of India.
Nicholson next saw service in South Africa during the Boer War, where he again served as Military Secretary to Lord Roberts, and was granted the local rank of Major-General. He was appointed Director of Transport on 18 February 1900, and was Mentioned in Lord Roberts’ Despatch of 31 March 1900: ‘Sir William Nicholson undertook, at my request, organisation of a transport department in the limited time available; he performed this duty with conspicuous ability.’ He was present at the Battle of Paardeberg and at the actions at Poplar Grove, Driefontein, Vet and Zand Rivers, and in the operations near Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Diamond Hill; and in the operations in the Transvaal east of Pretoria during the latter half of 1900.
Nicholson returned to London in December 1900, and was appointed Director-General of Mobilisation and Military Intelligence at Headquarters on 1 May 1901, being promoted Lieutenant-General on 4 November of that year. Three years later he served as Chief Military Attaché to the Imperial Japanese Army in Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese War, before being appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Gibraltar on 1 March 1905.
On 18 December 1905 Nicholson was appointed Quartermaster-General to the Forces and on 1 March 1906 was appointed a Member of the Army Council. He was promoted General on 23 October 1906.
Nicholson was appointed Chief of the General Staff on 2 April 1908, and was advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in that year’s Birthday Honours’ List. His role was re-designated Chief of the Imperial General Staff in November 1909, and as C.I.G.S. Nicholson was closely involved in the reorganisation of the British Army and the consolidation of the Territorial Force.
In 1910 Nicholson was appointed Aide-de-Camp General to H.M. the King, and in July of that year took part in the funeral procession of H.M. King Edward VII. He was promoted Field Marshal on 19 June 1911, and retired as C.I.G.S. in March 1912, being raised to the peerage as Baron Nicholson, of Roundhay, in the County of York, on 4 October 1912.
Following the outbreak of the Great War Nicholson served on the Committee of Imperial Defence, and also served as Colonel Commandant of the Royal Engineers. He died at home in London on 13 September 1918, and was buried in Brompton Cemetery
Lord Nicholson married Victorie d’Allier in 1871. They had no children, and the peerage became extinct upon his death.
Nicholson’s career is unusual in that he held the highest rank in the British Army without every having commanded a unit or a formation, although he had held senior appointments of great operational responsibility in the field. He was a close friend of both Lord Roberts and Winston Churchill, and was held in high regard by both of them; it is reputed that Roberts only agreed to go to South Africa during the Boer War provided that Nicholson would go with him, and as a further sign of the confidences that they held the draft of Robert’s letter of resignation as Commander-in-Chief in 1905 is written in Nicholson’s handwriting. Churchill, writing of his own absorption own military affairs as a minister in 1911, makes generous acknowledgement of the help given him by Nicholson:
‘I now begin to make an intensive study of the military position of Europe. The Chief of the General Staff, Sir William Nicholson, was an old friend of mine and I had served with him as a young officer on Sir William Lockhart’s staff at the end of the Tirah Expedition in 1898. He wrote fine broad appreciations and preached a clear and stay doctrine.’ (The World Crisis 1911-14 refers).