Sunday, 11 November 2018

Captain George Nice, survivor

Nothing new to report about my paternal grandfather, George Nice born George King*, since the revelatory day at my cousin Diana's back in 2014 when I saw photographs of him for the first time, and the consequent revelations about his origins from a lady in Colchester. Yet every 11/11 I want to remember him, with some sadness at this proud, lonely figure standing to attention with a banner on many Armistice Day commemorations, as he is above in the front line towards the left. He fought throughout the War in the dragoon guards, and survived it. We know, albeit not in detail, that mustard gas poisoning left him an invalid, with who knows what impact on the adolescent years of my father, so often melancholy in my memories of him (though Diana and his goddaughter Sara remember him further back as a happy, laughing person).

Here, again, then, is the Croix de Guerre, the reverse side this time, which he was awarded (I repeat this ritually from The History of the 5th Dragoon Guards, remarking on the events of 7 April 1918 in Fampoux field to the east of Athies) 'for his gallantry in reconnoitring under heavy rifle and machine gun fire to try and find a route for the regiment to make a further advance in the direction of Greenland Hill.' I feel fortunate that ever since 2014 I have much of a more specific nature by which to remember him.

Other than Britten's War Requiem, I can't think of a more powerful commemoration in musical terms than his (pacifist) teacher Frank Bridge's Oration. After 1918, the gateway of international modernism was open to this underrated figure, a truly international British composer. Appropriate that the soloist should be a German of true Mensch status, Alban Gerhardt.

*Though the indefatigable Josie Holford - see comments - has now added this:

'His half brother Henry Thomas Nice died on July 27th 1917. He was serving as a private with the 15th Battalion of the Royal welsh Fusiliers – London Welsh – the same battalion as David Jones of In Parenthesis. This was just before the start of Passchendaele.

'He is memorialized on the Menin Gate'.

So there was loss there too. As I've mentioned before, my grandfather was actually a King, the illegitimate son of a chamber maid who married a Mr Nice several years later; the boy later chose to take his stepfather's name. So we are not in fact Nices at all.


Josie Holford said...

This is a fascinating story David. And of course it set me off on a trail of investigation.

I have a few details that may be of interest. George William Nice was an NCO before he was an officer. The London Gazette for January 15th 1915 has him down as Sergeant George Rice (they correct this is a later edition). As of the 13th December 1914 he was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. "for service in the field". He transferred from the 7th (Princess Royal's) Dragoon Guards be a 2nd Lt in the 5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales) Dragoon Guards. The army also has his birthdate as January 3rd 1881 and his
his service number as #4553.

More anon.

David said...

Gosh, Josie, you make me look lazy by comparison. As I remember, the Seventh Dragoon Guards were actually renamed the Fifth, though I may have got that wrong. I know he became a Captain after the war and then went to Palestine. Do look back on those previous photo albums I've put up.

Josie Holford said...

I read them although it's hard to keep all the details straight. I've just downloaded the 5th Dragoons War Diary so should be more to come. I'll keep you posted.

Susan said...

A wonderful tribute. Josie is continuing to read war diaries this morning (one of her favorite pasttimes, it should be known) to find out more.

David said...

Lucky me! So far most of the work has been done for me...

Josie Holford said...

A few factoids. I have a few more from the War Diary of the 5th Dragoons that I will sort out later.
George William Nice
Born January 3rd 1881 according to the Army.
Enlisted in the 7th Dragoons as a private aged 18 for 4 years Army service and 5 years reserve service
Service reckoned to begin 3/1/1899 (if this is not actually his birthdate then it would be the origin of the records that this was the day he was born.)
Appointed Lance Corporal 1/3/08 and extends his service
Promoted to Corporal 22/6/05
Extends his service again
Becomes Lance Sergeant 23/5/07
Then Sergeant 1/1/08

Was living at 12 Shellon St. Folkstone in 1919 when he entered into correspondence about his Boer War medals.

He was sent the Queen’s South African medal with two clasps to which his service entitled him.

Married Elizabeth Hannah Wass in Folkstone 1906

Daughter Hilda Dorothy born in Canterbury 1907
Daughter Phyllis E. born 1908 in Cairo. She died in Cairo in Egypt in 1909
Son George William born in Cairo in 1909 at the Citadel Hospital. Baptized 16th January 1910 at the Garrison Church at Abbassia Barracks, Cairo.
Son Cyril Arthur born May 11th 1912 in India
Son Henry John born in India 30th November 1914

This was right before he was offered a commission and transferred to the 5th Dragoons as a 2nd Lieutenant. And posted to Flanders/France.

His half brother Henry Thomas Nice died on July 27th 1917. He was serving as a private with the 15th Battalion of the Royal welsh Fusiliers – London Welsh – the same battalion as David Jones of In Parenthesis. This was just before the start of Passchendaele.
He is memorialized on the Menin Gate.

His daughter Edith R was born in 1920 in Kent.

After the war he seems to have lived in either Mitcham or Sutton but you probably know most of all this already.

His son George William died in 1932 in Epsom age 23.

David said...

Thanks so much, Josie - more there I didn't know about, not least the South African medals (not among the collection my cousin has), though I knew the bare fact that he served in the Boer War. I didn't know about his half brother. I only found out a couple of years ago about the child who died (who would have been a third aunt). My father never spoke about his past. When I had my BCG jab my parents were asked to list any TB within the family. My mother's father had it and spent a year in a convalescent ward. My father turns out to have had an elder brother, George, who died of it, yet he never said a word. I guess he became 'George', though christened Cyril Arthur, as nominal head of the family after his father died.

JohnG said...

Bridge's Oration a great piece, David, agreed. Do you have the Steven Isserlis 'In the Shadow of War' disc on BIS? It's excellent, and contains a typically astute, personable and thought-provoking note from the soloist, proposing a possible programme for the piece.

David said...

No, JohnG, I only have the above CD, a superb collection. Steven always writes well.