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William NICHOLLS #2439

By Marg Powel & Des Crump | 22 January 2018

William Nicholds, The Queenslander Pictorial, 8 December 1917

Indigenous Australian, William NICHOLLS, 11th Light Horse Regiment

William "Billy" Nicholls was born at Coen on Cape York Peninsula in 1894. Like many Indigenous people who lived in the area he had been removed to the Yarrabah Aboriginal Mission, where he married Flora Ball in 1913.

Nicholls enlisted in Cairns under the name of Nicholld, for reasons still unknown, and by that time had three young children Esther, Michael and William. He had been working for Charles Vesey Hives as a labourer on his sugar cane farm at Kamma, near Cairns prior to volunteering.

After initial training at Rifle Range Camp, at Enoggera Army Base near Brisbane, he was granted 'home leave' to say farewell to his family before embarking for active service overseas. Nicholls overstayed his leave by 6 days and was declared AWOL. Upon his return he was required to repay the cost of the steamer ticket to make up for his offence, but also lost 6 days pay.

It was while he was at Enoggera that he had his photograph taken at one of the tent studios that operated outside the camp. His image was published in The Queenslander Pictorial on 8th December just prior to his embarkation.

It must have been difficult for him to say goodbye to his wife and three toddlers; his wife Flora was heavily pregnant and gave birth to their fourth child, Ruth six weeks later. Nicholls sailed for Egypt on board HMAT Ulysses in December 1917 with the other indigenous soldiers allotted to the 20th Reinforcements for the 11th Light Horse Regiment, later to be known as the Queensland Black Watch.

When the reinforcements landed in Egypt in January 1918, they were transported to the Light Horse Training regiment camp at Moascar, where they spent several months coming to strength before joining their unit in the field in May. Late in 1918 Nicholls was hospitalised with bronchitis and spent several months recuperating before rejoining the regiment; where he was assigned to canteen guard at the Light Horse Camp in Cairo.

While Nicholls was away, his wife Flora had moved from Yarrabah to near Rooney’s Wharf, Cairns, she wrote to the authorities in July 1919, seeking information about his whereabouts. He was in fact on his way home on board a troopship which would very shortly dock in Brisbane.

Nicholls returned to his family in North Queensland in August 1919, later gaining employment with the Cairns City Council. He died in May 1948 aged 59 and is buried in the Martyn Street Cemetery, Cairns, leaving his wife Flora, two daughters and four sons.

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The information in this blog post has been researched by State Library staff and volunteers, it is based on available information at this time. If you have more information that you would like to share or further research uncovers new findings, this post will be updated.


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