Trustee Andy Simpson represented the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust at a ceremony in Southampton to honour the only Fighter Command pilot to have been awarded the Victoria Cross in World War Two.
Almost four years on from beginning a project on the role of Southampton during the war, the children of Sholing Junior School took part in a moving ceremony that saw a memorial plaque unveiled in Guildhall Square to honour James Brindley Nicolson VC DFC.
It was while researching Southampton’s role, under the guidance of Headteacher Richard Hutchinson and his staff, that pupils realised the part played by Nicolson and the other pilots who defended the city had not been publicly commemorated.
In October 2018, during the centenary of the Royal Air Force, the Southampton office of Leonardo UK was renamed Nicolson House after the actions of Flight Lieutenant Nicolson VC and the achievements of all those who served during its first 100 years, but after all that they had discovered, the pupils wanted a more central and accessible commemoration.
Following discussions with Solent University, a site for a plaque was found on the wall of the University’s Sir James Matthews Building, which faces on to the Square. The ceremony to unveil the plaque was supported by RAF Odiham, which provided a guard of honour for the ceremony. An RAF trumpeter sounded Last Post and Reveille.
Jim Nicolson, the nephew of James Nicolson, also took part in the ceremony, which was also attended by the Mayor of Southampton, Cllr Stephen Barnes-Andrews, and the Vice Chancellor of Solent University, Professor Graham Baldwin, along with many parents and friends of the pupils.
The citation for the award of the Victoria Cross read:
The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:
Flight Lieutenant James Brindley NICOLSON (39329) – No 249 Squadron
During an engagement with the enemy near Southampton on 16 August 1940, Flight Lieutenant Nicolson’s aircraft was hit by four cannon shells, two of which wounded him whilst another set fire to the gravity tank. When about to abandon his aircraft owing to flames in the cockpit he sighted an enemy fighter, This he attacked and shot down, although as a result of staying in his burning aircraft he sustained serious burns to his hands, face, neck and legs.
Flight Lieutenant Nicolson has always displayed great enthusiasm for air fighting and this incident shows that he possesses courage and determination of a high order. By continuing to engage the enemy after he had been wounded and his aircraft set on fire, he displayed exceptional gallantry and disregard for the safety of his own life.
At the ceremony, Jim Nicolson said his uncle had always been modest about the award. On the day he learned that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross he said: “I must now go and earn it” and sent a telegram to his wife which said “Just got VC. Don’t know why”.