A former St Andrews man has made a poignant visit to see the war grave of his father who was injured in action in the closing weeks of World War Two.
John Nicholson never had the chance to know his dad, Sgt Harold ‘Al’ Nicholson - he was just a two-year-old when the fateful knock came to the family home in Boase Avenue to break the news that instead of coming home as expected, Al had died in hospital in Germany of his injuries.
As if that blow was not bad enough, the tragedy meant that John’s mum Cathie was left with five young children to bring up alone as a war widow.
“It wasn’t easy but back then it was tough for everyone,” John said. “I remember my mum having many jobs over the years.”
Cathie never married again and stayed in St Andrews until her death in 1987.
For most of his life, John knew nothing about what his father had done during the war, either because it was not spoken about or because no one in the family knew.
It was when he contacted the Army ahead of a visit to the grave, which is in a military cemetery at Celle in Germany, that he discovered that information was available.
Sgt Nicholson had joined the local TA, the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry as volunteer in 1939 and, arriving in France in 1940, soon found himself seeing action with the 51st Highland Brigade, driving flame-thrower tanks which played a vital role supporting infantry on the ground. Having survived many actions and been in the thick of battles throughout the war, he was injured in the Reichwald Forest area just before VE Day on May 8, 1945, and died on June 5.
John first visited his father’s grave more than 50 years ago. He had followed two of his older brothers into the Royal Navy after leaving school and, as a young man, found himself in port in Germany in 1962 and on the spur of the moment decided to travel across country to the cemetery.
However, this time around, with the experience of age and the knowledge of what his father had gone through, the visit, when he was accompanied by a group of friends, was much more poignant and touching.
“The British Army were so helpful and met us at the cemetery, along with an Army padre and a piper,” John said. “It was a very emotional visit for all of us.”
John, who has lived in Perth since retiring as a superintendent with Fife Constabulary in 2000, hopes the story of his father’s war experience will strike a chord in this, the centenary year of the outbreak of World War One.