Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Leslie James Nicholson

Leslie James Nicholson : Photograph of Leslie by kind permission of Mr Kenneth Nicholson

Photograph of Leslie by kind permission of Mr Kenneth Nicholson

Leslie James Nicholson : (L to R) 1939-45 Star; Italy Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal

(L to R) 1939-45 Star; Italy Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal

Leslie was born on the 25th July 1918 in Miles Platting, Manchester. His father was called Thomas and his mother was Sarah. He was their eldest child, and had one younger brother called Leonard, or Len. The family were Roman Catholics.

Leslie attended Corpus Christi Primary School in Miles Platting. We don't know where else he went to school. He found work after he left school and by 1939 he was a paint mixer. He lived at 25 Wimbourne Street in Miles Platting.

During 1938 and 1939 tensions between Britain and Germany began to rise. It became increasingly likely that a war would break out, so on the 27th April 1939 the British Government passed the Military Training Act, which introduced a form of conscription, or compulsory military service.

The intention was to call up men aged between 20 and 22 for 6 months training. They would then be released to a Reserve for the next 3 1/2 years, where they would live as civilians and carry out short periods of training. Leslie was a member of the first group to be called up under this act, on the 15th July. They were to be known as Militiamen.

When he was called up Leslie was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 126 1/2 pounds. He had light grey eyes and brown hair. He was assigned to the Manchester Regiment and given the service number 3532395.

The Militia scheme was interrupted on the 3rd September 1939. On this day Britain declared war on Germany, 2 days after the German invasion of Poland. Leslie completed his training at the Machine Gun Training Centre, Chester, and was assigned to the 9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in Ashton-under-Lyne. This was a mechanised machine gun battalion. It used the Vickers Machine Gun to provide supporting fire to infantry units.

During December the 9th Battalion was based at Berwick Rifle Range near Newcastle -upon-Tyne. Leslie was able to return to Manchester for a time, and on the 16th he married Irene Rydings at Holy Trinity Church in Failsworth, Manchester. Unlike Leslie, Irene was a member of the Church of England. She lived at 44 Poplar Street in Failsworth. Their first child, Olwyn, was born in September 1940.

The 9th Battalion was sent to France in April 1940 to defend against an expected German invasion. This period was known as the 'Phoney War' due to the large armies, and the lack of fighting.

The Germans invaded France and Belgium on the 10th May 1940. Despite the best efforts of British and French forces they were quickly overwhelmed and forced back to the Channel coast. Leslie and his comrades used their machine guns to try and hold the Germans back as the rest of the British forces retreated. He was attached to the 1st Guards Brigade during the retreat. Between the 27th May and the 4th June most of the British forces were evacuated from the town of Dunkirk. Leslie returned to the UK aboard the Royal Iris, a steamer that usually sailed to and from the Isle of Man.

Like many veterans Leslie never told his children about his experiences during the war. The only memory he shared with his son Kenneth was of 'sitting on a hill with a bottle of beer, waving the troops on'. Kenneth believes this happened during the retreat to Dunkirk.

After Dunkirk the British Army quickly reorganised itself. The 9th Battalion reformed in Lancaster then took part in the defence of the UK against an expected invasion. They were based in a number of different places, including Llandudno in north Wales and Barnstaple in north Devon between January and March 1941. Leslie was able to take 3 periods of leave during this time: the 22nd October to the 4th November 1940, the 14th to the 20th February 1941 and the 22nd to the 28th March.

On the 24th April the 9th Battalion sailed to Iceland. At the time this country was in a union with Denmark. After the Germans occupied Denmark the British were worried that the Germans might base submarines and aircraft in Iceland. This would make it impossible for convoys to sail from the United States to the UK, and could mean Britain starved and lost the war. To prevent this they had occupied Iceland in May 1940.

The Battalion was split between locations hundreds of miles apart and separated by very poor roads. We don't know where Leslie was based. On the 5th June he was involved in an accident with a civilian vehicle. He doesn't appear to have been injured, but he was fined 1 day's pay by the Commanding Officer. Between the 15th August and the 1st October Leslie was treated at the 146th Field Ambulance. He had been on board a ship that was torpedoed. He was in hospital with the only 3 men to survive the sinking of HMS Hood on the 24th May.

On the 6th November 1941 Leslie returned to the UK and was stationed around Stirling in Scotland. He was granted 7 day's disembarkation leave between the 7th and the 14th. The Battalion moved again during the early part of 1942, and by June it was based in Kirkwall, helping to guard the naval base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands.

Whilst he was there Leslie was admitted to Dounby Military Hospital between the 26th and the 29th June. Again, we don't know what was wrong with him.

By late 1942 the 9th Battalion had moved to Southwold in Suffolk. Here Leslie was promoted to Lance Corporal on the 11th November. He became an Acting Corporal on the 17th December and a full Corporal on the 17th March 1943. This meant he would be in command, or Number 1, of a Vickers gun crew.

In December 1943 the 9th Battalion was sent overseas again. After a short stay in Algeria they were sent to Sicily for training. Leslie was taken ill again here. He was admitted to the 33rd General Hospital on the 8th February and did not leave until the 15th April.

By this time the battalion was in the front lines in Italy. They were based in the East of the country, roughly level with Rome in the West. The Allies were advancing slowly north, but the Germans were putting up strong resistance. On two occasions during the fighting in Italy the man serving as his Number 2 was killed. At one point 2 of his guns were captured by the enemy. Leslie 'put 2 Tommy guns across his chest and went with his platoon' to retrieve them. His son remembers that 'he was to be Mentioned in Despatches, but his captain was later killed in action'.

Leslie was treated in 71 General Hospital between the 30th August and the 8th September 1944. After he was discharged he took part in fighting near Rimini, Montegallo and Longiano. The advance continued into December and by the end of the month the battalion was at the Lamone River.

In early 1945 Leslie left Italy for Greece. The battalion was sent there to help maintain a ceasefire between the two sides in the Greek Civil War. Due to a shortage of shipping it took over a month to move the battalion, so we don't know exactly when Leslie crossed the Adriatic. He was based there until mid April, when he returned to Italy. He didn't see any more fighting before the Germans surrendered on the 3rd May.

The 9th Battalion moved north to Klagenfurt in Austria and became part of the occupation force. They began to demobilise soldiers during October, and Leslie was one of the last to leave, on the 17th January 1946. He was finally demobilised on the 19th April and returned to Irene and Olwyn at 44 Poplar Street.

Leslie and Irene had 3 more children: Kenneth Andrew in April 1947, Janice Elizabeth in September 1951 and Keith Leslie in May 1953. His brother Len moved to Australia with his wife Peggy and daughters Joan and Patricia during the 1950s. Leslie, however, stayed in Failsworth.

He became a bus driver, based at Rochdale Road Bus Depot, and held this job until the 1980s. He was also a Shop Steward for the Trade Union that represented his fellow drivers. He had to retire because he developed vertigo and could no longer safely drive.

Leslie died on the 25th January 1995. He was 76 years old. Irene was 79 when she died on the 9th October 1996. They are both buried in Hollinwood Cemetery in Oldham.

Leslie's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in July 2001.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
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Portland Place
Heritage Wharf

Telephone: 0161 342 5480
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council