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"DUNSTERFORCE" dedication in April

PostPosted: Mon Mar 08, 2010 10:15 am
by Steve_Butler
I received this letter last week from Canberra and I see the author , Lindsay Grigg, is now a member of our Forum and will no doubt be interested in your comments and will reply here.

Members will be aware of the unusual "adventure" that turned out to be the motor-car invasion into what was then termed Persia during the Great War. New Zealand troops were involved in this multi-national strike that would do justice to a script for a modern day action movie.

Dear Sir
· Largely due to the efforts of the Assyrian Levies Association, memorial plaques are to be dedicated in the chapel of Trentham Barracks on Sunday 18th April 2010.

· Last October their Association dedicated an Assyrian/ANZAC memorial in the Park of Honour, Fairfield, Sydney. Their moving light, a remarkable man called Gaby Kiwarkis, had successfully located me through a message on the web and invited me to participate in the ceremony.

· I am the only survivor in my generation of the children of Ethel Marion Grigg (nee Nicol) who was the elder of Captain Nicol’s two sisters. In 1939, 21 years after her brother being reported Missing in Action, believed killed she was told of General Stanley Savige and his book Stalky’s Forlorn Hope. There we found five pages detailing how her brother had died. She subsequently met Savige, who assured her that Ken Nicol had been killed instantly. From infancy I had been brought up to know all she could tell me of “Uncle Ken,” who embarked from Trentham, served in Gallipoli, then in France until the end of 1917. (His brother Sgt. Harold Nicol, late of Nelson, also fought in France). The fierce fight in 1917, for which he was awarded the MC, marked his courage and his ability to think clearly under fire. His comrades wrote to my grandparents to tell them that he had actually been recommended for the VC, but that General Godley refused to confirm this award for any officer. I have never been able to obtain access to his original recommendation from his field commander. However, his attitude was clear. He never wrote home about his action or his award. After his investiture by King George V he advised his parents “I’ve been up to the Palace to meet George, and he shook my dook.”

· It is no surprise that he was selected for transfer to Dunsterforce. At the end of July 1918 he was in a detachment of three Captains and six Sergeants (one of them Brophy of NZEF) sent to provide a rearguard for a column of over 50,000 Armenian and Assyrian Christian refugees. These were the remnant of some 80,000 or so who were surrounded by the Turks after the Russian surrender in 1917, but who ultimately broke out of the cordon around Urmiah, just west of Lake Urmiah in NW Persia, and had, despite constant harassment by Ottoman troops and Kurdish tribesmen, by this time retreated some 800 miles in their attempt to reach safety. On August 4th the detachment had spent the night in a village which was attacked at daybreak by Turkish and Kurdish fighters, of the order 0f 300 to 500 in number. The exit from the village consisted of a flat valley flanked on either side by ridges along which the enemy was advancing. Captain Savige withdrew about 1,000 yards, commanding a Lewis gun on the right flank whilst Nicol had a second Lewis gun on the left flank. This was because they dared not be outflanked, as the valley narrowed into a gorge through which the refugees and troops had to pass. Three sergeants, including Murphy with a Lewis gun and supplies, had been left to extricate the pack animals (with ammunition and other supplies), but they were being fiercely attacked from their rear in the village and also from both flanks. Building up the picture from Savige’s account and from the evidence of the men at the subsequent Court of Enquiry, it seems that Nicol had appreciated that these men had no effective support from the Lewis guns on the ridges. Being 700 to 1,000 yards away they were at their range and accuracy limits. It is a mark of his courage that he chose deliberately to leave his gun, take his sergeant’s rifle and go forward on foot to give covering fire for his three men. They ultimately reached cover, at which time he turned to follow them, and it is at this moment that he was hit and fell to the ground motionless. The sergeants made three valiant attempts to recover him but were beaten off by the concentrated enemy fire and they had to abandon him. All were convinced that he had been killed instantly. A little aside on the matter of communication with relatives. Although all the circumstances were fully assessed and recorded by the Court of Enquiry in August 1918, this information was never passed on to his parents and family. His father and mother lived until 1937 and 1946, respectively but only knew that he was MIA believed killed. It was not until 1939 that my mother learned that he was killed instantly, but her mother was by then so frail she felt it better not to pass the fresh information on.

· For 70 years I have known the story as recorded by Savige, but to my shame I had never given thought to the subsequent fate of the Assyrian refugees. In fact many of them fought bravely for Britain during WW2 and subsequent wars, and many of them enlisted from Australia and New Zealand.
What I discovered last October was that ,for 90 years, these people had revered the New Zealand Captain who had died for them and, like many of their own defenders, lay unburied on the battlefield. For all this time he has been numbered amongst their saints who fell protecting them. It was only about 10 years ago that they actually learned his name, and actually received a photo of him, in NZEF dress uniform, from my late cousin, Jack Nicol of Nelson, which they revere. Mr. Kiwakis assures me that there is scarcely an Assyrian household around the world, specially Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which does not have a copy of that photo hanging on a wall of their house.

This brings me to the event on 18th April. The Assyrian community have received approval from NZ Defence to mount and dedicate a memorial plaque specifically as a tribute to Captain Nicol, choosing Trentham as the site because that was where he embarked, ultimately to die for them. Thrilled at discovering a living next-generation relative they sought permission for a second memorial plaque to be presented by the family, of which I am now the patriarch. So I shall be present that day to unveil our family memorial. It is being presented on behalf of descendants and relatives in Australia and New Zealand, but it is 25 years since I was in Wellington and I have no idea who might still be around. I am looking for relatives of William Nicol and Eva Nicol (nee Petherick), formerly of Island Bay and Melling, both to renew contact and to invite them to the ceremony. And, of course, we’d love to see any descendants of NZ members of Dunsterforce. I should appreciate any help you may be able to offer.

My personal details are: Dr. Lindsay Grigg FRCS FRACS, retired surgeon, born in Auckland 1927 but moved to Melbourne with my parents in 1939.

[Dr Lindsay Grigg's Canberra address, phone number and email address held by the NZMRA - contact with Lindsay may be made through our FORUM HERE.]

By the way, officially my uncle was a trench mortar man.
Thank you in anticipation.
Lindsay Grigg

Re: "DUNSTERFORCE" dedication in April

PostPosted: Tue Mar 09, 2010 8:57 am
by Steve_Butler
A following email from Lindsay:

There were two queries in your newsletter that I had intended to answer. At the time of his death Kenneth Nicol was an acting Captain, an appointment given upon his transfer to Dunsterforce, but his substantive appointment was Lieutenant. I do not know which rank is given precedence, given that he was serving as Captain when he was killed.

Someone wanted the explanation of the asterisks against certain Dunsterforce names. These all indicated death during service with Dunsterforce. These were all due to illness (e.g. cholera) save Robert Kenneth Nicol, who was the only member killed in action.

I was surprised to read, on several occasions, that the estimated strength of Dunsterforce was about 1,000 men. This is greatly in excess of the figure my mother always mentioned, which was about 200, but she would only have been 20 years old at the time and the information about "Hush Hush Force" was pretty scant and could well have been garbled.

At this time it is well to remember that the exodus from Urmiah in 1918 was to escape a fierce genocidal campaign by the Ottoman Empire in its dying days. The Assyrian nation, which had existed for well over 2,000 years, was driven from its homeland by a concerted jihad against these "Christian infidels." Since the turn of this century even the few remaining Assyrians have been persecuted unmercifully, and have almost completely been exterminated. Although they are now a diaspora spread around the world, chiefly in Commonwealth countries (particularly Australia, New Zealand and Canada) they are still an ethnically coherent and proud nation that is fighting to preserve its nearly 3 millennial history. This is partly why they place such emphasis on honouring those who served to protect them, and why they are so proud of their service record in fighting for the Commonwealth in WW2 and subsequent campaigns. They claim some pretty significant battle honours. I know that when I attend at Trentham on 18th April I shall be honouring these people as much as my uncle.


Lindsay Grigg

Re: "DUNSTERFORCE" dedication in April

PostPosted: Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:25 am
by rex
another unsung Kiwi hero honoured , good to see. a great story

Re: "DUNSTERFORCE" dedication in April

PostPosted: Thu Mar 11, 2010 6:42 am
by Steve_Butler
email received:

Dear Steve

Thank you so much for your note.

Since I last wrote my son and I have been trying to locate the scene of Captain Nicol's death, attempting to correlate Savige's description and the Court of Enquiry evidence with Google Earth and Google Maps. We found it impossible, both because of the limitations of the descriptions and also because of the 90 years' time lapse, to pinpoint the site with finality. Savige did not give place names.
For anyone interested we believe we have located the area within 500 metres. There are two villages/townships now depicted and their modern names are Chakhalonaz and Aydisheh. We have concluded that the village occupied on the night of 4th August 1918 was the latter, Aydisheh, because that seems best to fit Savige's descriptions of terrain and distance. On this basis we conclude that Nicol was exposed on open land about 500 metres south of the village, with the rest of the detachment on a curved ridge another 500 metres further south. This is consistent with the description of a valley leading south to a narrow gorge through which the refugees and troops had to escape. We think the map reference 36 degrees 52' 23" N 46 degrees 16' 47" E locates the site within a couple of hundred metres.

Other NZ members of Dunsterforce may have left memoirs which better define the site and the circumstances, and if they have any descendants who can help and/or attend the service at Trentham we would be thrilled.

You are probably aware that the the official Australian War Historian for WW1, CEW Bean, had particularly high praise for Dunsterforce, and he wrote an account of this incident, gleaned largely, I would assess, from Savige's story. It is interesting that General Dunsterville (Kipling's "Stalky") made no reference to this detachment nor to the refugees in his own account, entitled Dunsterforce. Bean, on the other hand, credits this rearguard action as an epic performance.

For my own part I am delighted that this extraordinary episode is now being highlighted because these plaques give honour, not only to my uncle, but to all with whom he was associated. They also draw our attention to a noble nation, now deprived of its homeland and scattered around the world, but proud of its nearly 3,000 year heritage centred on its famous capital, Nineveh. The present nation is likewise proud of its Christian heritage which dates back to the early years of our era, for which it has bravely fought and suffered. I am aware that part of the motivation for these memorials is to bring home to their younger generation their noble history, and help them to achieve an identity of which they can be justly proud. I am equally delighted that the effort is working.

I hope this information will be helpful.


Lindsay Grigg

Re: "DUNSTERFORCE" dedication in April

PostPosted: Fri Mar 26, 2010 3:06 pm
by Steve_Butler
A further email received from Lyndsay.
I have replied, alas I am unable to be at Featherston next month.

Dear Steve
Further to our previous correspondence (9th March) I hope you will have received official confirmation that the dedication of memorial plaques is taking place at the chapel, Trentham Barracks, at 10.00 on Sunday morning 18th April.
The primary significance of this gathering is that remnants of a great nation, whose history dates back continuously for over 3,000 years, are wishing to honour a man who travelled half-way around the world and died whilst protecting their fleeing refugees in NW Persia, who would otherwise have been annihilated by the Turks and Kurds. The Assyrian nation was denied their promised homeland, despite promises, at the end of WW1 and is now a diaspora spread around the world, including USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Nevertheless they remain a nation which is proudly trying to maintain and consolidate its identity. Australia, Canada and New Zealand were all represented in that nine man rearguard supplied by Dunsterforce, whose performance was described by CEW Bean, official Australian War Historian for WW1, as one of the military epics of that war.
The Assyrians attending this service will be descendants of the 50,000 or so survivors of those refugees who were forced to flee from Urmiah, NW Persia on 31st July 1918 and finally reached the protection of British cavalry at Sain Kala on 6th August 1918. The man most responsible for arranging these affairs is Gaby Kiwarkis, a really remarkable person who is the son of one of those refugees. Whether he will attend I don't know, but at a similar service in Sydney last October I met a man of 94, proudly wearing his military medals (for service in WW2), who informed me that he was one of those refugees. Although he was only three years old at the time he assured me that he remembered the events clearly. Given the circumstances I have seen recorded in firsthand accounts, I can well believe those memories were firmly imprinted.
The Assyrian plaque is in honour of the man who they number amongst their own as having fought and died for their protection. The family plaque records my name and that of my cousin, Jack Nicol. We are the only survivors of Captain Nicol's siblings. My mother was his sister Ethel; Jack's father was his brother Harold, who served with NZEF in France, attaining the rank of Sergeant. A very personal note: Neither of us has met, although we have known of each other all our lives. Both of us thought that the other was dead until three weeks ago, when Gaby sent me his address, assuring me he was alive and well. You can understand how much Jack and I are anticipating this encounter!
When Gaby asked me if I would like to present a plaque on behalf of the family I agreed instantly, although my motives were slightly different. I knew that Kenneth Nicol's character, whilst growing up and consistently during his service with NZEF, was that he would make clearheaded appraisals of his situation, then act accordingly even if he knew he was putting his life on the line. This was clearly the situation in the action in France when he earned his MC. It was likewise the situation on August 6th, 1918. Reading the account by Stanley Savige (Captain, AIF), who commanded the detachment and recorded the action in his book Stalky's Forlorn Hope, it is clear that my uncle appreciated that three of his men were struggling to extricate themselves from the village from which the rest had withdrawn. He further realised that they would probably be cut down by enemy fire if they continued to lack covering fire. The Lewis guns were nearly 1,000 yards back and could not give effective support. He therefore made the clear decision to leave his own cover and go forward with a rifle to provide cover from close at hand. He stayed until his comrades reached safety and only then turned back, at which moment he was hit. Such was their discipline that his three comrades made three attempts to recover him but were prevented by withering enemy fire. It was clearly valour all round, and it is for Captain Nicol's selfless courage that my family and I wish to commemorate him.
I have recently found a book that describes these events from the refugee perspective. It was written by Mary Lewis Shredd, widow of a most remarkable American missionary who kept the refugees together and managed to persuade enough of the men to provide some rearguard cover until Savige and his team arrived. Sadly, he died from cholera only a couple of days later, almost within hours of the refugees reaching safety. This is now available as a free download ebook, and is well worth reading. The URL is If you open this and type Mary Lewis Shredd in the Search box you will be shown three hyperlinks. Select the middle one and it will give you a page with a thumbnail of the book on the left. There are several options for further action, but the easy one is the Online Downoad. Then use the arrows at the top right of the screen and read away. I suggest you go to the end of the book then turn back two chapters. At the very least you will understand why Savige dedicated his book to Mrs Shredd.
If you can be at the ceremony I shall be delighted to meet you.
Lindsay Grrigg