James Brindley Eric Nicolson was born on 29 April 1917 in Hampstead. He joined the RAF and began flying training at the de Havilland School of Flying, White Waltham and passed out on 16 November 1936. After completing his training at No 10 Flying Training School at Ternhill flying Hawker Hart and Audax biplanes, he was posted, in July 1937, to Sutton Bridge for gunnery training.
He joined No 72 Squadron in August 1937 and was then posted as a flight commander to No 249 Squadron in May 1940. On 16 August 1940 (the same day RAF Tangmere was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe), his Hurricane was shot down by Bf 109s over Southampton. Wounded in the left foot and with a Perspex splinter through his left eyelid he prepared to abandon his aircraft. A Bf 110 appeared ahead of him – he returned to his seat and in spite of the flames in the cockpit, he continued to fire at the enemy fighter until it became impossible to remain. He bailed out with a wounded foot, severely burned parts of his face and hands and with his left eyelid almost severed. To add to his problems, near the ground, he was fired upon by members of the Home Guard and was further wounded in the buttocks by shotgun pellets.
For this action, Nicolson was recommended for a DFC by his Station Commander but the remarks of Air Vice Marshal Keith Park, AOC No 11 Group, concluded with the following: ‘For this outstanding act of gallantry and magnificent display of fighting spirit, I recommend this Officer for the immediate award of the VICTORIA CROSS’.
In November 1940, he learnt that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross, the only VC to be awarded to a member of Fighter Command in the Second World War.
In the Museum’s recently refurbished Nicolson exhibition, below Robert Taylor’s famous oil painting – ‘Battle of Britain VC’, are displayed Nicolson’s tunic and damaged left shoe he was wearing on that fateful day, with some of his personal maps and pilot pocket book. Nearby, a new information board is displayed on Nicolson’s RAF career, detailing his wartime movements until he was tragically killed in an aircraft accident on 2 May 1945.
THE NEWLY REFURBISHED JAMES NICOLSON VC EXHIBITION CAN BE SEEN AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE MUSEUM’S BATTLE OF BRITAIN HALL.