|Date of Birth||April 29, 1894|
|Place of Birth||Kenora, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Mrs. Lizzie Finlayson (mother), Kenora, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Teamster|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Address at Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||29/02/1916|
|Age at Enlistment||21|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||Yes|
|Date of Death||23/02/1920|
|Age at Death||25|
|Buried At||Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario|
Private Nichol Finlayson was sent to France to join the 43rd Battalion in August 1916 and six weeks later he became a prisoner of war. He spent two years in POW camps in France and Germany but he survived and returned to Canada in February 1919.
Nichol was the son of Nichol (Sr.) and Elizabeth Finlayson of Kenora, Ontario. His grandfather Hector Finlayson had been one of the early residents of Kenora, known then as Rat Portage, where he worked as a boat builder for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Nichol’s parents were married in York Factory, in northern Manitoba, and their first few children were born in York Factory. They moved to Rat Portage around 1889 and Nichol was born there on 29 April 1894. He had five older siblings (John, Christina, Hilda, Isabella and Hector) and at least five younger ones (George, Victoria, Thomas, Sarah and Nancy). His family moved to Dinorwic, Ontario for a few years, where his father worked as a teamster, and while they were there the oldest boy John died of tuberculosis. They were back in the Kenora area by 1905 and when the 1911 census was taken his parents were living in the township of Jaffray and Melick, where his father was farming. Nichol was 17 at the time, working as a teamster, and lodging in Kenora with two brothers, James and Lawrence Young. The Young and Finlayson families were connected by marriage.
In 1916 James Young, Lawrence Young, Nichol and his brother George Finlayson all enlisted and went overseas. Nichol signed up in Kenora on 29 February 1916, joining the 94th Battalion. His brother George had enlisted in the same unit in January. The battalion was based in Port Arthur and recruited in towns throughout northwestern Ontario. On 25 May the Kenora volunteers were sent to Port Arthur to join the rest of the unit. They left for Quebec on 9 June and spent a short time at the military camp in Valcartier, northwest of Quebec City, before embarking from Halifax on 28 June on the SS Olympic. They arrived in England on 6 July and a week later Nichol and George were posted to the 17th Reserve Battalion at East Sandling in Kent.
Nichol had another six weeks of training before being transferred to a front line unit, the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders). He was sent to France where he spent several weeks at the base depot then with an entrenching battalion before joining his new unit in the field at the end of September 1916. That fall the Canadians were taking part in the Somme Offensive. On 20-21 September the 43rd Battalion lost over 150 men in an unsuccessful assault on Zollern Graben Trench and Nichol arrived in a draft of about 170 reinforcements.
In early October the battalion had a two day rotation in the front line then after a short rest they were sent back in on 7 October to take part in an attack on Regina Trench. The operation began in rain at 4:50 the next morning. During the advance the battalion encountered thick barbed wire and the men were forced to return to their original jumping off position. The unit suffered 360 casualties in the assault: 10 men killed, 226 wounded and 124 missing. Nichol was listed as one of the missing that day. Three months later, in January 1917, he was unofficially reported to be a German prisoner of war. He’d been wounded in the right thigh before being captured and he was in a German field hospital, Kriegslaz-5, in Cambrai, France. Over the next few months he was moved to at least two POW camps, at DГјlmen and Munster in Germany. In letters home he told his parents not to worry as he was taking care of himself and receiving food from the Red Cross.
On 11 November 1918 the Armistice ended hostilities and three weeks later Nichol was repatriated to England. He arrived at a camp in Ripon, Yorkshire on 3 December 1918. In February 1919 he was sent home to Canada, landing in Halifax on 21 February on the Royal George, and he had two weeks leave that he planned to spend in Kenora. He was discharged due to demobilization on 24 March in Port Arthur. A week later a large reception was held at the Tourist Hotel in Kenora, with over 200 returned soldiers in attendance. In his speech Kenora’s mayor said their services had made Canada known to the world as a great nation of liberty-loving people.
Tragically, Nichol (aka William) took his own life just eleven months later, at age 25. At the time of his death in February 1920 he and a cousin were staying at a rooming house on Henry Avenue in Winnipeg. Nichol is buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora. His father passed away in 1936 and his mother in 1943. They are also buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery, along with other family members.
Nichol’s brother Hector was conscripted in 1918 and he served in France and Belgium. Nichol, George and Hector are commemorated on the Aboriginal Veterans Tribute Honour List, found here. Nichol is also commemorated on the St. Alban’s Pro-Cathedral First World War Roll of Honour.
By Becky Johnson