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Captain William Gustavus Nicholson
Royal Engineers
(Later Field Marshal and 1st Baron of Roundhay)

Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis ©2008

Outline of Service

2 Mar 1845:

Born at Roundhay Park, Leeds, the youngest son of William Nicholson Phillips of Leeds, who had in 1827 assumed the surname and arms of Nicholson.


Graduated from Leeds Grammar School and entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich.

Dec 1864:

Pollock Medallist at Woolwich

21 Mar 1865:

Commissioned Lieutenant, Royal Engineers


Training and regimental duties at Chatham.


Employed on coastal fortification work in Barbados, West Indies.


Returned to England and posted to India. Married Victoria Dillon.


Employed with the Public Works Department at Hyderabad, the Punjab Irrigation Branch, and at Rawal Pindi and Peshawar on barrack work and the construction of Army waterworks.

16 Mar 1878:

Promoted Captain (Regimental Rank)


Afghanistan. Twice mentioned in despatches and medal with three clasps.


Secretary of the Defence Committee at Simla.

2 Mar 1881:

Promoted Major (Army Rank)


Egypt. Medal with clasp, 4th Class Osmanieh and Khedive’s star.


Secretary of the Defence Committee at Simla.


Assistant Adjutant General, Royal Engineers in Bengal.

21 Mar 1885:

Promoted Major (Regimental Rank)


Burma. Mention in despatches and medal with clasp, brevet of Lieutenant Colonel.

1 Jul 1887:

Promoted Lieutenant Colonel (Army Rank)

1 Jul 1890:

Appointed Military Secretary to Lord Roberts, Commander-in-Chief in India


Created a Companion of the Bath (C.B.)

1 Jan 1891:

Promoted Colonel


Employed with the Military Works Department, India as a Chief Engineer.

1 Apr 1895:

Appointed Deputy Adjutant General for the Punjab with rank of Brigadier General under Lieutenant General Sir William Lockhart.


North West Frontier of India. Tirah 1897-98, mention in despatches, K.C.B. and campaign medal with two clasps.


Adjutant General in India

23 Dec 1899:

Promoted Major General


Military Secretary to Field-Marshal Commander-in-Chief in South Africa. Director of Transport in South Africa.

31 Mar 1900:

Mention in the despatch of Lord Roberts

4 Nov 1901:

Promoted Lieutenant General. Director General of Mobilization and Military Intelligence.


Chief Military Attaché to the Japanese Army in Manchuria.


Appointed Quartermaster General of the Army and Member of the Army Council.

23 Oct 1907:

Promoted General


Appointed as Chief of the General Staff and first Chief of the Imperial General Staff. G.C.B.


Promoted Field Marshal


Retired from the Army. Raised to the Peerage as Baron Nicholson of Roundhay, Yorks (no heirs). Clubs: Athenaeum, United Services and Army and Navy.


Chairman of the Commission on Indian Army Expenditure at Simla.


Served on the Committee of Imperial Defence and member of the committee investigating the conduct of operations in Gallipoli and Mesopotamia. Also Chairman of the Territorial Forces Association for London.


Appointed Colonel Commandant, Royal Engineers.

13 Sep 1918:

Died in London. Residence: 51 Pont Street S.W.

War Service

Nicholson served during the first campaign in Afghanistan as Field Engineer, Kandahar Field Force from the 10th of October 1879 to the 5th of March 1879, and as Commander Royal Engineers for the Thal-Chotiali Field Force from the 6th of March to the 30th of April 1879. During the second campaign he served first as Field Engineer, 1st Division, Kabul Field Force from the 23rd of September 1879 until the 7th of August 1880, being present at the action near Surkai Kotal on the 14th of October 1879, the defence of the Shutargardan in October of 1879. and the defence of the Lataband in December of 1879. He then served as Field Engineer, Kabul-Kandahar Field Force, taking part in the advance to the relief of Kandahar, and being present at the battle of Kandahar. During the Afghanistan campaigns he was four times mentioned in despatches and promoted to the brevet rank of Major.

In 1882 Nicholson served with the Indian contingent in the Egyptian Campaign, during which the contingent made a successful flanking movement at the battle of Tel-el-Kebir and opened up the way to Cairo by cutting the enemy’s railway system near Zagazig, where Nicholson, then with the cavalry, captured four trains under steam which were later used to transport British Infantry.

Nicholson next served in the Burma operations of 1886 and 1887 which stamped out the guerrilla activities that followed the overthrow of King Theebaw. In this campaign he was the Assistant Adjutant General on the Headquarters staff. He was again mentioned in despatches and given the brevet rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

During the Boer War Colonel Nicholson, serving as a local Major General, was mentioned in Lord Roberts’ despatch dated the 31st of March 1900. In this despatch Lord Roberts wrote:

"Colonel Sir W. Nicholson (local Major-Gen.), R.E., undertook, at my request, organisation of a transport department in the limited time available; he performed this duty with conspicuous ability."

He was present at Paardeberg and at the actions at Poplar Grove, Driefontein, Vet and Zand Rivers, and in operations near Johannesburg, Pretoria and Diamond Hill, and in the operations in the Transvaal, east of Pretoria during the latter half of 1900. During part of the time he was employed on Intelligence work, in addition to other duties.

Decorations and Campaign Medals


1. CONNOLLY, T.W.J. Roll of Officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers from 1660 to 1898. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, 1898, p. 43.

2. HART, H.G. The New Annual Army List, 1885. John Murray, London, 1885, p. 208.

3. HART, H.G. The New Annual Army List, 1893. John Murray, London, 1893, pp. 28, 205, 221 and Note 56.

4. HART, H.G. The New Annual Army List, 1909. John Murray, London, 1909.

5. SHADBOLT, S.H. The Afghan Campaigns of 1878-1880. J.B. Hayward & Son, London, facsimile reprint, pp. 138-139.

6. ARMY AND NAVY GAZETTE. South African War Honours & Awards, 1899-1902. Arms and Armour Press, London, 1979, p. 12.

7. MAURICE, J.F. Military History of the Campaign of 1882 in Egypt. J.B. Hayward & Son, London, 1973, p. 170.

8. CRESWICKE, L. South Africa and the Transvaal War. Volume VI. T.C. & E.C. Jack, Edinburgh, 1901, p. 178.

9. VIBART, H.M. ADDISCOMBE: Its Heroes and Men of Note. Archibald Constable and Co., Westminster, 1894, p. 186.

10. The Sapper. Regimental Journal of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Vol. II, No. 6, November 1964, pp. 150 and 152.

11. Who Was Who, 1916-1928. A. & C. Black, London, 1947, p. 776.