Remembering The Wounded Survivors Of Passchendaele

This weekend marks the beginning of celebrations commemorating the battle of Passchendaele, which took place 100 years ago on Monday.

Also known as the third battle of Ypres, Passchendaele was one of the bloodiest battles of WW1, in which 60,083 soldiers lost their lives.

Thousands more were wounded and survived with life changing injuries.

One of them was Private William Nicholl, who was shot in the face in 1917.

William Nicholl was just nineteen years old when he joined the 14th Battalion the Royal Irish Rifles.


In 1915 he arrived in Boulogne and subsequently fought at the Battles of Albert, Messines and Cambrai.

In 1917 he took part in Passchendaele where, on the 16th August 1917, he was seriously wounded in action.

William spent seven months in a field hospital, not knowing what his life might be like when he emerged with his horrific injuries.


He was eventually transferred to the Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup, where he came under the care of pioneering plastic surgeon Harold Gillies.

It was here that Gillies was developing brand new techniques designed to treat those wounded on the Western Front, and William was one of the first to receive one of the treatments.

For the first time since he was wounded, William was given hope for the future.

Although the scars were there for the rest of his life, William Nicholl went on to live a happy life.

He returned to Belfast, got married and had five children, and died in 1986, at the age of ninety. 

His grand daughter, Lesley, said of William: 

‘He’s both a remarkable man to us, and a very unremarkable man in that there were millions of young men like him who went off and faced the horrors, and came back and just got on with it’. 

William leaves behind a legacy of fifty descendants, who might never have lived were it not for those pioneering surgeons in 1917.