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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. D B F Nicholls


Douglas Benjamin Fletcher Nicholls was born near Swansea on 5th February 1919. He went to South Parade School and St James School, both in Grimsby. He studied to be a teacher of English and Maths in Coventry but was working for an insurance company before the war.

Nicholls joined the RAFVR in September 1938 as an Airman u/t Pilot. Called to full-time service at the outbreak of war, he completed his elementary flying training at 6 EFTS Sywell. He then moved on to 8 FTS Montrose for No. 19 Course from 6th May to 16th August 1940.



Nicholls arrived at 5 OTU Aston Down on the 17th but moved to 7 OTU Hawarden on 19th August. After converting to Hurricanes he joined 85 Squadron at Castle Camps on 4th September. He moved to 242 Squadron at Coltishall on the 11th and he finally joined 151 Squadron at Digby on 21st September.

He made his first flight with 151 on the 22nd, a formation practice. On the 30th he shared in the destruction of a Ju88 and returned to Digby with his Hurricane, P5182, severely damaged by return fire.

In August 1941 Nicholls was posted to 258 Squadron at Martlesham Heath. The squadron flew to Debden on 3rd October to prepare for overseas deployment. Leaving their Hurricanes behind, the twenty-two pilots went to Abbotsinch on the 30th and two days later sailed in HMS Athene for Gibraltar, with wing-detached Hurricanes on board. After arriving on the 21st the aircraft were due to be unloaded and taken by HMS Ark Royal to Malta later. However the carrier was sunk returning to Gibraltar so other plans were made.

The 258 pilots left on Christmas Eve 1941 on the Athene. They berthed at Takoradi on 1st January 1942, disembarked, and the Athene left, taking their Hurricanes with her.

On the 3rd they flew on the ferry route to the Middle East in a DC3, arrived at Port Sudan, from where they sailed in HMS Indomitable on the 9th, with Hurricanes aboard. They flew off on the 28th and later in the morning arrived at Airfield P2 at Palembang, Sumatra.

In the afternoon they went on to Seletar airfield, Singapore and flew their first operation on 31st January. On 10th February 1942 the three surviving Hurricanes of 258 were withdrawn to Palembang. Of the fifteen surviving pilots, six were required to remain behind to fly with a reformed 605 Squadron. One was nominated, two volunteered and the other three were selected by cutting cards. Nicholls was one of the nine evacuated from Java to Ceylon in the SS Kota Gede. 258 Squadron was reformed at Ratmalana on 1st March 1942. Nicholls rejoined it on 7th March.

Commissioned in December 1941, Nicholls was awarded the DFC (gazetted 19th May 1944) and remained with 258 until August 1944, when he was posted to HQ 224 Group, Burma as Squadron Leader Tactics.

He returned to the UK in October 1945 and was released from the RAF in March 1946 as a Squadron Leader.

After the war Nicholls trained as a teacher. He also became a gliding instructor at the Air Training Corps school at Kirton-in-Lindsey in Lincolnshire, eventually becoming chief instructor.

In 1960 he took up a series of senior teaching posts in Uganda. This sometimes involved visiting student teachers in the potentially hostile tribal lands of the Karamojong. After Idi Amin became increasingly unpredictable the British government advised British citizens to leave the country, which Nicholls did with great regret.

He accepted a post in Botswana where he and his team would go into the Kalahari Desert and teach children without classrooms to write with a stick in the sand.

He returned to Grimsby in 1978 and for four years taught at a local school before retiring.

On 11th November 2011 he was present when a plaque on which he was honoured was unveiled at St. James School.

Nicholls died on 6th December 2014.


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