Nicolson, Peter Trevelyan Erskine

He was the younger son of Captain the Hon. Erskine Arthur Nicolson DSO, JP, RN, of Burrator House, Sheepstor, Yelverton, Devon, and his wife Katherine Frederica Albertha Nicolson (née Lopes, daughter of 1st Baron Roborough). His older brother, David Henry Arthur Nicolson, later Lord Carnock, also came to Winchester (E1934-1938).

He entered Morshead’s (under Mr. Irving) in September 1935. The Navy had always attracted him and he very nearly went to Dartmouth instead of to Winchester.

In 1939 he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, but he soon volunteered for service. He was taken on as a Midshipman on the armed merchant cruiser HMS Laurentic and was soon given very responsible work. The ship was torpedoed in the Irish Channel and he survived – it is said without even a chill – after six hours in the water. He then got just the job he wanted, as a Sub-Lieutenant on a brand new Motor Torpedo Boat – MTB38 – in the English Channel. MTB38 was a Vosper type MTB, built at Portchester and based at HMS Wasp in Dover. Ordered on September 27th 1939, she was completed on May 26th 1941, and Nicolson joined her as navigator and First Lieutenant to its commanding officer, Lieutenant-Commander E.N. Pumphrey DSO, DSC.   Nicolson took over command of MTB38 on September 4th 1941.

In March 1942 he won the DSC (he was also mentioned in despatches). On the night of August 18th 1942, a series of MTBs lay in wait along the Dunkirk Channel, waiting for a chance to pounce on a passing German convoy. MTB38 was responsible for one of the two enemy boats sunk that night. Nicolson wriggled his boat into a position between an escorted flak-ship and the shore and fired two torpedoes. As he was turning for home, a shell from a shore battery burst overhead. Nicolson was hit by a splinter near the heart and collapsed. Despite his wounds, he gave the Coxswain the course to return to Dover. His last words were: “Are you sure we hit?” The answer was, “Yes”. Then he died.  He was twenty years old, and lies in a grave north of St. Leonard’s Church in Sheepstor, where he was buried on Monday August 24th 1942.

Until 1999, there was no memorial to Nicolson in Sheepstor; he was the only person from the village to be lost in the Second World War (two had been killed in the First World War). However, on November 14th 1999, Rector Richard Tebbs led a service blessing Nicolson’s name, which had been added to the war memorial cross in the village. Attending the service was Lord Carnock, of Harford near Ivybridge, Nicolson’s brother, as well as a Royal Navy officer, who laid a wreath at the base of the memorial cross. After the Last Post was sounded, Reverend Tebbs read the words from the Kohima Memorial:

“When you go home, tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow we gave our today”.


War: World War 2

  • Surname: Nicolson
  • Forenames or initials: Peter Trevelyan Erskine
  • House: E
  • Years in School: 1935-1939
  • Rank: Lieutenant
  • Regiment: Royal Naval Reserve
  • Date of Birth: 3rd September 1921
  • Date of Death: 18th August 1942
  • How Died: Killed in Action
  • Location in War Cloister: Inner B1
  • Decoration: DSC
  • Burial Site: St Leonard's Churchyard, Sheepstor, Devon