History of Gervase Nicholls

With the Second World War looming, a young lawyer decided to join the Yeomanry so that when War was declared he was immediately mobilised.  His parents and his principle to whom he was articled tried to persuade him to apply to defer his mobilisation as he was just 2 months away from taking his Law Society Finals.  Out of a sense of duty (and probably excitement) he ignored their requests and so after a period of training and then manning the defences in England after Dunkirk found himself in the North African desert in 1941 seconded to the Long Range Desert Group – a sort of forerunner of the SAS where highly armed and mobile forces would work far behind enemy lines to harass the enemy.  However, with a change in the fortunes of the war in Africa, he was ordered to return to his regiment in 1942.  Rommel and his forces attacked and surrounded the Allies and a battle ensued.  The young lawyer was in a forward position and after three days, a period which was under constant attack and both their remaining guns having been destroyed and ammunition for small arms having run out,  many of his comrades killed or wounded they were overwhelmed by the enemy and captured.

Together with a large number of other soldiers who had been captured they were marched off by the enemy but realising that the column was guarded only at the sides and not at the end, the lawyer managed to get to the end of the column by feigning a limp and with another officer, Jimmy, escaped.  However, the Allies counter-attacked and they both found themselves in the middle of another battle.  Jimmy was hit by a bullet and so badly injured that they only way to save him was to surrender to the Germans which the lawyer did.  Jimmy was treated for his wounds and the severity of his wounds meant that he was repatriated to England by the Germans.

Thus, began a period of captivity in a Prisoner of War Camp in Italy that would last for about a year and a half until the Italian Armistice when the Italians changed sides and became allies, not enemies.  The camp was run by the Italians and they were not badly treated, but the food was meagre, and everyone lost weight.  But the Red Cross sent parcels to supplement the rations as well as books and so the young lawyer was able to resume his law studies. Escape attempts were made, but not many were successful.

With the Armistice, the orders from the War Office in London were that prisoners should stay in their camps so as to avoid hundreds of prisoners of war roaming around the countryside.  The Allies had landed in the south of Italy and the belief, at that time, was, that the Germans would retreat, and the Allies would move north through Italy unopposed.  This, of course, was not the case and the Allies had to fight their way slowly up through Italy with every mile being fiercely defended by the Germans.

After the Italian Armistice, there was a period of a month with lots of scares that the Germans were coming, and this caused general disquiet.  The young lawyer and another close friend, Geoffrey, did not think that this was a good idea to stay as ‘sitting ducks’ and decided, with a number of other POW’s to disobey the order and escape from the camp.  In truth, this was more like walking out as the Italians did not oppose them.  Shortly after they had left, the Germans did take over the camp and the remaining prisoners were sent to Germany.

Thus, in September 1943 they started out and for the next forty days walked down through the mountainous spine of Italy, living off the land and the generosity of local people who although living themselves in poverty generously and courageously gave them food and shelter in the full knowledge of the dire consequences if the Germans found out.    Eventually, having crawled through the German lines at the dead of night, in the process of which they unknowingly crawled through a German minefield, they arrived at the British lines, having walked, they estimated, some 700 miles.

Both the lawyer and Geoffrey were repatriated to England and were treated for jaundice and the effects of imprisonment and escape.  He then returned to his regiment and was trained in tanks and three weeks after D Day he was in Normandy with his troop of tanks.   The fighting in the Bocage in Normandy was fierce and the British tanks were inadequately armed for the German shells resulting in many tank crews being burned alive in their tanks.

The lawyer and his troop broke out of France and were sent to support the airborne troops who had landed at Arnhem and Nijmegen.  Again they found themselves surrounded when the Germans cut off the road behind them, visions of capture again came to mind, however, a counter-attack was successful and Nijmegen was relieved but it was many months before Arnhem, a bridge too far, was relieved.

After more fierce fighting the Rhine was crossed and the Allies including the increasingly not so young lawyer fought their way through Germany until the German surrender.  Eventually, in March 1946, he was demobilised and returned back to England.

On his return to England, the lawyer resumed his legal career and joined William Pope Farnfield at his practice in Gillingham and a year later in 1947 was taken into partnership and so began the firm of Farnfield and Nicholls, for the lawyer was Gervase Nicholls.  Gervase set up the Warminster office and eventually when Bill Farnfield retired Gervase became senior partner, a position he retained until he retired at 70 in 1986.   During this time the firm expanded into Wiltshire with 5 offices in the County and was the largest regional law firm in the area.  Subsequently, the firm contracted to the Warminster office that is still retained.

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