Walter Henry Nichols was born in Brompton, Middlesex, England on 10 May 1876 and baptised on 2 June 1876 in Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, his home address being given as 6 Relton Mews.
He was the son of George Joseph Nichols (1838-1879), a coachman, and Ruth Alice Blundell (1840-1913). His father was native to London and his mother to Swansea, Wales and they had married in Derbyshire in 1863. The couple initially settled in Derbyshire before moving southward to Hampshire and finally settling in London around 1868.
George had seven known siblings: Alice Maud (b. 1864), Emily Edith (b. 1866), George Joseph (b. 1868), Francis Richard (b. 1870), Caroline Ruth (b. 1872), Edith Mary (b. 1874) and Ruth Louise (b. 1879).
By the time of the 1881 census when Walter first appears his father had already passed away, aged 40, and he and his family were living at 29 Trott Street, Battersea, London, his mother taking in laundry to support her family. His family moved to Chiddingfold, Surrey and show up on the 1891 census there living in a laundry near Coombe Lane. Walter is absent and is listed as a visitor at an address in Lambeth, London, the home of a Mr and Mrs Charles Harpman. Walter, aged 14, has already left school and is working as a builder's clerk. He would leave for sea shortly after, becoming a steward, and would be absent from the 1901 census. His mother and sister Ruth were by this time living at Lane End in Hambledon, Surrey.
Walter was married on 2 September 1901 in Christ Church, Richmond to Florence Helen Sheath (b. 27 July 1869 in Cobham, Surrey). The couple would have four children: Walter George (1903-1974), Dorothy Florence (1905-1952), Basil Henry Mongolia (1906-1985)and Audrey Blanche (1910-1911).
Walter would again miss the 1911 census, but his wife and children were listed as living at 40 Kent Road, St Denys, Southampton.
When he signed-on to the Titanic, on 4 April 1912, he gave his address as 40 Kent Road, (Southampton). His previous ship had been the St Paul and as a steward he received monthly wages of £3, 15s.
During the evacuation Walter later recalled seeing passengers amusing themselves in the first class gymnasium
Nichols was rescued on Lifeboat 15. From that vantage point in the water he said the ship:
“...sank slowly and steadily and then we heard a little explosion that must have been the first boiler. After that the lights began to go out in different parts of the ship. Then came a big explosion and we could see a mass of black smoke. The boat seemed to lift right up out of the water and tilt up on end and then seemed to break and drop back..... For one moment she was right up in the air, standing on her nose. That’s when the people left on board went into the water, there were 1500 to 1700 left on the ship and that’s when most of them were thrown into the water by this explosion...."
He also described the horrible cries of those struggling in the water.
Walter returned to England and continued to work at sea. During the First World War he served on the troopship SS Royal Edward and the hospital ship HMS Panama among other vessels. He returned to the merchant service following the War, later retiring from the sea to become the village postmaster in West Moors, Dorset. The outbreak of World War II saw Walter working in Weymouth in various military establishments.
During the 1950s Walter corresponded with Walter Lord during his research for A Night to Remember and he is believed to have been a special guest at a premiere of the book-turned-film. His wife Florence passed away on 11 December 1955. Walter continued to live at Normandy Station Road in West Moors, Dorset and he died aged 83 on 23 January 1960 in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Bournemouth. He is buried in Priory Road Cemetery in West Moors.
Brian Ticehurst, UK