Sir Francis Ronalds and his Family

Harold William Nicholls

Portion of Harold's service record in World War I. National Archives of Australia

Alfred Ronalds' grandson Harold Nicholls (1898-1986) had just turned eleven when his mother Eliza passed away. He went on to serve as a courageous leader in two world wars.

Enlisting in World War I at age 18, he fought in France and was promoted to Lieutenant.

After his return, he married Dorothy Evelyn Holloway and they established a farm on a Soldier Settlement block near Mildura on the River Murray.

In World War II, Harold was an administrative Staff Captain at Rabaul on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. The Japanese invasion of PNG commenced in January 1942 with the capture of Rabaul and, there being no evacuation plans, it was "every man for himself". Harold led an advance party out through the jungle, sliding 600 metres downhill, crossing a swift river and then climbing steeply to repeat the cycle across the mountains. At Adler Bay they came upon a group who wished to surrender but "Nicholls' men pulled down the white flag". They followed the coast southwest through mangrove swamps and over coral rocks, and eventually secured an old boat which they sailed to the Trobriand Islands and onward to the southeast tip of the main island of New Guinea. From there they were airlifted by Catalina to Port Moresby on 27 February, where they alerted the authorities to the retreat and asked for help to be sent to their comrades. Harold was also interviewed by the press and in April the Australian public was informed of the situation.

In all, around 400 Australian troops reached safety by trekking overland. Another 1,200 soldiers and civilians surrendered or were captured and nearly all died.

Harold and Dorothy later retired to the Queensland Gold Coast.

Further Information

Second World War Official Histories: Ordeal on New Britain (starting on page 661)

The Troops, the Town and the Battle: Rabaul 1942 (1992) - published in the Journal of Pacific History