Obituary: The Rev Tom Nicol

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The Independent Culture
A CHAPLAIN to the Black Watch from 1942, Tom Nicol was a commanding figure who inspired all those around him. His courage and readiness to sacrifice himself for his men was shown in one particular action in North Africa.

After the fall of Tripoli in January 1943, the 51st Highlands Division advanced rapidly until it met a savage rearguard action at Wadi Akrit on 6 April. The 5th Battalion the Black Watch suffered heavy casualties from machine gun and mortar fire which left many wounded lying exposed, their recovery made difficult by enemy sniper fire. Nicol went forward with stretcher bearers. Under intense fire a number of stretcher bearers were shot, but Nicol continued to carry back more than 20 wounded men. The citation of his 1943 Military Cross recorded that he was "an inspiration to the whole battalion".

Nicol, a son of the manse, was born in 1917, the third child of David Nicol, a minister, who also held an MC. As his father moved round various ministries in the Church of Scotland, Tom Nicol attended many schools followed by Aberdeen University. As a student, his career was distinguished by his sporting prowess, though he did gain two degrees, the second in Divinity. He was no slouch on the rugby field, where his language was as robust as his playing. He was skilful enough as a pack leader to merit a Scottish trial. His attitude to his eventual calling was revealed in an article in the university magazine, where he quoted from Disraeli's last novel, Endymion: "His Christianity was muscular."

At the outbreak of the Second World War he enlisted as a private soldier but was soon commissioned into the Black Watch. He was released from the regiment for a short time to complete his Divinity degree and returned to their 5th Battalion as Padre. Before embarking for North Africa with the 51st Highland Division, he married Mary Taylor.

After North Africa he was with the Black Watch as they fought in Sicily and then returned to train for D-Day. In Normandy, in some of the thickest fighting before the break-out, Nicol proved a tower of strength as the casualties mounted.

Demobilised in 1946, he was appointed Minister of Broughty Ferry. Although he was happy there, his heart lay with the Black Watch. He rejoined them in 1949 and served in the 1st Battalion in Germany and then Korea. Their toughest action in Korea was the defence of the Hook, the key to the Samichon Valley on the road to Seoul. With horns and trumpets blowing the enemy swarmed across the hills. They were mown down in swathes, but still came on, stopped in the end by the bayonets of the Black Watch and other units. Nicol often toured the battlefields with a medical officer and the pair became known as "body and soul".

Nicol was held in the highest regard and his open air services were attended by men from other units. On one occasion, shell-fire came very close during a service - the CO looked to Nicol, who simply winked and continued his sermon. After Korea, there was a different form of fighting for the Black Watch, this time in Kenya, where the battalion scoured the jungle for Mau Mau.

Nicol was then posted to Germany as Senior Chaplain with the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers. On his return to Scotland he completed his time in the Army as Assistant Chaplain General, Scottish Command.

On his retirement from the Army in 1972, he was called to Crathie Church on Deeside as minister and domestic chaplain in Scotland to the Royal Family, an appointment he held until 1979. He retired to live at St Fillans, on Loch Earn. There he lived happily with his wife and enjoyed the pastimes he had pursued in his youth, fell-walking, swimming, fishing and gardening. He survived a heart attack in 1984, and with his wife moved to a smaller house in Comrie.

Max Arthur

Thomas James Trail Nicol, soldier and minister of the church: born 24 January 1917; ordained 1942; Padre, 5th Battalion, the Black Watch 1942- 44; MC 1943; Minister, Broughty Ferry 1946-49; Royal Army Chaplain's Department 1949-72; MBE (Military) 1953; Assistant Chaplain General, Scotland 1967- 72; Minister, Crathie Church, and Domestic Chaplain in Scotland to the Queen 1972-79; married 1942 Mary Taylor (two daughters); died Comrie, Perthshire 28 July 1998.

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