Lincs Inspire helps to piece together unsolved mystery since WWII

Thursday 7th May 2020

The mystery of the identity of a seaman, buried in an unmarked grave in the town of Vágur in 1942, has been solved.

Caption below: John Henry Nicholls

Ahead of VE Day, the descendants of a seaman who was lost at sea in June 1942, have learnt that his body was recovered and buried in the Faroe Island’s town, the grave being tended to ever since.

A history enthusiast from Vágur, Arnfinnur, having long been told of the story of the unidentified body and how it was found, recently set out to discover this man’s identity.

Upon learning that the body of the dead seaman went to the grave wearing a ring marked JHN, using online resources Arnfinnur found that there was only one deceased seaman reported missing around that time with the initials JHN – a John Henry Nicholls from Grimsby. He was sailing on the Grimsby trawler Bromelia, which was lost at sea a month before this seaman’s body was recovered. John Henry Nicholls is commemorated on the memorial at Tower Hill and that was where the story stopped, until now…

Having been contacted by Arnfinnur, Jennie Cartwright from Lincs Inspire then set work to discover further information about John Henry Nicholls, who he was married to, details of his children, where he resided and much more. Lincs Inspire then put out an appeal to find John Henry Nicholls’ descendants.

Below: Jennie Cartwright

Jennie Cartwright from Lincs Inspire, said:

“Since our first interview about this story with Radio Humberside on Monday 4th May, we have now been contacted by at least 7 descendants of John Henry Nicholls. 

“One of them is still living locally and they have all without exception been over the moon to find out this new information about their grandfather/great grandfather/great great grandfather. They have also expressed their thanks to Arnfinnur and his family for so carefully tending the grave of their ancestor in Vagur.

“It’s been wonderful researching this history based on the information that Arnfinnur was able to supply to Lincs Inspire Library Service, and even under the current lockdown, it’s amazing what can be unearthed.  

“Staff in the Local History Library in Grimsby deal with many, many enquiries from all over the UK and beyond, but I have to say that this piece of research has been up there with the best of them!”

Below: Arnfinnur

Arnfinnur, is also delighted with the outcome, which has attracted much attention from the media in the Faroes.

“I am really overwhelmed by the reactions from near and far,” said Arnfinnur.

“When this all began I could not have foreseen all the good things that have happened these last few days.”

The descendants of John Henry Nicholls have since shared photographs with Lincs Inspire of their grandfather. One aboard a fishing vessel, and another on his wedding day.

Christine Paris, granddaughter of John Henry Nicholls, who lives in Wokingham, said: “I was astonished when my sister told me about the article, published in the Grimsby Telegraph, which featured my Grandfather John Henry Nicholls.

“My grandfather was a deckhand on the Bromelia, which was lost with all hands on 22nd June 1942. The loss of the Bromelia has been a mystery since the war, some believe it was sunk by a German U Boat.

“For our entire lives my family believed his body was lost at sea so this is a very emotional time to read that he had been found and buried in the Faroe Islands. We have also been very grateful to learn that his grave has been tended all this time by a local lady who is now 90 years of age. The burial date of 18th July 1942 ties in with the date the Bromelia was lost and the initials JHN on the ring convince me that the grave is that of my grandfather.

“As a family we have compiled family history about my grandfather. John Henry’s name along with the other crew members of the Bromelia is also featured on the Merchant Seaman memorial near the Tower of London. Although it may be that the other crew members were not found, this grave acts like a memorial to all hands of the Bromelia who were lost.”

From left to right (or top to bottom):
John Henry Nicholl's unmarked grave in Vagur
John Henry Nicholls on his wedding day
The list of crewmen who lost their lives on the Bromelia