Searching for a Grimsby Seaman's family

Update: Tuesday May 5th
Due to the power of social media and with the help of our local media we have found six grandchildren of John Henry Nicholls. None of them knew that their grandfather’s body had been recovered after the Grimsby trawler Bromelia he was sailing on was lost at sea in 1942, and that he was subsequently buried in Vagur, the grave being tended to ever since.

It has been a delight to assist this history enthusiast from Vagur, who set out to discover the identity of this man, along with putting him touch with John Henry Nicholls’ relatives.

Issued: Friday May 1st

The descendants of a Grimsby seaman, whose trawler was lost to the sea in 1942, are being sought.

Ahead of VE Day, Lincs Inspire Libraries and a researcher from Vágur, is looking for the family of a seaman who is buried in the Faroe Islands’ town, his gravestone says “unidentified seaman from World War II.”

Arnfinnur, a researcher from the town, says that stories of the unidentified body have long been told in Vágur, and he would has set-out to discover his identity ahead of the 75th anniversary of VE Day, with plans afoot to create a lasting and fitting memorial on his grave.

Arnfinnur has discovered that this man sailed on the Grimsby trawler Bromelia. The trawler went missing on its way from Iceland to Grimsby around 29th of June in 1942.

The seaman’s body was found in the sea on the 16th of July 1942, wearing a ring with the letters J H N engraved. He was buried, in Vágur, two days’ later with the ring.

Arnfinnur’s research led him to the records of missing seamen, and within the listing a John Henry Nicholls of 142 Fairmont Road, Grimsby.


Hoping to make contact with John Henry Nicholls’ descendants ahead of VE Day, he said:

“Since I was small I have heard the story of the unidentified body and how it was found. My cousin for many years took care of the grave. She is now 90 years old and she owns pictures from the burial.

“I thought it would be interesting to try to find out his identity. First I tried the Commonwealth War Graves Commission but I did not have much to go on at that point so they were unable to help me. Then I got hold of the police report, which mentioned his ring, engraved with J H N. I had a fine clue!

“I wrote to National Archives and Maritime Museum and ended up on Ancestry. There I looked under the letter N. There was only one dead seaman with the initials J H N and he was from Grimsby. Suddenly there was this Grimsby connection…again!”

“I have descendants of my own from Grimsby, my great grandmother had four brothers, who settled down in Grimsby. I have heard of many Faroes fishermen who went to Grimsby and the stories from Grimsby have always been told in our family.” 

In order to discover more about John Henry Nicholls, Arnfinnur contacted Lincs Inspire Libraries, and Jennie Cartwright from the local history department set to work, hoping to discover more about a John Henry Nicholls.

Jennie, said: “I have worked with Arnfinnur previously after he contacted the local history library some years ago while he was researching connections with Grimsby and fishermen from Vágur.

“He has remained in touch with us and has only recently come up with this latest piece of research, which again demonstrates the links between these remote islands and the history of Grimsby.

“We were delighted to help and despite having limited access to local history resources under the current lockdown, we have still been able to find some significant information about this family.

“If there is anyone who remembers this family or who is a descendant of the family who is unaware of the existence of this grave, we’d love to hear from them and can put them in touch with Arnfinnur.”

The details, discovered by Lincs Inspire Libraries about John Henry Nicholls, are:

  • John Henry Nicholls was born in Aberdeen. 
  • He married Clara Annie LEE in Grimsby in 1922. Clara was born on the 20th December 1902.
  • They had two sons, Charles H Nicholls born on the 6th February 1923 and Ronald Nicholls born in 1928. NB Ronald possibly married a Freda BRANNON in 1958.
  • Ronald and Freda had a daughter in 1958 called Jacqueline. Jacqueline Nicholls married a Steven Pearce in 1981. A search for Steven Pearce reveals he is a Fish Merchant and lives in Bradley.
  • The 1939 Electoral Register shows Clara living at 33 Duke Street Grimsby with her son Charles whose occupation is given as Paint Maker.
  • At the time of John’s death in 1942, the family was living at 142 Fairmont Road Grimsby.
  • JOHN HENRY NICHOLLS was reported missing since 22nd June 1942 from the Grimsby trawler Bromelia.  His body was found in the sea off the coast of Vagur on the 16th July 1942 and he was buried in Vagur on the 18th July 1942.  He is commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial. 
  • It seems that CLARA ANNIE NICHOLLS did not remarry after the death of her husband.  She died in June 1989 and was cremated at Scartho, Grimsby on the 19th June 1989.

If you have any information or connections with this family, please contact Lincs Inspire Libraries by email at