This year marks the 100th anniversary of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s iconic clock tower cenotaph. Two years later, in 1926, the Township of Niagara unveiled its own memorial in Queenston. In recognition of those who fought and died in two world wars and beyond, NOTL historian Ron Dale has been researching the stories of the people – all men – whose names are engraved on the two cenotaphs. This marks the beginning of a series of stories documenting and remembering the sacrifices of those commemorated on the municipal memorial in Queenston.
In 1969, the Town of Niagara amalgamated with the surrounding Niagara Township, which included the villages of Virgil, St. Davids and Queenston, along with the settlements of Homer and McNab. The result the new municipality of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Prior to that the town had its own municipal government with a lord mayor and council while the township was governed by a reeve and council. Each built its own war memorial or cenotaph commemorating those who gave their lives serving their country in the First and Second World Wars.
The Town of Niagara completed the Memorial Clock Tower Cenotaph in 1922, unveiled by Lt-Gov. Henry Cockshutt in June of that year.
Four years later, on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1926, Cockshutt unveiled the Township of Niagara’s war memorial at Queenston. The monument was “erected to the memory of the men of Niagara Township who gave their lives for freedom in the Great War … whose names are here recorded.”
The names of 19 men were commemorated. Later an additional name was added, Capt. William Archer who had gone overseas as a chaplain in the First World War and died on Sept. 18, 1931.
In 1947, the names of 13 men who died in service during the Second World War were added to the monument. The monument was further altered to commemorate the Korean War and the statement added that the monument was not only to commemorate those who had made the supreme sacrifice but also “in honour of those who served.”
Among these men, the first person listed on the monument was 2nd Lt. Norman Nelles, who was serving in the British army when he was killed in action a little over five months after the beginning of the First World War. While he was not a native of Niagara, he did have a connection to the area.
Nelles was the son of Ida Mary Maud Walker and Col. (later Brig.-Gen.) Charles Nelles, an officer of the permanent force of the Canadian Militia.
Norman Nelles was born in Brantford and educated at Trinity School in Port Hope before enrolling in the Royal Military College in Kingston in August 1912.
Colonel Nelles was in command of the depot at Stanley Barracks in Toronto, spending the summer months at Camp Niagara, training militia of the non-permanent (part-time) force. The colonel and his wife purchased a summer home in Niagara and became permanent residents in 1920. Norman likely spent a couple of his summers in Niagara.
When the war broke out, newly commissioned 2nd Lt. Norman Nelles volunteered for active service. The need for junior of officers in the rapidly expanding British army resulted in Nelles being assigned to a British regiment.
He was shipped to England in late October 1914 and joined the Northamptonshire Regiment in France in November. His commanding officer commented that Nelles “was a fearless soldier and was killed in a gallant charge.”
Norman Nelles was killed by German artillery fire during an assault on German trenches in January 1915. His body was not recovered and he has no known grave. Nelles is commemorated in Le Touret Memorial, Richebourg-l’Avoue, North Pas-de-Calais.
Nelles’ father, Brigadier General Nelles, was a very influential man when the Queenston monument was built. He was a decorated veteran of the Northwest Rebellion, the Boer War and the First World War, a driving force behind the establishment of the Cottage Hospital on Queen Street and a founding father of Branch 124 of the Royal Canadian Legion in 1928.
The Legion branch was named in his honour.
His contributions were appreciated by the citizens and he served as lord mayor of the Town of Niagara in 1929 and 1930. While one son gave his life in the war, his other son, Percy Nelles, became an admiral in the Royal Canadian Navy.
It may have been through Brigadier General Nelles’ considerable influence that his son Norman’s name was the first listed on the Queenston War Memorial and is the only listing with his military rank included.