Topic: James Joseph Hamilton Nisbet (1895-1973)

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As part of the 'Threads of Memory' project Sandra Culham, along with her husband and daughter came in to talk to us about her grandfather, James, who was wounded during the Battle of the Somme but survived and was later awarded an MBE. He also served during World War II. Filming: Bay of Plenty Polytechnic Students. Photos: Lee Switzer.

James Joseph Hamilton Nisbet was born in Ryal Bush, Invercargill, on 26 June 1895 (reg. 1895/8231). He service during World War I and on his return married Margaret Frances Magee in 1918 (reg. 1918/2509). In 1964 James Joseph Hamilton Nisbet JP - of Hikurangi, was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) 'for services to the community, especially in connection with the Returned Services' Association'. He died on 15 May 1973 (reg. 1973/31327).


Sandra Culham talks with Tauranga City Libraries staff during the 2015 Threads of Memory project.


Threads of Memory - Sandra Culham - 2015 (62)

Sandra and her husband being interviewed by Debbie McCauley.


Sandra Culham wrote the following about her grandfathers life:

When the 1st World War broke out Jim travelled to Auckland to join the Army. Although only 17 years old he claimed to be 19, passed the medical exam, was enlisted, and then sworn in on 15th July 1915. On 9 January 1916 Jim travelled by the troop ship 'Tahiti', arriving in Suez on 7 February 1916. The next day Jim wrote in his diary; Slept 13 men in a tent, hope less men in tent tomorrow. Owing to measles on Tahiti we are quarantined for about 9 days. On 10 February 1916 he wrote; I wish we could get into the scrap and get it over and get home. Jim spent day after day training and marching with the Aussies. In down time they played sports and event took a trip to see the pyramids. 

 Threads of Memory - Sandra Culham - 2015 (28)

The diary written by James Joseph Hamilton Nisbet .

Jim left Egypt on 9 April 1916, arriving in Armentieres on 19 May 1916. He went to the front line on 15 July 1916. He describes the trenches; helmets galore, dead men, blood everywhere, bleeding, wounded men, snipers all around, horrible small, gas alarms and raging flies. Aussies and Kiwis working together carrying out the wounded and the dead. On 14 September 1916 (Battle of the Somme) he wrote; Just heard we are to go over the top tomorrow at 6am. On 15 September 1916; This has been a hard day for me. We started for the Hun alright. My friend Jim and I together and then within a few yards of the trench something burst behind me and I went down. Jim rushed to my aid, but I waved him away. I crawled into ed a shell hole - took off my boot and sock - ankle smashed, terrible pain.

Threads of Memory - Sandra Culham - 2015 (87)

Sandra reading from James's diary.

What Jim failed to mention is that he had a lucky escape from death as the grenade that he was holding in his hand with the pin already pulled did not go off! The following day he was in an ambulance train to the Walton-on-Thames Hospital in England. Jim's recovery was slow. He was taken on many outings and did speak with the King and Queen.

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Sandra holding up her grandfather's war medals.

Once well enough to travel he was shipped home to the Epsom Convalescent Home for men in Auckalnd. Soon after, he married his childhood sweetheart, Maggie Magee. Jim was a Scottish Presbyterian and Maggie an Irish Catholic. Jim and Maggie lived in Hikurangi and raised four children. Jim was recognised by the Queen as an MBE for his work in helping families of soldiers to obtain service pensions. Jim passed away 15 May 1973.


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Sandra's collection of memorabilia.


Threads of Memory - Sandra Culham - 2015 - James Joseph Hamilton Nisbet (1895-1973)

James Joseph Hamilton Nisbet in uniform.


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 Sandra holding up a photograph of her grandparents.


IMG 1923

The bible that James carried with him.


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Sandra Culham along with her husband and daughter.


Further Information:

Births, Deaths and Marriages Online (New Zealand).

Cenotaph Database (Auckland War Memorial Museum).

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James Joseph Hamilton Nisbet (1895-1973)

Note:Service Number: 23/1768
First Names:James Joseph Hamilton
Last Name:Nisbet
Date of Birth:26 June 1895
Place of Birth:Ryal Bush, Invercargill
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:15 May 1973
Spouses name:Margaret Frances Magee
Date of marriage:1918
Fathers name:Robert John Nisbet
Mothers name:Janet Nisbet
Military Service:World War I (1914-1918)